Thursday, January 24, 2008

AMD Radeon HD 3870 X2 Review

AMD's R680 is a huge graphics card with huge potential. Does the HD 3870 X2 mark a return to competition for the Green Team?

Two is always better than one, right? Nevermind the performance decrease that occurred when SLI technology was enabled in its infancy. Forget about how much data is lost in high-performance, high-heat RAID-0 arrays. Don’t even bat an eye when huge computer cases are released touting two built-in power supplies. While doubling up has been the source of a fair amount of trouble in the hardware industry, it seems to most often provide a performance increase when all is said and done. But what happens when it doesn’t? What happens when a company spends thousands if not millions in R&D reworking and refining a product that ends up flopping when it hits the market? You can rest assured that it has happened in the past, and even though the companies responsible managed to persevere and today are doing quite well for themselves, one needs only to look to AMD and their infamous Quad FX platform to realize just how big of a risk doubling up can be.

It’s not that AMD’s Quad FX platform was inherently bad, or that their competition’s multitasking was a lot better, but that the way the technology was implemented led to other problems that a vast majority of buyers must have considered a pretty big deterrent. In a world where die shrinks and increased efficiency initiatives would have you thinking that perhaps the emphasis has finally switched from ‘bigger and better’ to ‘less is more’- a delusion if you really take a look at what’s going on – it is always curious when a company decides it necessary to release something totally against the trend. And yet, we have seen these products – many of them – released in the past year alone. That’s why more than a few heads were turned when “R680” showed up on AMD roadmaps and details began to emerge in the second half of 2007.

R680, otherwise known as Radeon HD 3870 X2, is AMD’s third attempt at a dual-GPU graphics card. ATI’s Rage Fury MAXX launched way back in December of 1999 to a generally mixed field of reviews. Many reviewers applauded the exceptional DVD playback and high-resolution 32-bit gaming abilities of the card while criticizing its astronomical price tag (at launch). Perhaps unlike today, however, ATI’s MAXX was not a direct port of a pretty well-designed and respectable existing GPU. Basing a new product on halfway decent technology rather than a poorly executed amalgam of antiquated parts is probably a pretty good idea. The Radeon X1950 Pro dual was another dual-GPU graphics card, but it saw very limited exposure in the press and presumably limited success in the presence of genuinely high-end cards at the time like the GeForce 7900GTX and Radeon X1950XTX (not to mention the fact that it only fit in the very biggest cases). The Radeon HD 3870 X2 on the bench today is a very early sample of the card and the drivers even more so. That’s not to say the numbers you’re about to see aren’t accurate, it’s just we wish we could have tested it closer to launch with proper software support.

System Configuration Used:

* Test SetupCase: Vigor Force
* Power Supply: Cooler Master Real Power Pro 850
* Motherboard: Foxconn N68S7AA
* Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700
* Hard Drive: Western Digital WD2500KS 7,200RPM
* Video: NVIDIA GeForce 8800GTS 640, GeForce 8800GTX (stock, reference design clocks), Diamond Viper Radeon HD2900XT 1GB, 2x NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT, NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB, AMD Radeon HD3870X2
* Sound: Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic
* Memory: 2048MB (2x1024MB) G.Skill PC2 6400
* Optical Drive: Lite-ON SHW160P6S05
* Cooling: ASUS Silent Square Pro

Software Configuration
* Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
* Video Driver: NVIDIA ForceWare Version 169.01, AMD Vista Sample 8.45 RC4

Software Used:

* 3DMark2006
* FEAR (DX9)
* Call Of Juarez (DX10)
* Team Fortress 2 (DX9)
* Company Of Heroes (DX9, DX10)
* Oblivion (DX9)
* Crysis

AMD Radeon HD 3870 X2 Specifications:

* Core Clock: 825MHz
* Memory Clock:1800MHz
* Memory Type: GDDR3
* Memory interface: 256Bit (x2)
* Memory capacity: 1024MB
* Manufacture Process: 55nm
* Transistor Count: ~1333 Million
* Math Processing Rate: 994 GFLOPS
* Shaders: 640
* Standard Shader Model: 4.1 (Vista Only)
* Standard DirectX Version: 10.1 (Vista Only)
* 128-Bit HDR Lighting
* 8192x8192 HR Textures
* Interface: PCIe 2.0

Full @ FPSLabs