ATI HD3870 X2 Review
Reviewed by: Admin
Reviewed on: January 27, 2008
Is two always better than one? Sometimes it is and at times it isn’t. Sure, two million dollars or two weeks of vacation may be better than one of each, but would two cases of illness back to back or two mortgages on the same house be better? Fortunately, when you are dealing with computer hardware, two is 99% of the time better than one. Having a dual core processor, two video cards, two hard drives etc, all these help to enhance the performance of a PC, but multiple components do take up more space. So what if you could get two combined into one? A dual core processor would be an example, but two GPUs on one video card, that is something that is not very common. Most video cards are two slot cooling solutions and when combined with a second video card, take up four expansion slots in your case and may cover some onboard PCI or PCI-E connectors that will be rendered unusable since the video card needs that space. So really, in this case two may not be better than one.
The ATI HD 3870 X2 is a video card that might solve some of the problems of having two double slot solutions occupying that extra space. The HD 3870 X2 is a video card with dual GPU cores on one board. In theory, by combining two GPUs, you should be able to achieve about the same performance you would get with two separate units. The 3870 X2 is the second installment of the ATI 680 series of graphical processors, which were single core solutions. Will the ATI HD 3870 X2 prove to be a benefit or a hindrance? So far one benefit is clear, two GPUs on one board will allow you to free up some space, but the question remains, will there be a benefit in performance?
The ATI HD 3870 X2 in most cases can be considered a large card; this is to accommodate both processors and a two slot solution heat sink.
The 3780 X2 has a PCI-E 2.0 interface, and has two DVI outputs with an onboard S-Video out as well.
At this time we are composing how-to guides for installation purposes. Please click here if you would like to see how a PCI-E video card looks installed inside a computer.
I'm beginning to appreciate the Vista interface.
After clicking the next button a few times and choosing if you would like to use a custom or express install, the Catalyst Control Center Installer will check your system for installed hardware and software.
After finding the installed hardware and software, you are now ready to accept the driver installation.
Once done installing, you will be prompted to reboot your computer. When the computer reboots, click on the Catalyst Control Center Icon and you will be ready to configure your monitor and video card.
The drivers used for the X2 are sample drivers from ATI; they are not the final release (V8.45).
Core Clock Speed
Memory Clock Speed
Math Processing Rate (Multiply-Add)
> 1+ TeraFLOPS
- 666 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process
- PCI Express 2.0 x16 GPU bus interface1
- 256-bit GDDR3/GDDR4 memory interface
- Ring Bus Memory Controller
- Fully distributed design with 512-bit internal ring bus for memory reads and writes
- Microsoft Direct X 10.1 Support
- Shader Model 4.1
- 32-bit floating point texture filtering
- Indexed cube map arrays
- Independent blend modes per render target
- Pixel coverage sample masking
- Read/write multi-sample surfaces with shaders
- Garter texture fetching
- Unified Superscalar Shader architecture
- 320 stream processor units
- Dynamic load balancing and resource allocation for vertex, geometry, and pixel shaders
- Common instruction set and texture unit access supported for all types of shaders
- Dedicated branch execution units and texture address processors
- 128-bit floating point precision for all operations
- Command processor for reduced cpu overhead
- Shader instruction and constant caches
- Up to 80 texture fetches per clock cycle.
