While admittedly I spend much of my time testing high-end motherboards that come at astronomical prices, and graphics cards that cost more than some people's first cars, I never forget about the importance of value. In fact, the one thing that I constantly keep in the back of my mind when evaluating any product is how well it stacks up in terms of value and its competitors.
Talking specifically about graphics cards, let's take the super fast GeForce 9800 GX2 as an example. While this is an impressive product in terms of performance, it is not a great value solution. On the other hand, the mid-range GeForce 9600 GT and Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards are exceptionally good value products. Then we have the budget-minded cards which mainly consist of previous generation ATI and Nvidia products, with the recent addition of the Radeon HD 3650.
The Radeon HD 3650 looks to be an attractive product on paper, it is the latest member of the Radeon HD 3000 series, and can carry up to 1GB of memory on-board. The 3650 is also a Direct X 10.1 compliant card that supports the PCI Express 2.0 bus. Furthermore, like all Radeon HD 3000 series products, this new low-end graphics card is built using a 55nm design process. Topped off with a 725MHz core speed, the Radeon HD 3650 sounds like quite a gutsy little graphics card.
But of course the card had to fell short in other places, otherwise we wouldn't be calling it a budget product. For example, it is limited to a 128-bit wide memory bus, and when combined with rather sluggish GDDR2 memory, the Radeon HD 3650 produces a memory bandwidth of just 16GB/s. To put this figure into perspective, it is comparable to the Radeon X700 XT which was released back in 2004. This goes to remind us what is the Radeon HD 3650 is targeted to a certain less demanding crowd and that we shouldn't expect spectacular results on the gaming front.
Other interesting features of the Radeon HD 3650, many of which are inherited from its bigger brothers, include CrossFireX multi-GPU support, an unified video decoder, and integrated digital outputs. While CrossFireX is aimed at gaming, the video decoder and digital outputs are more focused on home theater use.
The Radeon HD 3650 currently costs roughly $75 for the 512MB version and $95 for the 1GB version, making this a sub-$100 graphics card on all of its available versions.