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ASUS EAH3870 512MB Graphics Card Review

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SKYMTL

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ASUS EAH3870 TOP 512MB Graphics Card Review​





Manufacturer Product Page: ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
Product Number: EAH3870TOP/G/HTDI/512M/A
Availability: Now
Warranty: 3-Year
Price: Approx. $220


As time goes on, we have all been seeing quite an interesting battle develop in the mid-priced graphics card market between the offerings from Nvidia and ATI. Believe it or not, it has been almost half a year since the release of the venerable 8800GT 512MB and five months since ATI’s answering HD3870 and HD3850 were released. Since then, there have been both comings and goings in the world of graphics cards but both the HD3870 and the 8800GT are still around and still competing for the same budget-minded gamers. What six months has accomplished is to lower the prices of these competing products to the point where the HD3870 is now retailing for around $200 here in Canada which represents a drop of about twenty percent. This card has not only proven itself able to play games quite well but it also offers up numerous multimedia options as well. These things have led many consumers to believe that the HD3870 is a better all round graphics card option than the competing product from Nvidia. Whether or not this is true is very much up to the individual and their needs but ATI’s $200 offering makes a pretty convincing argument for itself.

New developments in the last few days have contributed to make the HD-series graphics cards all that more appealing with the addition of a [email protected] GPU client. This is something many people have been waiting for since it has the potential to turn their ATI graphics cards into number-crunching powerhouses…all for a good cause. At this time, Nvidia’s cards aren’t able to add their weight to a Stanford’s [email protected] initiative so this is just one more benefit of having an ATI graphics card.

If you haven’t guessed already (hopefully you read the title), this review will be concentrating on a rather unique graphics card: the ASUS HD3870 TOP. We can talk all day and night about ASUS and their experience regarding anything computer-related but let’s just keep it at this: they know what they are doing. In ASUS lingo, TOP stands for Top Overclocking Performance which also means that this particular HD3870 512MB card is overclocked right out of the box. Out of all the ATI board partners, ASUS is one of the few which offers pre-overclocked ATI cards which puts them a step ahead of the competition right off the bat. Other manufacturers which offer ATI cards also have a rather annoying habit of offering absolutely pathetic warranties with their products. Where one year warranties are the norm, the three years ASUS offers stands out like a shining light in a world of mediocrity.

At face value, everything looks great but for some reason finding stock of this overclocked HD3870 is next to impossible here in Canada. That being said, it should be interesting to see how well this card can compete against the competition.

 
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SKYMTL

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The Present ATI Lineup / ASUS EAH3870 TOP Specs.

The Present ATI Lineup




Well, this is what ATI has to offer us for the next few months at least and we must say: it is a lot more straightforward than the much-maligned Nvidia lineup. At the top of the heap there is the dual-GPU HD3870X2 which performs quite well as long as the game you are playing supports Crossfire. At less than half the price of their flagship card, ATI has the HD3870 on tap which at about $200 offers surprising value for your money and as we have seen in the past at can handle literally any game at low to mid resolutions. Finally we have the HD3850 and the rest of the ATI lineup which contribute of round out a lineup which seems to have something for everyone. All in all, it seems like ATI is really focusing on value in this round of the graphics card war since they just don’t have anything that can compete blow-for-blow against what Nvidia is offering. This has contributed to make GPUs which offer amazing performance all that more accessible to many customers. ATI has shown that the new battles for market supremacy have moved away from the ultra high-end market and now focus on the sub-$400 segment.


ASUS HD3870 TOP Specifications




To make this card more appealing to a wider customer base, ASUS has overclocked both the core and the memory to various degrees. We have seen this before with their TOP editions but this time neither area gets too much of an overclock. Considering overclocking an ATI card carries with it the penalty of a voided warranty more often than not, this pre-overclocking could prove to be a boon for this card’s overall performance without the risk of a voided warranty.
An overclock of 74Mhz equals a less than ten percent increase in core clocks but this should nonetheless equate some increased framerates in some games. However, a mere 34Mhz overclock on the memory is pretty anemic and looks like nothing more than window dressing.
 

SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories




ASUS loves packaging their cards in boxes which dwarf those of their competition and this one is no exception. It is massive and makes us wonder how much of the price of this HD3870 would be spent towards the box and all its fancy graphics. The front has artwork showing two characters from the Company of Heroes: Opposng Fronts game which is included along with performance information and a listing of the software that comes with this ASUS card.


The top of the box is able to open up giving you a view of yet more information about the included software and a few quick marketing blurbs about Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts.


Once the outside sleeve is slipped off the main box, we are able to get our first glance of the interior packaging and protection around the ASUS HD3870 TOP. The card is encased in foam which will protect it against any shipping damage and is then additionally wrapped in an anti-static bag.


ASUS has always wowed us with their extensive accessory and software packages and the HD3870 TOP is no exception. Other than the usual S-Video to component connector, Molex to PCI-E adaptor, DVI to VGA connector and Crossfire bridge you get a few other extras we don’t usually see. First is a small S-Video to composite cable which is something we have yet to see bundled with a graphic card and finally we have the DVI to HDMI connector. Not all ATI partners have seen fit to include this last connector so it is great to see that ASUS has taken the route less travelled in this case. A full copy of the game Company of Heroes and a vinyl CD wallet round out the amazingly generous list of extras included here.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the ASUS HD3870 TOP

A Closer Look at the ASUS HD3870 TOP




As with all ATI-based cards, the ASUS HD3870 TOP is predominantly red with a manufacturer-specific decal on its main cooler assembly. In this case, ASUS has decided to use a Company of Heroes sticker which closely reflects the front packaging scheme. The TOP edition is about 9” long so it will not have any issue fitting into a standard ATX-sized case.


