Diamond Viper HD3850 Crossfire Review

ccokeman - 2007-11-15 21:05:28 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: November 22, 2007
Diamond Multimedia
Price: $179.99 each

Introduction:

Purchasing a new video card is always a game of compromises. You usually start to compromise on performance when the dollar signs for the best of the best video cards start ramping up to those of your car payment or mortgage. Somewhere there has to be a price/performance line that is equitable to both your pocket book and your gaming experience. Now what if there was an option for a great gaming experience at a price point that is fair enough that you don't have to give up your first born child? Would you bite?

ATI/AMD and their partners have just released the latest in the HD series of video cards with the HD 3850 and HD3870 video cards. The Diamond Viper HD 3850 video card is one of these just introduced video cards. With a new release there is always anticipation while waiting for the results of those first benchmarks to see how well a release does. First let's talk about some of the features that make the new HD 3800 series stand out from the crowd. Direct X 10.1 support for HD gaming at its best, Shader model 4.1 support Support for PCIE 2.0, Plug and Play Crossfire X multi-GPU upgradeability, the ability to use four, yes I said four, video cards in Crossfire configuration on the new 790FX chipset AMD platform boards, the ability to watch HD or Blu Ray disks in full 1080p without placing most of the decoding burden on the CPU with UVD (Unified Video Decoder), and built-in HDMI 5.1 sound. For those who are looking at every watt of electricity they use, the R670 GPUs are built on a 55 nanometer process. Powerplay technology is used to reduce the consumption of power when the graphics are used in a nondemanding 2D environment by dropping the core speed of the GPU. With these kind of features, you can't go wrong. Is the Diamond Viper HD 3850 series more suited for use in an HTPC or an all out gaming rig? Let's find out.

 

Closer Look:

The Diamond Viper HD 3850 256MB video cards come in a simple understated package rather than a gaudy box. The front has a picture of Ruby, the ATI icon, on the right hand side of the box, with the specifications and features on the back side. This no-nonsense approach is much appreciated. Just the simple approach works wonders and makes a product stand out from the crowd in the crowded world of retail shelf space. The video cards that were sent to OverclockersClub.com were OEM samples, so I will show the retail packaging and included bundle with pictures supplied by the manufacturer.

 

 

 

 

The bundled contents of the box include the manuals, Quick Start guide, driver disk, component output dongle, DVI to D-Sub adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter, S-Video to HDTV (7-pin) adapter, an S- Video cable and the Crossfire interconnect. The driver disk includes  DVD playback software.

 

 

The Diamond HD 3850 series cards use a single slot cooling solution to keep the card's GPU, memory and power regulation circuits cool. The all copper cooling solution gives the card a weighty feel to it. The heatsink is kept in place by the retaining bracket over the backside of the GPU as well as six more spots on the card.

 

 

The Diamond HD3850 has two DVI outputs as well as an S-Video output. Dual-link DVI is supported. HDMI output is supported via the included adapter in the retail version of these cards. The Crossfire connections are seen at the front of the board. Having two connections available allows for having more than two cards in the Crossfire configuration. In fact, Crossfire X allows for up to four cards to be used in this configuration. The Crossfire interconnects are flexible and use a ribbon cable between the two contact blocks.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

In the not so recent past, one of the drawbacks to performance based ATI video cards was the noise that the cooling solution generated. Having two hair dryers spooling up next your head is an unappealing solution to the cooling problem. With the reduced power and smaller 55 nanometer process used on the HD 38XX series of GPUs, the cooling solution does not need to be as robust. The Diamond HD 3850, like many of the ATI partner's video cards, uses the same single slot cooling solution. The fan used to cool the card has a noise level rating of 31 to 34dB. The rear of the heatsink covers the power circuits and does not gain any additional cooling capability from the fan used to cool the GPU. The Viper HD3850 only requires a single six-pin additional power power supply based on the lower power consumption of this series of GPUs.  Rather than exhausting the hot air out of the case, the cooling solution on the HD 3850 series card is designed to blow the hot air back into the case. At least it is directed upwards so that the exhaust fan on the case can remove some of the heat.

 

 

 

 

 

Removing the heatsink from the Diamond Viper HD 3850, the GPU, power circuits and memory are revealed. The interface between the memory modules and power circuits is thermal tape. On the GPU, the material appears to be a silver based thermal paste. Behold ATI's newest core, the R670. The memory used on this application is manufactured by Samsung. The power circuits are located on the rear end of this series of cards.

 

 

 

After having a quick look at the card's features, it is time to get the pair installed and see how well they perform.

