Factory overclocking of graphics cards is a widespread practice. It is one of the ways for the maker to add originality to its product and set it apart from the competitors’ offers especially when it comes to graphics cards that have the reference PCB design and cooler. Such solutions may provide hefty performance benefits like with the GeForce 8800 GT 512MB or give little to no advantage like with the GeForce 8600 GT/GTS – it all depends on the degree of overclocking, the architecture of the GPU, and the parameters of the memory subsystem.
We have reviewed a number of such cards recently, all of them based on Nvidia’s GPUs, but AMD’s graphics department, the former ATI Technologies, currently offers two interesting products based on the new 55nm RV670 core, ATI Radeon HD 3870 and Radeon HD 3850. These cards showed good performance in most of modern games according to our tests. Being economical, quiet and inexpensive ($219 for the senior model and $179 for the junior one), they appeal to every gamer who cannot afford a top-end graphics card. Pre-overclocked versions of Radeon HD 3800 cards were sure to come out as well.
An interesting fact, the Radeon HD 3870 card had been originally expected to have a GPU clock rate of 825MHz and a memory clock rate of 1200 (2400) MHz but these parameters were lowered later, probably to keep its power consumption, heat dissipation and price within reasonable limits. Another fact is that notwithstanding only one explicitly declared frequency zone the previous graphics core from ATI had as many as 26 internal frequency zones, which largely accounted for the small performance gain the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB GDDR4 provided over the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB GDDR3. We don’t have reliable information about the internal structure of the R600 at such a deep level but it is logical to presume that the RV670 has multiple frequency zones as well. So the reduction of the official GPU frequency of the Radeon HD 3870 helped reduce the heat dissipation while sacrificing little in terms of performance and it also means that we can’t expect pre-overclocked versions of RV670-based cards to be very fast.
ASUS, the major graphics card supplier, has ventured to release pre-overclocked Radeon HD 3800 cards, but doesn’t promise much in terms of speed: a 4% performance growth over the reference card for the EAH3870 TOP/G/HTDI/512M and an 8% growth for the EAH3850 TOP/G/HTDI/256M. We’ve got these cards in our lab now and are about to check out if this promise is too pessimistic or maybe otherwise. Let’s take a look at the product package first.