Barely 3 weeks after NVIDIA launched their 8800GT, ATI responds with their RV670 based Radeon HD3850 & HD3870 cards. Positioned at the same price point, we shall take these two cards for a spin and pit them against the acclaimed G92 8800GT.

Up till just 3 weeks ago, bang-for-buck, mid-range DirectX 10 graphics cards was limited to just the NVIDIA 8800GTS 320MB. The situation changed when Nvidia launched their much anticipated 8800GT based on the G92 architecture. Not only was it cheaper than the NVIDIA 8800GTS 320MB, its performance surpassed the 8800GTS and Radeon HD2900XT in just about every single game and benchmark; at points, the 8800GT even put up a close fight with the 8800GTX! At this point, many an enthusiasts cried out that it was the best bang-for-buck graphics card ever released and few others felt disgruntled at having bought an 8800GTS just before the 8800GT’s launch.

At the same time, the falling prices of 22" and above Widescreen LCD monitors meant that gaming at resolutions above 1280 x 1024 started to become the norm. Many hardcore gamers have also invested in 24,27 & 30" LCDs for a more enjoyable gameplay experience. These factors and the launch of highly anticipated games such as Crysis, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, World in Conflict, Bioshock, Hellgate: London and Gears of War marks a great year for games and gamers alike. Many of these games are also DirectX 10 titles following in the wake of Windows Vista’s launch. With this, many a gamer would surely look forward to purchasing a graphics card that provides higher resolution, DirectX 10 gaming at an affordable price point.

For months now, the only affordable mid-ranged solutions to fill this segment of the market come from NVIDIA and ATI has been hard pressed to compete with them. Today however, we have received not just one, but two new contenders to the G92 cards, the HD3870 & HD3850 by AMD. Placed in the same price bracket as the 8800GT 512MB, we present to you the ATI Radeon HD3850 and Radeon HD3870, courtesy of Sapphire. The launch of these two models also ushers in a new naming convention for Radeon cards. ATI will no longer use the Pro, XT and XTX suffixes for Radeons. Instead, the first digit denotes the generation of the GPU, the next will mark the family and the last two shows the performance levels within families of cards.

Both cards are based on AMD’s RV670 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), with the HD3850 sporting 256MB of GDDR3 memory instead of 512MB of GDDR4 found on the HD3870 and clock speeds being the main differences between the two cards. Unlike the R600 found on the Radeon HD2900, the RV670 is based on a 55nm fabrication process. This allows the GPU to offer a smaller die size (192mm2 vs 408mm2 of the R600) and lower heat production. Furthermore, the new GPU offers compatibility with DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 (which will be enabled in Vista SP1 in H1 2008 offering features such as realtime global illumination and new AA modes). RV670 is also double-precision capable on the GPGPU front which G92 currently lacks. The RV670 is PCIe 2.0 based and comes with High Definition Digital Audio and Universal Video Decoder (UVD) built into the core.

Those using micro-ATX platforms would be pleased to note that the HD3850 uses a single slot cooling solution and requires only one PCIe 6-pin power connector. Like wise, those who feel that one graphics card is not enough will be glad to know that the Radeon HD3850 and HD3870 will be able to support CrossFireX technology; that is, the ability to CrossFire with 2, 3 or 4! cards on the appropriate platform. AMD has already announced its plans for the 790FX platform and showcased its ability to run 4 Radeons in CrossFire so the wait may not be long before it reaches you.

Today, we shall take these cards out for a spin against the Nvidia contenders and their predecessor, the HD2900XT, at resolutions of 1920×1200 and 2560×1600 respectively.

Let’s take a quick look at some basic specifications before we move on…

Feature/ Model
HD3850/ 256MB
HD3870/ 512MB
HD2900XT/ 512MB
Stream Processors
320
320
320
Texture Units
16
16
16
Render Back-ends
16
16
16
Transistors
666 Million
666 Million
700 Million
Fabrication Process
55nm
55nm
80nm
Die Size
192mm2
192mm2
408mm2
Core Clock
670MHz
775MHz
740MHz
Memory Clock
1.66GHz
2.25GHz
1.65GHz
Processing Rate (Math)
428 Gigaflops
497 Gigaflops
475 Gigaflops
Memory Type
GDDR3
GDDR4
GDDR3
Memory Interface
256-bit
256-bit
512-bit
System Bus Support
PCIe 2.0 x16
PCIe 2.0 x16
PCIe x16
DirectX Support
10.1
10.1
10.0
UVD
Yes
Yes
No