VisionTek Radeon HD 3870 X2 Over-Clocked Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, May 15th, 2008
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/visiontekhd3870x2/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The video card we will be looking at today -- the Visiontek Radeon HD 3870 X2 Over-Clocked Edition -- represents the pinnacle of ATI's HD 3000 series of video cards.

It seems like only a short time ago that the HD 3870 came out, and battled against NVIDIA's 8800 GT for dominance of the gaming card market. But now the entire HD 3000 line-up has been  filled out. The line-up starts with the HD 3450 at low-end, takes a stop at the mid-range with HD 3650, hits high-speed at the HD 3870, and plateaus on the top with the the HD3870X2. While the HD 4000 series will certainly come eventually, right now, the HD3870X2 is one of the fastest video cards you can find. The only single-card solution that has a fighting chance of out-maneuvering the HD3870X2 would be NVIDIA's dual-GPU behemoth, the 9800GX2. And when the HD3870X2 is overclocked -- as today's Visiontek card is -- we can certainly expect to see some stratosphere-level performance.

Recently we reviewed the Asus EAH3850X2, and it tured out to be a real winner. It will be interesting to see how the Visiontek HD 3870 X2 OC stacks up to the HD3850X2, and a pair of overclocking Asus HD 3870 T.O.P's running in a CrossFire setup. Will the Visiontek overclock be enough to push it over the top? Today we will see if this video card can claim to be one -- if not the -- fastest ATI video card currently out.

Let's see how how the Visiontek HD3870X2 stacks up .

 

Impressions

 

The most noteworthy thing about the VisionTek Radeon HD 3870 X2 is the card's far-from-reference board design cooler. While the reference HD3870X2's have a solid bank of aluminum fins paired to a single fan for their cooling, the VisionTek HD3870X2 OC instead sports a cooler design that is reminiscent of the popular Thermaltake DuOrb cooler. The cooler looks like it should be easily capable of supporting some high clocks.

VisionTek HD3870X2 OC, Asus EAH3870X2

Let's describe the cooler from the GPU up: first, we have thermal tape fusing the GPU to a copper plate. This copper plate has about one hundred fins perpendicularly arranged on it; four circular heat pipes are connected the copper core above the GPU's, and these in turn have another ray of fins coming from them. A pair of nine-vane high-speed fans sit atop both copper cores, trying their best to keep the OC from baking the goods.

While testing will bear out how effective this cooler is, it certainly looks effective  -- it appears to be off the same quality of cooler that you could conceivably buy in a store for $30 dollars or more and  have to install yourself. Unfortunately, when comes to the acoustic footprint, I found that the fans of this cooler create somewhat of a high-pitch whir when engaged in full operation. While other louder fans from other coolers I have heard tend to create more a lower, thrumming sound (lets call it a 'regular' fan sound) this cooler produces a sort of high frequency buzz. The sound did not bother me all that much, but it was there and is something that should be mentioned.

One other benefit of this cooler is its somewhat smaller size in comparison to a standard cooler found on a HD3870X2. This smaller size makes the VisionTek HD3870X2 card a better choice for someone who plans a CrossFireX setup. With the Asus EAH3870X2 or the reference design, on many motherboards multiple cards would be sandwiched so close together it would make proper air-flow problematic. However if the VisionTek HD3870X2 was paired with another HD3870X2 (or HD3870), air-flow should be fine -- most especially if you have multiple exhaust fans in your case.

Width comparison: VisionTek HD3870X2 OC, Asus EAH3870X2, Gigabyte HD3870

Not only the cooler is of high-quality in this video card -- the PCB and circuit arrangement is also non-reference. The VisionTek HD3870X2 OC is actually shorter than the reference HD3870X2, as you can see in the pictures below. Honestly the back of the card is just damn good-looking, if you have you have fetish for hardware like me -- whoever designed the layout of the printed circuit board did an excellent job. In pratical terms, the VisionTek being about 1.25" - 1.5" shorter than the regular HD3870X2, may make it a better choice for those with smaller cases or space constraints. The apparent craftsmanship, high-quality transistors and ferrite cores used in the VisionTek HD3870X2 OC lead me to have high hopes for the gaming performance levels that will be reached by this card.

