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HIS Radeon HD3870 Review & Crossfire Performance Preview

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SKYMTL

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HIS Radeon HD3870 Review & Crossfire Performance Preview




Manufacturer Product Page: TBD
Product Number: H387F512N
Availability: Now
Warranty: 1 Year
Price: Click here to compare prices



Into the wilds with AMD and ATI

In the last year, ATI has undergone more changes than can be included in the scope of this review but it is sufficient to say that it has been one heck of a rollercoaster ride for the company and their longtime customers. Soon after their purchase by AMD, ATI released their eagerly anticipated yet long-delayed HD2900XT (R600). It was a power hungry space heater that was priced to compete with the Nvidia 8800GTS cards and did very well in that respect (even though the jury still seems out on this) but unfortunately, it did not win many consumers over. In the end, ATI’s late flagship ended up being pitted against an Nvidia card that was already firmly entrenched in the performance category. AMD is trying mightily to right some of the slip-ups that were committed by ATI during the 2900-series launch by pressing for an aggressive release schedule of new cards coupled with firm availability dates. AMD has promised an end to the paper-launches of years past and seems to be making quite a bit of headway with this since the release of their HD2600-series cards.

All of this leads to today, where a new day is dawning for ATI with the release of their new HD3870 and HD3850 cards. AMD is making some huge strides to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself by stocking the retail channel with cards for the launch of these cards. Indeed, we have heard from numerous retailers that both the HD3870 and HD3850 will be in-stock on launch day but due to the perceived popularity of the HD3870, supply may be a bit tight for the first week or so. To make matters even better (as if actual stock of an ATI card on launch day isn’t surprise enough) the suggested prices of these cards are surprisingly affordable: about $240 for the HD3870 and about $180 for the HD3750. Not only does the HD3850’s price undercut that of the lackluster 8600GTS but AMD has really thrown down the gauntlet by pricing their HD3870 a whole $50-$70 less than the recently-released 8800GT. Personally, I think this pricing scheme is something consumers should be really excited about since it shows where the industry is heading at breakneck speed: maximum performance for your hard-earned dollar. For the next little while, it seems like AMD is content to let the competition sit pretty in the ultra high-end bracket while they begin taking bites out of the $170-$300 price point. Unfortunately for AMD, it seems like Nvidia may have had an inside track on the performance figures of this card since they pushed forward the release of their 8800GT card in order to steal some of the 3870’s thunder. Fortunately for AMD, finding an 8800GT has become a lesson in futility so they are in a prime position to benefit from Nvidia’s lack of units in the retail channel.

In this review we will be taking a little closer look at the HIS Radeon HD3870 which promises to be the new poster child in the price / performance category. We were lucky enough to receive two of these cards so a few Crossfire tests will be run as well. Since time was a bit tight for the board partners, the drivers shipping with this card are NOT WHQL certified but are rather one of the latest iterations of the beta drivers from ATI. In addition, we will be releasing a review for the new HD3850 in a few days so stay tuned for that one as well.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at this new card!


HIS_HD3870_main.jpg
 
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Gav

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The New ATI Lineup.....blissfully simple

The New ATI Lineup…..blissfully simple


After going through a pair of reviews with the utterly confusing Nvidia naming process, ATI’s lineup seems extremely clear-cut and focused. AMD has chosen to use a very simple naming process for their new family of 3800-series of graphics cards: the xx70 designation is reserved for the higher-performing part while the xx50 is used for the intermediary part. Simple, no?


At the top of the spectrum we have the soon-to-be-discontinued HD2900XT with its 512-bit memory interface and power-hungry 80nm manufacturing process. At the lower end the HD2600-series stays with us for a little longer (as does the 2400-series) but both the XT and Pro versions get a pretty large price cut to an undetermined amount. According to AMD roadmaps, both the 2600 and 2400 series will be brought over into Q1 2008 and will not be replaced for at least the next few months.

