Sapphire HD3850 Ultimate Edition Review
Reviewed by: Makaveli
Reviewed on: March 6, 2008
Price: $204.99 USD
Most enthusiasts would agree that silence is an ideal trait for all computer hardware components. It’s nice to be able to leave your computer on all night and not have it bother you with the annoying noise given off by the GPU fan. I’ve only had a few video cards that have been dead silent but most of the cards I’ve ever used were just slightly too loud for me to be able to sleep without them waking me up. Sapphire has a line of graphic cards that it calls the “Ultimate Edition” and every single video card that I have ever tested from this line has been dead silent. Will the Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate be any different?
The Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition does not have any fans onboard. Instead, it is passively cooled by a massive heatsink. If there aren’t any fans, you know that the video card does not make a sound. How will Sapphire’s “Ultimate” 3850 do when it’s compared against other HD 3850s on the market? Let’s see what this Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition can do!
The Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition comes packaged in a glossy box that features a female equipped with a sword. There are some key features and technologies listed on the front of the box. The back of the box lists what is included inside the box, as well as some product highlights.
The card is securely held in place with pink padding. Included with the card is a Crossfire connector, HDTV breakout cable, 4-pin power cable to 6-pin PCI-E converter, DVI to HDMI converter, DVI to VGA converter, and a TV out connector. There are multiple free pieces of software included such as 3DMark06, CyberLink DVD Suite, Cyberlink PowerDVD, and the driver CD. Sapphire also includes a manual and a free subscription to “The Black Box” which features multiple new games such as Portal.
Now let’s take a closer look at the Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition video card itself.
The card has an absolutely massive heatsink on it that almost completely covers the card on both sides. This card is has 512MB of onboard memory and it is specifically made for a PCI-Express port. Notice how the heatsink fins on the back of the card are angled at almost 45 degrees over the card.
This 3850 from Sapphire is powered by a 6-pin port in the rear of the card. Also, this card is equipped with Crossfire connectors for anyone wanting to do Crossfire or CrossfireX.
Two DVI outputs and one S-Video output can be found on the front of this card. If your monitor has a VGA cable but no DVI cable, don’t worry, because this card comes with a DVI to VGA converter.
Now let’s take a look at the Catalyst Control Center once the newest drivers are installed.
When you insert the driver CD after you install the card, you’ll be presented with options such as which operating system you’re running. For me, I just did the ATI Easy Install and selected Windows Vista 32-bit for my operating system. Once everything is correctly installed, you’ll be prompted to restart your computer.
Catalyst Control Center can either be run in “Basic” or “Advanced” mode.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the “Advanced” section on the next page.
Be sure that you check either ATI or Sapphire's website for the absolute latest drivers available. Now let's break down some of the key features of Catalyst Control Center (CCC).
Information Center: This is where you can view your software and hardware information as well as your driver version. There is a sub-menu of display options and display management, which allows users to configure their desktop environments.
Digital Panel: This is the tab you want to go to if you want to view your monitor's information, set up HDTV settings, and set up AVIVO color settings. This tab has four sub-menus under it that include "Attributes," "AVIVO Color," "HDTV Support," and "LCD Overdrive."
3D: This tab is where you'll be able to modify your performance versus quality settings. You'll also be able to chage your anti-aliasing settings, among other settings.
AVIVO Video & ATI Overdrive: You're allowed to alter the basic color settings in theater mode in the AVIVO Video section. ATI Overdrive is an easy-to-use overclocking utility that allows the user to overclock his or her card to a certain point. My only complaint is that there are no controls for the fan speed on the video card.
Now that we've examined CCC, let's test the card!
- 666 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process
- PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
- 256-bit GDDR3 memory interface
- Ring Bus Memory Controller
- Fully distributed design with 512-bit internal ring bus for memory reads and writes
- Microsoft® DirectX® 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
- Gather4 texture fetching
- Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture
- 320 stream processing 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 8192 x 8192)
- Fully associative texture Z/stencil cache designs
- Double-sided hierarchical Z/stencil buffer
- Early Z test, Re-Z, Z Range optimization, and Fast Z Clear
- Lossless Z & 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
- 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
- Bicubic filtering
- sRGB filtering (gamma/degamma)
- Percentage Closer Filtering (PCF)
- Depth & 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 underscan support for all display outputs
- Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
- 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)
- Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content
- Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs
- Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x1536
- HDMI output support
- Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x1080
- 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
- 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
- Dual channel interconnect is not required for ATI CrossFire, and may not be included in all product configurations
- Some custom resolutions require user configuration
- HDCP support for playback of protected content requires connection to a HDCP capable display
- PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
- DirectX® 10.1 support
- CrossFire X™ support
- ATI PowerPlay™
- Hardware processed 1080p video playback of Blu-ray™ and HD DVDs
-All information sourced from Sapphire's website: http://www.sapphiretech.com/us/products/products_overview.php?gpid=200&grp=3
To test this Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition, we’ll be comparing it to cards that are similar performance-wise. These cards include the Diamond Multimedia 3850, Sapphire HD 3870, and the XFX 9600GT. All of the video cards were tested on the system listed below to eliminate any advantages or disadvantages for the cards against one another. All cards were run at their stock settings.
