Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 video card (known internally as the R680) was first seen by the world right here on Legit Reviews a few months ago and was again spotted at CES 2008, where the  the retail card was seen. Everyone knew that the launch was close, but today is the day that the card is officially announced.  The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 is a single-board with multiple-GPUs on it, which is why the card is so interesting. ATI took two RV670 cores (Radeon HD 3870) and put them on the same PCB with the same amount of memory with the bridge chip already on the video card that enabled CrossFire automatically. The result is a graphics card that has two RV670 cores with 1GB of GDDR3 memory at a price point of $449, which puts it in competition with the GeForce 8800 GTX and the GeForce 8800 Ultra graphics cards by NVIDIA.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Specifications

The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card delivers up to twice the Gigaflops per watt of previous generations of high-end AMD GPUs as it is basically two ATI Radeon HD 3870 cores on one card. This means that the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 video card should deliver twice as much performance and all the specifications remain the same.  It should be noted that the Radeon HD 3870 X2 has enough math processing muscle to break the 1 TeraFLOPS mark!

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

Just looking at the video card one can tell just how beefy the cooling system is and see that it must consume some power as it has two power connectors located along the top edge of the card. The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card requires a minimum 500W or greater system power supply for single card operation. Since the board power usage is less than 225W only the two 2x3 PCI Express power connectors are requierd in normal operation.  The 2x4 PCI Express power connector may be needed for overclocking, so keep this in mind if you plan on overclocking.  For running a pair in CrossFireX it is unknown what the requirements will be as ATI has not made this information public since the CrossFireX drivers are still in development.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Specifications

The core frequency on the R680 is higher than that on an RV670, which is a shocking move. The ATI Radeon HD 3870 has a core clock of 775 MHz while the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 has been increased up to 825 MHz. This might have been down as the memory clock was decreased from 2.25GHz GDDR4 to 1.8GHz GDDR3. (note the above slide is dated and that the memory clock frequencies have changed) This slide does point out that the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2's cooling fan operates at 36dBA, which is just slighting higher than the 34dBA seen on the Radeon HD 3870.  The boards peak power usage is also 91W higher than the Radeon HD 3870 at 196W under full load. Having two RV670 cores on one board doubles many things like the frame buffer size and the math processing power, but the power consumption does not double.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

The single CrossFireX interconnect can be seen above and is for when two of these are paired together. Since it has just one CrossFireX interconnect just two of the cards can be run together, so don't think you can buy four Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphic cards for CrossFireX with 8 GPUs! The back of the card doesn't have too much interesting to talk about, so lets take off the cooler!

A Closer Look At The Radeon HD 3870 X2

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

With the cooler removed from the Radeon HD 3870 X2, we noticed something seemed a bit off. Can you tell what caught our attention? The heat sinks that are used to cool the two cores are different. One is copper and the other is made of aluminum. Legit Reviews contacted ATI about this discrepancy and was told that both weight and cost was the reason behind the two different heat sinks. It's obvious that a move like this will leave the door wide open to improvements in cooling, so don't be surprised when new cooling solutions come out for this massive card.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 is not a PCI Express 2.0 graphics card because ATI used a PCI Express 1.1 bridge chip by PLX, which is located at the center of the board. Since both cores are routed to the ExpressLane PEX 8547 before the motherboard the card is limited to just PCI Express 1.1, which isn't a big deal and actually made the card come to market faster and cheaper.  The higher core and memory clock frequencies should more than make up for the 'downgrade' to PCI Express 1.1.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 bridge Chip Specifications

The above slide from ATI has a graphic of how data flows between the two GPUs for those that are visual learners.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

The ExpressLane PEX 8547 device offers 48 PCI Express lanes and is capable of configuring up to 3 flexible ports. Since it was hard to make out in the previous picture a close-up is provided above. In case you are wondering PLX Technology does make PCI Express 2.0 PCI Express Switches and ExpressLane PEX 8648 offers 48 PCI Express 2.0 lanes, but has a different package size. This means that ATI can't switch to this new switch easily as the printed circuit board would need to be re-done.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 is designed to use either GDDR3 or GDDR4 memory IC's.  Our test sample was equipped with Samsung K4J52324QE-BJ1A0 GDDR3 memory IC's. The Samsung IC's have a density of 512M bit and are rated at 1.0ns (1000MHz). Since ATI is running these IC's at 1000MHz, don't expect too much from them when overclocking as they are already operating at their rated speeds. Each core has eight of these GDDR3 IC's for a total of 512MB of memory, which adds up to the entire card having 1GB.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

The back of the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 is pretty boring, but shows the other half of the memory IC's that are not located on the front of the card.

