One move we expected, one move we didn't.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of AMD’s CES announcements. On the one had we have the perfectly reasonable and expected transition of the 3800-series to the mobile domain and on the other we have the same range of cards making an appearance on the ages-old AGP interface. The latter is what has me puzzled because, the way I see it, surely a company like AMD needs to be looking to the future, not the past? Is anyone really impressed by a company producing the ‘world’s fastest’ AGP solution any more?
Back in the world of sanity and products people are likely to buy, it would probably be prudent to have a look at the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3600 and 3400 Series (to give them their full names), so I will. Starting with the 3400, we see the same 40 stream processors as on the Mobility HD 2400 XT, we see the same 64-bit memory interface, 40 stream processors and UVD features. New features basically amount to (fairly moot) DirectX 10.1 support and a die shrink to a 55nm (from 65nm) process. The latter is probably the most important upgrade on this card because it should mean lower power consumption and indeed coupled with the 3000-series’ PowerPlay functionality should make the 3400 a great low-power dedicated graphics solution and a viable alternative to the nVidia equivalent.
The 3600 follows the same trend as its smaller sibling, again equalling the 2600 XTs 120 stream processors and 128-bit memory interface, although the newer card also increases support to GDDR4 in addition to GDDR3 and GDDR2, so some performance increases should be possible on the memory front. Again, the die shrink to 55nm and addition of PowerPlay are the only real changes to the chip.
Snide cynicism aside, the real interesting announcement from AMD at CES is the AGP 3850. A surprising number of people do pop up from time to time asking for advice on how to increase the gaming prowess of their ‘olde worlde’ Socket A and 478 systems (Athlon XP and the first run of Pentium 4s respectively) and often a graphics card update is the recommended solution. If you fall into this category and really can’t do the right thing and upgrade to a Core 2 system then you could do worse than consider the AGP 3850, packing as it does core and memory clock speeds in the region of 650MHz and 1.7GHz respectively depending on manufacturer. Obviously performance will be held back by the AGP interface and the specs of the rest of the components in such a system, but that’s the trade-off you make for living in the era of the dinosaurs – in technology terms anyway.