ATI has unveiled new entry-level and midrange 3D chips with full 1080p hardware HD video decoder support for all major video codecs. The new GPUs are also compliant with the latest DirectX 10.1 multimedia platform.
First up is the Radeon HD 3400 series. It's a real bargain basement offering, starting at around £30 for the cheapest 3450 variant and rising to around £40 for the quickest 3570 part. Both are specified as standard with 256MB of video memory, but the 3470 boasts faster clockspeeds for memory and GPU core.
Despite the addition of full DirectX 10.1 compliance, however, actual 3D performance is likely to be distinctly modest. In old money, this is four pixel pipeline chipset and sports just 40 stream processors. That's a bit disappointing given that ATI has leveraged the latest 55nm production technology. Surely a few more units could have been squeezed in? After all, ATI's most powerful GPU packs 320 processors.
But then what do you expect for £30 or so? Actually, one thing you might not expect is the ability to completely relieve the CPU of any computational load when decoding HD video. But thanks to ATI's UVD engine, the 3400 series has full hardware decode support for H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2, the three key codecs used by high-definition video disks.
Look out, therefore, for some startlingly cheap HD-capable home cinema PCs in the near future. With an HD 3400 video installed, you won't need anything more than the very cheapest dual-core CPU for smooth 1080p video.
More meaty midranger
As for the new Radeon HD 3600 series, it's a similar story. Once again ATI has brought 55nm process technology to bear. And once again it has chosen not to add any more functional units. Just like its 2600 series predecessor, 120 stream processors, eight texture units and a 128-bit memory bus is your lot. Just one variant is available at launch, the 3650 with a core clockspeed of 725MHz.
Again, as with the 3400 series, the latest UVD video decode engine comes as standard, and ensures effortless 1080p video decode. Likewise, DX10.1 hardware compliance is present and accounted for. The Radeon HD 3650 is yours from approximately £50.
Both the Radeon HD 3450 and 3650 are fully wired up for DisplayPort. However, support for the new royalty-free monitor interface (which sports a DVI-bashing maximum bandwidth of 10.8Gbps) will vary according to board implementation.
If all of this seems a little less than tectonically exciting, well, ride your rodents back to TechRadar on Monday. We'll have more on ATI's surprisingly impressive new dual-GPU beast.