The Test System

The Main Test System

The test system was running Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit with all available Microsoft updates including the hotefixes required for enthusiast video cards to run correctly. ATI CATALYST 8.1 drivers were used on all the Radeon HD graphics cards. All results shown in the charts are averages of at least three runs from each game or application used.

The Video Cards:

All of the video cards were tested on the Intel X38 Express Test platform, which is loaded with the latest and greatest hardware.  The Intel Core 2 Quad QX9650 'Yorkfield' processor was used for testing as it proved to be the best desktop processor when it comes to game performance. The test system was also loaded with 4GB of memory and water cooled to ensure throttling of the processor or memory wouldn't cause any issues.

Intel Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Quad QX9650

Motherboard

Gigabyte X38-DQ6

Memory

4GB OCZ Reaper PC2-6400 

Video Cards

See Above

Hard Drive

Western Digital SATA 250Gb

Cooling

Corsair Nautilus 500

Power Supply

Corsair HX620W

Operating System

Windows Vista Ultimate

 Now that we know exactly what the test system is, we can move along to performance numbers.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl uses the 'X-ray Engine' to power the graphics. It is a DirectX 8/9 Shader Model 3.0 graphics engine. Up to a million polygons can be on-screen at any one time, which makes it one of the more impressive engines on the market today. The engine features HDR rendering, parallax and normal mapping, soft shadows, widescreen support, weather effects and day/night cycles. As with other engines that utilize deferred shading (such as Unreal Engine 3 and CryENGINE2), the X-ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled. However, a "fake" form of anti-aliasing can be enabled with the static lighting option; this format utilizes a technique to blur the image to give the false impression of anti-aliasing. The game takes place in a thirty square kilometer area, and both the outside and inside of this area is rendered to the same amount of detail.

ATI Only Numbers - ALL CATALYST 8.1 Drivers

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test systems to the latest drivers and is now testing all the cards at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 1280x1024.  We just finished all the ATI Radeon 3000 series graphics cards on 8.1 CATALYST Drivers, but haven't yet completed all the NVIDIA graphics cards. For this reason we split up the test results and we hope you understand why as we are in a transition period and have over 20 video cards to re-test, which takes a long time as we run each benchmark three times and average the results.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

NVIDIA Results - Forceware 169.06/CATALYST 8.1

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test system to the latest NVIDIA video card drivers, but for now are using Forceware 169.06.   This will be the last time these NVIDIA numbers will be used.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

Benchmark Results: The results from our custom benchmark utility on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. showed that the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 does very well against other ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards. The Radeon HD 3970 X2 was one frame per second faster than a pair of Radeon HD 3870's in CrossFire, which is impressive.  The Radeon HD 3870 X2 was also found to be just slightly faster than the GeForce 8800 Ultra running Forceware 169.06 drivers!

Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes (CoH) is a real-time strategy (RTS) computer game developed by Relic Entertainment that was released on September 14, 2006. On May 29, 2007 Relic released a patch for Company of Heroes that supports DirectX 10 and we used the latest patch to test DirectX 10 game performance. Company of Heroes is set during World War II where the player follows a military unit, known as Able Company, as they fight their way through some of the greatest and bloodiest battles, including the D-Day landings at Normandy.

ATI Only Numbers - ALL CATALYST 8.1 Drivers

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test systems to the latest drivers and is now testing all the cards at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 1280x1024.  We just finished all the ATI Radeon 3000 series graphics cards on 8.1 CATALYST Drivers, but haven't yet completed all the NVIDIA graphics cards. For this reason we split up the test results and we hope you understand why as we are in a transition period and have over 20 video cards to re-test, which takes a long time as we run each benchmark three times and average the results.

Company of Heroes Benchmark Results

NVIDIA Results - Forceware 169.06/CATALYST 8.1

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test system to the latest NVIDIA video card drivers, but for now are using Forceware 169.06.   This will be the last time these NVIDIA numbers will be used.