Into this mix comes the aptly-named HD3870 card which is based on the new 55nm RV670XT core. This card does not represent a revolution in GPU design but it is rather the next step in the evolution of the ATI’s R600 architecture. That being said, the specifications do tend to look a lot like the outgoing and much-maligned HD2900XT cards. Fortunately for us, ATI and AMD have added so much more than a simple die-shrink; they have added PCI-E 2.0 compatibility, DX10.1 support, Unified Video Decoder compatibility and a host of other features. The DX10.1 feature is most definitely a stand-out since the HD3800-series will be the first graphics cards to support the new features which will be released with Windows Vista Service Pack 1. There have been a few leaks of DX10.1 “white papers”; one of which can be found here: http://www.pcper.com/images/reviews/...per%20v0.4.pdf

Personally, the one thing that interests me the most is the impact which the die-shrink will have on power consumption. The HD2900XT was a power hungry beast with its 80nm core and the 55nm core of the HD3870 will have a very positive impact on power consumption and heat production. There is an additional feature called Power Play which also impacts power consumption but we will look at that a bit later.

Overall, the specifications of the HD3870 give it quite a bit of credibility in today’s GPU market. The core is clocked at a whopping 777Mhz (interesting clock frequency, no?) while the GDDR4 memory is clocked at a face-slapping 2.25Ghz. Even with all that speed, you can still have a dud of a card if it is not equipped to handle high-texture scenarios which are found in many of today’s games. The HD3870 has very little to worry about on this account since it is equipped with 320 Stream Processors and 16 texture units. At this juncture I think it is important to call into account the difference between Nvidia’s Stream Processors and those on ATI GPUs. Instead of running the risk of sounding long-winded, I will direct you to this excellent article by Anandtech: AnandTech: ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT: Calling a Spade a Spade

While we are not reviewing the Radeon HD3850 in this article, we will touch on it nonetheless. This card is based on the 55nm RD670Pro graphics core and it is supposed to bridge the performance and price gap between the HD2870 and the HD2600XT. It is essentially and underclocked HD3870 with 256MB of GDDR3 memory instead of the 512MB of GDDR4 found on its larger sibling.


Power Play. No, not the hockey kind.


Now we come to one of the more interesting features behind these new cards from ATI: Power Play. Even though the 55nm-based core combined with GDDR4 memory should keep power consumption down, AMD has gone the extra step by giving these cards additional power management capabilities. The RV670 cards can now dynamically reduce their clock speeds and even voltage in order to increase efficiency by leaps and bounds over the older HD2900XT cards.

Imagine you have a HD2900XT or an 8800GTX and you want to work on a spreadsheet for work or an essay for one of your classes. I have done this before and no matter what, even in 2D clock modes the R600 and G80-based cards produce waves of heat from their heatsinks. There is nothing like working your butt off but you can’t concentrate because you are sweating like a pig because of the heat your graphics card produces. Well, with the HD3800-series you do not have to worry about this any longer since it drastically throttles back its voltages and speeds so heat and power consumption is no longer much of an issue when doing idle tasks.
 

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


The HIS Radeon HD3870 comes in a nondescript black box which is actually quite small compared to every other graphics card package that I have seen up until now. At first I thought that someone had sent me a card with a single slot cooler since the height of the box is next to nothing.

All of the necessary information is printed on the package but unfortunately there is absolutely no mention of a warranty even though HIS offers a warranty which lasts single paltry year. It is also interesting to see that about ¼ of the way down the left side of the rear of the package there is a piece of black tape covering up a part of the DX10.1 description. I have no idea why this is there but there was no way to take it off without ripping the packaging.


Lo and behold there is actually a card with a dual slot cooler in this small package. Everything is suspended in a plastic cocoon so risk of damage is reduced to virtually nil.

The accessories and game bundle included with this card are quite complete and I have heard that some retailers will be offering additional game bundles with some HD3780 cards.

