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Test System and Configuration

Radeon 3850 AGP Plus Single-Core CPU
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System Hardware
Processor: AMD Athlon 64 3400+ (Venice), 2.2 GHz, 512k L2 cache
Motherboard: ASrock 9393dual-SATA2 (socket 939), ULI 1695 chipset, BIOS v1.6
RAM: All Memory run at 166 MHz, (CL2.5-3-3-7)
PATRIOT EP, 1 x 1024 MB PC3500 (CL2.0-3-2-5)
SAMSUNG, 1 x 512 MB PC2700 (CL2.5-3-3-7)
KINGSTON KVR, 1 x 512 MB PC3500 (CL3.0-3-3-8)
Hard Drive: Western Digital WD1200JB
120 GB, 7,200 RPM, 8 MB cache, UltraATA/100
Networking: On-board 100 Mb Ethernet
Graphics Cards: Powercolor Radeon 3850 AGP, 512MB RAM
HIS Radeon 3870 PCIe, 512MB RAM
Diamond Radeon X1950 PRO AGP, 512MB RAM
Sapphire Radeon 2600 XT, 256MB RAM
BFG Geforce 6600 GT OC, 256MB RAM
Power Supply: Nextherm PSU460 (460W, ATX)

System Software & Drivers
OS: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate 6.0.6000 (Vista Retail)
DirectX Version: 10
Graphics Driver: Catalyst 8.4
nVIDIA ForceWare 169.25

Benchmarks and Settings 3D Games
Crysis: Version: 1.1
Medium-High: Shaders and Textures High, all other settings Medium, Physics Low, no AA
Medium-Low: All settings Medium, Physics Low, no AA
Benchmark: Benchmark_CPU.bat
Prey: Version: 1.3
Maximum Quality Settings (textures and Shaders to Highest available)
Vsync: Off
Benchmark: THG-Demo
Supreme Commander: Version: 3.220
Minimal Settings (all settings Low or Off)
Vsync: Off
Benchmark: Real Game, 90 seconds
Unreal Tournament 3: Version: Retail
Texture Detail: Max, World Detail: Max
Shader Quality: Default
Field of View: 100
Benchmark: Botmatch (WAR-Torlan, 12 bots, 1 Minute)
Flight Simulator X: Version: 1.6
Video Quality: Default (Highest Settings)
Demo: THG Timedemo (1 Minute)
HD Video Playback
Cyberlink PowerDVD HD-DVD: Transformers (3 Minutes)
Resolution: 1920x1080 (1080p) 16:9
Synthetics
Futuremark 3D Mark 06 Version 1.10
Default Settings, 1280x1024
System Test Only

Once again, we will be benchmarking on the unique ASROCK 939Dual-Sata2 board, because of its ability to offer both a full-speed AGP 8x slot and a full-speed PCIe 16x slot. This allows us to test the difference the bus speed makes on similar cards, which in the past has been very useful in showing us that there isn’t a heck of a lot of real-world difference between AGP and PCIe bandwidth.

We will be testing Powercolor’s Radeon 3850 AGP against a variety of cards that represent a good cross section of what’s available out there, both new and what’s already in older systems.

For a baseline reference against older AGP cards, we’ve included an AGP Geforce 6600 GT. This card used to be the mainstream leader, and has comparable performance to the older AGP cards like the Radeon 9800 XT, 9700 PRO, and X700, as well as the newer X1600 PRO.

We included the Radeon 2600 XT because it is probably the best price/performance card available for AGP right now, and it performs very closely to other AGP options such as the Geforce 7600 GT, Geforce 6800 Ultra, and Radeon X800 XT. Although we couldn’t get our hands on an AGP version of the 2600 XT, our previous AGP analysis showed absolutely no performance difference between the similarly performing 7600 GT AGP and 7600 GT PCI Express, so we are satisfied that the AGP bus will not noticeably slow down this class of card.

Of course, the review wouldn’t be complete without the previous king of AGP, the Radeon X1950 PRO 512MB. This is still a very good gaming card, and it will be interesting to see if the 3850 has enough legs to leave the X1950 behind before the CPU bottlenecks the system. The X1950 PRO performs closely to the Geforce 7900 GS, another of the fastest AGP cards available, so this is another indicator we can use when considering how alternatives fit in the broad spectrum of performance.

We will note that our X1950 PRO sample had overheating problems when playing the newest titles, and the Catalyst driver would report that it was lowering clock speeds to manage this problem. We solved the issue with a Thermaltake Cu-900 aftermarket GPU cooler that made the heat issue go away in short order.

