AMD Radeon HD 3800: ATI Strikes Back

Radeon HD 3850 And 3870

The difference between the two Radeon HD 3800s, even though they're based on the same chip, is important and, first and foremost, physical. If the Radeon HD 3850 manages to keep a single-slot design, however long but very close to the reference design of the HD 2600 XT, the HD 3870 can't seem to escape a cooling system occupying two slots. It's more of a good thing since this card will therefore serve as a casing fan and will relieve the internal ventilation, contrary to the HD 3850. As a matter of fact, the cooling system used on the HD 3870 reference design furiously reminds us of the Radeon 1950 XTX and designed by Artic Cooling. Indeed, its 3" (7.5 cm) radial fan with straight fins is identical. Practically, it's a little disappointing because the X1950 XTX had a noise level significantly higher than the GeForce 8800 GTX; even if we must put it back in context, a card succeeding an exasperating X1900 XTX and managing to significantly reduce noise level.

The heat sink's fins are however significantly shorter, despite the fact that their density is higher, which translates into a stronger resistance and therefore more important losses. We'll see later on what the noise level is. In any case, both cards demand, nevertheless, a PCI Express 6 pin power connector, as the GeForce 8800 GT.

Memory-wise, the HD 3850 is accompanied by 256 MB of GDDR3 clocked at 833 MHz, but a 512 MB version, more expensive, could come up. Inversely, the HD 3870 should be limited to a version with 512 MB, the memory being clearly faster than the HD 3850 and the 8800 GT since it's clocked at 1125 MHz, despite using GDDR4 chips having a certified clock of 1.2 GHz. A clock we've actually been able to obtain and even surpass, as we'll see later on.

Let it be noted finally that the reviewed HD 3870 is a model sold by Sapphire. Apart from the sticker on the cooling system, we find Power DVD 7 (5.1) as well as Cyberlink DVD Suite, 3DMark06, Valve's Back Box, a Molex to PCI Express 6 pin adapter, an HDTV cable, the famous DVI to HDMI adapter a DVI to VGA adapter, a Crossfire cable and a Sapphire sticker in the box. A bundle quite complete which only lacks a cup of coffee.