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Diamond Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Ruby Edition
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Date: Apr 15, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

With recent price cuts to current generation Radeon HD 3800 series cards, due to increased competition from new mainstream graphics cards from NVIDIA, there is a large gap in ATI's product stack between the sub-$200 Radeon HD 3870 and the now roughly $400 Radeon HD 3870 X2.  Until AMD readies a new batch of GPUs to fill this hole in their product stack, board partners are left to tweak current designs to entice potential consumers.

Diamond is one of a group of manufacturers that continue to release updated revisions of both Radeons, either by adding additional memory, raising clock speeds, or sometimes both.  The model we will be taking a look at today is the Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Overclocked Ruby Edition - perhaps one of the longest names for a single product that we've come across.  Like the
Sapphire Ultimate HD 3850 that we evaluated back in January, the Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Overclocked Ruby Edition's frame buffer has been doubled from 256MB to 512MB.  Additionally, Diamond has gone an extra step and raised GPU and memory speeds from the default 670/830MHz of reference designs to 725/900MHz.  Higher speeds and more memory just might be what the doctor ordered to make the Diamond Viper HD 3850 512MB a bit more competitive in an already crowded field. 

Diamond Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB
Features & Specifications

666 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process

256bit 8-channel GDDR3 memory interface

Ring Bus Memory Controller

  • Fully distributed design with 512-bit internal ring bus for memory reads and writes
  • Optimized for high performance HDR (High Dynamic Range) rendering at high display resolutions

Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture

  • 320 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 shaders
    • 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 caches
  • Up to 80 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 (up to 128:1)
  • Lossless color compression (up to 8:1)
  • 8 render targets (MRTs) with anti-aliasing support
  • Physics processing support

Full support for Microsoft DirectX 10 / 10.1 

  • Shader Model 4.0
  • Geometry Shaders
  • Stream Output
  • Integer and Bitwise Operations
  • Alpha to Coverage
  • Constant Buffers
  • State Objects
  • Texture Arrays

Dynamic Geometry Acceleration

  • High performance vertex cache
  • 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 (up to 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 (CrossFire configurations only)
  • All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering

CrossFire Multi-GPU Technology

  • Scale up rendering performance and image quality with 2 or more GPUs
  • Integrated compositing engine
  • High performance dual channel interconnect

CrossFire Multi-GPU Technology

  • Scale up rendering performance and image quality with 2 or more GPUs
  • Integrated compositing engine
  • High performance dual channel interconnect
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

ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Platform

  • 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 dual-link DVI display outputs
    • Each supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)
    • Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content
       
  • Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs
    • Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x1536
       
  • HDMI output support
    • Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x1080
    • Integrated HD audio controller with multi-channel (5.1) AC3 support, enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
       
  • Integrated Xilleon HDTV encoder
    • Provides high quality analog TV output (component / S-video / composite)
    • Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
    • Underscan and overscan compensation
       
  • HD decode for H.264/AVC, VC-1, DivX and MPEG-2 video formats
    • Flawless DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-Ray playback
    • Motion compensation and IDCT (Inverse Discrete Cosine Transformation)
       
  • HD video processing
    • Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
    • De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
    • Edge enhancement
    • Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
    • Bad edit correction
    • High fidelity gamma correction, color correction, color space conversion, and scaling
  • 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

PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface

OpenGL 2.0 support

  

 


In order to really get a handle on how the Viper performes we're going to pit it against the aforementioned Sapphire HD 3850 and also compare it to an ATI Radeon HD 3870 for good measure.  With the basic architecture remaining the same, we fully expect that the boost in speeds will simply pull the Diamond version up ahead of Sapphire's model.  What we're even more interested in seeing is how close we can get to the HD 3870, the price of which has dropped steadily in recent days making it a much more attractive purchase.  Finally, we will also throw in some numbers from two of NVIDIA's cards with similar, although slightly higher, price points: the GeForce 8800 GT and an 8800 GTS 512MB from PNY for a full spectrum of analysis.
 

