Seeing double

Seeing double

This high-end graphics card will have users seeing double. Not only does it have two ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics processing units (GPUs) on-board, it also has four DVI ports; twice the amount of a typical card.

This means users can attach up to four monitors to the PC, boosting productivity and making friends and colleagues jealous of their vast desktop expanse.

The Asus EAH3870 X2 1GB uses ATI's CrossFire technology to render games, so both GPUs can alternate the processing load between them to render the pixels seen on the screen quicker than a single GPU can. However, CrossFire isn't entirely bug free under Windows Vista yet, so some games may not benefit at all from this card.

A case in point is the DirectX 10-based Crysis, which, at a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and with high image details, averaged 10.3 frames per second (fps).

That was with both GPUs working in CrossFire mode, yet it averaged 11.7fps with CrossFire disabled. Conversely, the DirectX 10-based Call of Juarez benefited from CrossFire; at a resolution of 1280x1024 and with the image quality profile set to 'balanced', the game's benchmark averaged 50fps. Without CrossFire, the same settings garnered 28fps. Fans of Call of Juarez, will definitely get a better gaming experience with this card, but it's not playable at 1680x1050 or 1920x1200 resolutions. The card plays DirectX 9-based games very comfortably.

The card's specifications aren't typical of a standard ATI Radeon HD 3870 GPU; the GPU core on this X2 card runs at 825MHz, while the memory runs at 1802MHz. Each GPU is accompanied by 512MB of GDDR3 memory. The GPU clock speed i s 50MHz faster than that of a standard Radeon HD 3870 GPU, but the memory speed is almost 450MHz slower.

CrossFire is enabled on the card by default, but if users plan on using four monitors, it will have to be disabled. Luckily, with CrossFire enabled, users can still use a dual-monitor setup, so it's not all bad. It's a double-thickness card, so it'll occupy two expansion slots in a PC, but because it has four DVI ports, its cooler doesn't have an exhaust. Users will need to ensure that the PC has proper airflow running from the front to the rear so that warmth generated by the card can escape. The card needs two PCI Express power cables to run.

For its $599 price, this card is more cost-effective than two individual Radeon HD 3870-based cards (which will also require a CrossFire-capable motherboard), but it only barely keeps up with cards based on Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GTS GPU, which can also be found at more competitive prices.

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