VisionTek Radeon HD 3870 Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, February 12th, 2008
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/visiontekhd3870/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

In the tradition of celebrating Valentine's Day, we here at Neoseeker decided on reviewing some hardware for you. Sorry -- no free chocolate this time, but hey, we did remember the card.

Today we will be looking at a VisionTek Radeon HD 3870. As you may be aware, ATI's HD 3870 is an enthusiast-class DirectX 10.1 gaming video card, with a Unified Video Decoder for improved HD experiences. Many different video cards are available to enthusiasts these days; the primary competitor to the HD3870 being NVIDIA's 8800 GT. Our VisionTek HD 3870 is a unique HD3870 though -- it strays from the reference board design of the HD 3870 in a good way: it sports a more powerful cooler on it, which we will push to the limits in our testing.

This is the first video card from VisionTek we have had a chance to review, so you might be unfamiliar with the company. VisionTek, it in its original conception, was founded back in 1988. It had a modest beginning: a group of childhood friends founded the company, starting it off by buying and selling memory chips from their homes. Based in Illinois, VisionTek evolved into a sizable manufacturer, developer and supplier of computer peripherals and memory products. They entered the video card arena first as in the OEM market, and then more recently into the retail segment, beginning with the introduction of the NVIDIA-supported XTASY line of video cards. Due in part to some litigious disagreement with NVIDIA in 2002, VisionTek is now a AMD/ATI partner.

Let's take a look at what VisionTek did with the HD 3870.

At first glance, the VisionTek HD 3870 almost looks like a HD2900XT -- unlike the other HD 3870's we've tested, the plastic enclosure of the dual-slot cooling solution encompasses almost the whole card.  A  21-vane fan dominates the right portion of the card, big enough to cause a bulge on the top of the card. The fan pushes air through a long aluminum heatsink, which looks roughly twice the size of the reference board heatsink. The heatsink is further assisted by a pair of U-shaped copper heat pipes that run vertically through the sinks.

Judging from the amount of air rushing out the rear of the card when in operation, the cooler does seem effective at pushing hot air where it should be: outside of your case. The cooling solution also covers the cards GDDR4 memory  well, which is nice to see.

Size-wise, the VisionTek HD 3870 is on the 'big' side of things, and compares in length to top-end cards such as the HD 2900 XT.

Below: A PowerColor HD 3850 PCS Xtreme, today's VisionTek HD 3870, and a MSI RX2600XT Platinum.

The clocks of the VisionTek HD 3870 are a bit above the standard/default HD 3870's speeds. While the standard HD 3870 is clocked at 777 for the core, and 1126 for the memory, the VisionTek HD 3870 comes in a bit higher at 800 / 1170. While 13 MHz isn't going to make or break any 16-hour straight gaming sessions you might get into to, its nice that VisionTek did give the clocks that boost without plastering their retail boxes with 'OC' stickers.

At the heart of the HD 3870 is 320 stream processors, 16 texture units and render output units, and the RV670 GPU, which is made using a 55 nanometre manufacturing process. This smaller nano-scale process translates into a lower power consumption relative to the majority of older GPU's. A 256-bit memory interface feeds the 512MB of GDDR4.

Standard for cards in this class, the VisionTek HD 3870 has two DVI outputs, so you can run multiple displays. As well, this card has built in HDMI video and 5.1 audio and ATI's Unified Video Decoder, which offloads the processing of digital HD video from HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs from the CPU. This video output can then be displayed at resolutions up to 2560x1600 (1080p+).

If you are looking to power this DirectX 10.1, PCI Express 2.0 video card, you'll need a standard PCIe power connector, and recommended 450 Watt or greater power supply.

Box

This video card comes in an averaged-sized black box. 

The box prominently displays that the card has 512MB of GDDR4, HD Video and HDMI 5.1 audio capabilities. You can also see the CrossFireX logo written over a backdrop of Tabula Rasa characters.

The side of the box includes a handy slot-identification chart, which may be useful to more casual gamers who are not certain whether they have a PCIe or AGP slot in their rig.

The text on the back of the box is written in English only; straightforwardly outlining of the features of the HD 3870. There are four screenshots on the back of the box: two of Tabula Rasa, and two from Call of Juarez.