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Inspection of the Diamond Viper HD 3850 512MB

What else would we expect for a Radeon-based card from Diamond but one based on a red circuit board with no other markings except for Diamond's logo printed on the fan and a "D" over one port.  The Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Overclocked Ruby Edition is not a flashy card by any means, and at first glance looks it actually looks somewhat beefy unlike many of the slimmer, more decorated cards we've become accustomed to seeing.

  


The card's face is dominated by the large rectangular heatsink with embedded fan sitting squarely over the RV670 GPU.  The boxy structure juts directly out away from the card and is large enough that the Diamond Viper HD 3850 512MB requires not one slot, but two.  Some might hem and haw that a card not known as a true powerhouse is going to need more than one slot, but really who's using all of their slots nowadays anyway?  In stark contrast, the back side of the card is completely bare - not even a bracket is employed here to hold down the HSF, which is surprisingly light despite its looks.


     


The Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Overclocked Ruby Edition's cooling apparatus consists of two main parts: a large black aluminum heatsink and a brushless fan enclosed within a metal shroud.  The heatsink is attached directly to the GPU, but does not make any contact with the Samsung memory chips that encircle it.  Instead, the air that is drawn in by the fan blow over the heat sink and memory chips cooling them both.  Looking up the memory on Samsung's description list shows these chips as have a maximum frequency of 1000MHz, meaning there should be a little bit of wiggle room for raising speeds even further past the 900MHz they're clocked at on this card.


     


Two connectors are placed at the front of the card which can be used for connecting not only two, but up to four cards in CrossfireX - provided you have a compatible motherboard and the gumption to purchase that many graphics cards.  A dual Crossfire setup requires only a single bridge cable linking the two cards, while adding additional cards requires using the secondary connection with another cable.  As typically each card comes with its own Crossfire bridge, nothing else is necessary except for perhaps a more powerful power supply unit with ample power cables to keep the juice flowing.  Each card will require its own 6-pin power cable, although a converter from molex to 6-pin power is included in the box.


  


Along with the power splitter, S-Video and Component video cables are present as part of the bundle.  There are also adapters for HDMI-to-DVI and VGA-to-DVI conversions, and the CrossFire bridge that we mentioned previously.   An envelope labeled "Getting Started" contains a quick start guide covering card installation steps and slot identification to prevent any mix-ups that may occur.  The disc is generic and outdated, opening a PDF file catered to the HD 2000 series of cards rather than 3000s.
 

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Base System and 3DMark06 Results

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on an MSI P6N Diamond motherboard powered by a 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo E6550 processor and 2GB of low-latency Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring our test systems was enter into the BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS, and installed the latest DX10 redist and various hotfixes along with the necessary drivers and applications.

HotHardware's Test System
Viewing the Ultimate Vista


Processor -

Motherboard -




Video Cards -



Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drive -

HARDWARE USED:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6550

MSI P6N Diamond
nForce680i SLI Chipset

Diamond Radeon HD 3850 512MB OC
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870
ATI Radeon HD 3850
PNY GeForce 8800 GTS 512
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT

2GB Corsair Dominator DDR2
2x1GB, 4-4-4-12 (1T)

Integrated Creative X-Fi

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
750GB - 7200rpm - SATAII



OS -

Direct X -

Video Drivers -




Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX 9 -
DirectX 10 -
OpenGL -
DirectX 10 -
DirectX 10 -
DirectX 10 -
 

RELEVANT SOFTWARE:

Windows Vista Ultimate

DirectX 10

NVIDIA Forceware v169.25
ATI Catalyst v8.3

BENCHMARKS USED:

3DMark06 v1.1.0
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Company of Heroes
ET: Quake Wars 1.4
Crysis Single-Player Demo
Bioshock 1.1
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea



Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.1.0
Details: www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06



3DMark06
3DMark06 is the most recent addition to the 3DMark franchise. This version differs from 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but 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. 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.








In this mid-range round-up of graphics cards, we see that the GeForce 8800 GTS 512 from PNY rules the roost.  This card put up the highest scores in both Shader Model tests, and easily claimed the overall 3DMark score as well.  The Radeon HD 3870 and Geforce 8800 GT jockeyed for second place with SM 2.0 performance squarely in NVIDIA's corner, yet SM 3.0 testing in ATI's favor.  Although we're a bit used to seeing the stock HD 3850 fall behind the others, we were pleased to see that Diamond's overclocked model cut the gap somewhat, winding up only 400 points behind the HD 3870 overall.

