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Diamond's Radeon HD 3870 1GB video card

More is better, right?

What happens when you take a Radeon HD 3870 graphics card and slap a gig of memory on it? That is the question of the hour, since our subject is Diamond's new card with just such a configuration. The Radeon HD 3870 has established itself as a pretty decent option among mid-range graphics cards, although it's squeezed by formidable competition from Nvidia. Could doubling up on video memory allow the 3870 to distinguish itself from the likes of the GeForce 9600 GT and GeForce 8800 GT? We decided to find out.

Diamond's novel facet
Diamond's new take on the Radeon HD 3870 doesn't depart too radically from the established formula. The card comes with a default GPU clock of 830MHz, well above the 775MHz baseline created by AMD but not quite as high as some of the cards we tested in our mid-range roundup, which ranged as high as 850MHz. Similarly, the card's 1GB of GDDR3 memory comes clocked at 870MHz, for an effective data rate of 1740MT/s, on a 256-bit bus. The 512MB versions of the 3870 generally come with GDDR4 memory and consequently feature clocks as high as 1.2GHz. Diamond's, er, ace is its larger memory size, coupled with the fact that GGDR3 memory tends to have lower latencies and thus perform better than GDDR4, clock for clock. On the flip side, GGDR4 tends to consume less power.

Incidentally, Diamond's official specs for this card claim an 825MHz GPU clock and 900MHz memory. The card itself tells us it's clocked at 830/870MHz. If you'll excuse us, we're going with the card on this one.

Diamond has outfitted this puppy with a little bit larger cooler than the norm; the oversized blower causes its enclosure to protrude slightly above the top of the card itself, much like a GeForce 8800 Ultra. The cooler doesn't look to be tall enough to create any sort of clearance problems in your average PC case, but those with small form factor systems may want to proceed with caution.

Beyond that, the 1GB card comes with the usual complement of output ports and accessories, including a single DVI-to-VGA adapter and a DVI-to-HDMI adapter. Analog video junkies will appreciate the assortment of composite, component, and S-Video output cables (while the rest of us will tolerate them, I suppose). Diamond eschews the temptation to bundle a game with the card, and given the usual value proposition involved there, we're not inclined to complain.

Oh, here's something interesting. A sticker that refers to the "XHD3870XTG3". As you may know, AMD did away with the "XT" suffix on its video card names when it adopted its new "numbers only" strategy that begat the 3870 and 3850. This humble little sticker suggests an XT name may have been in the works at some point, before everything changed. Why does this matter? Eh, I dunno.

The bigger question here may be: How does having 1GB of memory onboard help matters? For that, we have our test results on the following pages, of course. If you've been around the block a time or two like me, you'll probably know that video memory size can be a funny thing. Sometimes, having more memory onboard can lead to a small, marginal increase in performance. More commonly, though, running out of video memory is a bit like a dog hitting the end of its leash while running along at top speed—performance drops off precipitously. These cases typically involve the use of lots of video memory, either because of high memory use by the application (with lots of large textures and objects in play) or by high-resolution/high-quality display settings. If you hit that limit, you'll know it, and a card with more video memory will be dramatically faster in such scenarios. If you don't hit that limit, well, the additional video RAM may be no help at all.