Company of Heroes Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: At 1280x1024, the ATI 3870 X2 bests the 3870 Crossfire setup by a full 2 fps.  The gap narrows at the higher resolution of 1920x1200, but the 3870 X2 still tops the 3870 Crossfire setup by about 1.5 fps.  The next closest ATI card, the 3870, is nearly 16fps slower!  At 1600x1200, we see that the 3870 X2 is just about 1fps slower than the GeForce 8800 Ultra.    

World in Conflict

World in Conflict Benchmarking

World in Conflict (also known as WiC or WIC) is a real-time tactical video game developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows and the Xbox 360. The game was released in North America on 18 September 2007 and was included in our testing as it is a recent DirectX 10 game title. It also has a threaded engine for multi-core processor support, which is ideal for this testing. The plot in World in Conflict is to defend their country, their hometown, and their families in the face of Soviet-led World War III, delivering an epic struggle of courage and retribution. You are a field commander leading the era's most powerful military machines in the heroic effort to turn back the invasion…one city and suburb at a time. Let's get on to the benchmarking! WIC was tested using the most recent patch available, which is patch number 002.

ATI Only Numbers - ALL CATALYST 8.1 Drivers

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test systems to the latest drivers and is now testing all the cards at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 1280x1024.  We just finished all the ATI Radeon 3000 series graphics cards on 8.1 CATALYST Drivers, but haven't yet completed all the NVIDIA graphics cards. For this reason we split up the test results and we hope you understand why as we are in a transition period and have over 20 video cards to re-test, which takes a long time as we run each benchmark three times and average the results.

Medium DX9 Quality Settings -

World in Conflict Benchmark Results

High DX10 Quality Settings -

World in Conflict Benchmark Results

NVIDIA Results - Forceware 169.06/CATALYST 8.1

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test system to the latest NVIDIA video card drivers, but for now are using Forceware 169.06.   This will be the last time these NVIDIA numbers will be used.

World in Conflict Benchmark Results

Results: As you would expect, in our DX9 testing at medium quality, the 3870 X2 card does better than every other single ATI GPU card that we tested.  Not necessarily enough to want this card for just WOC using DX9.  In our DX10 igh Quality settings, the only competition that the 3870 X2 has is the 3870 Crossfire setup, which bests the X2 card by a full 3FPS.  Nothing else even in teh ATI family comes close to matching its performance.  When paired against the Nvidia cards in the DX10 settings, the 3870 X2 beats out Nvidia's top card, the 8800 Ultra by 4fps, or a 5% increase.

Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a first-person shooter developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision for Xbox 360 , Playstation 3 and PC. It is the fourth installment in the Call of Duty video game series. It was announced on April 25, 2007 and was released on November 6, 2007 in North America. The single player game can be completed in well under seven hours, but the graphics are awesome.  Click the image below to see Call of Duty 4 at 1920x1200 resolution with 4x AA enabled on the ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics card.

Call of Duty 4 Benchmarking

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare runs on a proprietary graphics engine, and has features such as true world-dynamic lighting, HDR lighting effects, dynamic shadows and depth-of-field. "Bullet Penetration" is calculated by the engine, taking into account things such as surface type and entity thickness. Certain objects, such as cars, and some buildings are destructible. This makes distinguishing cover from concealment important, as meager protection such as wooden fences, thin walls and such no longer provide sufficient protection. The bullet's speed and stopping power are decreased after penetrating an object, and this decrease is calculated realistically depending on the thickness and surface of the object penetrated. The game also makes use of a physics engine, which was not implemented in previous Call of Duty titles for the PC. Death Animations are a combination of pre-set animations and ragdoll physics. Some mistook the game's graphics to be DirectX 10 based, but it is stated that the graphics use DirectX 9.

ATI Only Numbers - ALL CATALYST 8.1 Drivers

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test systems to the latest drivers and is now testing all the cards at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 1280x1024.  We just finished all the ATI Radeon 3000 series graphics cards on 8.1 CATALYST Drivers, but haven't yet completed all the NVIDIA graphics cards. For this reason we split up the test results and we hope you understand why as we are in a transition period and have over 20 video cards to re-test, which takes a long time as we run each benchmark three times and average the results.

Call of Duty 4 v1.2 Benchmark Results at 12800x1024

NVIDIA Results - Forceware 169.06/CATALYST 8.1

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test system to the latest NVIDIA video card drivers, but for now are using Forceware 169.06.   This will be the last time these NVIDIA numbers will be used.