- Up to 128 textures per pixel
- Fully associative multi-level texture cache design
- DXTC and 3Dc+ texture compression
- High resolution texture support (up to 8192x8192)
- Fully associative texture Z/stencil cache designs
- Double-sided Hierarchical Z/stencil buffer
- Early Z test, RE-z, Z Range optimization, and Fast Z
- Lossless Z and stencil compression (up to 128:1)
- Lossless color compression (up to 8:1)
- 8 Render targets (MRTs) with anti-aliasing support
- Physics Processing support
- Dynamic Geometry Acceleration
- High performance vertex cache
- Programmable tessellation unit
- Accelerated geometry shader path for geometry amplification
- Memory read/write cache for improved stream output performance
- Anti-aliasing features
- Multi-sample anti-aliasing (2,4,or 8 samples per pixel)
- Up to 24x custom filter anti-aliasing (CFAA) for improved quality
- Adaptive super-sampling and multi-sampling o Temporal anti-aliasing
- Gamma correct
- Super AA (ATI Crossfire configurations only)
- All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR Rendering
- Texture filtering features
- 2x/4x/8x/16x high quality adaptive anisotropic filtering modes (up to 128 taps per pixel)
- 128-bit floating point HDR texture filtering o Bicubic filtering
- sRGB filtering (gamma/digamma) o Percentage Closer Filtering (PCF)
- Depth and stencil texture (DST) format support
- Shared exponent HDR (RGBE (9:9:9:5) texture format support
- OpenGL 2.0 support
- ATI Avivo™ HD Video and Display Platform
- Dedicated unified video decoder (UVD) for H.264/AVC and VC-1 video formats
- High definition (HD) playback of both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats
- Hardware MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and DivX video decode acceleration
- Motion compensation and IDCT
- ATI Avivo Video Post Processor
- Color space conversion
- Chroma subsampling format conversion
- Horizontal and vertical scaling • Gamma correction
- Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
- De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
- Detail enhancement
- Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
- Bad edit correction
- Two independent display controllers
- Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls and video overlays for each display
- Full 30-bit display processing
- Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion
- Spatial/temporal dithering provides 30-bit color quality on 24-bit and 18-bit displays
- High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with under-scan support for all display outputs
- Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays o Fast, glitch-free mode switching
- Hardware cursor
- Two integrated dual-link DVI display outputs
- Each supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)2
- Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content3
- Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs
- Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x15362
- DisplayPort output support4 o Supports 24- and 30-bit displays at all resolutions up to 2560x16002
- HDMI output support
- Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x10802
- Integrated HD audio controller with multi-channel (5.1) AC3 support, enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
- Integrated AMD Xilleon™ HDTV encoder
- Provides high quality analog TV output (component/S-video/composite)
- Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions • Underscan and overscan compensation
- MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264/AVC encoding and transcoding
- Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
- VGA mode support on all display outputs
- ATI PowerPlay™
- Advanced power management technology for optimal performance and power savings
- Performance-on-Demand • Constantly monitors GPU activity, dynamically adjusting clocks and voltage based on user scenario
- Clock and memory speed throttling
- Voltage switching
- Dynamic clock gating
- Central thermal management – on-chip sensor monitors GPU temperature and triggers thermal actions as required
- ATI CrossFireX™ Multi-GPU Technology
- Scale up rendering performance and image quality with two, three, or four GPUs
- Integrated compositing engine
- High performance dual channel bridge interconnect
- 2 Some custom resolutions require user configuration
- 3 HDCP support for playback of protected content requires connection to a HDCP capable display
- 4 Requires external DisplayPort transmitter
OverclockersClub will be running the ATI HD 3870 X2 through our benchmarking suite to see how the video card performs. The OverclockersClub series of gaming benchmarks is used to verify the performance of this product. If you would like to see how other video cards performed in an XP platform, please check our Video Card Section under reviews. We will show comparisons to other video cards using the Vista platform, which can be found below. All video card settings were left at setup defaults to eliminate any variables.
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9600 200 x 11.5
- Motherboard: GA-MA790FX-DQ6
- Memory: 2 x 2GB Mushkin DDR2 XP2 6400 at 800 5-5-5-15 2t
- Video Card: ATI HD 3870 X2
- Power Supply: Mushkin 650watt Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 320GB SATA
- Opticals: NEC DV5700
- O/S: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
Comparison Video Cards:
The best overclock achieved was 855/951.
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Jaurez
- 3DMark 06 Professional
Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to the gaming community. The Crysis single player demo includes both a CPU and GPU benchmark to test the performance of the processor and video card installed in the system.
- 2x Anti-Aliasing
- Advanced settings to medium
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of real time strategy and simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies and prove your mettle on the open seas.
