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Low-end features but bottom dollar price

Low-end features but bottom dollar price

They say that when it rains it pours and the opening months of 2008 have seen some torrential storms from ATI's camp with the release of two new families of graphics cards and one dual-GPU version of the HD3870, the Radeon HD3870 X2.

Although the Sapphire HD3450 is considered a mid-range card, it more appropriately fits into the low-end or budget end of the market by performance and price standards. But what it lacks in gaming prowess it makes up for with its low price, connectivity and video decoding.

The features that really sell this card are its HDCP compliance and the fact that it not only includes a DVI to HDMI adapter, making it very simple to connect to modern home theatre systems, but also supports Display Port, an HDMI-like connection with twice the bandwidth of DVI that's expected to pick up in popularity over the coming year or so.

On top of its connectivity, the entire HD3000 generation has ATI's universal video decoder (UVD), a chip dedicated to handling video decryption, which frees up the CPU. Of course, this is less important to high-end systems with powerful multi-core CPUs, but single-core CPU users will appreciate any spare power. Not only does it make multitasking easier, but it helps to ensure smooth video playback and is most important when playing high-definition media.

The Radeon HD3450 is built on ATI's RV620 LE graphics processing unit (GPU), another from its 55-nanometre (nm) fabrication process, and offers a core clock speed of 600MHz and a memory clock of 1GHz (effective). This version of the card uses 512MB of DDR2 memory with a 64-bit memory bus. Unlike the big boys of the family this card offers a mere 40 stream processors.

Although it's not particularly powerful it is silent, using a passive heat sink, and there's no need for a dedicated power cable as the HD3450 will draw all of its power through the PCIe slot. While we're discussing redeeming features, it's important to note that this card is tiny. In the current environment where cards extend more than 300mm in length, finding a card that's a mere 145mm is quite refreshing. It will suit those with smaller media centre cases, precisely the target market for this type of card.

Its performance in gaming benchmarks aren't outstanding. Although it will play games, don't expect anything spectacular. For instance, in Half-Life 2, a DirectX 9 (DX9) game using the maximum resolution of our Samsung SyncMaster 245B monitor, 1920x1200 and the maximum quality settings, we only got 27fps (frames per second). This is still mildly playable, but a simple drop in quality would increase performance.

Newer, DirectX 10 (DX10) games like Lost Planet: Extreme Condition were less promising. Using the default settings, which are mostly comprised of low to medium quality settings at a resolution of 1280x1024, it only averaged 8.9fps. In 3DMark 2006 it scored a measly 1816, not a very high score at all.


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