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Thursday, 07 February 2008 18:31

Overclocked MSI R3870 X2 tested

Written by Sanjin Rados

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Review: 2 GPUs at 860MHz

 

We had a chance to test one of MSI's best cards, the R3870 X2. It's a dual-chip Radeon HD 3870, but this time it's MSI's overclocked version.

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MSI R3870X2 packs 1GB of GDDR3 memory, dual DVI/TV out, HDCP, HDMI, DX 10.1 and comes in a really big box.

The card is overclocked straight out of the box, and you can overclock it even further. The reference GPU clock is 825MHz, but MSI opted for 860MHz, while the memory still runs at reference 900MHz. At first we were wondering why they left the memory as it is but after we installed MSI’s version of Catalyst drivers we got a clear answer.

Many of you are familiar with D.O.T., Dynamic Overclocking Technology tool that MSI has been using for a long time now, and it’s this tool that makes overclocking easy for inexperienced users. The picture below speaks louder than words, and as you can see, D.O.T. has 6 steps for overclocking, each named after a rank in the U.S. Navy.

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However, overclocking MSI’s card with D.O.T. didn’t quite go as well as expected. On the second rank (Sergeant), the core ran at 878MHz, which is maximum no matter what rank we used. Captain clocks the memory to 955MHz, and the following three ranks, including Commander, don’t change a thing. This either suggests that our D.O.T. isn’t working right or that a certain someone who made this program played too much Call of Duty. Catalyst 8.2 driver will definitely boost HD 3870 X2 performance, whereas MSI should work on their D.O.T. some more. Actually, the new D.O.T. is expected after the Chinese New Year that started yesterday.

MSI R3870 X2 overclocked card runs at 860MHz, but using D.O.T. or ATI’s Overdrive you can reach maximum 878MHz GPU and 955MHz for memory. Using Catalyst Overdrive simply won’t result in more. ATI’s Auto-Tune option won’t work and it crashes the card every time it boots. We know this is one of the first drivers so we’re looking forward to some fixes.

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Since the card has internal CrossFire, courtesy of the PLX chip, we’ve decided to check whether it has multi-monitor support.

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Just like Nvidia SLI’s 3D mode, Crossfire’s 3D mode won’t let you use dual-monitor. However, after brief testing we realized that our two monitors indeed work, but with certain limitations.

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The easiest way to set up your monitors is using the basic mode of Catalyst driver. Since this is a CrossFire card, as soon as you go into 3D mode you lose interaction with the second monitor. That means that you can’t play on one monitor and work on the other one simultaneously. Clone and Extended options work, but it means your monitor goes blank in 3D mode. To simplify – 3D rendering in CrossFire is performed in a way where each chip renders a part of the picture or a single frame. So, whether it’s CrossFire on a single card or CrossFire (or SLI) on two cards, the problem stays the same.

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So far, we tested HD 3870 X2 cards with two video outs, and it’ll be interesting to test HD 3870 X2 cards with 4 outs (Asus, Power Color and some other companies also have them).

At a first glance, the Radeon HD 3870 X2 seems huge, but it’s no bigger than Ultra. Although it features two RV670 graphics processors the power consumption is acceptable. Although we hear numbers of 200W per card, our real test resulted in 377W for the whole system under a workload, whereas the same Core 2 Duo 6800 Extreme setup, but this time with Nvidia’s Ultra card, resulted in consumptiot of 359W. Thanks to PowerPlay technology, our Radeon HD 3870 X2-inside system consumed 195W in idle mode, whereas with Geforce Ultra that number was 227W.

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Powering the card is done with one 8-pin and one 6-pin connector, just like we saw on HD 2900 XT cards. For those who don’t have an 8-pin connector on their PSU’s, MSI ships an 8-pin-to-6-pin adapter in the box. The cooler reminded us of 2900’s cooler, but this time it’s got no heatpipe, and it’s longer since it has a difficult job of cooling two chips. Luckily, the fan was improved and now it runs quietly, except at highest workloads. MSI kept the reference cooler design, but we’ve already seen some partners incorporating their own.

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You can chain two HD 3870 X2 cards in CrossFire, but CrossFireX drivers aren’t ready yet.

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MSI ships the standard bundle (except for non-standard 6-to-8pin adapter), and it’s all packaged in a huge box. 

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This box was built to definitely capture your attention when in a computer store.

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Last modified on Monday, 11 February 2008 02:42
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