Dual-GPU Comparison - 3850x2 vs 3870x2 vs 9800GX2 Page: 1
Introduction
 
HD3870x2 & 9800GX2Going back almost 8 years to a time when I didn't have such a receded hair line and the only bills I need worry about was the next hardware upgrade to my beige coloured PC, a company that many of us will undoubtedly remember and respect - 3dfx, released one of the first mainstream gamer orientated graphics cards featuring dual GPU's on a single board. Branded the Voodoo5 5500, this card was to be the last card ever released to public before the company was snapped up by NVidia.
 
Since then there have been only but a few attempts to bring dual-GPU graphics cards back on to the market. Some have been unofficial AIB partner prototypes such as the X1950Pro Dual from Sapphire, while others official releases from manufacturers such as the 7950GX2 from NVidia. All have had their fair share of problems with either poor driver support, sub-par performance or extremely high price tags.
 
However, back in January ATI decided to bite the bullet and give dual-GPU's another bash. The result of course was the HD3870x2 which featured two HD3870 GPU's and 1GB of RAM all neatly arranged on a single PCB. Early reviews of the cards were positive, with record breaking benchmark results and reasonably solid drivers from the outset. While the card was initially quite expensive (~£300) a select few ATI partners put it upon themselves to construct a slightly lower cost dual-GPU solution with HD3850 chips (essentially down-clocked HD3870's).
 
NVidia, not keen on being outdone, decided to fight back in much the same way by taking two of their mid-range 8800GTS graphics cards and fusing them into a single card solution named the 9800GX2. While many people were sceptical of NVidia's approach (mainly due to the massive failure of the Dual-PCB/GPU 7950GX2 back in 2006), the 9800GX2 did the job nicely and managed to take back the performance crown once more.
 
While many of the aforementioned cards have already been reviewed on Overclock3D at some time in the not so distant past, both the HD3850x2, HD3870x2 and 9800GX2 are all still top of the charts when it comes to balls out performance. However, with quite substantial gaps in price between each of the cards, today we're going to be finding out which card offers the best performance per pound for the budget conscious gamer with a need for speed. Let's take a closer look at the cards...
 
3850x2, 3870x2, 9800GX2 - Front 3850x2, 3870x2, 9800GX2 Sideways
 
3850x2, 3870x2, 9800GX2 Back 3850x2, 3870x2, 9800GX2 Side
 
All three cards are extremely stylish with both the 3850x2 and 3870x2 featuring non-stock coolers designed by ASUS. For the 9800GX2 ASUS has decided to stick with the stock NVIDIA cooling solution as this is both extremely complex and difficult to replace when compared to a standard heatsink/fan combination used on most cards.
 
3850x2, 3870x2, 9800GX2 Power 3850x2, 3870x2, 9800GX2 Cooling
 
Thanks to the heavy power consuming dual-GPU nature of the cards, each card requires both a 6-Pin and an 8-Pin PCI-E power connector. This can make finding a suitable PSU for CrossfireX or SLI quite a task, but it is unfortunately a necessary evil.


Dual-GPU Comparison - 3850x2 vs 3870x2 vs 9800GX2 Page: 2
Test Setup
 
A common mistake made when benchmarking graphics cards is that the rest of the PC system isn't sufficient enough to test the GPU to its limits. This results in a bottleneck situation, where the system can only run at the speed of its slowest component. For this reason, the test configuration chosen below has been specially selected to give each of the graphics cards on test the headroom they require in order to produce the best results.
 
System Specs
 
A selection of games and benchmark suites has also been chosen to test each of the cards with several game engines. Each of the cards will be run at both low and high resolutions with varying levels of texture filtering to represent the use of the card with both small and large screen sizes.
 
3DMark05
1024x768 / 0xAA / 0xAF (Default)
1920x1200 / 4xAA / 0xAF
 
3DMark 06
1280x1024 / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / 4xAA / 0xAF
 
Quake4
1280x1024 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF
 
Unreal Tournament III
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
Call of Duty 4
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
 
F.E.A.R
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA / 0xAF
 
BIOSHOCK
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
Crysis
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
To ensure that our testing was as fair as possible, the stock-clocked version of all three cards was chosen from a single manufacturer. Similarly the price of the cards listed above was also extracted from a single retailer - LambdaTek on the 29/05/08. This is extremely important as over the next few pages we will be using these figures to directly calculate how much of your hard earned cash goes on each and every one of those frame refreshes.
 
3850x2, 3870x2, 9800GX2 Specifications
 
With almost £100 difference between the NVidia 9800GX2 and the ATI 3870X2, the GX2 is certainly going to have to pull some extremely good numbers in order to get the upper-hand on the more affordable ATI counterparts. Let's get down to business...


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Call Of Duty 4
 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast gameplay. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10 minute long gameplay demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
Call of Duty 4 - FPS
 
Call of Duty 4 - Cost Per Frame
 
Call of Duty 4 shows a clear preference for the 9800GX2 at both 1280x1024 and 1900x1200 resolutions, with the card leaving both the 3850X2 and 3870x2 in the dust. However, when converting these results to our CPF (Value Per Frame) chart both the ATI 3850x2 and 3870x2 beat the 9800GX2 in lower resolution gaming, with the GX2 just managing to fight back when it comes to gaming at 1900x1200.
 