With this card you get:

- Steam games in the form of Half Life 2: Lost Coast & Half Life 2: Deathmatch
- 1 DVI to HDMI dongle
- 1 DVI to VGA dongle
- 1 HDTV connector
- 1 Crossfire bridge
- HIS case sticker
- Quick start guide
- Driver and utility CD
 

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A closer look at the HIS Radeon HD3870

A closer look at the HIS Radeon HD3870


Well, here it is; the star of the show. As is usual for ATI cards, the HD3870 is decked out with a red PCB and a red plastic dual-slot cooler. While it looks quite long when looking at these pictures, it is exactly the same length as the previously-reviewed 8800GT which is “only” 9”. Unfortunately, the PCI-E power connector sits at the back of the card so you will need to add another ¾” to the overall length once the power connector is installed. This card is supposed to have a sticker over the main expanse of plastic on the heatsink but HIS received these cards a bit too late to finish developing their graphics. Expect future cards to come with some form of sticker which covers the top of the cooler.

You can see that the heatsink itself is a relatively simple forced-air affair with a large intake fan which blows cool air over a stack of copper fins placed directly over the core. The hot air is then exhausted out the back of your case which keeps interior temperatures under control. Due to the relatively low amounts of heat produced by the 55nm RV670XT core, the cooling solution can be kept quite minimal and lightweight.


There are quite a few interesting points about this heatsink assembly that should be mentioned. First of all, the pure copper heatsinks on the ram are completely independent from the rest of the cooler. This can present some very interesting options for people who will install an aftermarket cooler on this card since in some cases they can be left exactly where they are. Personally, I think this is absolutely brilliant and I will be putting this to the test a bit later in this review with the installation of an aftermarket cooler.

The fan itself is a very large 13-bladed affair that carries an HIS sticker on its central hub. ATI’s coolers have been much-maligned for being too noisy under any load condition but supposedly this new fan blade layout makes this fan one of the quietest around. Like past models, it is on a fan-speed controller which is directly linked to the temperature sensor on the core.


Even though this card can be used in the new “Crossfire X” setup which daisy-chains up to four HD3870 or HD3850 cards together, the Crossfire connector on this card is no different than that of the HD2900XT. There are two connectors, both of which need to be hooked up to another card via a Crossfire bridge if you want to enable Crossfire.

The back (or is it front?) of the card holds the metal grille used to exhaust hot air along with a pair of DVI connectors and an HDTV-out connector.


The underside of the HIS Radeon HD3870 doesn’t hold much of interest but it should be noted that the main heatsink is only held on by the 4 screws surrounding the x-shaped contact plate. The other screws you see here are holding down the memory and VRM heatsinks.


Under the heatsink of the HD3870

Please note that removing the heatsink WILL void your warranty


After the heatsink is removed we once again see that the memory and VRM heatsinks are completely independent from the main cooler. Speaking of the main heatsink, I find that the area where it contacts the RV670 core needs to be revised a bit since it is far from flat and very rough when you touch it.


Even though the memory heatsinks are copper, the heatsink over the VRMs is made of brass colored aluminum.

At the heart of the HD3870 lies the 55nm RV670XT core. Unlike the cores from other cards, there is nothing printed on this one to distinguish it as being of the RV670 family.
 

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Performance Tests

Performance Tests

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 3.5Ghz
Memory: 4GB Corsair Dominator DDR3 @ 1556Mhz (Thanks to Corsair)
Motherboard: Asus Blitz Extreme
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 320GB SATAII
Fans: 5X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Monitor: LG Flatron L2000CN-BF (1600X1200)
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64

Graphics Cards:
HIS Radeon HD3870 512MB (Stock / Crossfire)
Asus 8800GTX 768MB (stock)
Nvidia 8800GT 512MB (stock)
Gigabyte HD2900XT 512MB (stock)
EVGA 8800GTS 320MB (stock)

Drivers:

ATI Catalyst 8.44 RC2 (HD3870) *Please note that the 8.43 driver ships with the HIS HD3870

ATI Catalyst 7.10(HD2900XT)

Nvidia 169.04


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version
- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed…minus one that destabilized the whole system. ;)
- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs
- It is VERY important to note that we are using updated drivers. Thus, some scores may be different from our last reviews.

From here on out we will be doing these reviews a bit differently. After listening to feedback, we have decided to break up the benchmarking into two areas based on resolution: 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. Each game will be benchmarked with and without AA enabled so you can get a clear indication as to how AA will affect the performance of the cards.

It should be noted that we used the latest release candidate drivers (8.44 RC2) for this review since no actual WHQL drivers were available any time during the testing of this card. In addition, the Catalyst 7.9 and 7.10 drivers failed to work for me with the HD3870 installed.


1280x1024 Resolution Testing (DX9)


3DMark 06 Professional




Even with high core and memory clocks, the HD3870 is not able to keep up with its predecessor; the HD2900XT. On the other hand it literally blasted the more-expensive 8800GTS 320MB straight out of the water.


Half Life 2: Episode 2

Half Life 2: Episode 2 is the newest installment 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.



The results from our first game test are nothing short of stunning in favor of the HIS HD3870. With AA turned off in the first test it is hot on the heels of the more-expensive 8800GT 512MB and once the AA is enabled it pushes ahead. What is even more convincing is the performance gap between it and the outgoing HD2900XT.


Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes from Canadian developer Relic has been widely held as one of the greatest RTS games of all time while also being one of the most stressful games on the graphics card. There are very few instances in this game that will not make your graphics card beg for mercy and as such it makes a great benchmarking tool. Instead of using a typical mission (which seems to have given odd results more often than not when used with FRAPS) we are now using the in-game benchmarking tool which seems to give MUCH more consistent results



Without AA enabled we are starting to see the telltale effects of processor limitation since all of the scores are pretty much the same. Unfortunately, once AA is enabled in this game the performance of the HD3870 suffers quite a bit with as much as a 20% difference between it and the competitor from Nvidia.


Prey

Even though Prey may be a bit older game compared against many of the other ones we are testing, it still provides a workout of even the best graphics cards on the market. This time we have enabled its Graphics Boost feature (Gboost in the charts) and run through a custom timedemo.



In Prey the HD3870 acquits itself quite well by performing above the 8800GT without AA enabled while even with AA enabled it was able to hold down the fort.


World in Conflict

This is one stunning game. World in Conflict has provided me with some of my most memorable gaming experiences since the first Homeworld game was released and it has not stopped wowing me. This is a brand new benchmark for us and with all of the bangs and whistles turned on; this is a great benchmark for any graphics card out there.



Less than a month ago, performance of this stature was reserved for graphics cards costing in the area of $450. Now we see the $230 HIS HD3870 absolutely rocking cards like the 8800GTS 320MB. On the other hand it is still not fast enough to compete with the likes of the 8800GTX or 8800GT.


Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

This game was one of the first to jump into the DX10 pool. It provides some pretty good visuals while being very fun to play. In this test we ran through the retail version’s in-game benchmark 4 times and averaged out the scores we received in each area.



The performance exhibited by the HD3870 in this test is very interesting since its performance without AA enabled was nothing to write home. On the other hand, once AA was enabled it put out some extremely impressive numbers for a card priced at about $240.


1280x1024 Resolution Testing (DX10)


PT Boats: Knights of the Sea

Russian developer Akella has released a nifty little DX10 benchmark centered around their upcoming game PT Boats: Knights of the Sea. Due to a bug in the software, the demo refuses to run on any graphics card with under 512MB of ram if AA is turned on. So this time I benched without AA turned off.


Without a doubt, it is a disappointment to see the HD3870 performing below the HD2900XT in our first DX10 test. Only time will tell whether this is an issue with the beta drivers or with the somewhat buggy demo itself.


World in Conflict



Without AA turned on things are looking great for this card but the second AA is enabled, everything falls apart. I am inclined to call this a driver issue because as you will see in the 1600x1200 DX10 tests the HD3870 performs BETTER than at 1280x1024.


Lost Planet: Extreme Condition



Once again, when AA is enabled the HIS card is really able to strut its stuff. On the other hand, none of the cards were able to give me acceptable framerates in this game.


Company of Heroes



Once again I am impressed by the performance of the HIS Radeon HD3870 card. It performed almost neck-and neck with the 8800GT but what really impressed me was the high minimum framerate I received through all of the tests.


1600x1200 Resolution Testing (DX9)


Half Life 2: Episode 2



The HIS HD3870 continues to impress me in the Half Life 2: EP2 test. It comes in a strong third in the non-AA test but its scores are amazing when AA is enabled. This goes to show that the increased resolution has less of an impact on this card than it does on some others.


Company of Heroes



There will come a time when I will have to let these numbers speak for themselves since this new ATI card keeps on putting out some very respectable performance figures for its price. Unfortunately, it is not quite able to perform up to the levels of the 8800GT


Prey



Here performance falls off a bit to where it is slightly below the HD2900XT once again. This is disappointing to say the least.


World in Conflict



At this point the HD3870 is beginning to feel a lot like the HD2900XT in many ways. Sure it has undergone a die shrink but in this test in particular, it doesn’t seem like the increase in clock speeds done much to help its scores.


Lost Planet: Extreme Condition



Once again it seems the high clock speeds of the HD3870 are paying dividends at higher resolutions with AA enabled. The HIS card was languishing near the back of the pack when the test was run without AA but when it was enabled, the HD3870 took on a life of its own.


1600x1200 Resolution Testing (DX10)


PT Boats: Knights of the Sea


Once again I am looking forward to true WHQL drivers for this card since its performance at 1600x1200 almost equals its performance at 1280x1024 in this test. This is odd to say the least...


World in Conflict



While the HIS HD3870 is able to soundly beat the HD2900XT, it still struggles to match the blistering speed put out by the 8800GT and 8800GTX cards. It should be noted that the 8800GTS 320MB completely refused to run this test with AA enabled.


Lost Planet: Extreme Condition



In what seems to be a bit of a habit now, we get some very odd results with Lost Planet and the HD3870. While it gets clobbered at lower IQ settings, it performs very well with anti aliasing enabled. I think we will have to revisit these figures once a true WHQL driver is released.


Company of Heroes



Under DX10 everything seems pretty much even across the spectrum with the 8800GT edging out the HD3870 both with and without AA enabled.
 
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Additional Testing, Overclocking....the sky is the limit

Additional Testing


Overclocking….the sky is the limit

Considering the core is already pushed to 777Mhz while the memory is operating at 2252Mhz (DDR) I wasn’t expecting much in the way of an overclock. I was wrong.

Overclock speeds

Core: 860Mhz
Memory: 2748Mhz

Using the Catalyst overclocking utility I was able to push this card far beyond what I thought I would be able to. While an overclock of 83Mhz on the core is nothing to write home about, it was the 496Mhz overclock on the memory that left me staring in awe at the screen.

Overclocking this card was not without its trials though. While the core was stable at 860Mhz, when I pushed it to 861Mhz the system would hard-lock right after pressing the “test” button in the Catalyst Control Center. Thus, I do not think that heat has anything to do with the overclock but check back soon when we test overclocking with a different cooler.

Let’s see how this card performed when overclocked.

Performance Tests

3DMark06 Professional


It looks like the HIS HD3870 is now challenging the 8800GTX for overall supremacy on our 3DMark06 graph.


Lost Planet: Extreme Condition



My God does this thing fly when it is overclocked, doesn’t it?


Prey



Even though the HIS card does not come close to the beastly speeds of the 8800GTX in Prey, its scores increase by about 15% over HD3870 stock speeds.
 

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HIS HD3870 Crossfire Performance Preview

HIS HD3870 Crossfire Performance Preview


Unfortunately, getting Crossfire working with the drivers available to us was a time-consuming task considering their beta nature and Vista x64’s lack of cooperation. That being said, once I FINALLY got it to work with Windows Vista, we were rewarded with some phenomenal performance increases. Yet, some games such as World in Conflict had numerous graphical errors and overdraw issues which can probably be linked back to the drivers we were using.