Specifications 

 

This video card has 4 DVI out's, and one S-Video out, so you will never have any troubles hooking up multiple displays if you feel so inclined.

Like all of the current 3000 series of ATI cards, the HD3870X2 has the Unified Video Decoding and Avivo video engine, which work together to produce high quality, 1080p HD output. The HDCP support and HDMI-out 5.1 audio allow for playing HD DVD and Blu-ray video in all their full digital glory without taxing your CPU all that much at all.

As well, this card supports DirectX 10.1, Shader Model 4.1, PCI 2.0,  and is very much able to be connected with up to three more video cards in a multi-GPU CrossFireX setup. Remember that with CrossFire X you can get the HD3870X2 going with any other 3000 series ATI card, but you'll be doing the HD3870X2 a disservice by running in with anything less than a HD3850 card.

The standard clocks for the HD3870X2 are 825 for the core clock, and 1800 for the 1GB of GDDR3. The VisionTek has a modest OC of 840 for the clock, and 1920 for the memory.

 

  9800 GTX

9800 GX2

8800 GTS 512MB

8800GT 512MB

 HD3870

HD 3850

HD3870X2

VisionTek HD3870X2 OC

Stream Processors


128

 256 (128x2)

128

112

320

320

640

(320x2)


640 (320x2)

Core Clock


675

 600

650

600

775

668

825


840

Shader Clock


1688

 1500

1625

1500

775

668

825


840

Memory Clock


2200

 2000

1940

1800

2250

1656

1800


1920

Memory Interface


256 bit

 512 bit (256x2)

256 bit

256 bit

256 bit

256 bit

512 bit (256x2)


512 bit    (256 x2)

Memory Type


512MB GDDR3

1024MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR4

512MB GDDR3

1024MB GDDR3


1024MB GDDR3

Memory Bandwidth (GB/s)


70.4

 124.0

62.08 

57.6

72.0

52.996

115.2

 115.2

Texture Fillrate (billion/sec)


43.2

 76.8

41.6

33.6

12.4

10.6

26.4

26.8 

Fabrication Process


65nm

65nm

65nm

65nm

55nm

55nm

55nm


55nm

One final thing to keep in: just because this is a dual-GPU video card doesn't mean it'll work on every motherboard. You're going to want a CrossFire compatible motherboard. The AMD 790FX, AMD70-X, Intel 975X, P965, P35 and X38 chipsets all should not have any trouble with this card .


 

 

Box'N'Bundle

The VisionTek HD3870X2 comes in a box that is relatively very small: the packaging is the size of shoe box -- and that's fine with me. It's always good to save trees in the pursuit of gaming.

In my last VisionTek review (of the HD3870), I complained that characters from the game Tabula Rasa adorned the box, yet the game did not come with the package. This time we have a similar case as Call of Juarez is featured on the box, yet not included the bundle. Personally I think VisionTek would do just as well emblazening their boxes with their terrific, deadly looking skull-type logo they have, but that's perhaps just me.

As far as the bundle goes, we have a molex-to-PCI power adapter, a S-video cable, a DVI-to-HDMI adpater, a VGA-to-DVI adapter, a well-assembled quick installation guide, a CD with drivers and a manual, and a ATI/AMD "Ruby ROM" disc that features games, applications, screensavers, and desktop wallpapers. All in all, a fine bundle.

Overclocking

Push it to the limit, as they say. Overclock the overclock is a fine motto to live by.

Manually setting the fan to run at 100%, we slowly increased the clock speeds to try to find a new stable OC plateau. The Samsung K4J52324QE-BJ1A memory chips are rated to 2000 MHz, so right off the bat we put the memory right at 2000. Unfortunately I did not have much luck pushing the core much faster than its already overclocked setting.

After seemingly treading water in my overclocking effort, I gave up at 865 / 2000 -- not that bad, when considering the memory is already running 200 MHz faster than a 'regular' HD3870X2.

