We managed to get our hands on one of the first Sapphire Radeon HD 3850 512MB GDDR3 samples, and we can all finally see what this card can and can’t do. The best thing about this card is that, although it runs at reference 670MHz core and 1660MHz memory, this card is passively cooled. We thought that a 55nm chip would be cool enough, but reference card temperatures easily hit 89 degrees Celsius. Sapphire's passive cooler is a bit more efficient, and their temperatures go up to 82 degrees. With a little help from a small fan blowing in the direction of the card, the temperatures dropped to 60 degrees Celsius. That’s the beauty of good passive cooling – if you have good airflow, the card will end up cool and with next to no noise.
Sapphire’s passive cooler has three heatpipes routing the heat to the radiator placed on the back of the card. The card supports Crossfire, comes with 512MB GDDR3, supports HDMI and, of course, you get a free copy of Black Box Half Life 2. This time, you also get a copy of 3DMark 2006.
The cooler hugs the card and the heatpipes go through the entire radiator and transfer heat to all the aluminum fins. You don’t need a fan because radiator size is enough for cooling.
The "Fueled by Sapphire" cooler is made of aluminum and it's pretty light, in spite of its size.
The memory also touches the cooler, and the board houses 8 Qimonda memory modules. You can see the memory modules layout on the cooler, because it left a visible mark in the thermal paste on the cooler.
Three heatpipes stretch from the copper core and go around the card to the other side. Compared to their starting point, their finish line is just a couple of centimeters off.
The only problem with this cooler design is that it makes the card wider. Some motherboards might have big chipset coolers that just might make it impossible to install.
We haven’t had any problems with our EVGA 680i motherboard, but OCZ's Reaper memory modules are a tad bigger than conventional memory kits, so the card leans against and touches the memory. It didn’t affect the performance, but we prefer that components don’t touch.
So, Sapphire Ultimate HD 3850 is a dual slot card but not quite. Unlike standard cards that have big coolers, Sapphire’s card takes up the space behind the card. Still, it’s a great card, it’s silent, has HDMI and audio and you can use it to play all games.
Radeon HD 3850 and 3870 kept R600’s 320 Stream processors, but they are using a 256 bit memory controller. UVD video engine, previously exclusive to mid-range products, is now featured on RV670 cards, also. This enables full acceleration while working with High Definition movie formats H.264 or VC-1. HDMI support with sound is a standard feature on ATI’s HD series, and although Sapphire doesn’t have HDMI out, you can use the DVI-to-HDMI dongle that you get with your card.
The box is made in the usual Sapphire style; it’s compact and filled with content, whereas if you need to check out the most important specs, you can see them on the box. You have PCIe 2.0, HDMI and HD Audio, as well as ATI Crossfire X, although the drivers for it dictate the tempo, so that feature won’t work until early next year. The full model name is Sapphire Ultimate HD 3850 512MB GDDR3 PCIe DUAL –I/TVO, and the card supports DX10.1 and Shader model 4.1. Besides the great features that this card brings, in the box you’ll also receive PowerDVD 7, Futuremark 3DMark06 and The Black Box with Half Life 2, Portal and Team Fortress.