ATI Radeon HD 3870 versus NVIDIA 8800 GTS 512 MB

Not too long to go until 2008. For some reason, I keep on thinking it’s already 2008. Whenever a new year is reached, I usually feel quite strange writing out the new year in dates, but for some reason, I just don’t feel that way with 2008. Strange.

I’ve previously blogged about the GeForce 8800 GT, calling it the card that everyone has been waiting for (a bit of an exaggeration, I know). In the last month, both ATI and NVIDIA have released new/updated cards that I think is worth blogging about, because these cards now give serious competition to he 8800 GT.

ATI Radeon HD 3870First from ATI is the Radeon HD 3870 (3850 also available). I remember a time when ATI meant the fastest GPU that you can buy. But recently, NVIDIA has managed to keep ATI at arm’s length when it comes to performance, with the Radeon HD 2xxx series being rather disappointing. The 3870 aims to correct this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really come close, and the low recommended price of the unit suggests even ATI knows this. 3D performance wise, you will be better off with any of the 8800 series – the performance of the 3870 is certainly better than that of the 2xxx series, but that’s not really saying much. But in video performance, especially HD acceleration, the 3870 is probably the best card available on the market, as it features ATI’s AVIVO HD and UVD acceleration. Both H.264, and possibly more importantly, VC-1, receive full hardware accleration, which will be much appreciated when people start to watch Blu-ray or HD DVD movies on your computer. You certainly can’t beat the price, so it would be a good card to built a home theatre PC around, a system that will give you excellent HD playback, as well as fairly decent gaming (which past HTPCs were mostly incapable of). The card comes with HDMI output, so ATI’s thinking behind the card is also HTPC oriented. You can read a full review of the 3870 and 3850 here.

NVIDIA 8800 GTS 512 MBThe other new GPU is actually just a refresh of an existing range, the 8800 GTS. The original 8800 GTS came in 320 and 640 MB varieties. Some will remember that I recommended this GPU for the first “If I were to buy a computer today” feature back in September. It now uses a version of the G92 chip first introduced in the 8800 GT, and scales back the RAM from 640 MB to 512 MB. The new chip uses the 65 nm process, as compared to the 90 nm process in previous chips, so clock speed can now be ramped up to levels exceeding the GTX version and closer to the Ultra. In other words, it’s just a more efficient chip and the reason why the 8800 GT performs so well. The reduced process means more power efficiency and a cooler chip, which allowed the 8800 GT to be a single height card (but the 8800 GTS is a double height card like the Radeon HD 3870). But what does this all mean? Well, it simply means the 8800 GTS 512 MB is a kick-ass card 3D wise that will often outperform the more expensive 8800 GTX. In video/HD wise, it gives you the same acceleration as the 8800 GT, which in itself was a big improvement over the acceleration offered by all the other 8800 GPUs. Pricing wise, it should be closer to the 320 MB version of the GTS, rather than the 640 MB version – it’s about $100 more than the 3870, and about $50 more than the GT. You can read a full review of the 8800 GTS 512 MB here.

So how does the new 8800 GTS compare to the Radeon HD 3870? NVIDIA’s PureVideo HD does not support full VC-1 hardware accleration (it only supports partial acceleration), so the video performance is not as good as the 3870. So instead of close to zero percent CPU utilization, you might be seeing something like 10 to 15% on say mid-range Intel CPU. For those with slower CPUs, the 3870 might be a good choice to prevent CPU spikes that cause break-ups in playback. Otherwise, the 8800 GT/GTS will offer more than enough acceleration power to give you smooth playback.

But if gaming is a concern, than both the 8800 GT and GTS 512 MB are simply better choices. The latest games, like Crysis or Call of Duty 4, all require massive amounts of power and the 3870 is just not able to give you that. You feel that the 3870, had it been released about a year ago, would have been the card to have, but it really feels like too little too late from ATI at this time. For about $50 or $100 more, you can get the GT or GTS which will provide 15 to 25% better performance – the GT is even more suitable for a HTPC environment since it is a single height card and even a passive cooling version is available. The inferior HD acceleration found on the NVIDIA range is something I hope NVIDIA will address soon, but it’s not a huge deal considering the low price of mid to high range CPUs these days.

As for whether you should get the GT or GTS, it really depends on how much you are willing to pay for the extra 3D performance. For $50 more, it’s probably not a huge risk to go with the GTS.


2 Responses to “ATI Radeon HD 3870 versus NVIDIA 8800 GTS 512 MB”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    This was a really insightful article. Very well written! Thanks a lot! I’ll personally be waiting for a DirectX 10.1 support card by nVidia, but only because I am a software developer. Most games aren’t even using DirectX 10.0 which both of these cards do support, so it should be a big deal to others who aren’t into programming APIs.

  2. dinesh Says:

    i am a avid liqued 7.0 user for video rendering i have ati readon 512 mb pci express card i want to know that nvidia cards are support for this work.

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