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It's not often we review a graphics card without testing it against the competition but today is one of those rare occasions. You see, while it may look rather different, the ASUS EAH3870X2 is actually identical in terms of performance to the ATI reference HD3870 X2 that we looked at a couple of weeks ago. In fact, being as our review sample from ATI died part way through testing, we actually used the ASUS card to complete our testing for that review.
So what we're here to do today is assess the EAH3870X2 not for its underlying technology and performance but rather look at whether the new twists Asus has applied to the ATI reference design make for a better or worse card and assess whether the bundled accessories and games, along with the card's overall price make for a compelling purchase.
All that said, it would be a little harsh to send you all off to read through a 15 page article just to familiarise yourselves with a card's architecture and features so I'll spend the next few paragraphs just quickly going over what the EAH3870 X2 has at its heart.
The HD 3870 X2 is actually two HD 3870 chips mounted on a single board and working together in CrossFire. Unlike conventional CrossFire and SLI setups the signal between the two chips doesn't actually pass through the PCI-E bus or the connectors on top of the card. Instead, it is all done on the card with the help of a PCI-E bridge chip, which nestles between the two HD 3870 chips.
The merits of this arrangement are again something we discussed at length in the full review of the HD 3870 X2 so I won't dwell on it here. However, it is important enough to at least bring to your attention.
You see the HD3870 X2 is an incredible technical achievement - fitting all that hardware on such a relatively compact board is worthy of aclaim on its own - however it isn't a product we can out and out recommend because although one minute it may be the fastest thing around, the next it could be slower than a card costing a third of the price.
This all comes down to the fact games need to be written with dual-GPU configurations in mind to benefit from the extra processing power they provide. This and the card's drivers often need to be optimised to work with the game as well. While this will generally happen eventually, and you will be able to have the gaming experience you paid for, it could take significant amounts of time. So, if you are thinking about investing in an HD3870 X2 you should bare in mind these potential problems.
In terms of features, the HD3870 X2 boasts ATI's latest video decoding engine, the UVD, that enables you to watch HD movies on your PC without it taxing your CPU. It supports ATI's PowerPlay technology for dynamically adjusting power usage, ensuring only as much power is drawn as is needed depending on how much work the card has to do. Also, when the drivers are ready you will be able to use a pair of these cards together for four-way CrossFire, or CrossFire X as AMD is calling it.
That's a brief overview of what the HD 3870 X2 brings to the table but what really matters today is how this particular Asus card stacks up. So, join us on the next page where we'll discuss the merits or possibly even lack thereof of the Asus EAH3870 X2.