The final card we are testing is a Radeon 3870 PCI Express model. The idea here was to demonstrate if there is a difference in performance between the AGP and PCIe bus with a similar card. We couldn’t get a hold of a 3850 PCIe, so we underclocked our 3870 PCIe to the same core 668 MHz clock speed of the AGP 3850, in the Catalyst Control Center’s Overdrive panel. Unfortunately, Overdrive wouldn’t support memory underclocking, so we were stuck at a much higher 1125 MHz memory speed than the AGP 3850’s 828 MHz. As you will see in the benchmarks, however, this had almost no impact.

We chose Windows Vista 32-bit over Windows XP for testing, and we had a few good reasons for doing so. First, we wanted to see if Vista features like DirectX 10 worked with the AGP versions of the Radeon 3850 (it did). Second, we wanted to see if Vista was a viable operating system on older hardware (it was). Third, and most important, we like to choose the worst-case-scenario for our benchmarks, so that we can deliver a realistic expectation of the kind of performance the end user will see.

Because we chose Vista, we wanted at least 2 GB of RAM. Unfortunately, with older DDR being quite scarce nowadays, we had to use different memory with different timings to make this happen. This bit us in the butt later when we tried to overclock, but once again, it’s probably a good representation of the kind of long-standing previously upgraded systems out there in the wild, and what their owners have to deal with.

With all of these factors in play, we proceeded to benchmark the cards on the newest and most demanding games we could find. Is your old AGP platform up to snuff with nothing but a video card upgrade? Let’s find out!

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  • 4 Hide
    nofxman , May 28, 2008 1:49 PM
    This is the best article I have read lately, I installed AOC on an old desktop with a 2.8 P4 and vanilla 6600 and it ran like crap. I was debating purchasing a 3850 from Newegg until I saw how much the cpu holds it back so I just saved $80 buying a 2600pro instead.
  • 1 Hide
    slapdashzero , May 28, 2008 1:52 PM
    Excellent article. I love these "real world application" reads. I've got a garage full of older single core machines, and now I know that there are still useable things to be done with them.
  • 1 Hide
    xx12amanxx , May 28, 2008 2:05 PM
    Man i remember when my old 3000+ was considered fast..lol. But we already knew an older single core 64 would be a bottleneck.The real question is if a newer dual core will suffice? The computer i built for my mom has the older 3800+ dual in it and i paired it with a 7600gt. It played all games at that time great! She actually still uses it!
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , May 28, 2008 2:05 PM
    You could overclock the 3850 card by using the bios and over clocking a cpu should of been no problem for you "old pros" I think you are not telling the whole story. AGP is alive and well and is good for most people..
  • 2 Hide
    Preytor , May 28, 2008 2:17 PM
    Nice to see such a great article done on AGP.
    AGP isn't dead yet. I still use a 7600GS 512MB on P4 @ 3.6Ghz, it's just fine for most games, and will play anything with the "right settings".
  • 0 Hide
    Jakt , May 28, 2008 2:20 PM
    Last week, I installed an AGP 2600xt in my Athlon 3000+ htpc, to replace an ATI 9600 AIW card that died. There was a very noticeable improvement in the picture quality on my television (Thanks, Avivo!), but there wasn't a large enough improvement in decoding HD to make it playable. I am still playing with the drivers to see if there is anything I can do to improve it, as theoretically it should be doable. The big problem that I have run into is that ATI has dumped support for this card on the AGP platform. I had specifically chosen ATI because it has superior support for dual monitors on an HTPC setup, but the lack of support is very discouraging.
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , May 28, 2008 2:36 PM
    anonymous.You could overclock the 3850 card by using the bios and over clocking a cpu should of been no problem for you "old pros" I think you are not telling the whole story. AGP is alive and well and is good for most people.


    What part of the story are we not telling?
    Look at the system specs, we had to use 3 types of old DDR RAM to get to 2GB, some of it was very cheap - not even 400 MHz stuff. It doesn't matter how much of a pro I am, you can't squeeze more performance out by raising the CPU clock and lowering the memory clock into the basement to get it to work.

    I managed to scrounge up some better stuff for part 2, and it looks like we'll be using XP instead of Vista which will open up some videocard overclocking options. So hold on there sport, overclocking is on the way.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , May 28, 2008 2:39 PM
    anonymous.You could overclock the 3850 card by using the bios and over clocking a cpu should of been no problem for you "old pros" I think you are not telling the whole story. AGP is alive and well and is good for most people.


    What part of the story are we not telling?
    Look at the system specs, we had to use 3 types of old DDR RAM to get to 2GB, some of it was very cheap - not even 400 MHz stuff. It doesn't matter how much of a pro I am, you can't squeeze more performance out by raising the CPU clock and lowering the memory clock into the basement to get it to work.

