If initial reports are to be believed, the new 3800 range - specifically the 256MB GDDR3 3850 and the 512MB GDDR4 3870 - is finally giving Nvidia a run for its money in the crucial mid-range graphics card segment.
The 3870 out performs AMD's previous best, the 2900 XT, but has a recommended price of $219. The 2900 XT is generally selling for that much in POUNDS. The 3870's arch enemy, however, is the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, which still seems to slightly out-perform the 3870 in the majority of bench-tests. In a bang-per-buck context, that small advantage doesn't seem enough to justify a selling price of around £180, compared to what should be significantly less for the 3870.
Rick Bergman, Senior VP and general manager of the Graphics Product Group at AMD said: "Through a flawless transition to 55nm and Microsoft DirectX 10.1, we can deliver an unprecedented level of scalable performance, image quality enhancements and power efficiency at the sub $200 segment that rivals today’s most expensive graphics processors and opens up enthusiast gaming to more end users than ever before."
In other words the bang-per-buck stakes in the graphics card market have been raised considerably and anyone who bought a card a month ago is going to feel a tad bitter. The only mystery is why, given the superior core clock, memory clock and manufacturing process (the 8800 GT is 65nm), the 3870 doesn't generally out-perform the 8800 GT in game bench-tests.
One possible explanation is given by tech site HEXUS.net, which suggests in its review of the 3870 that Nvidia has by far the superior developer relations and thus most games are optimised to run on Nvidia, rather than AMD cards. That may be the final challenge AMD/ATI needs to conquer to fully get back on track.