It also comes with an integrated audio chip, which means via ATI's specialized DVI-to-HDMI adapter, you can pump both video and audio over an HDMI cable to an HDTV. That greatly simplifies home theater PC installations, and is a real boon to all of the newer Radeons with that feature.
We suspect that if you're interested in this card, though, it's primarily for the purposes of PC gaming.
We ran all of tests in Windows XP, so they're all DirectX 9, and at very aggressive detail and resolution settings that basically highlight where the Radeon 3850 chokes. And based on how the Radeon 3850 struggled on Crysis, you can see why it wouldn't make sense to try it with the very high DirectX 10 quality, as it's barely playable in DirectX 9.
But the good news is that based on the other tests, you can expect that the Radeon 3850 will deliver solid performance on resolutions up to and possibly even including 1,920x1,440 pixels, which includes the native resolution of all wide-screen LCD but those massive 30-inchers.
Chances are, if you can afford one of those, you're probably looking for a more expensive video card, as well. We should also add that Radeon 3850 consistently outperformed Nvidia's GeForce 8600 GTS.
What's maybe a little troubling on the performance charts, though, are the Radeon's CrossFire scores. On and Crysis, the CrossFire frame rates tanked, showing that at least in those games, ATI's dual card-support is basically broken. We imagine that the steady march of driver software updates will improve CrossFire's outlook, but for now, if you're planning to buy two of these cards in the hope of dialing up those Crysis settings, we'd suggest you hold off until ATI works out the kinks.
Like most modern graphics cards, the Radeon HD 3850 requires a direct connection to your PC's power supply to run. All you need is a free six-pin power line and you'll be set. This model comes in 256MB of 900MHz DDR3 RAM with a 667MHz core GPU clock. The faster Radeon 3870 comes with 512MB of DDR3 running at 1.2GHz, and with a 775MHz core clock.
As they're modern graphics cards, each uses the unified processing pipeline, which means that shaders, geometry and all other calculations flow through the same path, which can adjust dynamically depending on the workload for each process.
Like the Radeon HD 2900, each of the new 3000-series cards has 320 stream processors, but they also have fewer transistors, 660 million to the 2900's 700 million. That explains why the 2900 remains the faster card for now. With its new 55nm manufacturing process in place, however, we wouldn't expect ATI's to sit still for long, either.
Test bed configuration:
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800; 2GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM; Intel 975X BadAxe II motherboard; ATI Radeon HD 3850, 3870, and 3850 CrossFire driver; Catalyst beta 8.43.1; Radeon HD 2900 XT driver: Catalyst 7.10; Nvidia driver; Forceware beta 169.09
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday