PowerColor HD3450 Review

ajmatson - 2008-03-11 22:25:09 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: March 30, 2008
Price: $49.99

Introduction:

With more and more HTPC and multimedia machines popping up, there is a greater need for graphics cards that support the features needed. Blu-Ray, HD DVD, and 1080p is in now for playing movies and streaming video. Older video cards either could not keep up with the resolution needed for crisp playback or were not powerful enough to offload the video processing from the CPU, causing choppy and degraded playback. ATI responded to these needs with a series of chipsets that are designed to play back high definition content with pristine clarity all while placing the majority of the load on the video processing unit instead of the CPU.

One of these new multimedia video cards is the PowerColor HD3450 256MB Graphics Card. The HD3450 is a PCI Express 2.0 video card that offers Microsoft DirectX 10.1 and ATI Avivo HD technology for the best playback possible. It's nice to see high end technologies also included on a mainstream video card. One of the main features of the PowerColor HD3450 is the ability to run in a Hybrid Crossfire capability with an AMD 7-Series motherboard. This allows the integrated graphics from the motherboard and the HD3450 to run as one, increasing performance for gaming and multimedia and making it affordable to everyone from the novice to the enthusiast. This is one technology new to the market aimed at bringing better graphics power at affordable prices. So how well does this technology work? We will have to see.

 

Closer Look:

When the PowerColor HD3450 arrived at my door, I thought I had a new game to play until I looked closer at the box. I like how PowerColor packaged the card in a smaller box that supported the card and protected it not in an oversized package stuffed with fillers. The front of the packaging has the PowerColor mascot on it with the main features and specs lined up in an un-obstructed view. The back expands on those specification and features giving the possible buyer the exact information needed to make their buying decision.

 

 

 

 

 

Opening the box brings out the goodies. Included in the box are the PowerColor HD 3450 Graphics Card, A quick install guide, the driver CD and an S-video to composite video cable. The HD3450 comes enclosed in a bubble wrapping which keeps the card protected and from sliding around in the packaging. Just another level that PowerColor took to protect the valuables.

 

 

Now that we have the HD3450 and accessories free of their cardboard bindings, let's get a better look at the card itself.

Closer Look:

The PowerColor HD3450 is a low profile card which makes it great for the cramped confines of an HTPC case if needed. The HD3450 uses a passive cooling system instead of an active one that we will take a better look at soon. PowerColor opted to go with a red PCB, which is common with ATI based cards. The HD3450 runs on a PCI Express 2.0 interface for faster speeds and supports DirectX 10.1, Shader Model 4.1, ATI's Avivo HD Video technology, and has built-in HDMI/5.1 surround audio. The HD3450 features 256MB of DDR2 memory running at 800MHZ effectively on a 64-bit memory interface. The RV620 core runs at 600MHz and has 40 stream processing units.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For display the PowerColor HD3450 has one DVI, one VGA D-Sub, and one S-Video connection to give the user a broad array of options for hooking up the card to different displays. Since the card is a low profile card, the VGA connection is extended with a flat ribbon cable located to the outside of the PCB. The HD3450 does not use an external power connector, it draws all the power it needs from the PCI Express bus. Also, this card is Crossfire capable but does not use the bridge to accomplish this. All Crossfire processing is done via the PCI express interface so that it can be used in conjunction with the Integrated graphics of an AMD 7-series motherboard in a Hybrid Crossfire combination.

 

 

As I mentioned before, the PowerColor HD3450 uses a passive heatsink cooling method. The heatsink is made of aluminum for better heat dissipation during use. Even though the HD3450 is a low profile card, the heatsink is quite large and does extend slightly over any slots below it, making the next slot on the board unusable, so in essence, this is a dual slot card. Not very low profile really? The heatsink uses a lot of fins to disperse the heat generated by the HD3450. The underside of the heatsink that comes into contact with the GPU is really rough, not smooth. We will see how well this heatsink cools after using it for the benchmarking.

 

 

With the heatsink removed, we get a better look at the RV620 GPU in all of its glory. This is where all of the magic takes place, giving you the crisp, clear content you view on your screen.

 

 

Well, we have seen the HD3450 and what it is made of, so now let's go and see what it can do.

Configuration:

To start off setting up the HD3450 to run, you must install the drivers. To do this, pop the driver CD into the tray of the drive and the installation program will automatically start for you. It will ask you if you want to do an Express install or a Custom install. Custom will allow you to specify a path for installation. Once the install runs through, the computer will prompt you to restart to apply the new settings. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the computer is restarted, you can start the Catalyst Control Center (CCC) to configure the video card. The CCC can be run in Basic or Advanced mode. Since we here like to push our hardware to the limits, I am going to go over the Advanced mode, which will be shown in detail in the next part of the review.

 

Configuration:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all of the settings for the PowerColor HD3450 takes place. There is a lot that you can change and set, however I am only going to go over the main parts of it.

Information Center: The Information center is where you can view everything about the hardware and software associated with the video card, such as drivers versions and hardware specifications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Panel: The Digital Panel is where you can set and view monitor information, HDTV settings, ATI's AVIVO color settings, and LCD Overdrive to apply LCD settings that override the hardware of the monitor.

 

 

 

 

3D: The 3D tab is where you can modify your visual settings for performance or quality including Anti-Aliasing, Anistrophic Filtering, color schemes and more.

