Today, PowerColor has unveiled their lineup of regular and overclocked Radeon HD 3850 and HD 3870 cards, and both have finally blessed the lower priced market segment with HD gaming and quality multimedia characteristics. The HD 3850 and HD 3870 are based on the first 55nm graphics chips, so PowerColor decided to overclock a couple, with a little help from some additional cooling, of course. The HD 3870 should compete with the recently launched 8800GT, although the 8800GT will prove to be a fierce competitor. The HD 3850, on the other hand, is a less pricey version, and its rival is supposed to be the 8800 GT 256MB. ATI’s new cards follow the new branding trend, which basically follows a simple rule – the higher the model number, the better the card.
PowerColor has made a jumpstart and we hope that their overclocked card is good enough to handle the competition. Overclocking further burdens the graphics chip, so to compensate for the additional heat, PowerColor opted for a Zerotherm cooler. The overclocked HD 3850 features what PowerColor refers to as the Professional Cooling System, or PCS for short, and it is optimized by Zerotherm; and we’ve just finished testing one of the cards featuring PCS.
The full name of the card is PowerColor HD 3850 Xtreme PCS and it's clocked at 720MHz. The small 55nm chip isn’t as cool as we had expected, at least not with the reference cooler. With reference cooling, the temperature often rose to 89 degrees Celsius, but we must say that the cooler stays quiet. The cooler didn’t automatically adjust the fan speed to the changes in temperature.
Unlike the reference card, PowerColor's cooler is a bit louder, but the core temperature didn’t exceed 54°C, not even while gaming. The fan ran at maximum RPM all the time, and it resulted in temperatures of about 38°C in idle mode.
The Radeon HD 3850 reference clock is 668MHz, so you can see that PowerColor overclocked it to 720MHz. PowerColor also opted for 512MB of GDDR3 memory, while the reference cards only have 256MB of GDDR3. The Xtreme card features Samsung memory which can operate at speeds of up to 1,000MHz, but on the card it runs at 900MHz (1,800MHz effectively ). This allows for additional overclocking, but we didn’t manage to pull it off with our current OC tools.
The RV670 architecture is basically the same as the R600, and the 55nm process is a result of shrinking the R600’s 80nm die. However, numerous changes have been made, and many things were optimized. The Radeon HD 3850 and HD 3870 kept the 320 Stream processors, but the 512-bit memory controller was replaced with a new 256-bit controller, which is better optimised.
The UVD engine, a feature that has so far been exclusive to AMD's mid-range cards, is featured on this card. It enables full acceleration of High Definition movie formats, such as H.264 and VC-1. HDMI and sound support is a standard feature on ATI HD cards, and PowerColor is among the first ones to provide HDMI out directly on the card, so there’s no need for a DVI-to-HDMI dongle.
This is the first ATI card with PCI Express 2.0 interface, and we’ve recently seen that the 8800 GT packs the same. However, ATI has DX10.1 support as an ace up its sleeve, and Nvidia can’t say the same for their cards. We’re talking evolution of standards, and we’ll see it in action once Vista service pack 1 comes out sometime next year. DX10.1 brings Shader Model 4.1 with improved antialiasing, lighting, Shader instructions and many other things that are yet to be utilized.
You can clearly see that PowerColor's design is different from the reference design. The PCI Express power connector and CrossFire connectors are still the same, though. However, there are two completely new features here. CrossFireX is similar to Nvidia's quad SLI technology, and might even be better. You can link together up to four HD 3850 or HD 3870 cards and decide whether you want multi GPU rendering, or just use video out on each of the cards, which would allow for a total of eight monitors. Overclocking such a system would be an overclocker's dream, but only if ATI delivers on their promises of CrossFireX overclocking. Quad SLI 3D rendering is still questionable, and we’ll see if ATI’s any luckier.
The other new feature is ATI's PowerPlay technology, and we think that it’ll prove to be quite useful for the end user. Thanks to a special controller, the RV670 has power management in the core. That means controlling the power usage of the GPU, and lower power consumption. By constantly monitoring the core's power usage, it’s possible to alter the voltages or even turn off parts of the chip that aren't in use. PowerPlay is much more than just downclocking the graphics core when in 2D mode.
ATI claims that PowerPlay should limit consumption to 35W during regular use (non-gaming) and a bit over 50W during ‘light’ gaming. The maximum power consumption for the HD 3870 is 105W, while it's a mere 95W for the HD 3850.
The box is nice, and its content is fairly standardl, but there are no games, at least not with the sample we received.