Looking Further into the VT HD 3870
The HD 3870 is the current top end single chip product from AMD, and it is produced by a variety of partners.  For the past several months it has been a popular option going against the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT.  While not as fast as the 8800 GT overall in “most” applications, it did provide quite a bit of value to the consumer.  Now that we see the latest NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT released this past month, I figured it was a good time to take another look at the HD 3870.

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The design from this angle is clean, and the fan means business.  The heatsink and heatpipes are a bit beefier on this version than on the reference design.

The VisionTek HD 3870 does take a step off the beaten path with regards to stock setups.  The first major difference is of course the non-standard fan and heatsink it uses.  From what I have seen and heard, it is a more effective solution than the stock AMD unit that is used on the reference designs.  The VisionTek part is also not a “BBA” built by AMD unit, and it is fully configured with components selected by VisionTek, which are not identical in many instances from what is provided on the BBA builds.

The fan and heatsink on this product seems to cool as well, if not better than the reference design.  Also, and perhaps more importantly, it is quieter than the stock unit.  The unit is whisper quiet the majority of the time and only during heavy gameplay does the fan spin up to anywhere near noticeable.

The other fundamental difference between this part and the reference design are the clocks.  The VisionTek card raises the speed from 777 MHz core to 800 MHz.  Memory speeds are also sitting at the full 1.2 GHz (2.4 GHz effective) GDDR-4.  Most reference designs run at speeds closer to 1120 MHz to 1150 MHz range, depending on the manufacturer.

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The two dual link DVI outputs surround the S-Video/Composite/Component output.

The overall PCB design remains much the same though, and I noticed no major differences.  The RV670 is a very efficient chip when running at 800 MHz, and it does not require more than one six pin PCI-E power connector.  The board does not run cool to the touch though, and in heavy gaming the GPU can reach upwards of 85C.  Still, the card keeps nice and quiet and I noticed no graphical glitches whatsoever.

The only real issue that I have run into with this particular design is the overclocking aspects.  It simply does not overclock.  Due to the BIOS in the video card, users cannot use Overdrive, or any other 3rd party overclocking application to overclock the card.  It simply will not budge from the base clocks.  Another potential issue with the BIOS is that it may not ramp fan speed as high as it needs to go considering the GPU temperature.  This did not turn out to be an issue with me, as the card never became unstable under testing.

The contents of the package are rather limited, but they should be enough for most users.  The CrossFire cable is included, as well as the DVI to HDMI adapter, S-Video cable, component cable, and S-Vid to composite adapter.  The bundled CD included older Catalyst drivers for all operating systems, but nothing else was bundled.  It is a very spartan bundle, and while Tabula Rasa is prominently featured on the front of the box, the game is not included with the product.

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The back is not terrible exciting, as there are no memory modules or heatsinks present.  This may change in the near future for at least one manufacturer…


System Setup

Since the HD 3870 is a major component of the “Spider Platform” from AMD, I thought it only appropriate to test it on such a system.  I used the Phenom 9900 clocked at 2.6 GHz (rev. B2, and is not available for public consumption) on the 790FX chipset.  I had the option of using either 4 GB of DDR-2 800 memory, or the faster 2 GB of DDR-2 1066 that came bundled with the Spider review unit.  I decided to utilize that extra bandwidth and go with the lesser amount of memory.  Many in the industry are convinced that Vista 64 will become the preferred enthusiast OS.  While it may be an uncomfortable thought for most, it likely is the shape of things to come.  I did all testing pre-SP1.

AMD Phenom 9900 @ 2.6 GHz
Asus M3A32 MVP Deluxe motherboard
2 GB Corsair DDR-2 1066 DIMMS
Seagate 320 GB 7200.10 HD
Lite-On DVD-R/RW
ThermalTake 600 Watt PurePower
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit Edition

I used the Catalyst 8.2 drivers for the AMD testing, and the 169.25 drivers for the 8800 GT in comparative testing.

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