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Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 512MB
Date: Mar 13, 2008
Author: Jeff Bouton
Introduction and Product Specifications

In late January, ATI unveiled several new entry level GPUs manufactured using the 55nm process that was first employed with the more powerful RV670 GPU.  Not only did the new process help ATI deliver more competitive graphics cards at attractive price points, it also improved on such things as power consumption, which is of growing interest to energy conscious users.  For these newer entry level cards, the RV635 and RV620 GPUs were crafted with many of the same features as the RV670 , yet condensed into a smaller, more affordable product line.

Today, we're evaluating the Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 to assess its qualities and features as an entry level graphics solution.  With a RV635 GPU at its core and backed by 512MB of GDDR3, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 aims to win the attention of those looking for an affordable graphics card priced less than $100, that doesn't skimp on features. In the pages ahead, we'll take a closer look and assess the card's performance as well as its position in the current market to see how it stacks up as a current entry level solution.

Sapphire HD 3650 512MB GDDR3
Features & Specifications

  • 378 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process
  • PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
  • 128-bit DDR2/GDDR3/GDDR4 memory interface
  • Microsoft DirectX 10.1 support
    • Shader Model 4.1
    • 32-bit floating point texture filtering
    • Indexed cube map arrays
    • Independent blend modes per render target
    • Pixel coverage sample masking
    • Read/write multi-sample surfaces with shaders
    • Gather4 texture fetching
  • Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture
    • 120 stream processing units
      • Dynamic load balancing and resource allocation for vertex, geometry, and pixel shaders
      • Common instruction set and texture unit access supported for all types of shader
      • Dedicated branch execution units and texture address processors
    • 128-bit floating point precision for all operations
    • Command processor for reduced CPU overhead
    • Shader instruction and constant cache
    • Up to 40 texture fetches per clock cycle
    • Up to 128 textures per pixel
    • Fully associative multi-level texture cache design
    • DXTC and 3Dc+ texture compression
    • High resolution texture support (up to 8192 x 8192)
    • Fully associative texture Z/stencil cache designs
    • Double-sided hierarchical Z/stencil buffer
    • Early Z test, Re-Z, Z Range optimization, and Fast Z Clear
    • Lossless Z & stencil compression
    • Lossless color compression
    • 8 render targets (MRTs) with anti-aliasing support
    • Physics processing support
  • Dynamic Geometry Acceleration
    • Programmable tessellation unit
    • Accelerated geometry shader path for geometry amplification
    • Memory read/write cache for improved stream output performance
  • Anti-aliasing features
    • Multi-sample anti-aliasing (2, 4 or 8 samples per pixel)
    • Up to 24x Custom Filter Anti-Aliasing (CFAA) for improved quality
    • Adaptive super-sampling and multi-sampling
    • Temporal anti-aliasing
    • Gamma correct
    • Super AA (ATI CrossFireX configurations only)
    • All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering
  • Texture filtering features
    • 2x/4x/8x/16x high quality adaptive anisotropic filtering modes (up to 128 taps per pixel)
    • 128-bit floating point HDR texture filtering
    • Bicubic filtering
    • sRGB filtering (gamma/degamma)
    • Percentage Closer Filtering (PCF)
    • Depth & stencil texture (DST) format support
    • Shared exponent HDR (RGBE 9:9:9:5) texture format support
  • OpenGL 2.0 support
  • ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Platform
  • Dedicated unified video decoder (UVD) for H.264/AVC and VC-1 video formats

  • High definition (HD) playback of both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats
  • Hardware MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and DivX video decode acceleration
  • Motion compensation and IDCT
  • ATI Avivo Video Post Processor
    • Color space conversion
    • Chroma subsampling format conversion
    • Horizontal and vertical scaling
    • Gamma correction
    • Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
    • De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
    • Detail enhancement
    • Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
    • Bad edit correction
  • Two independent display controllers
    • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls and video overlays for each display
    • Full 30-bit display processing
    • Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion
    • Spatial/temporal dithering provides 30-bit color quality on 24-bit and 18-bit displays
    • High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with underscan support for all display outputs
    • Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
    • Fast, glitch-free mode switching
    • Hardware cursor
  • Two integrated DVI display outputs
    • Primary supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)
    • Secondary supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI only)
    • Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content
  • Two integrated DisplayPort outputs
  • Supports 24- and 30-bit displays at all resolutions up to 2560x1600
  • 1, 2, or 4 lanes per output, with data rate up to 2.7 Gbps per lane
  • Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs
  • Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x153623
  • HDMI output support
  • Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x1080
  • Integrated HD audio controller with up to 2 channel 48 kHz stereo or multi-channel (5.1) AC3 enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
  • Integrated AMD Xilleon HDTV encoder
  • Provides high quality analog TV output (component/S-video/composite)
  • Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
  • Underscan and overscan compensation
  • MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264/AVC encoding and transcoding
  • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
  • VGA mode support on all display outputs
  • ATI PowerPlay
    • Advanced power management technology for optimal performance and power savings
    • Performance-on-Demand
      • Constantly monitors GPU activity, dynamically adjusting clocks and voltage based on user scenario
      • Clock and memory speed throttling
      • Voltage switching
      • Dynamic clock gating
    • Central thermal management – on-chip sensor monitors GPU temperature and triggers thermal actions as required
  • ATI CrossFireX Multi-GPU Technology
    • Scale up rendering performance and image quality with two GPUs
    • Integrated compositing engine
    • High performance dual channel bridge interconnect