Call of Duty 4 v1.2 Benchmark Results at 12800x1024

Results: Call of Duty 4 had to be one of the best FPS games of 2007 and it is hard on graphics cards when the settings cranked up. At 1280x1024, the 3870 X2 is slower than the 3870 Crossfire setup by abotu 5 fps.  The gap narrows when you crank the resolution to 1920x1200, as there is not quite a 2 fps difference, with the Crossfire setup coming out on top.  When you compare the 3870 X2 against the offering from Nvidia, it does very well for itself as it virtually ties the 8800 Ultra.

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking and the latest version in the popular 3DMark series! 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, advanced SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today.

ATI Only Numbers - ALL CATALYST 8.1 Drivers

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test systems to the latest drivers and is now testing all the cards at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 1280x1024.  We just finished all the ATI Radeon 3000 series graphics cards on 8.1 CATALYST Drivers, but haven't yet completed all the NVIDIA graphics cards. For this reason we split up the test results and we hope you understand why as we are in a transition period and have over 20 video cards to re-test, which takes a long time as we run each benchmark three times and average the results.

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

NVIDIA Results - Forceware 169.06/CATALYST 8.1

Legit Reviews is in the middle of updating our test system to the latest NVIDIA video card drivers, but for now are using Forceware 169.06.   This will be the last time these NVIDIA numbers will be used.

3DMark06 Benchmark Results at 1280x1024

Benchmark Results: The results from 3DMark06 are similiar to what we have already seen.  The X2 card barely squeeks over the top of the 3870 Crossfire setup in the total score for this benchmark.  When you look at the SM2 and SM3 scores, the 3870 X2 AND THE 3870 Crossfire setups are very very close with each taking the performance lead in one.  When compared to the Nvidia cards, the 3870 X2 just stomped the 8800 Ultra into the ground by scoring nearly 2000 more points in the overall score.

Lightsmark 2007

Lightmarks 2007 version 1.2 Benchmark

LIGHTSMARK is a new benchmark/demo with real-time global illumination and penumbra shadows created by Stepan Hrbek. Lightsmark version 1.3 was used as it contains new rendering paths for ATI Radeon HD 2xxx and 38XX series graphics cards. Before version 1.3 was released, the ATI Radeon HD 38xx series video cards were unable to render objects in the benchmark.

Benchmark Features:

It should be noted that ATI questioned our use of this benchmark as the developer is a private individual that never contacted developer relations at ATI. ATI also made it clear to us that although this benchmark uses global illumination, that it is not similar to the DX10.1 demo that ATI been showing. ATI isn't sure how the benchmark is made as they have not had time to look into it, but if its rendering to cube maps then its likely that performance could be increased if the app used DX10.1's indexed cube maps.

To be fair to both side we contacted the creator of Lightsmark 2007 and Stepan Hrbek had this to say.

"I developed it with 3 Radeon and 3 GeForce cards, randomly switching them, there are no special optimizations, IMHO it's fair. I bought all 6 cards, no gifts.. Small unfairness is only in quality. The same shader on Nvidia card produces smoother shadows but I don't give Nvidia any bonus points for quality, only fps is measured. It uses completely new technique where part of calculation runs on CPU, drivers were not optimized for it for years, so it's possible that it hits some unoptimized driver code. But both companies are in the same situation."

Since we ran the test, we will go ahead and include it, but what the results mean is up in the air.

Lightmarks 1.2 Benchmarking

Benchmark Results: Lightsmark 2007 v1.3 showed the ATI Radeon 3870 X2 in a virtual tie with the 3870 single card at both resolutions tested.  It is very interesting to see the 3870 Crossfire setup come in third place here, even behind a single card.  Obviously this benchmark and the drivers are both not configured to properly run a Crossfire setup. The Radeon HD 3870 X2 leads the test, but this is likely due to the higher core clock frequency that the card has.

Temperatures

Since video card temperatures and the heat generated by next-generation cardshave become an area of concern among enthusiasts and gamers, we want to take a closer look at how the Radeon HD 3870 X2 does.

ATI Radeon HD 3650 Load Temperatures

With the ATI Tool open, the video card was rendering the object in the picture above at an average 931 frames per second.  Rendering this object puts the GPU at 99% load, which is great for heating up the card.  We let it run for half an hour and it was enough to get the Radeon HD 3870 X2 up to 80 degrees Celsius from 53 degrees Celsius at idle. It should be noted that this was done on the open test bench with the motherboard laying flat, so expect slightly higher temperatures with the card installed in a case.