Bundle

The VisionTek HD 3870 comes with a nice written manual (which is uncommon for video cards), a driver CD, a DVI to HDMI adapter, a DVI to VGA adapter, and HDTV component out adapter, and a CrossFire interconnect bridge.

Anything else, you might be wondering? Unfortunately, no -- while this bundle is fairly standard and covers the essentials, there is no Tabula Rasa game with this card. Seeing that iconic sexy red-head from Tabula Rasa on the box (and the screenshots on the back) led me to presume that the game was included, but this was not the case. Including a 30-day free trial of this interesting sci-fi MMORPG seems like it would've been a great cross-promotional addition to this video card package, so it is somewhat puzzling to see its absence, after it was featured on the box-art.

Power Usage

The VisionTek HD 3870 has reasonable power usage -- maybe thought it would have been a little bit lower, but nothing too alarming here.  Running a pair of these cards would require a 550 Watt power supply at least -- while running 3 or more using the new CrossFireX system, would require a very serious power supply.

Overclocking

The nice cooler on this video card would inspire belief in its suitability for overclocking, so we spent a fair bit of time seeing what this baby could do in our lab.

Using Rivatuner V2.06 we set the fan control to manual, at let it run at the 100% level. While this is helpful for overclocking, the fan does get fairly loud running at 100%, so it is probably not suitable for every day operation at this level. Perhaps 85% might better suit the overclocker in you -- but it depends on how sensitive your hearing is, and how far you want to push your video card. At default speeds the fan is not very loud at all, and barely noticeable.

After many trials and tribulations, we managed to get the VisionTek HD 3870 runnning rock-solid with a core clock of 884 and a memory clock of 1292 (2596 MHz). (Our stability was with our regular suite of benchmarks: about an hour's worth of intense demand on the GPU.) This card must feature that new BIOS that I heard about -- early HD 3870 cards where limited to a clock speed of 862 MHz.

This overclock isn't too shabby -- while not an incredible overclock in of itself beyond the standard HD 3870 clock speeds of 777 / 1126, as HD 3870's go, this is a very good overclock -- although I'm surprised I wasn't able to push the memory a bit further.

All-in-all, the VisionTek HD 3870 is a good overclocker.

Benchmark Setup

For this we review, we used the following testing platform:

We assembled a nice group of video cards to test against the VisionTek HD 3870: a NVIDIA 8800 GT 512MB, a XFX 8800 GT 256MB (XXX overclocked version), a MSI RX2600XT, a BFG 8600 GTS, a XFX 8800 GTS 512MB (XXX overclocked edition), and a PowerColor HD 3850 Xtreme PCS 512MB.

This should give us a good idea of where the HD 3870 sits in relation to the pack. The VisionTek HD 3870 is around the price of both 8800 GT cards, roughy twice the price of the RX2600XT and 8600 GTS cards, and 2/3rds of the price of the XFX 8800 GTS 512MB.

 

All of our benchmarks were run in a fully-patched Vista environment. For drivers, the NVIDIA cards all used Forceware 169.28, while the ATI cards were tested with a recent Catalyst 8.1 Beta driver (8.451-071220a1-58492C.)

And these are the games we benched, with some information on our chosen settings: 

Bioshock: For this benchmark, all of the Detail settings were set to 'High'. All of the graphic option switches were set to 'On', with the exception of the following three settings: Vsync, Windowed mode, and Force Global Lighting. We used FRAPS to measure framerate performance. The FRAPS run was 138 seconds, triggered from pulling the switch in the sub at game's beginning. The sub's dive involves many big models moving around, which should strain the GPU's and be a good measure of the game's engine.

Call of Juarez: We used the stand-alone Call of Juarez DX10 benchmarking program for these results. For our AA testing, we used a setting of 2x.

Crysis: These benchmarks were performed using 'fly-by' GPU test found within the single-player pre-release demo version of the game. All graphic settings were on 'Medium.' For AA, we used a setting of 4x. DX10 mode was used. Please note: This is not a 1.1 patched Crysis. While performance differences between version 1.0 and 1.1 of Crysis have been shown in many articles to be very minimal, we will soon be switching over to the retail version of the game. For now we will have to make due with version 1.0.  

