Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 review

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Just nine months after introducing the ATi Radeon HD 2000 series, AMD has superseded it with the HD 3800 range, which for now consists of the HD 3870 GPU and its lightweight brother the HD 3850. The new GPUs are the first on the market to support DirectX 10.1, and they use a 55nm process to reduce power consumption and costs. ATi claims they’ll deliver performance comparable to the old top-end HD 2900 XT, but for a much reduced price.

Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 review

This promise should set alarm bells ringing, however, as it’s no secret that the 2900 XT struggled to compete with Nvidia’s GeForce 8000 GPUs. To see whether the new range will face the same problem, we put Sapphire’s new card, based on the top-end 3870 GPU, through our standard benchmarks.

Our first test confirmed our doubts: Call of Duty 2 is an old DirectX 9 game and the 3870’s average frame rate of 35fps at high detail settings fell far short of the speeds we’ve come to expect from Nvidia.

When it came to DirectX 10, though, the 3870 performed more creditably, partly thanks to its generous complement of 320 stream processors. It managed an average rate of 21fps on medium settings in Call of Juarez, and kept up 21fps in Crysis at 1,280 x 1,024 with medium detail.

These results might be respectable in light of the card’s £119 price tag, but it’s hard to recommend a GPU that, in the month of its release, is already struggling to keep up with current games. AMD suggests that gamers seeking better performance should invest in multi-GPU CrossFire configurations, but compared to Nvidia’s standalone offerings that’s a questionable theory.

Of course, the 3800 architecture is new, and there’s scope for AMD to improve performance with future models. Right now, however, the 3870 is a disappointment.

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