The HD3870 has a unique cooler design where the copper memory heatsinks are completely independent from the main fan assembly. Not only do these heatsinks give a bit of a “bling” factor, they also come in handy when you install an aftermarket cooler.

ASUS also applies their logo to the side of the cooler but this presents a bit of a problem since the second you install this card into a standard ATX case, the logo will no longer be right-side up. It looks great at first but it looks a bit odd when it reads SNSV.


Moving on we see that ASUS has also applied their logo to the center hub of the fan itself. This fan is quite a bit different from many others used in the GPU cooling industry in the fact that its blades are extremely high. That being said, the last time that we reviewed a HD3870 with this fan; we found it quite quiet but the cooling it afforded the card left a bit to be desired.

This card comes equipped with ATI’s signature double Crossfire connector. With this, you can link up to four ATI cards together for increased performance in games which support Crossfire.


The last stop on our whirlwind tour of the ASUS HD3870 TOP is the back of the card where we can see the red PCB in all its glory. Even though this card is overclocked, ASUS has strictly adhered to the reference design as determined by ATI so all that has really changed are the clock speeds.
 

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

System Used
Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 3.5Ghz
Memory: 4GB Corsair Dominator DDR3 @ 1556Mhz
Motherboard: Asus Blitz Extreme
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 320GB SATAII
Fans: 5X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64


Graphics Cards:
ASUS HD3870 TOP
BFG 9800 GTX 512MB (stock)
HIS HD3870 (stock)
XFX 8800GTS 512MB (stock)
EVGA 8800GT 512MB (stock)


Drivers:
Nvidia 174.74 WHQL (9800 GTX)
ATI Catalyst 8.3 WHQL
Nvidia 169.25 WHQL

Due to the unpredictability of some beta drivers in Windows Vista x64, we have decided to only use WHQL drivers for all graphics cards other than the one being tested.


Applications Used:

3DMark06 Professional
Call of Juarez
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
Crysis
Half Life 2: Episode 2
Prey
Unreal Tournament III
World in Conflict


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs

- If the game did not support 2560 x 1600 resolution, the closest resolution to that was used

- NO demos were run. Only full games were benchmarked.
 

SKYMTL

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3DMark06

3DMark06

While some may wonder at the use of still including 3DMark06 in the tests it gives us a good idea of the basic limitations of a graphics card. Since the standard test runs at 1280x1024 there will be a fair amount of CPU bottlenecking with higher-end cards and remember that in some cases a higher 3DMark score does not equate better performance.




It seems that in 3DMark06, the increase in clocks ASUS has given their TOP edition HD3870 benefited it in some small ways over the stock-clocked card. That being said, this bump to an 851Mhz core is enough to get it to within about 400 points of a stock 8800GT 512MB.
 

SKYMTL

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Crysis

Crysis

Crysis is one of those games that comes along every now and then and totally humbles every graphics card on the market. While some people have pointed towards shoddy programming, it is undeniable that this game looks ridiculously good when played at higher settings.

For this test we recorded a custom timedemo on the Harbor level equaling about 15 minutes of game time. All results were recorded with FRAPS over the course of the timedemo. All settings were set at High and DX9 mode was used.



Unfortunately, even with an overclocked card Crysis eats the RV670 core in for breakfast. The only resolution which is remotely playable with the ASUS HD3870 TOP is 1280x1024 without AA turned on and even then it is just barely above 30fps. We can however appreciate the fact that the ASUS card is overclocked sufficiently that it provides a noticeably smoother gameplay experience than the stock HD3870.

You will also notice that the higher resolution tests with AA turned on did not run properly on either HD3870 card and resulted in driver crashes again and again.
 

SKYMTL

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Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX9 / DX10

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX9

Company of Heroes has always been one of our favorite RTS games with visceral firefights and a gripping campaign. Opposing Fronts is the expansion to this great game and it introduces players to British campaign to liberate France from German occupation in the weeks and months following D-Day.

In this test we ran the in-game benchmarking program and pegged all the graphics settings to their highest levels. This was done for both DX9 and DX10 modes and the framerates were averaged after 4 runs.




Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX10



The ASUS HD3870 TOP was able to provide very good framerates throughout our COH testing and only really faltered at the highest DX10 resolutions with AA enabled. It seems like the overclocked ASUS card is able to keep a good 5-10% lead over the stock card in all of the resolutions.
 

SKYMTL

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Half Life II: Episode 2

Half Life II: Episode 2

Half Life 2: Episode 2 is the newest instalment in Valve’s long running Half Life series and this is without a doubt the best looking game in the series. For this benchmark a typical 10 minute exterior gameplay sequence was prerecorded and then played back using the in-game timedemo feature. The results were recorded with FRAPS.

1280 x 1024



1600 x 1200




2048 x 1536



The Half Life games have always been an area where ATI cards have done well and due to this the ASUS HD3870 TOP is able to keep pace quite well with the 8800GT on many occasions. We also see once again that it is able to stay about 10% faster than the stock HD3870 in many of the tests but once resolution increases, the increased clocks start counting for less and less.
 

SKYMTL

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Call of Juarez

Call of Juarez (DX10)

Other than being one of the first benchmarkable DX10 games, Call of Juarez also received luke-warm reviews but it provides some stunning visuals. To benchmark this game we used the in-game benchmark tool and ran it 4 times to give an average score.

1280 x 1024




1600 x 1200




1920 x 1200


Much like we saw which Crysis benefiting Nvidia cards, Call of Juarez gives the ATI cards time in the limelight. Here the overclock of the HD3870 TOP seems to not mean much of anything since it runs literally neck and neck with the stock HD3870.
 
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