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: This is the first time we used this id FPS shooter as a benchmark. The following settings were used: medium texture qualities, normal lighting quality, high shader effects, high terrian and foliage quality, ultra shader level, and shadows were on.

Unreal Tournament 3:  We tested the game using a fly-through of the vechicle capture-the-flag map 'Suspense.'angriLa (map) running for 90 seconds. Details were set to 'High', and a AF setting of 4x was used.

World In Conflict: We used the built-in benchmark of the demo version of this game. We ran the benchmark in DX9 rendering mode, with a 'High' level of quality. For the AA testing, we used a setting of 4x, and a setting of 16x for AF.

If you would like any further information about our benchmark settings, feel free to ask us in the forums.

The VisionTek HD 3870 gets things off to a good start with a top finish in single-texturing fill rate, and vertex shader performance. 

In Unreal, this VisionTek HD 3870 performs fairly well -- stacking up well against the competition.

Judging from these results, in Unreal the VisionTek HD 3870 and 8800 GT 512/256 would all deliver a pretty much indistinguishable gameplay experience, unless you went above the 1600x1200 resolution, or had amazingly performance-sensitive eyes.

If you regularly read our video card reviews here at Neoseeker, please not that we have upped the resolutions in this test. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is now our official high-resolution test, as we start at 1280x1024, go to 1600x1200, and end at 1920x1200.

In this benchmark, while the VisionTek HD 3870 fairs very well against the NVIDIA 8800 GT, I'm surprised that it does not perform better in comparison to the zippy factory-overclocked XFX 8800 GT 256MB. At 1920x1200 with AA turned on, I would've thought that the extra 256 MB of GDDR4 would have made more an impact on performance. But this appeared not to be the case.

 

The VisionTek climbs to the top of the charts in the Call of Juarez bench. This benchmark does historically favor ATI cards over NVIDIA -- but nonetheless, if Call of Juarez was your game, the HD 3870 would deliver a superior performance.  

The HD 3870 doesn't do as well on this Bioshock benchmark, as it delivers less frames than the 8800's, and does not significantly out-pace the factory-overclocked PowerColor HD 3850.

Without anti-aliasing engaged, the HD 3870 stacks up well against the competition here. However with the AA on (at a setting of x4), the 8800 GT does seem to out maneuver the HD 3870.

As Call of Juarez typically performs better with ATI cards, Crysis is more often a NVIDIA-friendly game, and here this is the case again as the VisionTek HD 3870 lags behind the 8800 GT's here.

The VisionTek HD 3870 is a complete solution for contemporary PC gamers. It will deliver strong gaming performance, at a reasonable price. You can expect to be 'fine' in the video card department for sometime if you have a VisionTek HD 3870 in your system.

One of the main questions that may be on your mind when reading this review is how the HD 3870 stacks up against the 8800 GT 512MB and 256MB cards. I'd say the answer is "quite well." While the 8800 GT 512MB does seem to overpower the HD 3870 more often than not in the benchmarks, the HD 3870 often can be found for retailing for a bit less than the many 8800 GT's, and also is able to be linked in CrossFireX mode for more than two cards, which is not something a 8800 GT is capable of. Deals can be found with both products though -- the astute shopper will watch his or her local (or favorite online) retailer for a good deals on both 8800 GT's or HD 3870's, and if a good deal can be found, you will not be dissatsified with going either route.

This particular HD 3870 -- the VisionTek Radeon HD 3870 -- is an all around solid product. I particularly  appreciated the cooling solution on this card -- it has one of the best coolers that I have seen first-hand from many different examples of the HD 3870 family. This capable cooler led directly to good experiences in overclocking. Price wise, the HD 3870 sits competively against other HD 3870's at around the current price point of $240. Also, although unadvertised on the box, the VisionTek's default clocks are a little bit higher than some other HD 3870's, so this is a nice little bonus to the HD 3870 as well. Additional compliments to VisionTek can be given for offering a limited lifetime warranty and toll free tech support line.

All in all, while perhaps lacking just a little extra something that could have maybe pushed this card from 'great' to 'outstanding', the VisionTek HD 3870 is a very nice example of the HD 3870 family, and is recommended.

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