AMD has taken two mid-range 3870 chips and stuck them together to create the 3870 X2 - a high-end graphics chip with a mid-range price.
AMD may have stayed the course, but it has conceded a fair amount of important territory to nVidia in the past 12 months or so. A number of its mid-range cards (the 3850 and 3870 Pro) may have been successful – at least as far as the critics are concerned – but we haven't seen AMD release a new chip at the high end of the market since long before nVidia's launch of the GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultras.
So what do you do when you have some good mid-range chips but no high-end product? If you're ATI, you take the mid-range 3870 chips and stick two of them together. And the results? Well, inelegant the solution may be, but the 3870 X2 certainly does work, and ATI now has a genuine high-end challenger – but without the high-end price tag.
To be fair to ATI, there is some clever technology going in here. The 3870 X2's printed circuit board (PCB) has half as many layers again, which is why you see the core clock speeds soaring above those of the standalone 3870s – 825MHz rather than 775MHz in the case of the normal 3870.
And while you can already take a couple of 3870s and stick them together in a CrossFire system, such setups are notoriously difficult to get up and running, requiring a particular blend of motherboard and gaming code that can properly utilise CrossFire. In the case of the 3870 X2, though, everything works flawlessly.
This 3870 X2 card from Sapphire looks quite a showpiece as well, and you'll need acres of room in your case to fit it. Not that ATI hasn't tried to make it run as efficiently as possible, and the mix of aluminum and copper heat sinks makes for a clever cooling system that does a good job of keeping both chips in shape.
The Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 is fast as well. Extremely fast in fact and, in our games tests (the range of titles include World In Conflict, Company of Heroes and FEAR), the card matched and quite often beat the previous fastest card, the Ultra, by a frame or two.
The difference was never particularly significant, but the important thing about the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 card is not really whether or not it just about beats the Ultra, but that it at least matches it while costing less – significantly less in fact.
And while the Ultra (itself rather difficult to find) still retails for close to £400, the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 costs significantly less than £300. Indeed, it looks like it's even going to be a bit cheaper than the 8800 GTX.