Sapphire Ultimate Radeon HD3850
First up is the Ultimate HD 3850, which ships in a glossy box with a busty female wielding a long blade. We don't quite remember exactly when or where the placing of warrior princesses began on PC hardware, but it doesn't appear to be a trend that's about to end anytime soon. A small sticker labels this as the Ultimate version which, as we pointed out earlier, differs from Sapphire's original release by upping the memory to 512MB and slapping on a passive cooler.
Inside the box, secured in pink styrofoam is the card itself. Although this isn't the first card to receive the passive cooler treatment, it's always a bit of a shock to see a setup that almost seems like it has been reversed; more barren on the front than the back. The bulk of the cooling solution actually lies on the back of the card, facing upward.
The GPU die and RAM are completely covered by a very slim heatplate, with a cutout for some circuitry. Above this plate is a branded metal cover protecting an area where three heatpipes meet a copper section placed directly over the GPU. The copper provides a better medium for conducting heat away from the GPU and into the heatpipes which, in turn, whisk it away to the backside of the card. Just above the heatsink are the two CrossFire connectors, which will allow 2 (and later more) similar Radeons to be combined to increase performance. The RV670 GPU is less power hungry than than the previous generation, and thus only requires a single 6-pin MOLEX power connection.
Three heatpipes branch off from each other, and wind up spaced evenly, dispersing their heat into the large set of fins on the back of the card. In theory, the fins should not only allow heat to rise up and away from the card, but possibly receive extra cooling airflow from the nearby CPU fan plus other fans cooling this area. In practice, however, we found that this setup completely conflicted with the design of the MSI P6N Diamond we selected for testing. As the P6N Diamond is setup for Quad SLI, the first SLI X16 slot is placed too close to the Northbridge and DIMM slots for the Ultimate HD 3850 to be installed. We wound up installing the card into a different slot, which caused some consternation for Windows Vista that we eventually solved.
The bundle that came with the Ultimate HD 3850 was a decent mix of games, software, and other cables and accessories, and as such we really can't complain. Want to watch a DVD, they've got that covered with Cyberlink's PowerDVD 7. How about Gaming? That's covered too in a suite of games from Valve called "The Black Box". Heck, you can even jump onboard and benchmark your own card with an included copy of FutureMark's 3DMark06. Throw in the manual, power cable converter, Component Video cable, plus a CrossFire connector and converters for HDMI-to-DVI and VGA-to-DVI and you're all set.