Graphics Cards Guide
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Since our Avivo versus PureVideo showdown early this year, there have been some inevitable changes in the graphics scene. Significantly, NVIDIA launched their mid-range GeForce 9600 GT and since that is based on the G92 core, it has the same VP2 hardware as that on the GeForce 8800 GT and also the GeForce 8600/8500 cards featured in our article. Additionally, NVIDIA has claimed that the release of the new ForceWare 174 drivers has unlocked new PureVideo features on these GeForce 9 cards, like dynamic contrast enhancements and hardware acceleration for dual video stream decoding. These features will be found on all GeForce 9 cards, including models that have yet to be launched.
ATI has been less busy with the product launches, though they did reissue their mainstream Radeon HD products (namely the 2600 and 2400 series) in a newer 55nm package in January and branded them as the Radeon HD 3600 and 3400 series respectively. Unfortunately, they were launched around the same time as the single PCB, dual-GPU Radeon HD 3870 X2 and were quickly lost in the whirl of publicity surrounding the new ATI flagship card. While we didn't manage to get these new Radeons in time for the Avivo/PureVideo article, we finally got them in the lab recently. Hence, it was only appropriate to give them a spin with our HD movies and see how they fare in handling them.
The Radeon HD 3650 and 3450
The more powerful of the two (hence the higher model number), the Radeon HD 3650 (core code: RV635 Pro) is what you get when you shrink the GPU on the Radeon 2600 series from 65nm to 55nm. One immediate advantage of the die shrink is obviously the lower TDP rating on the newer core and theoretically, ATI has more allowance to bump up the clock speeds. In the case of the Radeon HD 3650 256MB that we received however, the clocks are at 725/1600MHz, which are quite different from the ones on the Radeon HD 2600 PRO and XT. The new card was also using GDDR3 compared to GDDR4 memory on the Radeon HD 2600 XT model. Nevertheless, the basic architectures of both are very similar, with the same number of shaders, texture mapping units and render output units. As for HD video playback, the same Avivo hardware is found on both SKUs and we are expecting similar results in our testing.
Likewise, the Radeon HD 3450 is an updated version of the Radeon HD 2400 series given a die shrink and a new GPU core (RV620 LE). The clock speeds have also changed with the refresh and at 600/1000MHz, the Radeon HD 3450 has no clock equivalent from the Radeon HD 2400 series. As the new entry level graphics card from ATI, DDR2 memory is used on the Radeon HD 3450, with ATI also implementing HyperMemory on our review sample to give it a total of 512MB frame buffer. Physically, the Radeon HD 3450 is a low profile card with a small simple cooler, making it suitable for small form factor systems and will probably show up in PCs from system aggregators keen to show that their products come with a discrete graphics card.
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