Due to the pre-release nature of the drivers (both the 8.43 and 8.44 updates) I am treating this as a “preview” and it will not be counted towards the overall score this card receives. In addition, I did not have enough time to conduct many tests due to the review’s release date.

A note about Crossfire Overclocking in Windows Vista x64: After trying for quite awhile, I was not able to get Crossfire Overclocking to work with these cards. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon.


Performance Tests


3DMark 06



Prey



Well, the potential for some great scaling of two graphics cards in Crossfire is definitely there but with these Beta drivers, I find there are too many hoops to jump through to get it functioning properly in Vista x64. Stay tuned since if time permits, we will have another review of these cards in Crossfire once WHQL drivers are released. Hopefully, this will give you a little taste of what's to come.
 

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Temperatures and Acoustical Characteristics

Temperatures and Acoustical Characteristics

To measure temperatures I have used Rivatuner’s temperature monitoring program to log the GPU temperatures over a 1-hour time period. The graphics cards were installed into a Gigabyte Aurora 570 case and the temperature of the room was kept at a constant 24.4°C at the beginning of each test. The side panel of the case was closed for each of these tests.



The temperature of the RV670 core was quite good in the idle test but after 1 hour of load its temperatures were quite a bit warmer that I would have expected. Even though the temperatures were on the high side, the fan stayed absolutely silent throughout the testing period. This is a huge departure from past ATI fans which were extremely loud and frankly quite obnoxious.

On the other hand, I think the load temperatures show that ATI should have put a bit more thought into the heatsink design for this particular card.
 

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Aftermarket Cooler Installation (Thermaltake DuOrb)

Aftermarket Cooler Installation (Thermaltake DuOrb)

I wanted to have a bit of fun with this card so I decided to install a different heatsink onto it to see how it performed and if it would actually fit. I chose the Thermaltake DuOrb which we will be reviewing in a few weeks.

Did it fit?


Indeed it did!! To make matters even better…I was able to install it over the stock memory heatsinks. Upon further research it seems that the HD3870 and HD3850 will fit nearly every heatsink which is compatible with the X1900 and HD2900 series of graphics cards. Add to that the fact that any non full coverage HD2900XT and X1900-series water block is compatible with this card and the choices are nearly endless.

Personally, I think it is extremely exciting that you can install many coolers and water blocks without their accompanying flimsy ram heatsinks. The stock copper heatsink on the ram modules does a VERY good job of dispersing heat from the ram chips so for this installation, I really saw no reason to remove it.


As you can see, even though the DuOrb is quite large there is still a VERY small gap between its fins and the memory heatsinks once it has been fully tightened down. Whether this is an unintended consequence of their design or they had inside information, the Thermaltake DuOrb fits beautifully on the HD3870. But, I was still worried that there may not have been good contact between the core and the base of the DuOrb..


Even though after this result I tightened down the screws a bit more (I am always paranoid of breaking something) but the contact with the core was very good with an even dispersal of the Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal paste.


There is the Money Shot. Not only does the DuOrb fit but it looks pretty damn good too. But how does it perform?


Thermaltake DuOrb Performance on the HIS HD3870



The results are in and I have to say…the Thermaltake DuOrb is staying on my HD3870. Its performance was nothing short of awe-inspiring and goes to show how much more work could have been put into the stock cooler. What more can be said? Look at the numbers!
 

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Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Please remember that this is the power consumption for the WHOLE SYSTEM.


The HIS HD3870 is definitely frugal when it comes to power consumption. It is extremely impressive to see how much consumption is cut now that ATI has moved away from the 80nm manufacturing process of the HD2900XT with its R600 core.

If you are using this card in a non-overclocked dual core system, I would not hesitate recommending you use a GOOD 450-500W power supply.
 
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