 

Installation:

Installing the Diamond HD3850 video cards in a Crossfire configuration requires the motherboard in your system to have two 16x PCI-E slots available for use, as well as a chipset designed to support ATI's Crossfire technology. If the board you have does not support Crossfire, you can always use the single card mode for your performance needs. The installation of a video card can present a few issues such as the space available in the chassis, the available power from the power supply and last, but not least, the proper connections on the power supply. If all of these needs are met by your hardware then putting the HD 3850 video cards into your system is no harder than installing a single video card. Shut down the system, disconnect the monitor, power supply and any peripherals that are attached to the chassis. Move the chassis over to a clean and clear work bench or table, remove the side panel and remove the old video card. Insert the new Viper HD3850 video cards into the available 16x PCI-E slots, secure to the chassis, attach the Crossfire interconnect cables, and hook up the power connections. After that, all that is left is to close up the chassis and power the system back up and enjoy your new gaming experience.

 

 

 

 

Configuration:

Configuration of this product includes the driver installation as well as showing the available options that the Catalyst software gives for adjusting the gaming or video experience to your tastes. Let's start off with the installation of the drivers and control panel. Begin with installing the drivers from the disc provided by the manufacturer or from the ATI/AMD website. Start the install and follow the prompts to complete the installation.

 

 

The installation package gives two options, Express and Custom. Express uses the default installation locations and package while Custom gives you control over the location of the install as well as what is installed. At the completion of the display driver, the HDMI audio driver begins its installation. Again, just follow the prompts to complete the installation.

 

 

 

Next up is the final part of the installation. Install the Catalyst Control Center to gain the full functionality of the Diamond HD3850 video cards. Allow the CCC to install and reboot the computer to finish the installation of the software for the HD 3850 cards.

 

Configuration:

ATI provides a utility to adjust the quality and performance settings that are used to make the most of the video experience. It does not matter what the application, quality and performance can both be set in this utility. The Catalyst Control Center is an easy-to-use interface that includes more than a few tabs to adjust preferences to the individual's tastes. Let's look at the options that are available.

 

Information Center: The Information Center gives detailed information about the graphics software and hardware. The display manager submenu allows for the configuration of the desktop environment. With two cards installed, the option of using four monitors is available and each can be configured independently. The display options submenu allows for a refresh rate overide as well as detection of the attached diplay devices.

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Panel: The digital panel tab features four submenus. Attributes gives some basic information on the monitor hookup up to the HD 3850. Avivo color is used to make color corrections and give control over the monitor color temperature. HDTV is used to identify the type of HDTV support that the attached monitor has available, as well as choosing the standard that will be used. LCD overdrive is supported in this Catalyst release.

 

 

 

3D:This is where you make all of the performance and visual enhancements that make or break the performance of the video cards. Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, MipMap detail, Catalyst AI, V-Sync and Adaptive Anti-Aliasing are all done through this tab. Here you will also find the OpenGL settings and basic color correction settings.

 

 

Avivo Video and VPU Recover: This tab allows for basic color adjustments and setting up of the theater mode for the display used with your system. VPU recover is a handy little tool that keeps you from having to reboot the computer if you have a video related issue. This feature comes in handy when overclocking the HD 3850 - or any ATI card for that matter - goes south. It allows for an easy recovery.

 

 

ATI Overdrive: Once opened, this feature must be unlocked to use. The standard overclocking of the hardware is not guaranteed and may lead to system instability. Warnings must be viewed and agreed to before using this utility. Here is where clockspeeds and temperatures can be viewed. Manually setting the 3D clockspeeds can be accomplished for the more advanced user while the Auto tune utility will test for you and attempt to find the highest overclock combination for the card(s).

 

 

Crossfire: This tab is for enabling or disabling the Crossfire configuration of the Diamond HD 3850 video cards. There is a warning about using the Catalyst A.I. in the advanced position and instructs the user on how to adjust it for optimal performance.

 

Specifications:

 

GPU
ATI Radeon™ 3850

Bus Type

PCI-Express (Support PCI-E 2.0)

Core Clock

668 MHZ

Memory Size

256MB

Memory Configuration

8Mx32 GDDR3

Memory Interface

256-Bit

Memory Speed

828 MHz

API Support

DirectX® 9.0 and 10.0, OpenGL
Display Formats

Two Dual Link DVI + HDTV-Out (HDMI Support Via Adapter)

 

 

Features:

 

Testing:

At OverclockersClub.com, we use a series of benchmarks to stress the graphics card. We will use a series of newer, as well as a few more seasoned, gaming benchmarks to show how well the Diamond Viper HD 3850 compares to some of the performance video card offerings on the market. All driver settings and clockspeeds will be left at factory default settings on both the CPU and GPU to minimize or eliminate any variables from impacting the results. The test system used in this review is listed below.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Gaming BenchMarks:

 

Far Cry:

First up, we have Crytek's first-person shooter, Far Cry. This game makes extensive use of pixel shaders and features polybump normal mapping technology to increase character details.

We will be using the Hardware OC Benchmarking Utility version 1.8 with the following settings:

 

 

 

The Diamond cards are outclassed by the higher end cards at the lower resolutions. At 1680x1050, the Crossfire setup beats the 2900XT single card and at least makes a show against the 8800GTS.

Testing:

Benchmark: F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. is a newer first-person shooter that includes its own benchmarking utility. We will be using this test to benchmark the game. This game introduces a new AI model that emulates real squad behavior. It has the ability to counteract the moves you make rather than having a predictable routine.

