Sapphire's Ultimate HD 3850 and Atomic HD 3870

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary:

The Sapphire Ultimate Radeon HD 3850 and Atomic HD 3870 cards performed as expected throughout our battery of tests.  The Atomic card's higher GPU core and memory clock speeds allowed it to outperform a reference Radeon HD 3870 card in every benchmark.  The performance deltas separating the two 3870 cards were not very large, however.  The Ultimate HD 3850 card's 512MB frame buffer helped its performance at higher resolutions, but it couldn't quite compete with the 3870 due to its lower clock speeds. 


One thing we've liked about some of ATI's board partners, such as HIS and Sapphire, is that they always seem to take popular products and tweak or modify them into their own creations.  Anyone can slap their logo onto a heatsink and maybe raise clock speeds a hair, but it takes something extra from a manufacturer to go beyond and look for new ways to improve upon a product.  In the cases of the Ultimate HD 3850 and Atomic HD 3870, we saw two completely different ideas at work, and both succeed.

Sapphire Ultimate HD 3850

The Radeon HD 3850 is admittedly the less powerful of the two 3800 series Radeons, originally equipped with half of the memory and slower GPU frequencies.  Sapphire upped the memory to 512MB with their model, however, which helps performance at higher resolutions, but they didn't budge on the core and memory speeds.  Instead, the Ultimate is geared toward silent operation, making it a better choice for HTPCs or other machines where gaming performance is not the sole reason for their existence.

At a price of around $230, it's hard for us to outright recommend this card unless you absolutely need silent operation, especially when higher performing HD 3870 and GeForce 8800 GT cards can be found for just a few dollars more, but we certainly see the appeal of a 512MB Radeon HD 3850 card that generates absolutely no noise.

  • Silent, "ultimate" cooler
  • Double memory size over reference model
  • Decent overclocker
  • One of the highest priced HD 3850's on market
  • Could conflict with motherboard components

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870

As the inaugural member of the Atomic line of cards, the Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 was a great start.  From the moment you first see the briefcase, you know you're in for something different.  Vapor-X cooling is not so much revolutionary as evolutionary, replacing standard heatpipes with a more efficient means of transferring heat away from the GPU, while still maintaining a slim profile.  Microloops, the maker if the cooler, could really find themselves in an enviable position here, if others decide to follow suit.

The pre-overclocked speeds of the Atomic HD 3870 provided a small boost to our gaming frame rates, as expected.  We found we could continue to push the envelope by overclocking, however, and ending up hitting 865 MHz for the GPU - nearly 90 MHz over the default of 777 MHz.  While this did add even more performance in our gaming suite, we still couldn't catch up to NVIDIA's latest card, the 8800 GTS 512.  At under just $300 though, the Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 is still a solid buy considering it includes a high-quality HDMI cable and ships from the factory pre-overclocked. It's definitely not the least expensive Radeon HD 3870, but the Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 stands-out from the crowd in so many ways, it has earned itself an Editor's Choice award.

  • Sapphire thinking outside the box with this bundle
  • Great overclocker 
  • Super-efficient new cooling system 
  • Still not faster than most 8800 series


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