Let's take a look to see how the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 and see how it does against other ATI Radeon HD graphics cards when it comes to heat.

Diamond Radeon HD 3850 Temperatures

Benchmark Results: The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 does get pretty good at full load even with the use of copper and aluminum heat sinks.  The idle and load temperatures were actually lower than a single ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics card, but the fan is bigger and louder on the Radeon HD 3870 X2.

Overclocking

To overclock the ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics card, we used ATI Overdrive that is part of the CATALYST Control Center.  When you 'unlock' the ATI Overdrive, you can manually set the clock and memory settings or let the 'auto-tune' utility to set the frequencies for you.  Just for fun, I tried out the auto-tune feature to see if it could really find a stable clock configuration and it worked in just a few minutes! Let's see what the two cards can do with CATALYST 8.1 (Sample_R680_xp_vista_8-451-2-080123a) drivers!

Overclocking The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

We used the ATI Overdrive utility and found that Auto-Tune was unstable and would lock the system up during use. We gave up on Auto-Tune and manually overclocked the card from 825MHz to 855MHz on the core and from 900MHz to 955MHz on the memory.  After testing the overclock on games it was found to be stable, but the scores didn't budge much.  In all honesty our 3DMark06 score actually dropped with the above clock settings, so if you overclock be sure to check and make sure it improves performance. ATI will hopefully have 'Auto-Tune' fully working in upcoming driver releases.

Power Consumption and Conclusions

Power Consumption

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Seasonic Power Angel. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers, we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running the game World in Conflict at 1600x1200 with medium graphics quality.

Power Consumption Results

Power Consumption Results:  When it comes to power consumption the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 didn't shock us when it consumed more power than any single graphics card combination that we have looked at recently. At full load the entire system consumed 334W , which was just higher than what the GeForce 8800 Ultra consumes. For a card that has a full TeraFLOP of processing power would you expect any less? The idle power consumption was very impressive compared to NVIDIA based graphics cards though, so keep that in mind as most computers sit at idle anyway.

ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 Video Card

Final Thoughts

The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 is obviously aimed at the enthusiast market and it does very well compared to other ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards.   The Radeon HD 3870 X2 looks great on DirectX 10 game titles and holds it own against the GeForce 8800 Ultra, which is a card that costs nearly $200 more at $630. For just $450 the Radeon HD 3870 X2 finally forces NVIDIA to compete in the high-end video card market, so it should be safe to say that NVIDIA has some new products on the way and possible price cuts on cards that have been in the market for some time now.  It took ATI years to catch up to the GeForce 8800 GTX and GeForce 8800 Ultra and while they didn't catch up with a single GPU solution they did develop a mutli-GPU solution that can. When it comes to ease of use the Radeon HD 3870 X2 was easier to use than pair of Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards in CrossFire as nothing need to be done.  Just install the cards and everything is already enabled and ready to go.  Having more than one GPU on a card has been done before and it is only a matter of time before enthusiast  GPU's have multiple cores on one piece of silicon just like desktop processors.

ATI planned for the Radeon HD 3870 X2 to compete with the higher end NVIDIA cards all along and that does show through in certain areas.  The use of the PCI Express 1.1 bridge chip shows that ATI wanted to cut the time to market down as they didn't wait for the PCI Express 2.0 bridge chip when they originally designed the board.  The use of one copper and one aluminum heat sink shows that weight and cost became an issue during development.  The other thing that stands out is the use of GDDR3 memory ICs over GDDR4 as that too was cleary done for cost issues.  ATI no doubt needed the Radeon HD 3870 X2 to come out as fast as possbile, but what if it had a newer bridge chip, all copper heat sinks and faster GDDR4 memory ICs? The Radeon HD 3870 X2 is a great graphics card at a killer price point, but there is obviously room for improvement.

Overall the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 was designed to perfection and has done the job it was sent out to do perfectly.  NVIDIA finally has competition in the $400+ price range!  When ATI releases CrossFireX drivers and a pair of these can be run together it should get really interesting, but by then I'm sure NVIDIA will have an answer on our door step. 

Bottom Line: At $449 the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card is by far the fastest single card solution from AMD.  It competes with the higher end GeForce 8800 series cards that are finally starting to show signs of aging.