ASUS Radeon HD 3870 X2 Graphics Card

The dual-GPU 9800 GX2 monster may now be here, but that doesn't put AMD's HD 3870 X2 out of the picture just yet!
| Mar 25, 2008 at 11:00 pm CDT
Rating: 93%Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction

IntroductionAnother day, another graphics card. Today it's the HD 3870 X2 from ASUS in all its dual GPU wielding power. ASUS haven't chosen to go down the route of a stock cooler, so it should be interesting to see what the card is capable of and what exactly they have done to make it stand out from the pack.We like the HD 3870 X2; generally speaking it gets good gains at high resolutions in most applications we test. The single PCB design is leaps and bounds ahead of the original dual GPU offering from NVIDIA under the 7900 naming scheme. We've seen pictures of the HD 3870 X2 from ASUS before, but now it's our chance to get down and dirty with it to see if it's worth spending the extra money the ASUS cards generally carry with them.

The Package

The PackageWith nothing too out of the ordinary for ASUS, we have that typical massive box that we're so used to seeing. The top of the card has the brand, in this case ASUS, while the bottom of the card has the model number along with the HDMI logo.
Just above the model we have some of the main features of the card like 1GB of GDDR3 memory and four DVI ports. Above that we also see mention that the card has an extra GPU. The rest of the box is covered in a big Company of Heroes picture and makes note of the game being included inside.
Turning the box over, we have some more information on the model along with recommended system requirements. The ASUS cards also offer some of their own software and a rundown of what's included.
Along with the setup guide and driver CD we have a CD that carries with it the manual and a multitude of languages. As mentioned on the front of the box, we also have a full version copy of Company of Heroes Opposing Forces.
Other extras include the CD Wallet that we're so accustomed to seeing from ASUS and a pretty typical line-up of cables. Molex to PCI-E, Component Out, two DVI to VGA connectors, crossfire connector and a single DVI to HDMI connector are included.The ASUS bundles on a whole are pretty good and give you everything you would expect out of a high-end card. You do pay a premium for ASUS cards which give you little extras like the CD Wallet and a more recent game. Some people will want it, others won't.

The Card

The CardMoving onto the card itself, the cooler isn't just a slight variation to the stock one, but a completely new design which carries with it two fans. A black shroud covers the whole card and to the left we can see the word DUAL.
If you look closely in between the fan fins you can see the copper piping and aluminum fins that help keep the card cool. The overall design of the cooler looks good and should prove to be efficient when it comes to cooling the multiple GPUs embedded to the card.
While the cooler might be different, the PCB layout is what you would expect. Moving around the card the back has two PCI Express power connectors; one is a 6-Pin which we're used to seeing and the other is the more obscure 8-Pin that only AMD choose to use.
There's also the single Crossfire connector across the top of the card which since this month can now be made use of.
Like we saw mentioned on the front of the box, we have four DVI connectors in the I/O department. Apart from the four DVI ports we also have a single TV-Out port. As you can see, one of the DVI ports is yellow which helps identify which port to use if you're choosing to use the DVI to HDMI adapter that's included in the package.SpecificationsThe ASUS HD 3870 X2 carries with it the standard clocks as you can see in the below screenshot.
A TOP model is offered, though we don't see that here today.

Test System Setup and 3DMark06

Test System SetupProcessor(s): Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 3GHz (333MHz x 9)Cooling: Corsair Nautilus500 (Supplied by Corsair) with Arctic Cooling MX-2 Thermal Compound (Supplied by Arctic Cooling)Motherboard(s): GIGABYTE X48-DQ6 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)Memory: 2 X 1GB Kingston PC6400 DDR-2 3-3-3-10 (KHX6400D2ULK2/2G) (Supplied by Kingston)Hard Disk(s): Seagate 250GB 7200RPM SATA-2 7200.10 (Supplied by Seagate)Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista SP1Drivers: Catalyst 8.3We'll check out the ASUS HD 3870 X2 today against the X2 offering from Sapphire and the standard HD 3870 from ASUS.3DMark06Version and / or Patch Used: Build 110Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
As you would expect, the performance between the two stock cards is very similar. The X2 really does offer some good gains when compared against the single HD 3870, especially at the higher resolution.

Benchmarks - PT Boats: Knights of the Sea

PT Boats: Knights of the SeaVersion and / or Patch Used: Benchmark DemoDeveloper Homepage: http://en.akella.com/Product Homepage: http://www.pt-boats.net/
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a naval action simulator that places gamers in charge of a mosquito fleet of the Allied Forces, Russia or Germany during the height of World War II.Using the latest Direct X 10 technology PT Boards - Knights of the Sea manages to apply a lot of stress to the components of today which in turn gives us quite an intensive benchmark.
While the more important minimum department shows no difference between the single GPU HD 3870 and the X2, when we move to the averages we see the X2 jump way out in front.

Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10

CINEBENCH R10Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
While CINEBENCH sees gains, it's nothing like the performance increases we've seen from our other synthetic benchmarks.

Benchmarks - Half Life 2 (Episode Two HDR)

Half Life 2 (Episode Two HDR)Version and / or Patch Used: Latest from SteamTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.comBuy It Here
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism, responsiveness and new HDR technology, Half-Life 2 Episode Two opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors even the emotions of both friends and enemies.We benchmark Half Life 2 Episode Two with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.
We continue to see big gains over the single GPU setup while the ASUS offering actually manages to come out ahead across the board against the Sapphire.

