Powercolor HD3850 Extreme PCS - AMD 3850 Performance explored Page: 1
ati hd3850

The graphics card market is a fast moving place and after our last review of the XFX 8800 GT that did rather well it was inevitable that we would be seeing another card come out in the marketplace.

This time it's ATI's turn to come out with a new chip..and we've got our hands on the Powercolor HD3870. In my opinion the mid-high range has suffered a little lately with some bad and some ok offerings. Will ATI's latest card be the one to pick? Read on fellow enthusiasts...


With the limited information we've had available to us on this GPU, I thought I'd start with

3850 specification
The card is PCI-e 2.0 compatible and runs on the 55nm process. Another feature worth mentioning is that the card will support quad crossfire when AMD bring out their next chipset. Let's not forget that AMD are releasing this one with the label DX10.1 compatible and allegedly supporting Shader Model 4.1...whatever use they'll be for the next year or so...
It looks like AMD/ATI have taken the basics of the 2900XT and slowed it down a bit, but not much. With 320 stream processors and still a pretty fast 720MHz on the GPu itself we should hopefully see some good stuff. 512mb memory abounds on the HD3850 running on a 256MBit bus. Memory bandwidth again seems high with 57.6 GB/sec.

Lets not forget that the Powercolor HD3850 is overclocked out of the box from 668Mhz on the core to 720MHz and the memory is increased from 828Mhz to 900MHz. None too shabby.


Now let's get onto the card in hand (none in the bush). Powercolor have gone the classic route of adding an attractive computer generated lay-dee on the front cover of their packaging, which is a little cliché, but there's still a fair amount of information. The box looks a little samey which is a shame but I don't think many of these will be sold on retail shelves...more e-tail.
hd3850 box

hd3850 box rear
As I said, there's a fair amount of info there but it's a little uninspiring.
powercolor inside box hd3850

Inside the box we see that the GPU is pretty well protected. Certainly on it's journey around the world to me the card itself came to no harm, despite a rather alarmingly large dent in the packaging itself.


Powercolor have always been a company that tend to keep their package fairly minimal. All of the hardware you'll need is, however, inside the box but I do not think you'll be finding a raft of software to use. This isn't always a bad thing as it tends to reduce costs.
powercolor hd3850 package

As I said everything is there, including:

* Quick Start Manual
* S-Video to component connector
* S-Video to composite connector
* Composite to composite connector
* DVI to VGA connector
* Internal Crossfire connector

Not shown is the driver CD which will obviously be included in the retail version.

It's all looking fairly good so far, let's go on to see what the card actually looks like.

Powercolor HD3850 Extreme PCS - AMD 3850 Performance explored Page: 2
Powercolor HD3850 with ZEROtherm - close up

Powercolor have gone for a non-standard cooling solution on this card and it looks pretty effective. Rather similar to Zalman coolers, the ZEROtherm solution is a looped heatpipe cooler made of aluminium  with fins aerating from a central copper base. The fan in the centre looks a little bizarre, but seems to do the job.

powercolor hd3850 card

powercolor hd3850 rear
As usual for an ATI card, the 3850 is built around a nice bright red PCB. In comparison to a lot of Nvidia cards we've seen recently, there's actually very little on the PCB. You'll also notice that the memory is uncovered with no cooling at all on it. I'm not sure if this is a money saving exercise or simply due to the fact that the Samsung K4j52324qe 1.8v 1.0ns memory modules that Powercolor ran with should use a little less power than your average GDDR3.
memory pic

The card uses a single PCI-e power dongle in keeping with what seems to be a good response to demand on keeping the power consumption of cards low.
hd3850 power consumption

We can see a little more of the cooler design if we switch angles.
cooler top

Again the cooler looks striking.
powercolor hd3850

Here is where it gets a little more interesting. HDMI, Dual Link DVI and S-Video make up the connectors onboard. This is great and leaves the option for an HDTV with HDMI and HDCP to be connected natively using the HDMI interface. 

The Cooler

So we've seen the card and heard me rattle on about HDMI, HDCP, HDTV and DVI, but what's that rather nice cooler actually like?
 powercolor hd3850 cooler close

cooler side on
Temperature sits around 34°C at idle and a chilly 49°C fully loaded with RTHDRIBL. Reporting to use the 55nm process, the HD3850 won't be filling your case with heat at all.

Sound-wise, the HD3850 is whisper quiet. At full load there's a small whizz of air with that odd looking fan spinning it's heart out, but certainly not noticeable above the noise of an average-to quiet system.
powercolor hd3850 naked

hd3850 nekked clean
As you can see by some gratuitous nekked shots above, the cooler has just the right amount of thermal paste. In fact it was such a good amount that my reseating with AS5 gave a slight rise in temperature. 
hd3850 cooler flatness

I don't think you can actually tell from the photo above, but the surface of the cooler is very flat and mirror-like in appearance, excellent work from Powercolor.

Powercolor HD3850 Extreme PCS - AMD 3850 Performance explored Page: 3
Test Setup and notes

To test these high-end cards I set a PC that gives as little of a bottleneck as possible. The Test setup used for the cards is this:

CPU: Intel Core2Duo E6700 @ 3.33Ghz
Motherboard: XFX 650i Ultra
RAM: 2gb Mushkin XP2-6400 4-4-4-12
HDD: OS - 160gb Hitachi Deskstar SATA II
Power: Zippy 500w
Case: Silverstone TJ09
Cooling: Scythe Infinity

Games Tested:

Call of Duty 4
Quake 4
Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
Bioshock DX (DX10)
UT3 Beta (DX10)
Crysis Demo (DX10)

I am using a manual run-through of the games listed, exactly the same as in previous reviews, but doing it slightly differently to get some consistant numbers. Notice that for all games unless stated I ran through with 4 x AA and 8 x AF @ 1920 x 1200. For all of the 3Dmark benchmarks I did two runs. One run was with the stock settings that the free version of the benchmark comes with and one was with 4 x AA @ 1920 x 1200.

For installation I have installed the card as usual with the normal PCI-E power dongle. Checked that the card is seated correctly and powered on.

I am using a clean install of Windows XP Professional SP2 with all the latest patches and a fresh install of Vista for those games/cards tested with DX10.

The Powercolor HD3850 was installed using the beta AMD 8.43 Vista driver set (inc CCC)

The 8800GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition card used the nVidia 169.02 Forceware drivers.

Note that the two Ultra cards were tested earlier using 173.71 drivers

The 2900XT card was installed with the Catalyst Control Center 7.9's.

Powercolor HD3850. Core Speed 720. Memory Speed: 1800 (900). Stream Processor clock:

XFX 8800 GT. Core Speed: 670. Memory Speed: 1950 (975). Stream Processor Clock: 1650MHz.

XFX 8800 Ultra "Extreme" Edition. Core Speed: 650. Memory speeds: 2200 (1100). Stream processor clock: 1650MHz.

XFX 8800GTS 320mb "Fatal1ty" Edition. Core Speed: 650. Memory speeds: 2000 (1000). Stream processor clock: 1500MHz.

Gainward 8800 Ultra. Core Speed: 612. Memory Speed 900 (1800). Stream processor clock 1500MHz

MSI 8800 GTX. Core Speed: 575. Memory speeds: 2200 (1100). Stream processor clock: 1350MHz.

Sapphire HD 2900 XT. Core Speed 740. memory speed 1650 (825). Stream processor clock 320MHz.

Overclocking on the nVidia cards was performed using RivaTuner, and the Nvidia control panel using nTune for the 8800GT.

Overclocking on the Powercolor card was performed using RivaTuner

Powercolor HD3850 Extreme PCS - AMD 3850 Performance explored Page: 4
Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4 utilises a whole load of the highest DirectX 9.0c features to produce a gorgeous looking but rather PC-stressing game. Cinematic effects such as motion blur and HDR are employed to great effect as well as realistic and fantastic smoke effects and highly detailed character rendering.

call of duty 4

As this is a very new game I only had time to compare the 8800GTX for Call of Duty 4. In general the HD3850 did well, but at some points it got a little jerky. Remember that this was @ 1920 x 1200 with 4 x AA set. You would definitely be able to play this excellent brand new game on your HD3850, and enjoy the experience immensely.


F.E.A.R. is a game based on an engine that uses many features of DirectX 9.0c. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects, with a slow-motion mode that really taxes today's top of the line GPU's. I used a fully patched version of the game with the latest patch. I played three two-minute runs on a taxing part of the game with plenty of action, using slow-motion for the full time whilst firing at enemy soldiers and using grenades that produce a cool "blast" contortion effect when blown up.

Being a little older, this new card should do well in F.E.A.R. but will it match up to the higher end cards in the testing?

FEAR benchmark
F.E.A.R was again enjoyable on the Powercolor HD3850. Not quite doing as well as the more expensive 8800GT, it never-the-less held it's own against a raft of very costly cards.


Oblivion is an awesome RPG with a simply huge immersive environment, great graphics and incredibly realistic scenery. This game is currently one of the most testing games that you can buy and it is certainly a test of the high-end cards here. I chose to do a run-through of the Arena part of the game. I spoke to a character, did some magic whilst in a fight and fought in the arena that is pretty huge. Also, as well as doing this test I took a wander around to make sure that the benchmark resembled the general gameplay with each card.

oblivion settings

Oblivion is a tough game even on the top end, how will the Powercolor HD3850 fare here?

oblivion benchmark

Oblivion again shows just how fast this mid-high end card is against high end hardware. Oblivion often plays very well on ATI hardware and the HD3850 is no exception.

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Quake 4

Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. This uses many DX 9.0c features and is a game that nVidia traditionally did well on being an OpenGL game. Once again I did three two minute runs on Quake 4 on each card and took the average of all my readings from these. I played a fast and furious part of the game that required both internal and external scenes.

At Ultra settings in our game test, this should give the ATI card a good run for its money.

quake 4 benchmark
Quake 4 is a little bit of an older game and the HD3850 seemed to breeze it, playing at Ultra High detail with 4 x AA on and barely breaking a sweat.

Command and Conquer 3

C&C3 is the much awaited RTS from EA. Hugely popular and with some pretty nice visuals almost every modern PC should be able to play it. I tested a skirmish right at the end when I had a screen full of mechs to defeat the enemy. AA was set to the highest level it could be in-game.

After seeing how the HD3850 does in the other tests, this should be a breeze for it.

cnc 3 benchmark


Bioshock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. I used the DirectX 10 path in Windows Vista to test the game in this part of the review.

bioshock benchmark

Again the Powercolor HD3850 made Bioshock playable at this high resolution and detail setting. This is an excellent performance from a card around the £120 mark.

Powercolor HD3850 Extreme PCS - AMD 3850 Performance explored Page: 6
UT3 Beta

UT3 runs on the Unreal 3 engine (really?? - Ed). Again it's a nice scalable engine and we played it in Vista using the DX10 setting. Remembering that UT3 is currently in the beta stage and so figures will not be final, let's see what the performance is like for UT3. UT3 was played at 1920 x 1200 with full settings in-game.

ut3 beta benchmark
The Powercolor HD3850 played the UT3 beta smoothly and it was a pleasure to play. The performance here was easily on par with the XFX 8800GT i rated highly in a previous review.

Crysis Beta

Crysis is also currently in beta stage so please be aware of this as you read the numbers. It is looking to be the game that really takes graphics forward and the only game coming out soon that fully utilises DirectX 10. DirectX 10 really looks like it is going to be taken to the next level with Crysis.

Note that Crysis was played at 1368 x 768 with details on "Very High" with 2 x AA, which was only very barely playable in DX10 for all the cards tested.

crysis benchmark

Crysis was the only game I felt that the HD3850 didn't fare so well at. The 8800GT barely limped along at an unplayable frame rate utilising the DX10 path on "Very high" settings and 2 x AA and the Powercolor HD3850 was actually unplayable.

Lowering the detail to "Medium" resulted in a much more playable game, but hell: it wouldn't be a benchmark if it wasn't tough would it?!

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Benchmarking - 3DMark

I used the popular gaming benchmarks made by Futuremark to bench all of the cards. I used 3dMark 03, 05 and 06. I ran all benchmarks from the stock settings as well as at 1920 x 1200 (4 x AA).

3DMark 03

First we start with 3DMark03. This is a benchmark that relies heavily on DirectX 8 features. This will give an indication of how the card will run on games that rely on DX 8.

Here the HD3850 didn't fare so well in the 3DMark stakes compared to the higher end cards. It still puts out an acceptable performance though.


I ran 3dMark05. This benchmark requires some more features of DirectX 9 and gets slightly more taxing on the cards.


Again the Powercolor HD3850 just doesn't manage to keep up with the more expensive cards in 3DMark05.


3dMark06 is the latest in the benchmarking tests from Futuremark. It has a lot of DirectX 9.0c features such as HDR and use of Shader model 3.0. This benchmark is very taxing for the cards and also includes quite a harsh CPU benchmark. Seeing as this was run with the exact same CPU this was not an issue. This is the latest Futuremark benchmark and so carries a bit more weight for modern games than the previous two.

Surprisingly here the score for the HD3850 suffers even more than in the previous two benchmarks. It seems that the DX9.0c performance in the Futuremark suite isn't quite the HD3850's forté.

Powercolor HD3850 Extreme PCS - AMD 3850 Performance explored Page: 8

Overclocking on the Powercolor HD3850 was performed using the excellent RivaTuner v2.06. A test run of 3DMark06 was performed after the overclock to verify stability and also if the OC was worth the time.

Note that no hard or soft mods were performed on the card apart from setting the higher clocks.


Here's what happened:


Not a bad overclock of .786/1982. I expect given time and some more mature driver that this card is capable of more as the cooler certainly keeps the card chilly.


A small rise in the 3DMark score shows that the overclock was worth it!

Power consumption

To get the power consumption of the cards listed I booted the PC with a GPU that takes up a negligible amount of power and recorded the power draw at the plug. I then compared this to the output of the exact same system with each card in turn at idle and full 100% load using RTHDRIBL.

Whilst this is not 100% accurate, it's a good measure of system power consumption.

power consumption

As we can see, the Powercolor HD3850 is very good on power consumption, easily lower than the power hungry 8800GTX and not doing too badly compared to the 8600GT, beating it at peak load power consumption.

Powercolor HD3850 Extreme PCS - AMD 3850 Performance explored Page: 9

AMD/ATI have brought out a card that totally re-writes the books as far as mid-range gaming goes. At a price of around £135 (currently only available from OCUK), this card really enters the market at a very aggressive price point.

Gaming on the Powercolor HD3850 was smooth and fun and the card enabled me to play at a very high resolution with very high detail. The HD3850 kept pace with cards ranging from just about twice the price to those almost four times as expensive.

The cooler Powercolor have used for the HD3850 is both cool and quiet. Couple this with the fact that it looks great and the card only consumes 90watts at full load and you're onto a winner for sure.

Whilst the Powercolor HD3850 isn't as exciting as rumors led us to believe, this is a mid to high level card that is so cheap you may as well buy two for an awesome budget crossfire rig (and you do NOT hear me say that often).

I'm reluctant to give out some more awards as the 8800GT had a few accolade's passed it's way, but sometimes needs must...

I'm awarding a well-deserved "Value for Money" Award, coupled with an "Editors Choice" Award to the Powercolor HD3850.

value for money editors choice

The Good

+ Awesome value
+ Great cooler
+ Quiet fan
+ Good looking
+ Great performance per £

The Mediocre

* Not so good for benching

The Bad

- True DirectX 10 performance (Crysis) tough on the card

Thanks to Powercolor for the review sample

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