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We were pleased with the ATI Radeon HD 3870 and Radeon HD 3850 graphics cards we reviewed recently, yet the positioning of the HD 3870 model left us somewhat disappointed. Instead of pitting it against the GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, AMD refused to compete with Nvidia altogether. This has become a tendency already.

In early 2006 ATI Technologies used to be the leader in terms of performance and price of its solutions. The ATI Radeon X1900 XTX cost $649 and delivered the highest performance available in the first half of 2006. It is still considered a top-performance product. Later there appeared the ATI Radeon X1950 XTX for $449 which was not far inferior to Nvidia’s dual-chip GeForce 7950 GX2 that cost $649. But finding itself to be late with the release of the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XTX, AMD didn’t spend resources to accelerate this solution. The company just lowered the price of that flagship product to $399 positioning it as an opponent to the modest GeForce 8800 GTS rather than to the top-end GeForce 8800 GTX/Ultra. The ATI Radeon HD 3870, issued in late 2007, became formally the new best product from AMD and it cost $219, i.e. only one third of the price of the fastest Radeon of 2006.

AMD is likely to put the tag of $399 on the upcoming Radeon HD 3800 X2. This will raise the average price of an AMD graphics card somewhat higher, yet will hardly lift the company’s reputation up as a maker of top-performance and expensive products. Considering that the market share of the Radeon series has been shrinking and the non-graphics assets of ATI Technologies have been profitable, this is a discouraging, but not surprising, situation.

Of course, few people actually buy graphics cards for $649 and more, but such products draw the spotlight to the company as well as to the trademark. The necessity of offering a wide range of graphics solutions is the main reason why there are only ATI and Nvidia left on the market of discrete graphics hardware while the others – 3dfx, 3Dlabs, Matrox Graphics, Trident Graphics, S3 Graphics, XGI – have vanished or exist but formally.

Refusing to release a really notable flagship product and lowering prices for its top-performance cards, AMD has been actually curtailing its graphics card series.

The new Radeon HD 3870 X2 brings AMD’s graphics department back to the position it held in the middle of 2006 when they could offer the fastest graphics card at $449. In this review we will see if this product can restore the company’s reputation among enthusiasts.

 
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