Benchmarks - World in Conflict

World in ConflictVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0.5Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in TestDeveloper Homepage: http://www.massive.se Product Homepage: http://www.worldinconflict.com
World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10) and the Xbox 360.The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.
The X2 performance gains are only seen in the highest resolutions. Anything below 1920 x 1200 sees the single and dual GPU cards score quite close to each other.

Benchmarks - Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake WarsVersion and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam VersionTimedemo or Level Used: Custom time demoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.splashdamage.com/ Product Homepage: http://www.enemyterritory.com/
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is the latest Quake incarnation to make it out of the iD labs and carries with it a fast paced experience that manages to place a good amount of strain on your graphics card.We use a custom made time demo which shows a bit of everything and manages to give us a good solid benchmark for the graphics cards that we test.
We see very small gains under ET:QW which doesn't manage to make any real use of the extra GPU here.

Benchmarks - Crysis

CrysisVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.1Timedemo or Level Used: Custom time demoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.crytek.com/ Product Homepage: http://www.ea.com/crysis/Buy It Here
From the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G.Real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features the CryENGINE™ 2 offers. The CryENGINE™ 2 comes complete with all of its internal tools and also includes the CryENGINE™ 2 Sandbox world editing system.
Crysis performance gets quite a nice bump at the highest resolution, but a 47FPS average still isn't what we would call playable simply due to how low it will drop.

Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 3

Unreal Tournament 3Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1Timedemo or Level Used: Developer Homepage: http://www.epicgames.com/ Product Homepage: http://www.unrealtournament3.com/Buy It Here
Following the formulae that made Unreal Tournament so great the third installment to the series has hit us recently with better than ever graphics. The games uses the latest Unreal Engine which like most modern day games when maxed out puts the pressure on our lineup of graphics cards.
UT3 manages to get some decent gains at the highest resolution and the X2 really gives you the chance to chuck on some AA while retaining a good average frame rate.

High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AFOur high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.3DMark06
AMD tend to spend a lot of time optimizing 3DMark06, and we can see that the X2 offers big gains when you really crank up the options.Half Life 2 (Episode Two HDR)
Source based Episode Two also manages to see good gains with the X2 offering.World In Conflict
The big gains also carry over to World in Conflict; big numbers compared to the single GPU HD 3870.

Benchmarks - 3DMark06 - XP

3DMark06Version and / or Patch Used: Build 110Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
The big gains continue to be seen as we move over to XP. Ultimately though, 3DMark06 is nothing more than a synthetic test and doesn't always represent real world game play.

Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10 - XP

CINEBENCH R10Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
We again see that the Dual Core offerings see no extra points under CINEBENCH with all cards scoring within 80 points of each other.

Benchmarks - World in Conflict - XP

World in ConflictVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0.5Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in TestDeveloper Homepage: http://www.massive.se Product Homepage: http://www.worldinconflict.com
World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10) and the Xbox 360.The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.
The good gains in WIC also carry over to XP with the best gains being seen at 1920 x 1200, which isn't of any surprise to us.

Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 3 - XP

Unreal Tournament 3Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1Timedemo or Level Used: Developer Homepage: http://www.epicgames.com/ Product Homepage: http://www.unrealtournament3.com/Buy It Here
Following the formulae that made Unreal Tournament so great the third installment to the series has hit us recently with better than ever graphics. The games uses the latest Unreal Engine which like most modern day games when maxed out puts the pressure on our lineup of graphics cards.
UT3 performance manages to again see the big gains over the single GPU HD 3870 at the highest resolution.

Benchmarks - Half Life 2 (Episode Two HDR) - XP

Half Life 2 (Episode Two HDR)Version and / or Patch Used: Latest from SteamTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.comBuy It Here
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism, responsiveness and new HDR technology, Half-Life 2 Episode Two opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors even the emotions of both friends and enemies.We benchmark Half Life 2 Episode Two with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.
Finally we leave with Episode Two and the HD 3870 X2 continuing to get big boosts in performance when compared to the single GPU HD 3870.

Sound Tests

Sound Tests
Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).
Noise levels are pretty standard for the high-end card.

Power Consumption Tests

Power Consumption Tests
Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD ROM or many cooling fans.So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
The ASUS for some reason managed to draw significantly less wattage when compared to the Sapphire HD 3870 X2. No surprise that power is way up when compared to the single GPU HD 3870.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsI've been a big fan of the HD 3870 X2, really from the word go. It's always seemed that the technology AMD implement for their multi-GPU setups have always been better. They also learnt a lot from NVIDIA's 7900 GX2 and 7950 GX2 which were really nothing short of a flop. While we don't have the NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GX2 in the graphs today, we know where it sits. It tends to come out consistently ahead of the AMD offering. The AMD offering however does have a lot going for it. While the 9800 GX2 starts closer to the $800 AUD mark, the HD 3870 X2 manages to sit way back around the low $500 AUD starting mark.Also, if you want a HD 3870 X2 there are so many places that list them at a reasonable price. If you start looking into GX2s the prices quickly go north with the high $800 AUD mark not being all that uncommon.The ASUS offering is all very typical; it comes with a full version game, that CD wallet that we're so used to seeing and a three year warranty (while a lot of other companies only offer two). This does come at a cost, but to get yourself into an ASUS HD 3870 X2 you're still looking at under $600 AUD.Where the GX2 does shine over the HD 3870 X2 is in a Quad GPU configuration. We saw some good gains in Crysis when testing it, but the HD 3870 X2 in Crossfire really says nothing spectacular. With that said though, AMD are very good in the driver department and hopefully Crossfire X technology is something they choose to concentrate more and more on in the near future.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR -

Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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