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Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 512MB GDDR4 - Performance and Verdict
Looking at the results you can see that the HD 3870 does indeed keep up with the older 2900 XT. Considering that the 2900 XT was launched at around £270, compared to less than £140 for the HD 3870, and AMD's claims of performance and efficiency and low cost can be seen to be a resounding success
Unfortunately, what the HD 3870 can't compete with in most cases is a GeForce 8800 GT, especially once the resolution and the anti aliasing and anisotropic filtering are applied. Take Call of Duty 2 at 1,920 x 1,200 - the 3870 gets 39.11fps versus 51.1 for the GT. Note these are stock 8800 GT scores - overclocked versions are available though of course they are priced accordingly.
However, ATI cards have always been great at Source engine based games, and at 1,680 x 1,050 at 4xAA and 8xAF, the 3870 is faster than the 8800 GT by a hefty 15fps and by almost as much at 1,920 x 1,200.
In Enemy Territory, the cards scale more linearly and the GT is always comfortably in front. In Crysis, all the single cards tested here struggle to achieve 30fps. From our experience you can get by at 25fps - the 3870 only manages this at 1,280 x 1,024. If you have a widescreen 1,680 x 1,050 screen, it drops below the threshold to 20.7fps, while an 8800 GT can give you 27fps. To my mind, Crysis is a game that graphically is still ahead of its time, and personally I'm not going to play it until I've got next gen hardware.
Clearly then, whether the Radeon HD 3870 is good enough depends on what games you play and at what resolution and settings. However, there's no doubt that it delivers its money's worth for performance. In Source it's faster than an 8800 GT and in some games slower but it is at least £30 cheaper than a stock 8800 GT.
But is that enough? If you've got a small form factor system then the fact that the 8800 GT is single slot card might be enough to swing it in nVidia's favour. With a single slot you then have a PCI slot free for things such as a dedicated sound card - which makes sense, especially if you're gaming. However, if single slot is not an issue, then at the £140 mark, the £35-£40 saving over a GT actually translates into something concrete - such as a game or possibly two.
On that basis we'll happily recommend the Sapphire HD Radeon 3870. We don't think you'll see much benefit from its DX10.1 feature set but for the sub-£150 gaming market it's the card of choice. A good effort then, but we still want to see whether AMD can match or even beat nVidia at the high-end.
This is something of a comeback for the ATI brand. AMD claimed the 3000 series would match the performance of the 2900s but be quieter, cooler and cheaper, and on that score it has achieved its aims admirably. No it isn't as fast as an 8800 GT, but it's priced accordingly, and for most games, certainly below 1,920 x 1,200, it's fast enough.