Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2424

Since the release of the 3800 series last year, we've been waiting for AMD to introduce both the lower and upper end of their product line. The Radeon HD 3870 and HD 3850 are good values, and today we see the low end of the market get a much needed update. We still have to wait a short while to talk about new high end hardware, but hopefully AMD will be able to pull out something that puts them back in competition there.

While the lack of attention to the high end from AMD might not impact most graphics hardware buyers directly, the high end market does represent high margins and the battle between NVIDIA and AMD for leadership can be quite entertaining to watch at times. On top of that, high end hardware enables engine developers to test techniques and ideas on what will inevitably be future low end hardware. We really hope AMD gets back in the game soon for the sake of advancing the industry.

For now, we don't have low end hardware so we can't do any performance comparisons right now. AMD has promised a very hard launch, so the delay between now and when we will see a performance review should be relatively short. In the meantime we'll take a look at the hardware specs and new technologies that are part of the 3600 and 3400 series parts.

The Hardwdare

The basic architecture of the 3600 and 3400 series isn't any different from the 3800 series. All cards support DX 10.1, UVD, PCIe 2.0, and is fabbed using a 55nm process. The specific features of each card are as follows:

The new parts are all slated to be sub $100, and the lowest end option is set at $50. This high volume market is key because it defines base line add-in graphics performance going forward. For DX 10.1 compliant cards, these are the base line, and when developers start targeting that as a minimum spec these cards will need to be considered.

None of these cards require external power, as they all come in at under the 75W available from the motherboard. The low end 3450 can be built with passive cooling, but all the other options require some sort of active cooling. These should also make good HTPC cards, as they support full HD resolution and all UVD features. The 3470 is needed for upscaling to the highest resolutions, but for a 1080p television the 3450 should be alright. It does seem a bit lopsided to pair a 2560x1600 monitor with a sub $100 video card anyway. We will certainly test all this out when we get the chance.

We can see from the hardware specs that these new cards will outpace current offerings from AMD at the same price points. This should be a nice change from the recent trend of updating a lineup without offering any real performance incentive over older hardware in the low end and midrange arenas. AMD is reporting some very nice looking improvements, but we'd rather wait until we run our own numbers to talk about what to expect.

In addition to the hardware specs above, these new parts do introduce some new technologies. Both the 3600 and 3400 lineup support DisplayPort with the first on silicon implementation in the industry. The 3400 series also supports Hybrid Graphics which combines the power of on-board and add-in graphics to increase the potential graphics power for cheap hardware.

DisplayPort and Hybrid Graphics

DisplayPort is basically a next step from DVI. HDMI has definitely emerged as the next connection standard in CE devices, but is not suited to the evolving needs of the PC market. The underlying design of DisplayPort is an extensible micro-packet based communication method with an auxiliary channel that will allow displays to more highly integrate with the PCs to which they are connected.

Daisy chaining devices is supported, which could allow multiple monitors to be plugged into the same computer to replicate the display. Future versions of DisplayPort will even support things like multiple video streams over a single physical connection. Some of the other cool features that current graphics cards might not take advantage of are the ability to send 16 bit per component data over the cable. Quad HD resolutions are also in the works while resolutions of 2560x1600 are supported currently.

While AMD's adoption leads a real need for it, having the ability to support DisplayPort in a market that plans on moving in that direction is a logical step. We should see adapters to single-link DVI and HDMI available, whereas converters would be needed for dual-link DVI and analog VGA. Connector change is always difficult, and hopefully the move to DisplayPort will be the last in a while and we can move away from the HD-15 and multitude of different DVI connectors once and for all. Of course, at this point, card venders will still need to choose to put DisplayPort connectors on their boards.

The lower end 3400 line will support Hybrid Graphics. This essentially allows AMD on-board and add-in cards to work together to render graphics. During 2D or low power operation, the on-board graphics will be used. When more horsepower is needed, the Radeon HD 3450 or 3470 will be able to work together with the on-board graphics chip to render the scene faster. This means owners of AMD boards with built in graphics will get more for their money when the buy a cheap graphics card.

While two times garbage is just more trash, we'll have to test this out ourselves to see if it enables the use of any more features, higher resolutions, or significantly smoother framerates. We wouldn't expect miracles, but if this offers a tangible benefit to consumers with low end hardware it's certainly a good thing.

AMD touts Hybrid Graphics as also offering lower power, quieter operation, and four monitor support in addition to the potential for faster graphics on low end systems. I don't know that we'll be recommending this solution for gamers, but it might be nice of an HTPC user who wants quiet operation, good video playback, and the potential to play a few games here and there.

Final Words

We wish we could have had hardware available for this launch. We always have to work a little harder to get our hands on lower end and value products, as companies would rather people all see how good their fastest parts run. But we will do our best to get some numbers sooner rather than later.

This launch isn't revolutionary, as it's really just AMD bringing their 3000 series down to the lower end. Hybrid Graphics could be an interesting feature, but we'll have to test it before we can find out if it's more marketing than magic.

Our desire to see ever increasing performance in high volume graphics markets generally exceeds what we are offered, and even though there is competition between NVIDIA and AMD, neither company wants to create too large a gap between their low end add-in cards and integrated graphics. But no matter what we get, at least we will see some sort of performance improvement over what is currently on the market.

Stay tuned, as the next few weeks promise some interesting developments. We'll be getting together some data on these low end AMD parts as well as some coverage of higher end hardware.

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