    I managed to scrounge up some better stuff for part 2, and it looks like we'll be using XP instead of Vista which will open up some videocard overclocking options. So hold on there sport, overclocking is on the way.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 28, 2008 2:44 PM
    Great article

    shame that you ran the memory in single channel mode though.

  • 1 Hide
    Mach5Motorsport , May 28, 2008 3:44 PM
    Congrats to Tom's Hardware for again demonstrating that AGP is still a decent interface. I'm sure all the collective PCIe ubergeeks will be again shouting how AGP is dead..... ;)  much to their dismay. AGP has now outlived PCIe standard 1.0!
  • 1 Hide
    geotech , May 28, 2008 3:49 PM
    My main rig is a X23800 @3.5GHz and a 3850. Its runs flawlessly, all sorce games maxed, cod4, and crysis at medium 40fps. I'm dualing 2 19" @ 1440x900
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , May 28, 2008 3:53 PM
    xX12amanXxMan i remember when my old 3000+ was considered fast..lol. But we already knew an older single core 64 would be a bottleneck.The real question is if a newer dual core will suffice? The computer i built for my mom has the older 3800+ dual in it and i paired it with a 7600gt. It played all games at that time great! She actually still uses it!


    The 3800+ x2 S939 is also a good overclocker. Even if the board doesn't offer OC features in the bios, you can compromise by using some Windows-based tools.
  • 1 Hide
    wild9 , May 28, 2008 4:05 PM
    Even with poor memory, that CPU should be able to produce a nice overclock. Maybe under-clock the RAM in the BIOS and over-clock the FSB in Windows.

    To really ramp the memory speed you could always run the system in single-channel mode, using that Patriot stick offering CL 2.0; that looks like a very nice bit of memory.

    For the record, I run a S939 retail Venice 3200+ (2.0GHz), at 2.5 on stock and can hit 2.7 with a bit more Vcore. I use Clockgen and CrystalCPUID to get many options not available in the BIOS (Abit NF-95). Works like a charm. With good cooling you can really ramp the Venice core right up.
  • 0 Hide
    Kohlhagen , May 28, 2008 4:06 PM
    I would like to see Crossfire on the old 939 system..

    using dual 3870, a 2.8ghz dual core, and 2GB 2-2-3-5 1T ram.

    I would send you my rig if you needed any of the above..
  • 1 Hide
    Barzenak , May 28, 2008 4:59 PM
    I have a x1950 500 meg card on my old p4 3.2 ee processor so I think there is not enough boost for the buck in agp. I will wait to replace my system and run what I can with what I have. So far I can compete ok as long as I stay clear of Crysis etc. I have enough other games to beat anyhow so no major loss with that tech demo basically.
  • 0 Hide
    bobafett4ever , May 28, 2008 5:01 PM
    Great review. It's nice to see you aren't overlooking a lot of us who have AGP and still want to make the most of it.
    I, for one, so not feel the need to go drop $1000+ on a new rig, although I do want good performance from what I have - which is an Atholon 64 4200+ on my socket 939 mobo (MSI Neo2) with a 3850AGP and 2 gig of PC3200 on XP Pro. People always say it's so old and outdated, but I feel it does the job well and am always looking for ideas to get every ounce out of it possible. I mostly play LotRO and swith
    Thanks for the great article and I look forward to part II with the dual cores.
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , May 28, 2008 5:02 PM
    Jeez Don ... do you reviewers just trawl through our forum threads and pickup on our ideas or what ??

    heh heh.

    We have been tossing around advice to this end in a few threads lately.

    Good to see your on the ball !!

    Well done.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 28, 2008 5:08 PM
    My Computer 3400+ 64 2 gigs ddr and lol 8800gts 512 stock motherboard new power supply can only over clock my prosser to 2.445 clockgen- only

    22" acer screen 1680x1050 run all games fine crysis demo 27fps avg whith high but sound on low object on med. when i found clock gen and over clocked it the cpu by %10 it gave me 7 more fps on avg, and all other newer games over 50 fps and much higher
  • 0 Hide
    hackerspunk , May 28, 2008 5:16 PM
    i still don't know how much power that atom need
  • 0 Hide
    velocityg4 , May 28, 2008 5:58 PM
    This is quite interesting. I was considering upgrading my Athlon 64 3000+ SSE2 from the current X800XT to a 2600XT or 3850 for HDCP and DX10 but I guess the CPU is too much of a bottleneck now. And the SSE2 makes my old gaming rig a poor Hackintosh.

    Guess it's time to save for a Quad Core Intel and an 8800GT OC'ed. For great Windows gaming and OS X as a hackintosh plus HDCP compliance.
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