 

 

VIVO Video, Power Play & ATI Overdrive: AVIVO settings allow you to alter the colors for viewing better. Power Play allows you to create settings to conserve power and heat. ATI overdrive is where you can push the HD3450 to the limits by overclocking it. There are controls for the advanced user or you can Auto-Tune for automatic overclocking.

 

 

Crossfire: The HD3450 supports Hybrid Crossfire which allows it to be paired with the integrated graphics of a 780G chipset motherboard to increase overall performance. To enable Crossfire, just click the "Enable Crossfire" check box and the rest will be done by the system. The shot below shows the HD3450 paired with the ATI 3200 Graphics from the motherboard.

 

Now that we have the settings down, let's move on to the testing phase.

Specifications:

 

Graphics Core
RV620 at 600MHz
Memory Capacity
256MB DDR2
Memory Speed
400MHz (800MHz Effective)
Memory Interface
64-bit
Fabrication Process
181 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process
Stream Process Units
40
Graphics Engine
RADEON HD3450
Bus Standard
PCI Express 2.0
Audio
HDMI and 5.1 surround support
Crossfire Capability
Yes including Hybrid Crossfire

 

 

 

Features:

 

Testing:

To test the PowerColor HD3450, I will place it through a series of graphic intensive benchmarks that will gauge its performance. I will then compare it against another card in its class to see how it compares. I am also going to enable the Hybrid Crossfire feature with an ATI 780G based motherboard that has ATI 3200 integrated graphics to see how much of a performance increase the Crossfire combination will give it. Since Intel boards do not support Hybrid Crossfire with integrated graphics, an AMD Phenom setup will be used for these tests.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison Test Setup:

 Comparison Video Card:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

To overclock the PowerColor HD3450, I used the Catalyst Control Center. I upped the GPU and Memory clockspeeds slightly and tested it for stability. The limit in the control panel was 650MHz for the GPU and 1000MHz for the memory. I was able to push it all the way to 641MHz on the GPU clock speed and almost to the max for the memory at 495MHz, making it 990MHz effectively. That is a great overclock for a midrange card like this. The card idled at 45C which is not bad for a low profile card with only a heatsink.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Jaurez
  7. 3DMark 06 Professional

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite use 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. 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not quite as quick as the HD 3870, but the Hybrid Crossfire with the integrated graphics beat out even the overclocked speeds at lower resolutions.

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features it's 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here in the Knights of the Sea benchmark, the Crossfire combination comes out on top, even beating the HD 3470 with the overclocked settings not far behind.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Bioshock, the overclocked settings took second behind the HD 3470, even smoking the Crossfire setup.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. 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 US Marine or British SAS 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like Bioshock, the overclocked settings took over the Crossfire at high resolution but still behind the HD 3470.

Testing:

World In Conflict is a newly released DX10, real-time strategy game that simulated the all out war that the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical generate wealth and build type of game. You advance by conquering your foe.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looks like in the World in Conflict benchmark the HD3450 in Crossfire took even the HD 3470, coming out number one.

Testing:

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 of 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At lower resolutions, the Crossfire combination came out on top but gave in when higher resolutions were tested.

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This real time strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here in Company of Heroes, the HD3450 just could not keep up with the HD 3470.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now here is a nice find. The Crossfire combination tied or beat the HD 3470 in every setting.

Extras:

Now you may have noticed that even though the PowerColor HD3450 held on strong with the gaming benchmarks, this video card is more geared toward multimedia. I wanted to see how clear the video actually would be and how much of the resources the system would use while running a video source. I used two of the latest DVD videos and watched them for 30 minutes each I then placed the same video in the computer without the HD 3450 in just the Integrated ATI 3200 Onboard graphics to see the result. I based my tests on picture quality, performance (if the video lagged or skipped at anytime), and computer resources used.

 

The first set of pictures I am going to show you will be from the HD3450 Video Card only.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

And now for the screenshots using the ATI 3200 Integrated Graphics.

 

 

Now I am going to rate the areas I mentioned above. The scores are on a scale of 1 to 100 percent with higher being better. This is going off of what I saw while watching the videos based on first hand experience.

 

 

You can notice how much deeper the images are on the PowerColor HD 3450. While watching the videos I did not feel like I had to adjust between the scenes when they go from dark to bright and vice versa. The picture quality was so much more vivid and the pictures do not do it justice. During playback the CPU utilization stayed between four and five percent while with the integrated graphics it stayed between thirteen to twenty percent. That is a big difference for only watching a video.

Conclusion:

The HD3450 is designed as a next generation card supporting all of the newest techlologies and that it does well. This card is not designed for the gaming market and you will not be playing games at those ultra high graphics, but it is great for movie playback and running Vista's features. The HD3450 has a low profile design which makes it ideal for home theater PCs, but keep in mind the heatsink is big and will take up part of the expansion slot below it, keeping you from placing a card in it. The upside to the size of the heatsink is that it is a passive solution, something that makes the most sense for use in an HTPC case.

I was able to overclock the card to its limits reaching 641MHz on the GPU from 600MHz and 495MHz on the memory from 400MHz. That is a substantial overclock, which added to its performance but also generated quite a bit more heat. If you are looking for a really cost effective video card to a workstation or home theater PC, I would highly recomend the HD3450, but if gaming is your style, stay away and save your money for a more advanced card because you will be disappointed. The things the HD3450 is designed to do, it does well. It reduced the load on the CPU by 9% when compared to the integrated graphics solution, this shows the strength of the onboard decoding capabilities. It worked well with the IGP while in Crossfire mode to increase graphics performance and above all it provided a clear crisp picture, all at a modest price.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: