AMD fights back with RV670 - PowerColor Radeon HD 3850 Xtreme 512MB review
The last twelve months have been a rough ride for AMD, not only in the CPU market, but also for the ATI graphics divion's ultra-competitive discrete graphics market. First came the delays to their flagship R600 architecture, allowing rivals NVIDIA a clear run at claiming first the high-end, then the mid-range, DirectX 10 graphics board market with their hugely impressive G80 architecture. Sadly, when R600 did finally hit retail as the Radeon HD 2900 XT, it turned out to be something of a disappointment - Despite some genuinely innovative features (a 512-bit ring bus memory controller, the as-yet unused tessellation unit, and the infinitely more useful inclusion of full HDMI support by default), it failed to capture the imagination in any other way. Sure, it had plenty of raw rendering power, but feed it with any level of anti-aliasing and the architecture all but choked - Not good news for a high-end part, although the lower-end Radeon HD 2000 series derivatives fared a little better at times thanks to some clever pricing and target markets where anti-aliasing performance isn't an issue. Add to that the large, very loud cooling solution and the high power requirements, and then rub salt into the wounds by not even having a competitor for NVIDIA's flagship GeForce 8800 GTX, and you have the beginnings of a very uncompetitive ATI. Just how bad was the Radeon HD 2000 launch? Bad enough for the name 'GeForceFX' to be whispered (perhaps a little harshly) in some quarters, that's how bad.
Fast forward a year, and in recent weeks we've witnessed yet another hugely successful launch by NVIDIA, with their GeForce 8800 GT part offering a smaller cooling solution and better price point than the GeForce 8800 GTS, while still managing to improve performance. Thankfully, this time ATI aren't anywhere near as far behind in their execution, which is why we are here today to witness the launch of the company's RV670 core. Like NVIDIA, this GPU is all about using an improved manufacturing process to reduce size and heat, while also improving performance and hitting a very attractive price point, a goal ATI are aiming at with the launch of two SKUs today - The Radeon HD 3870, which goes toe to toe with the GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, and the part being examined in this review, the Radeon HD 3850, which comes in at a lower price point still. To top it all off, ATI have even managed to one-up NVIDIA in what may well be a crucial sense from a marketing perspective, for RV670 sees the introduction of the world's first DirectX 10.1 capable GPUs. More on that later though.
So, just what are we looking at today? Well, as you've probably guessed by the title, the focus of this review is a Radeon HD 3850-based board, courtesy of those lovely people at PowerColor. Has RV670 learned any lessons from the pitfalls that befell R600? Let's hope so. In fact, no, let's stop hoping, and actually find out...