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Diamond Viper Radeon HD 3870 Showcase
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Date: Jul 10, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction



Throughout most of the 1990s, Diamond Multimedia was one of the major players in the graphics card world.  Their well made cards with solid performance resulted in some of the most well known brand names of the time including the Speedstar, Stealth, and Viper.  After merging with S3 Incorporated in 1999, the resounding failure of their joint contribution: the Diamond Viper II Z200 based on S3's Savage 2000, eventually led to the combined Diamond/S3 company backing away from third-party graphics cards. 

In 2003, however, Best Data stepped in and purchased the rights to the brand name and assets from SONICblue Incorporated, including the Stealth and Viper brand names.  Focusing on ATI's Radeons as their GPU of choice, the original line-up seemed to be focused mostly on the lower-end, more mainstream cards, including the Stealth S80 we took a look at in early 2003.  The good news is, with some more time and resources under their belt, Diamond has completely revitalized the Viper name in both body and spirit.  Once again, with high-end products at the core, Diamond is a force to be reckoned with in the market.  Today, we've got two of their HD 3870's in the labs for comparison - one is mostly plain vanilla but the other is an overclocked version utilizing GDDR4 memory.  Let's get a bit more acquainted with them, shall we?

Diamond Viper Radeon HD 3870s
Features & Specifications

666 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process

256bit 8-channel GDDR3/4 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
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

      

     


INCLUDED BUNDLES:

An odd thing about the cards we received is in regard to their associated bundles.  Now, as you will see on the next page, the packaging and even the cards themselves are nearly identical.  The driver CD and manual are also the same, which should be expected as the drivers are universal and there's only so many ways you can show someone how to install a PCI-Express card into their system. 

      
Viper Radeon HD 3870 1GB                                                         Viper Radeon HD 3870 512MB

What becomes odd, then, is the included cables and adapters.  With the 1GB overclocked Viper, we found a collection of component and S-VIDEO out cables, as well as a power splitter for providing 6-pin power to the card.  Two adapters, one for VGA and the other for HDMI complete the collection.  On the other hand, with the 512MB version, there's a component video cable and the same adapters, but a CrossFire bridge replaced the S-Video cable and there's no power cable.  We seriously doubt there is much cost saving in either direction, and there's nothing wrong, per se, with either bundle.  We just like a little consistency now and then, and feel both cards should come with all of the pieces we found in the separate sets. The 1GB card especially should also include a CrossFire bridge at the very least.

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Closer look at the Viper Radeon HD 3870s



     
     

No, you're not seeing double here.  The two HD 3870 variants that Diamond released are twins with the only immediately noticeable difference being the sticker placed over the cooling apparatus.  The "standard" model is marked as the HD3870 DDR4, while the overclocked model remains known only as HD3870 - no mention is made to the overclocked status, nor the larger memory buffer found onboard.  Other than these markings and Ruby's stern visage, there is little that Diamond has done differently when compared to ATI's initial design for the Radeon HD 3870.

     

The dual slot cooler consists of a rear-mounted fan that starts out a bit noisy while booting up a PC, but quickly settles down during normal operation and doesn't produce enough noise output to become a bother.  Heat that is transferred from the RV670 using a set of heatpipes to the copper heatsink mounted on top, running nearly the entire length of the card.  Small vents in the plastic allow some heat dissipation, but the majority of the airflow rushes out the end of the card, and thus out of the chassis.

     

Output consists of a standard dual-DVI setup, with a S-VIDEO/HD port thrown in between.  Used in conjunction with the provided adapters, a user can connect their PC to a digital/analog combo, or two flatscreens using DVI and/or HDMI inputs.  The sub-$200 price point of these cards makes them not only a good choice for running one card, but also running multiple cards as well in a CrossFire setup, using the connectors along the topside of the card (again, this is a reason why both cards should come with the bridge necessary to make such a connection).