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Half-Life 2: Episode 2




Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Details: http://orange.half-life2.com/hl2ep2.html


Half-Life 2:
Episode 2

Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  And thanks to an updated game engine, gorgeous visual, and intelligent weapon and level design, Half Life 2 became just as popular.  Episode 2 offers a number of visual enhancements including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1280 x 1024 and 1600 x 1200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.  Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well.  We used a custom recorded timedemo file to benchmark all cards in this test.

The benchmarking done with the second episode of Half-Life2 was much less favorable to the Radeon HD 3850s and the faster HD 3870 when compared to the GeForce-based cards.  Although both equipped with 512MB of RAM, the higher core and memory clock speeds found on Diamond's card really help differentiate it from Sapphire's card, easily surpassing it by 12-14%, which puts in right in line with the 3870.

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Company of Heroes




Company of Heroes
Details: 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 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4X anti-aliasing and all of the game's image-quality related options set to their maximum values.

Company of Heroes ran much faster on the two GeForce 8800 cards, with frame rates nearly a third faster at lower resolutions, although this divide was narrowed down some at 1600x1200.  At this resolution, the 8800 GTS 512MB is untouchable, but the lower amount of memory on the 8800 GT seems to hamper its ability to keep up allowing the HD 3870 to come within five frames per second.  Diamond's overclocked Viper HD 3850 finds itself placed squarely between the default-clocked Sapphire HD 3850 and the ATI Radeon HD 3870.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

 


Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Details: www.enemyterritory.com


Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on id's radically enhanced Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs extremely large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many small textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4X anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

Using the latest Catalyst drivers (version 8.3 as of this article), we saw some improved frame rates in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars for the three Radeons, making this benchmark a lot less GeForce friendly than in the past.  In fact, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 was outgunning the 8800 GT at both resolutions this go-around.  The Diamond Viper HD 3850 did its best to keep up with the HD 3870, but remained 3-4 frames back at each resolution.  However, it still maintained a four frame lead over the 8800 GT at 1600x1200, and almost three frames over the rival HD 3850 from Sapphire.

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Crysis Performance




Crysis Performance
Details:www.ea.com/crysis/index.jsp


Crysis

If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player demo of the hot, new, upcoming 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 the 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.

  

Crysis is such a demanding game that even without any anti-aliasing, we're still only able to break the 30fps barrier with the dual set of GeForce 8800s and the Radeon HD 3870 at the lowest resolution in our testing suite.  The Diamond HD 3850 is about three frames behind the HD 3870, yet three frames ahead of the Sapphire card.  The frame rates there lead to some easy mathematics: Diamond's card is about 10% slower than the HD 3870 and 10% faster than the competition.
 

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Bioshock




Bioshock
Details: www.2kgames.com/bioshock/


Bioshock

BioShock is the "genetically enhanced" first person shooter with RPG elements, that has a feel very reminiscent of System Shock 2 or Deus Ex.  It uses a modified Unreal Engine 3.0 with heavy emphasis on enhanced water effects to the extent that Irrational Games actually hired a water programmer and water artist just for this game.  Part horror flick, part sci-fi novel, BioShock is an experience that one won't soon forget.  We gathered our testing results by measuring frame rates through FRAPS while performing the same set of actions in the opening corridors of Rapture at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with all graphical settings turned to High.

To say that Bioshock runs better on NVIDIA's based cards is an understatement worthy of a closer look into the numbers.  The fastest single-GPU Radeon card out there, the HD 3870, puts up a frame rate of 70fps at 1280x1024, which is 20-25 frames slower than either 8800.  Even more troubling, the HD 3870's number is slower than the 8800 GTS 512 at 1600x1200.  The HD 3850, as expected, doesn't fare any better dropping down to 54fps at the lower resolution, but scaling well at 1600x1200 by only dropping 4 frames to 49.5fps.  Again, Diamond's sample maintains a 4-5 frame advantage over Sapphire with its higher core and memory clock speeds.