Below you will find a collection of related articles that will help get you familiarized with AMD's RV635 GPU as well as other products that compete in this card's class.  You will want to focus mainly on the review of the Radeon HD 3650 and 3450, where we went into detail on the manufacturing process, GPU features, technology and power characteristics.

All of these articles will help give a greater understanding of how each model has evolved as well as provide technical breakdowns on the various technologies employed.

The Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 512MB Up Close

The Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 512MB's accessory bundle included a host of components that help the end-user get the most out of their new purchase.  There was a complete installation manual as well as a drivers CD to help with basic installation and setup.  Sapphire also threw in some useful software, including a copy of PowerDVD 7 6-Channel and a PowerDVD Suite with a number of editing/authoring titles such as PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5 Express and Power2GO 5.5 to name a few.  Lastly, a copy of FutureMark 3DMark06 is included so users can benchmark their new card.

The box also came with a DVI-to-VGA adapter as well as DVI-to-HDMI for connecting to an HD ready display.  There was also a TV-Out S-Video adapter as well as an HD Component display adapter making the card extremely versatile with respect to external display support.  Lastly, Sapphire included a CrossFire link for coupling with a second CrossFire capable graphics card.

The card itself is rather straight forward, sporting a RV635 GPU and 512MB of GDDR3 memory.  The card has the standard dual DVI output configuration with TV-out nestled between the two.  The card is PCI Express 2.0 compliant while offering DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support as well.  Another plus is ATI's Unified Video Decoder (UVD) which supports full Blu-Ray as well as HD-DVD decode up to 1080p.


The GPU is clocked at a default speed of 800MHz, 75MHz higher than the reference model we reviewed at launch while the GDDR3 memory runs at 900MHz providing 28.8GB/s of bandwidth.  Combine clock speeds with 120 Shader processors, 8 Texture Units and 4 ROPs, the card delivers a Pixel Fill Rate of 3.2 GPixels per second and a Texture Fill Rate of 6.4 GTexels per second.  Overdrive is not currently supported in drivers with this model, so overclocking is out of the question without third party tools, however. 

Sapphire backs the card with a standard cooling package that was extremely quiet in normal operation.  In fact, while sitting idle, the fan would actually shut off while the GPU sat at a comfortable 30C (per GPU-Z), conserving power as much as possible.  Under load, the fan noise was nominal, noticeable but not a distraction.

Test Setup and FutureMark 3DMark06 Benchmarks

The HotHardware Test Systems
Intel Inside
Intel Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.3GHz - Dual-Core)

MSI P35 Platinum Combo
(Intel P35 Express Chipset)

2x1GB Kingston HyperX DDR3
CL 6-6-6-15 - DDR-1300

Sapphire Radeon HD 3650

Nvidia Geforce 8600 GTS


WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
Catalyst 8.3
DirectX Redist (November 2007)

Benchmarks Used:

3DMark06 v1.1.0
F.E.A.R. v1.08
Company of Heroes

Quake 4 v1.3
Prey v1.2

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

Futuremark recently launched a brand new version of its popular benchmark, 3DMark06. The new version of the benchmark is updated in a number of ways and now includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests but also Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail, and the shader complexity is vastly increased as well. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups the number of instructions to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting, and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted, and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.

The 3DMark06 benchmarks all had the Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 trailing the Radeon 2600XT by a slight margin in each test.  Considering the Radeon 2600XT we used for testing ran 50MHz faster in GPU speed and 500MHz DDR faster in memory speed, these results are rather impressive.  The GeForce 8600GTS was the best performer overall here.

Benchmarking with Company of Heroes and Crysis

Performance Comparisons with Company of Heroes
Details: http://www.companyofheroesgame.com/

Company of Heroes
Relic Entertainment's World War II era real-time strategy game Company of Heroes was originally released as a DirectX 9 title for Windows, but recent upates to the game have incorporated support for new DirectX 10 features that improve image quality and enhance the game's finer graphical details. The game features a built-in performance test, which which we used to attain the results below. Our Company of Heroes tests were run at resolutions of 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and all of the game's image-quality related options set to high.

