Power Consumption and Conclusions
Obviously putting two GPUs on a single graphics card is going to result in some larger than normal power usage, but how exactly does the new HD 3870 X2 fare?
It actually doesn’t too that badly, though the claims of the single HD 3870 X2 card using less power than a pair of HD 3870s appears to be incorrect. At both idle and at load, the single HD 3870 X2 card used more power than our test setup with two standard cards in the system; the results are actually quite surprising as we would have expected the more efficient use of power to be with the solution that used the fewest total components. Obviously the higher clocking of the GPUs has some affect on this. The scores are just a bit higher than the single 8800 Ultra though so the power consumption on the HD 3870 X2 isn’t completely out of whack with reality.
AMD was adamant that the HD 3870 X2 was going to be competing for the performance crown against the best that NVIDIA had to offer and it would appear that AMD has done just that. The story isn’t as cut and dry as perhaps they would have liked, NVIDIA’s 8800 Ultra still wins its share of the benchmarks, but AMD is now closer than they have been in years to having a part on the same level as NVIDIA’s best.
Titles like Bioshock, Call of Juarez and Lost Planet were the wins for AMD in this case. The HD 3870 X2 was able to either best the NVIDIA 8800 Ultra at the top resolution of 2560×1600 that we tested or was able to win at even lower resolutions of 1920×1200 or so. The performance gaps weren’t enormous by my measure but the HD 3870 X2 was definitely faster.
Looking at Crysis and Unreal Tournament 3, the two newest games in our test suite, the performances between the 8800 Ultra and the AMD HD 3870 X2 were quite close. In the case of UT3, the performance quirk we saw will probably be fixed as see evident in the performance of the standard HD 3870 cards in CrossFire. Call of Duty 4 was the other major title I might call a performance tie thanks to the shifting of lead from AMD to NVIDIA at the 2560×1600 settings.
Company of Heroes, and especially World in Conflict, were the big losses for AMD. WiC in particular showed abysmal performance across the board for AMD’s cards, not just the new HD 3870 X2.
In terms of AMD-on-AMD action, the HD 3870 X2 is impressive for a couple of reasons. First, the fact that it is essentially a pair of HD 3870 GPUs on a single card, yet can show substantial performance gains over two actual 3870s in CrossFire shows dedication in engineering. When compared to AMD’s own previous single-card lineup, the HD 3870 X2 is the first high-end, enthusiast class performance part that the company has released since the Radeon X1950 XTX WAY back in September of 2006. Offering anywhere from 25-90% improvement benefits over AMD’s previous top performing card, a single Radeon HD 3870, the new 3870 X2 should find its way into a lot of enthusiast systems.
Noise and Heat
I touched on it briefly in the overview of the Asus Radeon HD 3870 X2 card, but the acoustics and heat dissipation of the new HD 3870 X2 card are impressive. The card never got louder than a single HD 3870 card and was definitely more quite than the single-slot coolers on the 8800 GT and the HD 3850 cards of this past fall. The heat is also well handled and nearly all of the hot air is quickly exhausted out the back of the case and not back into the chassis as many people complained about with the HD 3870 cooler design.
And yes, the new HD 3870 X2 is heavy for a single card – can’t get around that fact. The small micro-scale I have for weighing these things doesn’t go high enough for the HD 3870 X2 to register (seriously, it’s over the 16oz that is measures, but so is the 8800 Ultra) so you’ll have to just take my objective word for it.
This isn’t the first dual-GPU graphics card we have seen in recent years. The most prominent recent example, besides the mid-range HD 2600 X2 card, was NVIDIA’s GeForce 7950 GX2 card. It essentially had two 7900 GTX GPUs on it, scaled down in clock rates for power reasons, in a full-time SLI configuration and it worked in exactly the same fashion as the HD 3870 X2 we see here. And, just as AMD is planning, the NVIDIA 7950 GX2 was used in pairs to offer Quad-SLI. The problem with all this strategy from NVIDIA? It never panned out: Quad-SLI was a flash in the pan and because of software incompatibility and upcoming Vista changes, Quad-SLI is essential a dead platform and users that bought it threw their money away. And customers have longer memories that some might imagine.
Old Skool – AMD HD 2600 X2
This time, AMD has to prove that it isn’t the case with their HD 3870 X2; and even in a single card configuration. While users that buy a new, $500 single-GPU graphics card can be reasonably sure that 100% of their GPU power will be used with just about any game title, even on the first day of its release, the same is not true for multi-GPU setups be they multi-card or single-card. SLI and CrossFire take a lot of driver development time and despite rumors to the contrary, have never “worked with all titles” — ever. A user that buys this AMD Radeon HD 3870 X2 that is essential CrossFire-on-a-card has to be sure that AMD will keep up its end of the bargain: release drivers for games before on their release date that allow the user to take advantage of ALL the GPU horsepower they bought, not just half of it.
It’s a lofty goal and one we will be eagerly monitoring: AMD is not the only one with dual-GPU graphics card aspirations this year.
Pricing and Availability
According to AMD, the new Radeon HD 3870 X2 cards should be in the channel today, though you might have to wait until next week to actually purchase them. It is possible they’ll make it to e-tailers as soon as today or this week but we’ll give AMD at least 7 days grace period before railing them on availability. In their defense, there recent product releases of the HD 3850 and HD 3870 have been much more successful from an availability stand point than NVIDIA’s recent HD 8800 GT and 8800 GTS launches.
Pricing on the HD 3870 X2 is supposed to fall into the $449 price range, but that will of course depend on availability and demand. At $449 though, the Asus AMD Radeon HD 3870 X2 will be significantly cheaper than the best price we can find any NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra cards at – currently no lower than $630 on our pricing engine. The NVIDIA 8800 GTX card is much more reasonably priced, starting at $440 or so for some reference speed models that will be slightly slower than the 8800 Ultra we benchmarked here today. Considering that they will be SLOWER than the 8800 Ultra benchmarks shown here, yet the same or higher priced than the $449 MSRP of the AMD Radeon HD 3870 X2, AMD has put themselves in a very good position with this release.
I’ll have updates here in this section throughout the week as we find cards for sale.
Update: Newegg has several in stock at the $449 MSRP price to boot!
The new AMD Radeon HD 3870 X2 is a breath of fresh air for us – competition in the enthusiast level of the marketplace is well overdue and will lead to better prices and performance for everyone in the long run. AMD’s Radeon HD 3870 X2 is an elegant design that shows performance meeting or beating that of NVIDIA’s current flagship 8800 Ultra graphics board in today’s most demanding DX9 and DX10 titles. Its dual-GPU design has its strengths and its weaknesses as we have dissected above but the end result is truly what matters: performance. Put the Radeon HD 3870 X2 on your short list of ultimate performance graphics boards and buckle up: the race is truly heating up for 2008.
Join us in the PCPer Video Card forums to questions and comments on the review!