ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 review: ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2

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The Good The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 competes well against Nvidia's high-end card in the same price range.

The Bad Its drivers need work.

The Bottom Line The 3D graphics card market changes too rapidly for us to get bullish about a card with premature driver software. The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 shows promise, even outscoring Nvidia on many PC games, but we would still wait until AMD works out the kinks before handing over your $450.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

AMD's new ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card delivers on its promise of best-in-class 3D performance at a similar price to the comparable card from Nvidia. If we were buying a new 3D card or a new gaming desktop, the $450 Radeon HD 3870 X2 is the card we would look for, at least today. We would feel much more strongly about this recommendation if ATI had the drivers to back up this card's hardware prowess, especially because, by the time ATI does polish the drivers, Nvidia may have made new product introductions. Our overall suggestion is to wait for ATI to update its driver software and to see what else might be on the horizon before laying out for this, or any other, high-end 3D card.

What makes the Radeon HD 3870 X2 different is that it uses two Radeon HD 3870 graphics chips on a single card. This is similar in design to Nvidia's GeForce 7950 GX2 from a few years ago. The Radeon HD 3870 X2 relies on ATI's CrossFire multicard technology to make the chips work in tandem, making this single card as powerful, or as limited, as the Crossfire support in individual PC games.

  ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 (R680) Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX (G80)
Lowest current price $449 $449
Manufacturing process 55nm 90nm
Transistors 666 million (per chip) 681 million
Core clock 825MHz 575MHz
Stream processors 320 (per chip) 128
Memory 512MB (per chip) 768MB
Memory speed (data rate) 900MHz (1.8GHz) 900MHz (1.8GHz)
Memory Interface 256-bit 384-bit

On Unreal Tournament 3, for example, you can see that the Radeon 3870 X2 beat the GeForce 8800 GTX by a good 8 frames per second on average. Like this title, many PC games will benefit from Crossfire and the two-chip design, allowing you to play them at very high resolutions and image-quality settings.

Unreal Tournament 3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200, 4x anti-aliasing, 8x anisotropic filtering, high quality  
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX SLI
ATI Radeon HD 3870 Crossfire
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2

On Call of Duty 4, though, the Radeon HD 3870 X2 didn't get any faster than a single Radeon HD 3870, and both results are slower than a single GeForce 8800 GTX. We suspect this has to do with AMD's Crossfire drivers and the way they apportion the processing of the smoke effects on the screen during GameSpot's testing. GameSpot tried testing on another Call of Duty level with less smoke and saw a 60 percent performance improvement. The slowdown appears to be specific to Call of Duty 4, so you shouldn't worry too much about particle effects in other games killing your frame rate, but the issue here illustrate that, like SLI, Crossfire is susceptible to quirks, and is not always a perfect solution.

Call of Duty 4
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200, maximum quality  
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX SLI
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2
ATI Radeon HD 3870 Crossfire

Crysis, of course, is the big daddy of current PC games. It has DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 modes, and no single graphics card has been able to deliver acceptable frame rates in it at high settings. As the scores for the Radeon HD 3870 X2 show, it appears that even two chips can't get the job done. It's faster than the GeForce 8800 GTX and a single Radeon HD 3870, so the 3870 X2 does in fact benefit from its two chips in Crysis. Unfortunately, that's not enough to push it into the promised land of 60 frames per second in either DirectX 9 and Windows XP or in Windows Vista and Direct X 10 with an updated driver.

What's interesting is that even though Crysis is often held up as the poster child for DirectX 10 gaming, DirectX 10 itself does not appear to be the chief factor in why this game is so challenging for current hardware. We suspect game developers will continue to add DirectX 10 features to their games slowly, so while the DirectX 10 performance outlook games remains elusive, as Crysis shows, DirectX 9 can still challenge even brand new 3D hardware. The solution for now is to dial down the image quality and the resolution, at which point you should be able to achieve a more playable frame rate.

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