With a decent processor, all three cards ran Company of Heroes well at 1024x768 with performance decreasing a fair amount as resolutions were increased.  What we do see here is that the Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 managed to soften the blow with each step in resolution compared to the other two models.  Regardless, at these image settings, 1280x1024 was the maximum reasonable resolution for gaming without decreasing image quality.

Performance Comparisons with Crysis
Details: http://www.ea.com/crysis

If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player demo of the hot, new FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine visuals are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on a computer screen to date. The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering, like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet. In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is HOT. We ran the SP demo with all of the game's visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested.

With Crysis, all three cards struggled with this caliber of game.  Crysis is a extremely hard on even premium class hardware, so while these cards may be up to casual gaming, running a game like Crysis simply isn't a good idea without seriously decreasing image quality.

Benchmarking with Prey and F.E.A.R.

Performance Comparisons with Prey
Details: http://www.prey.com/

After many years of development, Take-Two Interactive recently released the highly anticipated game Prey. Prey is based upon an updated and modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar.  Like Doom 3, Prey is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a plethora of dynamic lighting and shadows.  But unlike Doom3, Prey features a fare share of outdoor environments as well.  We ran these Prey benchmarks using a custom recorded timedemo with the game set to its "High-Quality" graphics mode, at resolutions of 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled simultaneously.

We were originally planning to use Half Life 2: Episode Two for our next test, but we encountered constant crashing midway through testing that we could not resolve.  So we dusted off an old favorite in Prey, which is still a good test for this class of card, as well as a heck of a game.

At 1024x768 the GeForce 8600 GTS had no problems breaking triple digit scores and the Sapphire HD 3650 managed to break the 60 FPS mark at 1024x768 and 1280x1024.  At 1600x1200, all three cards leveled off similarly, with the HD 3650 hitting 50 FPS.

Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R
More Info: www.whatisfear.com/us

One of the most highly anticipated titles of recent years was Monolith's paranormal thriller F.E.A.R. According to the game's minimum system requirements, it needs at least a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of system memory and a 64MB graphics card in the Radeon 9x00 or GeForce4 Ti-classes or better, to adequately run. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.08, we put the graphics cards in this article through their paces to see how they fared with a popular title. Here, all graphics settings within the game were set to their maximum values, but with soft shadows disabled (Soft shadows and anti-aliasing do not work together currently). Benchmark runs were then completed at resolutions of 1024x768, 1280x960 and 1600x1200, with 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering enabled.

F.E.A.R. proved to be a challenge for both ATI based cards, with each struggling to break 40 FPS at 1024x768.  At 1280x960, each ATI card dropped below 30FPS, while the GeForce 8600GTS reached 48FPS.  In the end, F.E.A.R. is a game where users will need to sacrifice some image quality to get proper frame rates at higher resolutions.

Performance Analysis and Conclusion

Performance Analysis:  Considering its low price, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 competed well in the benchmarks.  In 3DMark06, the card stay one step behind the Radeon 2600XT, but couldn't quite catch the more expensive GeForce 8600GTS.  With Company of Heroes, F.E.A.R. and Prey, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 was capable of decent gaming at 1024x768 and even performed well at 1280x1024 with Prey, but higher resolutions were not realistic.  Crysis proved to be a challenge for all three cards tested and was not something users will want to attempt with budget class cards.

For those looking for a good entry level video card for casual gaming that offers excellent video output options, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 512MB graphics card is a good option.  With support for HMDI, HDTV and Blu-Ray/HD-DVD, the card is a great candidate for those looking to build a multimedia PC.  The card is a low power solution that is virtually silent under normal operation and is relatively quiet under heavy load.  It's size will also be attractive with its short PCB.  Built with a 55nm process, the RV635 is a low power solution that proved to reduce power consumption nicely during periods of load as we noted in our launch article, where we recorded a 10w decrease compared to a Radeon 2600 XT.

The biggest consideration is price vs. performance.  The Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 512MB weighs in at an extremely reasonable price of $79.99 while the Radeon 2600XT we used in this review will set you back $140.  The next best offering is the GeForce 8600GTS which retails for $92.99.  All in all, this is a very well rounded product that comes in with a low price tag yet can compete well in terms of features with other mid-range offerings.

If you are looking for an economical graphics solution for casual gaming that offers support for all current High Definition Video technologies, the
Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 is tough to ignore.  It's the perfect candidate for a HTPC where low power and low noise is strongly desired.  For light gamers, one card will do the trick, but at the price, you could get two and easily top the performance of a Radeon 2600XT for a mere $20 more.  No matter how you look at it, the
Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 is an attractive option if you are shopping for a decent entry level graphics card.

  • Decent Performance for Price
  • Great Image Quality
  • Solid Supporting Bundle
  • 512MB Frame Buffer
  • Quiet
  • No Overdrive

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