We saw most of the info leaked just before Christmas last year, but AMD has now gotten all official with the details of its forthcoming HD 3400- and 3600-series graphics cards. Obviously given the uninspiring impression left by the previous mid-range, that is to say the 2400- and 2600-series, this will be a welcome arrival to those among us looking for something to power a bit of light gaming on, say, a 17in, 19in monitor or HDTV.
In a change from my norm I'll start at the top and work my way down, which puts the AMD ATI Radeon HD 3650 up for evaluation first. Starting with the basics we see a 725MHz core clock speed and the same 120 stream processors as spotted on the 2600. Memory configurations are a slightly confusing area as the ‘best' card comes with 256MB of 1.6GHz DDR3 while DDR2 configurations are available in either 256MB, 512MG or 1GB capacities all clocked at 1GHz and all these various flavours use a 128-bit interface.
Given the target audience I feel that offering the slower, DDR2-based, cards with larger memory configurations is only going to lead to confused customers, who will generally assume that more means better even though that isn't necessarily the case. Price wise the DDR3 packing HD 3650 should retail for around £60 while the DDR2 version will set you back between £45 and £60 depending on memory amounts. Please trust me when I say: if you want to even attempt to play games, get the DDR3 model.
Lower down the scale we see the HD 3470 which offers an 800MHz core clock speed along with 256MB of 1.9GHz DDR3 RAM. Meanwhile the HD 3450 comes in with a core speed of 600MHz and DDR2 memory clocked at 1GHz. Both cards have 40 stream processors and 64-bit memory interfaces though, so those of you who noticed the cards are clocked higher then the HD 3650 will also see that the cards will still be significantly slower. Of course with prices at around £25 for the 3450 and about £40 for the 3470, that is hardly an issue.
AMD is suggesting that gaming at 1024 x 768 on these cards should be possible with ‘reasonable' quality settings but given the price being able to game at all strikes me as mighty impressive. Importantly AMD has also improved the video decoding and processing on the new 3400-series cards too, claiming that 1080p playback and upscaling will be fully handled by all the cards announced today. Better still, the HD 3450 is a half height PCB meaning it will likely be the HTPC card of choice for this year, especially as board partners are expected to be offering single slot, passively cooled versions. For £30-odd I'd have a hard time not recommending it for a media centre.
In addition to the new cards, AMD is also announcing Hybrid CrossFire, basically the rival technology to Hybrid SLI, which is unsurprising given the naming similarities. As with GeForce Boost, Hybrid CrossFire allows an integrated ATI graphics chip and a dedicated card to share processing power and improve graphics performance and AMD is pretty confident that it scales as well as normal CrossFire does. Unlike nVidia's IGP/dedicated graphics crossover implementation there is no power saving option with Hybrid CrossFire though however, as AMD says, the 3000-series chipsets have very good power saving functionality anyway so it isn't really needed.
All these cards are expected to hit retailers shortly and we should have a few in for review soon if you want to wait before buying one. Considering the cost and intended user base, though, I doubt anyone considering the purchase could be to disappointed - if only AMD could accomplish the same thing with its high end products.