The settings we will use are below:
- AA: x0
- Image Quality: High
- Direct X Version: 10
- All resolutions 60Hz
I like WW2 games. One thing that I have noticed is that although the game is playable in all of the resolutions tested with no AA, this game can be a card killer.
BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.
- All settings to Maximum
- V-Sync off
Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare is the latest installment in the Call of Duty series. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots, with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.
The settings used are listed below:
- Anti-aliasing: x4
- Anistropic Filtering : Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings Max
World In Conflict is a newly released DX10 real time strategy game that simulates the all out war that the world hopes will never come. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not your typical generate-wealth-and-build type of game. You advance by conquering your foe.
The settings we will use are listed below:
- 0X AA
- 16X AF
- Graphic Detail: Very High
Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 first person shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800s. The game is inspired in part by the movies of the Wild West genre from the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.
The settings we will use are listed below.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap size: 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti Aliasing: MSAA 4X
3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: Cpu1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
So far I have tested at least one ATI 3870 on all three of the most popular 790FX motherboards, those being from Gigabyte, ASUS and MSI. The ASUS and MSI boards that I used were both first release boards and still have some stability issues even though I have updated them with every BIOS available. I have found that the Gigabyte board is the most stable at this time. I’m not ready to trash MSI or ASUS right now because they have worked very closely with me to get through the problems and have both decided to send me new boards.
I have two concerns. Why does the X2, in some games, perform worse with an overclock, and will there be an increase in performance with the final release of the 8.45 drivers? I want to talk a little about the benchmarks; as you have seen with Crysis, stock scores mimicked more of a Crossfire score than a dual processor. Yes, Crossfire is two processors, but they are separate boards and the architecture is much different than having both on the same board. You also forgo the bridges. Now is this due to Crysis being too nVidia specific and lacks the Crossfire support, or can it be that ATI’s architecture is not ready for such a demanding game? I had thought that the 1.1 Crysis patch would have fixed the problem, but it doesn’t look like it had. Ok, so that is one game, and in the rest it did outperform all 3870s, even those in Crossfire mode.
Getting back to overclocking. Was it worth it? I achieved a stable overclock of 855/951, which I think is pretty decent. Unfortunately, the X2 didn’t like it. Most benchmarks received fairly identical scores and at least two received lower. Don’t we overclock to go higher? In this case I guess not. I hope that with the final release of the new drivers things will change, usually things get better as they come of age.
Dual processors on one board are a great concept as it lowers the amount of space and the number of expansion slots used. The ATI HD 3870 X2 uses a 55nm chip and produces twice the Gigaflops per watt compared to previous high end cards. With these two factors, you should get less heat and increased performance. So far, I have not see an increase in performance but I have seen a decrease in heat, at max load and overclocked while playing Crysis as I only achieved a temperature of 79 Celsius. Compared to other cards I have used, not bad. So I have one last comment I’d like to make. AMD, Give Us More Stable Drivers!
So can we truly believe that when it comes to the ATI HD 3870 X2, that two is better than one? Yes and No.
Yes because with two processors on one board there is less room occupied. Yes because there is less heat produced. Yes because you can get comparable results to nVidia cards at its price point. Yes because you will be able to run Crossfire X and only take up four expansion slots.
No because at present with an overclock, the card performs quite horribly. No because the drivers are not able to produce the results you would expect with a graphics card of this caliber. No because until there are patches (for games) that actually enhance performance when using a dual processor board, you may see a decrease in performance.
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself whether owning an X2 worth the money you will spend and will you be able to achieve the performance that you would expect? If you are willing to wait a while for the drivers to mature and hope that your favorite games come out with a patch that will utilize the card to its fullest potential, then yes. Remember when I first tested the 8800 GT, it did not perform as well as everyone would have thought. Since that review, there have been driver updates and I also found a more stable board to use it on. You can see the results if you compare this and the 8800 GT review. Things get better with age; new is good, but sometimes not always better. So it will be up to you to make the call!
- Dual GPUs
- Less Space Occupied
- Reduced Heat Output
- No Crossfire Bridge Required
- Immature Drivers
- Lack of Performance Increase While Overclocked (possibly due to drivers)