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PT Boats: Knights of the Sea




PT Boats: Knights of the Sea
Details: www.pt-boats.net


PT Boats:
Knights of the Sea

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a naval war-sim based on a substantially modified version of the Storm engine.  It takes a full grip of all DirectX 10 graphics and film-quality features to create a more realistic gaming experience. These improvements include: advanced ocean rendering, soft particles, reflections, light beams and advanced transparency, and advanced HDR for gunfire and sun reflections.  We used the DX10 Benchmark available from their website using High Quality settings at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 without any Anti-Aliasing applied.

Again, we see some numbers much more favorable to the "green-team", as GeForce cards are typically running nearly a third faster than their Radeon counterparts at either resolution.  The Radeon trio is actualy grouped quite close together - 4 frames per second separate the ATI HD 3870 from the Sapphire HD 3850 with the Diamond Viper smack dab in the middle.
 

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Overclocking Results

As we've already mentioned, ATI's original specs for the Radeon HD 3850 called for 256MB of onboard memory with core and memory clock speeds of 670MHz and 830MHz, respectively.  The Diamond Viper HD 3850 Ruby Edition comes pre-overclocked with speeds of 725MHz for the GPU and 900MHz memory.  That extra boost in speeds give's Diamond's offering a nice increase in performance over reference cards, but that didn't stop us from seeing if we can get any further.  Doing so doesn't require anything other that the Catalyst drivers themselves.  We clicked on the Overdrive tab in the Catalyst Control Center, and slowly raised the core and memory speeds until we either saw visual artifacts while running a game or benchmark, or noticed any other system instability.

Overclocking The Diamond Viper HD 3850 512MB
You gotts Love Free Performance

The Diamond Viper HD 3850 comes with an oversized heatsink requiring two slots rather than one.  This extra bit of cooling helped us achieve speeds of 760MHz for the GPU, 35MHz over the shipping speed and 90MHz over spec.  Memory was also raised to a top speed of 975MHz, an additional 75MHz over the packaged model, and a plus 145MHz overall.  We re-ran a couple of gaming benchmarks and compared the frame rates with the original tests:


 
Diamond Viper HD 3850 Overclock - GPU=760MHz, Memory=975MHz (1.95GHz DDR)




Diamond Viper HD 3850 Overclock - GPU=760MHz, Memory=975MHz (1.95GHz DDR)

 
The extra speed increases resulted in about three frames per second in either game, each running at 1600x1200 with 4X AA enabled.  While this didn't make much of a difference when comparing the HD 3850 to NVIDIA's camp, it did help distance the Diamond version from Sapphire's stock model, and ultimately brought performance much closer to that of an HD 3870.
 

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Overclocked Ruby Edition performed just how we had expected.  WIth its higher than stock GPU and memory clock speeds, the Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Overclocked Ruby Edition was able to outpace Sapphire Radeon HD 3850 512MB in all of our tests, and it kept pace or finished just behind the more powerful Radeon HD 3870.  The Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB Overclocked Ruby Edition also traded victories with its NVIDIA-based competition, but the GeForce 8800 series cards we tested were clearly faster overall.




No one is ever going to mistake a Radeon HD 3850 for a top-of-the-line, flagship graphics card.  ATI/AMD is currently ceding the ultra high-end to NVIDIA, whose 8800 cards have been riding high for some time now, and the 9800 seems to only be continuing that tradition.  However, for the price, the HD 3850 is quite an able performer.  With prices hovering around $169, buying one card is an easy sell; buying more than one and setting them up in a CrossFire setup has an even more promising outlook.

Diamond's Viper Radeon HD 3850 512MB might not win much praise for its looks, but we can't be anything less than satisfied by its performance, considering its price.  Similarly, although the package might also lack some of the pizzazz of other manufacturers, the bundle is sufficient enough for most users and also helps keep the price consistent with other brands, which would otherwise have gone up with the addition of the extra cooling.  Of course, this is offset some by said heatsink requiring an extra slot's worth of room in your chassis, but that's a minor grievance.
 

 

  • Splits the difference between default HD 3850 and HD 3870
  • Overclocked out of the box
  • Extra headroom to raise speeds even further 
  • Requires dual-slots
  • Still no match for NVIDIA's cards



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