     

Before wrapping things up, we decided to get a closer look at the heatsink, and the memory ICs underneath.  Unscrewing the brace on the backside of one of the cards, we easily popped off the copper plate, which uses adhesive tape to attach itself squarely to the memory and a smattering of thermal paste between the GPU and the back of the heatsink..  The 70mm fan comes by the way of Everflow, model R127015DL, which reaches a max speed of 3000rpm and can generate airflow of about 25 CFM at a sound level of 28 dB.  Throughout our testing, we couldn't recall ever coming close to the highest rated speeds, meaning that temperatures were being held in check by the cooling methods combined with the relatively lower power consumption of the RV670.

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Base System and 3DMark06 Results



HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM:
We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on a MSI P6N Diamond motherboard powered by a Core 2 Duo E6550 processor and 2GB of low-latency Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring our test system was to 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 Test System
 Intel Inside!



Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Cards -





Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drive -

HARDWARE USED:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6550

MSI P6N Diamond
nForce680i SLI Chipset

Diamond Radeon HD 3870 1GB OC
Diamond Radeon HD 3870 512MB
Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Atomic
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 v8.4

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 one of the more recent additions 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.





Diamond's two Vipers performed well, but not enough to overcome the two GeForce 8800 variants, nor the overclocked Radeon HD 3870 from Sapphire.  The higher speeds of the 1GB-based Viper allow it to run slightly by the 512MB default version, but only by 1-2% in the overall score or individual shader model testing.  Sapphire's Vapor-cooled HD 3870 Atomic manages to take the top spot for ATI's camp by leveraging the highest GPU and memory speeds on one card, whereas Diamond's samples have only default speeds on their GDDR4 version, and overclocked speeds for the core on the card mixed with the 1GB of slower GDDR3.

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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.

Half-Life 2 testing has both Diamond cards out in front of Sapphire's HD 3870 Atomic - although the delta was slight at best.  The Viper HD 3870 1GB led by three frames at 1280x1024 with the Viper HD 3870 512MB in a dead heat with Sapphire's card.  At 1600x1200, there's virtually no difference at all with less than a single frame separating the three cards.  Of course, these three really aren't giving NVIDIA's cards much competition using this DX9-based game engine, with the 8800 GT and GTS outpacing the HD 3870s by anywhere from 10 frames per second at 1600x1200 to nearly 30fps at lower resolutions.

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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.

 

GPU speeds count for just about all the differences in our testing of Company of Heroes, as the order of the Radeon HD 3870s seems to be dictated by the relative speeds: 830MHz for the Diamond HD 3870 1GB, 825MHz for Sapphire's HD 3870 Atomic, and 777MHz for the Diamond HD 3870 512MB.  We somewhat expected the larger memory buffer to propel Diamond's 1GB card's performance higher than the others but here, at least, we didn't see any improvement.  Once again, the tandem of GeForce 8800-based cards are head-and-shoulders faster than any of the HD 3870s we could throw at them.

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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.

 

Although the megatexturing techniques used in Quake Wars require a smaller amount of a card's memory buffers, we found that the 1GB laden Viper HD 3870 outperformed all other cards except the 8800 GTS 512.  Even more surprising was the placement of NVIDIA's GeForce 8800 GT, which found itself in an unfamiliar location: the basement in our house of cards.  The Diamond Vipers' performance levels bookend themselves around Sapphire's entry, with the 1 GB mostly on one end, and the 512 MB version on the other.

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Crysis

 




Crysis
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.

   

Again, with Crysis, we had really expected to see a larger memory buffer come into play.  Instead, the Radeons in our group rely on pure GPU speed to push frame rates along, and Sapphire's high clock speeds garner it the fastest framerates.  That being said, even the fastest Radeon HD 3870 was still 20% slower than PNY's 8800 GTS 512, and 6 percent or so behind the 8800 GT from NVIDIA.

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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.

 

Bioshock benchmarking results in an extreme blowout for the Radeon HD 3870s, completely unable to keep up with these mid-range 8800-based cards - nevermind what would happen against a GTX or Ultra model.  Within their own camp, however, the Radeon HD 3870s find themselves in a tight grouping.  There's almost no difference at all amongst the three cards at 1280x1024.  At 1600x1200, we do see a small gain by the Sapphire version as it picks up an additional 2 frames per second over Diamond's dynamic duo.

