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Nathan Edwards Jun 25, 2008

AMD Radeon HD 3850

At A Glance

Rodeo Burger

Unified Video Decoder, support for PCI Express 2.0 and DirectX 10.1.

Rodeo Clown

Only 256MB GDDR3; laggy at 1920x1200; $70 more will get you a much faster Nvidia 8800 GT.

We were so pleased with the price/performance ratio of AMD’s Radeon HD 3870 that we awarded Asus’s implementation of it a 9 Kick Ass verdict in our January 2008 issue. We’re not nearly as impressed with the gaming performance of the architecture’s cheaper cousin, the Radeon HD 3850.

The two GPUs share many features, including the same number of stream processors (320), the same 256-bit memory interface, and AMD’s Unified Video Decoder (for offloading all HD-video decoding from the host CPU). Both parts also provide HDCP support on both DVI links, so Blu-ray and HD DVD movies can be displayed on a 30-inch panel at the screen’s native resolution.

And like the 3870, the cheaper 3850 supports PCI Express 2.0, Direct3D 10.1, and Shader Model 4.0 (none of Nvidia’s GPUs support the latter two features, although it will be a long time before this advantage really means anything). But while the 3870 reference design features 512MB of GDDR4 memory and a dual-slot cooler, the 3850 board we received was outfitted with just 256MB of GDDR3 memory, a single-slot cooler and relatively tame core, and memory clock speeds of 670MHz and 829MHz, respectively.

For gaming, the Radeon HD 3870 was at least competitive with Nvidia’s 8800 GT, but the Radeon HD 3850 is a laggard when it comes to gaming at the native resolution of a 24-inch screen (1920x1200). The frame rates we achieved were roughly half of what we obtained with the 8800 GT. If the 3850 cost half as much as an 8800 GT (average street price: $260), this card would garner a Kick Ass award, but at press time, the average street price for these boards was $190. The extra $70 not only buys a faster GPU, but a frame buffer that’s twice as large.

If gaming isn’t your bag, the Radeon 3850 is a fine GPU for watching high-definition movies. But we prefer videocards that can do it all.

Windows XP (DirectX 9)
  AMD Radeon HD 3850
GeForce 8800 GT
3DMark06 Game 1 (FPS) 14.4
30.0
3DMark06 Game 2 (FPS) 16.7 22.9
World in Conflict (FPS) 14.0 32.0
Lost Planet (FPS) 16.2 34.3

Windows Vista (DirectX 10)
  Radeon HD 3850
GeForce 8800 GT
3DMark06 Game 1 (FPS) 15.6 28.0
3DMark06 Game 2 (FPS) 16.4 22.3
World in Conflict (FPS) 7.0 20.0
Lost Planet (FPS) 12.0 22.0
Best scores are bolded. AMD-based cards tested with an Intel D975BX2 motherboard; Nvidia-based cards tested with an EVGA 680i SLI motherboard. Intel 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800 CPUs and 2GB of Corsair DDR RAM used in both scenarios. Benchmarks performed at 1920x1200 resolution on ViewSonic VP2330wb monitors.
THE VERDICT

AMD Radeon HD 3850

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