 

 

 

Hardware

This time around, we used the following benchmarking setup:

The EAH3870X2 isn't aimed to please casual Railroad Tycoon players, it's meant for real gamers, so we assembled a fitting compliment of cards to benchmark with, including: a pair of Asus HD3870 T.O.P cards running in CrossFire, a XFX 9800 GX2, a Asus EAH3850X2, a Asus EN8800 GTS 512 T.O.P, a XFX 9800 GTX, a BFG 8800 GT OC, a VisionTek HD3870, and a Gigabyte HD 3870.

Software

Driver-wise, I used NVIDIA's 174.74 Forceware drivers, and ATI's Catalyst 8.4 drivers.

On the software side of things, here is the list of programs used:

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 frame rate 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 High.' For AA, we used a setting of 4x. DX10 mode was used. The game has also been fully patched (1.1).

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: We use this id FPS benchmark to test out higher resolutions. We used the highest possible detail settings. We tested the resolutions at 4x AA as well as at 8x AA. 16x AF was also used.  

Unreal Tournament 3: We tested the game using a fly-through of the vehicle capture-the-flag map 'Suspense.'ShangriLa (map) running for 90 seconds. Details were set to 'High', and a AF setting of 16x 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.

Besides the fill-rate benchmark, the Visiontek HD3870X2 OC puts up some good numbers.

While 120 frames-per-second is nothing to sneer at, the NVIDIA cards get the better of the ATI cards in this benchmark.

Here the VisionTek Radeon HD 3870 X2 OC climbs to the top, but lags a far amount behind the more expensive 9800 GX2.

The VisionTek puts in some great numbers here, but the less expensive 9800 GTX puts in a comparable performance. Crysis usually seems to be a bit more NVIDIA-friendly than some benchmarks, however.

Call of Juarez just flies on the VisionTek HD38070X2 OC here.

This benchmark seems to often have problems with SLI and CrossFire setups. For the VisionTek HD3870X2, it's 1920x1200 resolution runs did not run very well -- there was a great deal of image corruption and those results should be discarded.

Judging from the other four results however, the VisionTek card put the second best performance in this game -- but its performance in the same league as the cheaper Asus EN8800 GTS 512.

With AA off, all the cards put in remarkably similar performances. However with AA on, things get a bit more interesting. The VisionTek card comes in a comfortable second place, with a few frames advantage seperating it from the rest of the pack.

Power Usage

To measure power usage, we used a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter. Note that the above numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we ran a demanding part of 3DMark06.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the graph above is that the pair of HD 3870 cards requires less power when idling than the EAH3850X2 or the VisionTek HD3870X2.

The VisionTek HD 3870 X2 OC requires a 550 W or greater power supply, with two 6 pin PCIE power connectors, to run safely.

The

In the end...

The VisionTek HD3870 X2 OC has a lot of things going for it. It has a nice cooler on it, the card is compact for a dual-GPU card,  and it has a healthy out-of-the-box overclock as well. VisionTek also offers a lifetime warranty for the card, and has a 1-800 tech-support line available should you run into any problems.

When it comes to performance,  overall the VisionTek HD3870X2 OC did well, but not amazing. This video card is selling for around $450 right now -- about $30 more than VisionTek's standard, reference design card. While this card will definitely keep your games all flying at a fast clip, this card does face some healthy competition. On one hand, for those looking for the ultimate in performance -- and don't care about the price -- the much more expensive 9800 GX2 delivers a unmatched performance. I suppose you could argue that you could pick up a HD3870X2 and add a third HD3870 card to the mix in your second PCIE slot, but I have found that third card does not offer huge performance gains, and it is not uncommon to run into driver issues with some games running in a CrossFireX setup.

Less expensive cards than the HD3870X2, such as the XFX 9800 GTX in this mix, or even the factory-overclocked Asus EN8800 GTS 512, often gave the HD3870X2 a run for the money. And it is true that the HD3870X2 OC often came ahead in these match ups, but the 9800 GTX cards are selling for about 2/3rds the price of this HD3870X2, so the value just isn't as good as could be hoped. Likewise, the recently reviewed EAH3850X2 also was selling closer to $300, making this VisionTek card look somewhat overpriced.

But the VisionTek HD3870X2 OC does have some real advantages over other video cards, and overall, is defintely a capable performer -- so in the end, while perhaps not a video card that can be recommended to everyone, it is still one that would look good in any motherboard out there.

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