ATI Radeon HD 3870 & 3850: A Return to Competitionby Anand Lal Shimpi & Derek Wilson on November 15, 2007 12:00 AM EST
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Without a doubt, AMD is back in the graphics game. When the Radeon HD 2900 XT launched, we couldn't be more surprised at how poorly the product did. The lack of competition allowed NVIDIA to sit back and relax as the orders for more 8800-based product kept on flowing in. While the Radeon HD 3870 isn't faster than the GeForce 8800 GT, if AMD can hit its price point, it is a viable alternative if you're looking to save money.
AMD is in a lot of trouble however if the 8800 GT pricing/availability problem does get worked out; the 8800 GT does offer better performance-per-watt and better performance in general, at the same price the decision is clear, but luckily for AMD the two don't appear to be selling at the same price.
The Radeon HD 3850 is a bit slower than its more expensive sibling and as such ends up being tremendous competition for current mid-range cards like the GeForce 8600 GTS or Radeon HD 2600 XT. We only compared it to the 8600 GTS in this review, but the 3850 similarly obsoletes the 2600 XT.
Both cards from AMD are quite competitive today, but the balance of competition could easily shift depending on pricing and availability of either these cards or their competition. If AMD can't deliver on the prices it is so adamant about meeting, it loses serious cool points. Similarly, if NVIDIA can get enough 8800 GTs in the market, or if the 256MB version actually hits at $179 - $199, AMD would be in a lot of trouble.
Today the Radeon 3870 seems like a nice, albeit slower, alternative to the 8800 GT. But it's difficult to make a thorough recommendation without knowing how the 256MB 8800 GT will stack up and where it'll be priced. Given how the 8800 GTs sold out, if you're truly interested in the 3870 pick one up now, but if you're like us and want to carefully weigh all options - wait a couple of weeks and see what happens with the 8800 GT 256MB.
There is one more point to discuss, and that is: what happens to the high end GPU market? AMD is talking about sticking two 3800 GPUs on a single card and NVIDIA has been very quiet about its next-generation high end GPU plans, but with games like Crysis and Gears of War out on the PC, it'd be nice to actually advantage peak performance as well as affordable performance. What we do like about these new affordable GPUs is that they finally leave us with a feeling that you're getting something for your money, whereas mid-range GPUs of recent history seemed to just give you mediocre performance while lightening your wallet a lot more than they should.
While this may seem like a blip in an otherwise very profit-centric product lineup, we'd love to see similar performance revolutions at other price points in the graphics market. Give us a $100 graphics card that's actually worth something, and maybe we'll end up seeing a resurgence in PC gaming after all.