 

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

At the lowest resolution the Crossfire setup handily beats the competition, and while in single card mode the Daimond 3850 makes a fair showing in this benchmark.

 

Testing:

Benchmark: BioShock

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 them to provide a unique experience each time it is played.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

While not outright dominating the competition, the HD 3850 in single card mode proves that it does have some muscle in this game. At the highest resolution, in single card mode, it beats the 8800GTS. Crossfire results in this game were very disappointing. It appears that there is an unresolved issue when using Crossfire cards in this game. The HD 3850 and 2900XT experiences reduced performance with the current driver release.

Testing:

Call of Duty 2 is a WWII first-person shooter that may be a bit dated, but still maintains a tremendous online following. This test will consist of a timed run on the Stalingrad multi-player map, measured by Average FPS (frames per second).

 

The settings used are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When placed up against a set of cards that are more powerful, it is clear that the HD 3850 will not come out on top. At the lowest resolution, it at least keeps pace in single card as well as Crossfire mode.

Testing:

Quake 4 is next up for testing. We will be using the Hardware OC Quake 4 Benchmark Utility version 1.5 to complete the testing with this game. You will need to update to the most current version for the latest time demo and bug fixes. Average FPS (frames per second) will be the measure used.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The HD 3850 keeps within eleven frames of the powerhouse in this review, the 8800GTX, at the resolution of 1280x1024. Considering the market that this card is designed to compete in, it does well in this comparison. Crossfire does not give as large a performance increase as I feel it should in this benchmark. At least it did show an increase, unlike the decrease in BioShock.

Testing:

Need For Speed: Most Wanted is next. For this test, we will time each race and record the average FPS (frames per second) achieved.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diamond HD 3850 takes on all comers in this benchmark. At the highest resolution, the single card score was within one FPS of the 8800's and in Crossfire mode, just beats them all.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up during a bragging contest. 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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, in single card mode the HD 3850 is outclassed by the 8800GTX and 2900XT. It out-performed the 8800GTS in single card mode as well as coming up big when run in Crossfire mode, as it should!

 

Testing:

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 market right now. The Crysis single player demo includes a GPU benchmark to test the performance of the video card installed in the system. I will use this benchmark to test the performance of the Diamond HD 3850 series cards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

After testing three sets of drivers, including the newest Catalyst suite, running the cards in Crossfire mode would crash to the desktop without even making it into the game. Turning off the Anti-Aliasing allows for better framerates at all of the tested resolutions, but comes with the penalty of reduced video quality. At 1024x768, the HD 3850 has playable framerates, but once you move up higher, the FPS drops off dramatically.

Conclusion:

So how well did the Diamond HD 3850 Crossfire combo perform? If this set of cards was run against the mid-ranged cards it is meant to compete against, it would have blown them out of the water. I wanted to test these cards against the higher end hardware to see how well the Crossfire combination performs. Showing a dominating performance is really nice, but that only presents half the story. The fact is that the cards performed above their class level at many times, keeping pace with the heavyweights in the video card world on some of our benchmarks, though not all of them, mind you. Crossfire performance was not what I was expecting on some of the gaming benchmarks. In Crysis, the game would hard lock when in Crossfire mode, and in Bioshock the Crossfire performance was worse than single card performance. In the Quake 4 benchmark, the Crossfire combo did outperform the single card, but only by between 3 and 10 FPS. I feel this is not a video card problem but a support issue on the part of the game developers.

The single slot cooling solution is great in one aspect but bad in another. What I mean by this is that the fan noise reduction on this series of card is amazing. The fans run in the 31 to 34dB range and are for the most part quiet. Temperatures, on the other hand, peaked at 89 Celsius during my testing. This seems much too high for long term use, but ATI assured us that it was within specifications. Overclocking the card through the CCC was a simple affair. By using the included auto tune utility, the clockspeeds are slowly ratcheted up to the point the software determines the card is stable. The numbers looked great, but are a little optimistic. Adjusting the clock and memory speeds down, I reached a stable overclocked speed of 740MHz on the core and 989MHz for the memory. Both of these were substantial increases that did help with performance.

At a price of $179 each, ATI/Diamond have positioned the HD 3850 series to compete on both price and performance in the $150 to $250 price range. With the migration to the 55 nanometer process, the consumption of power has been reduced. Using Powerplay technology, the drivers underclock the video card to reduce the power draw when not in a demanding 3D environment. The HD 3800 series of cards uses a built-in hardware decoder (Unified Video Decoder) that relieves the CPU of the burden of managing HD-DVD and Blu Ray content. Couple this with built-in HDMI 5.1 sound, and you have a potent combination for that HTPC build. Setting up Crossfire is a matter of just installing the interconnect cables, powering up the system and checking the "Enable Crossfire" check box in the Catalyst Control Center. No fuss no muss. Does this card in Crossfire meet the demands of today's latest games? Sure it does, just not at the maximum settings.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: