Review: New kid on the AGP block
AGP cards are slowly but surely going the way of the Dodo, everyone's aware of that, but AGP is still alive and kicking. Powercolor knows this and it believes that it can still squeeze some life and cash out of AGP. It recently launched an HD 3850 AGP card with a Zerotherm cooler, the same one used on its PCIe HD 3850 PCS series cards.
As you probably know by now, the HD3800 series is based on ATI's RV670 55nm core. Thanks to the 55nm process, the GPU doesn't heat up much and Zerotherm's cooler does a great job keeping the temperatures at bay. The card itself is reference clocked, 668MHz for the core and 512MB of GDDR3 clocked at 828MHz (1658MHz effective) on a 256-bit memory bus.
Like all HD3800 series cards, this one also supports DirectX 10.1, Shader Model 4.1 and features ATI's UVD engine for HD video content. As you can see, the differences between the AGP and PCI-Express cards are obvious. The AGP version lacks a Crossfire connector and has a small Rialto bridge chip on the back of the card.
Powercolor opted for Zerotherm's heatpipe cooler which does a good job cooling the card and doesn't produce much noise in the process. The only drawback is that this card takes up two slots, unlike reference HD3850 cards. The cooler would be great for HTPC setups, but this is not what this card is about. It's not a low-end solution for HTPCs, but rather an AGP revival card of sorts, as it packs quite a punch.
The temperature was surprisingly low, which led us to conclude that Zerotherm's cooler is doing one heck of a job cooling this card.
The temperature was measured in an open case environment. The cooler was not noisy, but also not silent. In a closed case environment, noise shouldn't be a problem. We measured 54°C under full load, which is a good result.
For this test, we decided to use an older system which we like to call "old faithful," based on Intel's 865PE socket 478 chipset paired with Intel's P4 Northwood processor working at 2800MHz. As we mentioned earlier, the AGP market is dying and people looking for this kind of card either want to make a nice HTPC or simply just want to refresh it a little, and postpone the inevitable upgrade to PCI-Express. Powercolor's HD 3850 512MB AGP PCS was compared to PowerColor's X1950 Pro 256MB AGP and MSI's HD 2600Pro 256MB AGP cards.
MSI 865PE Neo2-P Platinum Edition
Intel 865PE Chipset
Intel ICH5 Chipset
Intel P4 Northwood @ 2.8GHz
Stock Intel Cooler
Kingston PC3200 2x512MB Value Series
CL 3-3-3-8 @ 2.5V
PowerColor HD 3850 512MB AGP PCS (supplied by PowerColor)
PowerColor X1950 Pro 256MB (supplied by PowerColor)
MSI HD 2600 PRO 256MB (RX2600PRO-T2D256Z/D2) (supplied by MSI)
Fortron BlueStorm II 500W
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 80GB SATA (supplied by Seagate)
Arctic Fan Pro 2L TC 80mm
Revoltec Dark Blue 80mm Fan
In 3DMark testing, the HD 3850 takes the lead and thus claims the AGP throne. The card is better in every aspect, and when compared to the X1950 Pro you can easily see the difference ranging from 729 marks in 3DMark06 to 11459 marks in the old 3DMark03.
In F.E.A.R. the difference is noticeable in numbers, but during gameplay you probably won't feel the difference between 64 and 44 FPS, which is the difference between X1950 Pro and the HD 3850. On the other hand, when compared to the previous generation HD 2600 Pro the card show that it has a lot more potential. It's simply much more powerful and the superior 256-bit bus, higher GPU clock and higher clocked GDDR3 memory is something that pushes the difference to 50FPS, or 64FPS against an unplayable 14 FPS.
World in Conflict
We picked World in Conflict for a specific reason, just to see how much a GPU can help when placed in an old system. Unfortunately, the single core Pentium 4 is just something that World in Conflict doesn't like. The card did help to raise the FPS to a more playable 30, and all things considered it takes on Anti-aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering really well, but don't expect it to be playable at maximum details and some insane resolutions.
Serious Sam 2
Serious Sam 2 tells the same story. The HD 3850 outperforms the other cards, but not by a huge margin, as the full potential of this card being held back by the obsolete processor. The difference between the previous king, the X1950 Pro and the HD 3850 is yet again noticeable, and the HD 2600 Pro was just left behind.
If you plan to use this card for an HTPC system, you will have no trouble watching HD video content. We tried playing a few HD movies and the CPU usage ranged from 30 to 50 per cent, which is understandable if you consider that this an ancient single core processor and playing HD content is only made possible thanks to the HD 2600 Pro card. The card handles Windows Vista and its Aero Glass without any problems.
It's obvious that this card is better than the previous AGP king, the X1950 Pro. The question is, does its superior performance justify the higher price? The Powercolor HD 3850 512MB PCS AGP retails at around €150, while the X1950 Pro with 512MB of memory sells for about €130. The price difference can be justified, not only by superior performance, but by DX10.1 support, multimedia capabilities, HDMI and much more.
On the other hand, if you already own a X1950 Pro, the upgrade can't be easily justified. The X1950 Pro is doing a great job against HD 3850, and the price is close. If you have some older card, and you want to refresh you system so you can play some games at a decent resolution, then the HD 3850 is just the card for you. It is the king of the AGP hill.
Powercolor did a great thing choosing Zerotherm's cooler. It does a great job, cooling the card to impressive temperatures and it isn't noisy. Powercolor did the same thing with X1950 Pro when they used Artic Cooling cooler, and it looks like they have learned their lesson well.
This card is the best that solution for AGP machines and it's probably the last good thing that will appear as far as AGP is concerned. The AGP market is still there, but it is rapidly dying. Of course, there will be more AGP cards, but this is probably the last high-end stand of the venerable AGP. If you want to make your last investment for your AGP system, Powercolor's HD 3850 512MB AGP PCS is probably the best way to go.
The only trouble is that few people will be ready to invest €150 in their old AGP rigs.