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Overclocking Results

 

ATI's reference specs call for 777 MHz for the GPU and 1126 MHz for the memory, and that's exactly what the Viper Radeon HD 3870 512MB is running at.  The 1GB model, however, not only has that extra 512MB of memory added to it, but its core is running at a sweet 830MHz, with the GDDR3 memory at 870MHz.  Great overclock already on the GPU, but we would like to tweak things even further.

Overclocking the Diamond Viper HD 3870s
Raising the bar even higher

We found that the range offered to us using the Overdrive section of the Catalyst drivers was quite stifling when running the 1GB version: only a mere 830-850MHz was listed for the GPU.  Instead, we decided to install ATI Tray Tools and plug in some numbers ourselves.  It turns out that Overdrive might not have been too far off as the best stable speed we could run at was 850MHz for the core, and 968 MHz for the memory.  With the 512MB version, we weren't able to reach as high, but we still added 50MHz on the GPU, settling in at 827MHz.  Memory speeds also saw a similar boost, ending up at 1170 MHz. 


 
Diamond Viper HD 3870 512 MB Overclock - GPU=827 MHz, Memory=1170 MHz
Diamond Viper HD 3870 1 GB Overclock -
GPU=850 MHz, Memory=968 MHz






Diamond Viper HD 3870 512 MB Overclock - GPU=827 MHz, Memory=1170 MHz
Diamond Viper HD 3870 1 GB Overclock
 - GPU=850 MHz, Memory=968 MHz
 

While both cards got a little boost by the GPU and memory speed tweaking, we found that the 512 MB version profited the most.  Trailing the 1 GB model in both original runs through Quake Wars and Half-Life 2, the larger compartive increase in GPU speed coupled with the much faster operation of the GDDR4 put the Radeon HD 3870 512 ahead by one to three frames per second when overclocked.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: Currently, the Radeon HD 3870 is ATI's mid-range GPU offering, and Diamond has produced two cards that did not disappoint.  The first is essentially just a re-brand, using the core and memory speeds called for by ATI's specs, while the second is an overclocked version stocked with 1GB of memory, albeit slower GDDR3.  Both performed well throughout our testing suite, but the edge overall will go to the 1GB-laden Viper, whose frame rates typically eclipsed its brethren by a few percentage points.
 


Diamond Viper Radeon HD 3870 512MB GDDR4 / 1GB GDDR3

Normally, when we've got a couple of pieces of hardware to cover, we break up our conclusion to cover each piece's strengths and weaknesses, but we felt we would just be covering the same ground too often in this article.  Thus we decided to wrap them both up in a single, succinct, conclusion, yet still hope to make a few points where the cards differ.

Diamond continues the tradition of the Viper brand name by releasing dual versions based on the Radeon HD 3870 GPU.  While the benchmarks prove that NVIDIA still holds the upper hand in performance, it's fair to say that ATI has a good competitor in the price vs. performance department, with many HD 3870 models, including Diamond's 512MB version, currently hovering around $150 these days.  The 1GB GDDR3 version comes a higher clocked GPU to go along with the double sized memory buffer, but these additions didn't offer all that much more performance.  Couple the overclocked1GB model's only slightly higher performance with its significantly higher price of around $230 ($190 with current MIR), and it's difficult to justify spending the extra money, especially now that the Radeon HD 4850 has arrived for about the same price.

Each cards' retail bundle also offer little other than a basic list of extras, differing with whichever card you choose.  It was good to see the extra cables found in the 1GB Viper's box, but surely there's not enough there to even help mitigate the price difference.  With the way things are now, we're feeling snakebit, as it's almost a toss-up between these two Vipers.  The 512MB performed well, and is cheaper, but really doesn't offer anything new that we haven't seen before.  On the other hand, the 1GB gave us better numbers, yet the price point makes it a hard sell.

  • Provide some good performance for the price 
  • Low noise output 
  • Choice of 512MB or 1GB models
  • Two slot coolers
  • Still lagging behind NVIDIA's parts
  • 1GB model stuck with slower GDDR3

 



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