 
BIOSHOCK
 
Bioshock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
BIOSHOCK - FPS
 
BIOSHOCK - CPF
 
Just when we thought the Call of Duty benchmarks were quite embarrassing for the ATI 38**x2 series of GPU's, BIOSHOCK takes things even further, with the 9800GX2 obtaining a whopping 70FPS advantage over the 3870x2 at the lower 1280x1024 resolution, and an equally impressive 43FPS advantage at 1900x1200. This huge performance margin is more than enough to secure the 9800GX2 a place at the top (or bottom - depending on how you look at it!) of the CPF scale, with the 3850x2 and 3870x2 cards fighting for the overall 2nd position.


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Crysis
 
Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-Intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmarks scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
Crysis - FPS
 
Crysis - CPF
 
In keeping with the results over the previous page, the 9800GX2 takes the lead in both the FPS and CPF scores. Interestingly there is very little difference in the FPS results of the 3870x2 and 3850x2, giving both cards very similar Value Per Frame scores. Considering there is less than 5fps difference between both cards, it would certainly seem that the 3850x2 is the more sensible buy for Crysis.
 
 
F.E.A.R
 
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
F.E.A.R - FPS
 
F.E.A.R - VPF
 
Anyone see a pattern emerging here? Yes, once again the 9800GX2 is in the lead when it comes down to outright graphical performance, with the 3870x2 and 3850x2 not too far behind in the 1900x1200 results. However, this time round both of the ATI cards show a great performance/value ratio and manage to beat out the 9800GX2 by a significant margin.


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Quake 4
 
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording along with 4xAA and 4xAF. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
 
Quake 4 - FPS
 
Quake 4 - CPF
 
With less than 5fps separating all three of the cards on test, the end result all comes down to value. With the 3850x2 being the cheapest in the group (at £211) it snatches the top spot on the CPF scale with the 3870x2 not far behind, and the 9800GX2 trailing in last position.
 
 
Unreal Tournament 3
 
Unreal Tournament 3 is the highly anticipated game from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest Unreal engine which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using UTbench with a fly-by of the DM-BioHazard map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
Unreal Tournament 3 - FPS
 
Unreal Tourmanet 3 - CPF
 
asus rrrBeing based on the same "UE3" engine as BIOSHOCK, we could have almost put money on the 9800GX2 being the top of the FPS charts in Unreal considering the results seen on the previous pages. Our bet would have certainly paid off too, with the 9800GX2 giving almost a 50fps advantage at 1900x1200 and 27fps advantage at 1280x1024 when compared with the 3870x2.
 
However, this advantage still simply isn't enough to justify the high price tag of the 9800GX2, with both the 3870x2 and 3850x2 offering slightly better value for money.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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3DMark053DMark06
 
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
3DMark05
 
Despite the 9800GX2 taking the lead through most of the real game benchmarks, 3DMark05 shows a slight preference for the ATI based counterparts, with the 3870x2 taking the lead in the stock resolution benchmarks with the 3850x2 being not far behind. However, when turning the settings up to 1900x1200 with 4xAA, the GX2 fights back, managing a 600+ point lead on its nearest competitor.
 
3DMark06
 
Similar results can also be seen in 3DMark06, with the 3870x2 taking the lead at stock resolutions by just a few points. This is then turned around when AA is added and a higher resolution set.
 
The 3850x2 also manages to produce some decent results, coming just shy of 17k in the stock resolution benchmarks.


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Conclusion
 
As many of us will already have expected, the 9800GX2 is without doubt the fastest card of the bunch. Managing to beat out the 3870x2 by up to 70fps in some benchmarks, the 3870x2 is certainly starting to show its age. However, the reason we came here today was not just to simply pit these three dual-gpu cards against one another, but to find out if the higher price tag of the 9800GX2 is actually worth it.
 
With £35 separating the 3850x2 and 3870x2, and a further £100 between the 3870x2 and the 9800GX2, there are certainly some savings to be had if the performance differences between the cards is something that you'll never actually see. Looking back at the graphs over the previous pages, all three cards are more than adequate at playing most games at high resolutions and with AA enabled. However, when you get to the more taxing games such as Crysis the ATI cards struggle to make 30fps, whereas the 9800GX2 comfortably manages at least 50fps.
 
The graph shown below gives us an overall FPS/Cost score for each of the cards:
 
Cost Per Frame - Average
 
With all things considered, the results are actually quite a bit closer than we was expecting. Yes the 9800GX2 is over £100 more than it's nearest ATI counterpart, but the extra performance of the card brings its overall cost per frame to £3.86 at 1280x1024 resolutions and £3.53 at 1900x1200 resolutions. The 3850x2 does offer the best value for money across the board with £3.37 and £3.18 prices for 1280x1024 and 1900x1200 resolutions respectably, but with only a measly £0.49 between the highest and lowest results, it's hard not to recommend the 9800GX2 if you've got the cash.
 
 
ASUS EAH3850x2
OC3D Value For Money Award Recommended Award
 
Asus EAH3870x2
OC3D Recommended Award
 
Asus EN9800GX2
OC3D Performance Award
 
 
Thanks to ASUS for making this review possible. Discuss this review in our forums.