- Processor: Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad 266x9
- Motherboard: Gigabyte EX38-DS4
- Memory: Mushkin XP2 6400 4-4-4-12
- Video Card(s): Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition
- Power Supply: Ultra X3 800watt Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 320GB SATA
- Opticals: Sony Dual Layer Burner
- O/S: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
- Sapphire HD 3850 715/945
To overclock this card, I used the Catalyst Control Center. I was able to push this card from the stock core clock of 670MHz to 715MHz. The memory was overclocked from the stock 830MHz to 945MHz. Not a bad overclock at all if you ask me. This was especially surprising considering that this card has no fan on it. Also, the card was idling at 21C while overclocked! That's just amazing!
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Jaurez
- 3DMark 06 Professional
Crysis is a very new game that poses a threat to every video card with its extremely demanding graphics.
- 2x Anti-Aliasing
- Advanced settings to medium
Looks like the Sapphire 3850 Ultimate Edition isn't performing quite as well as the Diamond 3850.
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DirectX10 title that features its own graphics engine. Test your battle skills at sea!
The settings we will use are below:
- AA: x0
- Image Quality: High
- Direct X Version: 10
- All resolutions 60HZ
The Sapphire HD 3870 dominated the Diamond 3850 - which got stomped on by this game.
BioShock is a very new DirectX 10 game on the market. This game can make a system beg for mercy with its demanding graphics.
- All settings to Maximum
- V-Sync off
The Sapphire 3850 performed a few frames per second better than the Diamond 3850 both cards tied in the final resolution.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a great first person shooter that allows you to play as a U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. trooper.
The settings used are listed below:
- Anti-aliasing: x4
- Anistropic Filtering : Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings Max
The Sapphire 3870 does almost twice as well as the Sapphire 3850 and Diamond 3850.
World In Conflict is a new DirectX10 real time strategy game that simulates a World War 3-like war.
The settings we will use are listed below:
- 0 X AA
- 16X AF
- Graphic Detail :Very High
Looks like the Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition performes a few frames per second better than the Diamond HD 3850 again a tight race.
Call of Juarez is a Wild-Wild-West-style first person shooter that is very addicting!
The settings we will use are listed below.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap size 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti Aliasing: MSAA 4X
The Diamond HD 3850 didn't stand a chance at any of the resolutions.
Company of Heroes (Opposing Fronts) is a demanding DirectX 10 WWII game that can make or break a video card.
- 8x AA
- All other settings to maximum
The Sapphire HD 3870 Ultimate Edition beat the Diamond HD 3850 yet again by a few frames.
3DMark06 is an extremely popular benchmarking program that always comes up during bragging contests.
- 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
The overclocked Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate just edged out the Diamond 3850.
The Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition did better than the Diamond HD 3850 in almost every benchmark by only a few frames per second. This card was dead silent due to the fact that it has no fan on it. The heatsink on the top of the card is quite large, so I'd be sure to check to make sure that it won't touch an after-market CPU cooler. Not only was this card silent, but it was also a very cool-running card. It idled at 21 degrees Celsius! That's very impressive for a card that doesn't have an onboard fan. When I overclocked this video card, I was able to push it pretty far. I got the core clock from 670MHz to 715MHz and the memory clock from the stock 830MHz to 945MHz. If you ask me, that's a good overclock for a video card. If you're considering getting a mid-range card, definitely take a look at the Sapphire HD 3850 Ultimate Edition! It's silent, runs cool, overclockable, and it performs a little better than other cards that have the same GPU. The only downside is the price over a normal 3850 is almost $50 more in some cases, but if you don't mind paying for a card to be silent and to get a few extra frames, this is a card to look at.
- Effective cooling solution