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Conclusion

ATI’s new graphics cards Radeon HD 3870 and HD 3850 seem to be very appealing for the end-user considering the price reduction AMD can go for. However, the overall trend shows the weakening position of AMD’s graphics department.

The senior model of the new series cannot unfortunately match the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB but we had not expected it to. These products come from different market niches, being officially priced at $219 and $259, respectively. AMD’s card has something to beat the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 256MB with – 512 megabytes of graphics memory. The Radeon HD 3870 is overall fast for its price, providing as much performance in popular games as the previous flagship card from AMD but being twice more economical and absolutely silent.

The ATI Radeon HD 3850 in its turn looks good against the Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS as well as GeForce 8800 GT 256MB. It provides higher performance than the former due to a more advanced GPU and a 256-bit memory bus and costs less than the latter ($159 against $179) while being more available.

So the ATI Radeon HD 3850 is the best choice in its price range just because it has virtually no opponents. As opposed to the GeForce 8600 GTS, AMD’s solution features high enough performance for playing modern games at highest settings, even though at a resolution of 1280x1024, which is in fact the main one for owners of mainstream graphics cards.

To present the results of the ATI Radeon HD 3800 series in a more visual way we created a summary table that shows in what games AMD’ graphics cards can give you a playable frame rate and in what they cannot. We made up our opinion basing on the average and minimum speed. If these were not lower than 30-35fps and 20-25fps, respectively, the given display resolution was considered as uncomfortable for normal play at the highest graphics quality settings.

As you see, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 is indeed often good even at 1920x1200 whereas the practical application of the ATI Radeon HD 3850 is mostly limited to 1280x1024. In games that all of the resolutions are marked as insufficient performance the gaming comfort is often not provided even by the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB. These are Call of Juarez in DirectX 10 mode, Crysis, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and World in Conflict. Unfortunately, the old problem of the ATI Radeon HD series – the dependence of performance on application-specific driver optimizations – persists still in such games as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Hellgate: London and Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts.

Besides good performance, the ATI Radeon HD 3800 series features a number of other strong points. Particularly, it is economical, especially in 2D mode, has a quiet but high-performance reference cooler, incorporates an audio core, and is compatible with PCI Express 1.0a. The practical worth of the DirectX 10.1 support is hard to determine until the new standard becomes truly widespread, yet this is kind of a reserve for the future anyway.

So, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 and HD 3850 are interesting products with low price and good performance but they won’t suit for everyone. We want to remind you that the choice of the graphics card depends only on your personal gaming preferences – we can’t choose for you. The best we can do is to offer you detailed information about the performance of the particular product in popular games so that you can make a reasoned and, hopefully, right choice.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 Summary

Highs:

  • Provides the performance of ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB;
  • Wide range of supported FSAA modes;
  • Excellent anisotropic filtering quality;
  • Good start for the future: DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support;
  • Fully-fledged hardware support for HD video decoding;
  • Integrated sound core with HDMI support;
  • PCI Express 2.0;
  • No compatibility issues;
  • Efficient cooling system;
  • Low noise;
  • Low power consumption;
  • Low price.

Lows:

  • Insufficient driver optimization;
  • Texturing and raster processors could be too few.

ATI Radeon HD 3850 Summary

Highs:

  • Pretty high performance in contemporary games;
  • Wide range of supported FSAA modes;
  • Excellent anisotropic filtering quality;
  • Good start for the future: DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support;
  • Fully-fledged hardware support for HD video decoding;
  • Integrated sound core with HDMI support;
  • PCI Express 2.0;
  • No compatibility issues;
  • Compact cooling system;
  • Low noise;
  • Low power consumption;
  • Low price.

Lows:

  • Insufficient driver optimization;
  • Texturing and raster processors could be too few.
 
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