You’ve read that right: a brand new graphics card with an AGP interface. Much as the big two in the dedicated graphics card market would have you think otherwise, AGP is still very much alive.
In fact one or two motherboard manufacturers still produce AGP boards, and at least one combines it with Intel’s Socket 775. Not only that, but a vast number of people still haven’t upgraded to a PCI-E system because, as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Sapphire is one company to have made an effort to give AGP users a flavour of current graphics technology, offering two cards based on AMD’s 3000 series of GPUs; the HD3650 and the HD3850.
Not only has Sapphire bothered to make an AGP version for its line-up of HD3850 cards, the company has even given it slightly faster clocks than standard. The core clock runs at 700MHz, an increase of 30MHz over the reference design, while the 512MB of GDDR3 memory jogs along nicely at 846MHz, a modest increase over the standard design’s 825MHz.
All the features of the equivalent PCI-E card are present; 320 stream processors, 512-bit internal memory ring, support for shader model 4.0 and DirectX 10.1. Also the GPU features ATI’s PowerPlay, technology that reduces power consumption depending on what the card is doing.
The one thing you can’t do with the AGP version – and its nothing to do with the card itself – is record HD through the bus, as there simply isn’t enough bandwidth with AGP.
As with other cards in the family, the AGP version is a single slot cooled design with a passive heat-sink over the voltage regulators. It’s not a bad looking card, built on a blue PCB with a matching blue cooler adorned by a female figure not a million miles in appearance from a certain Miss Croft.
Because the AGP slot can’t supply enough voltage for the HD3850 core, the card uses an eight-pin PCI-E power connector, but the standard 6-pin connector will supply enough voltage. If you haven’t got either, don’t panic, as Sapphire bundles a 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI adaptor in the box.
As you might expect when it comes to performance, Sapphire’s HD3850 is the fastest AGP card on the block, scoring 7,200 and 2,210 in 3DMark05 and 06 respectively when tested at a 1,024 by 768-pixel resolution.
But of more interest is the real world gaming performance. At the same resolution, with all the game details set to maximum, the card produces an average frame rate in F.E.A.R of 70fps, and a respectable 45fps in Half Life 2. It struggles a bit in Company of Heroes, scoring an average of just 39fps, but dropping the game details down a notch would produce a faster frame rate.
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