ATI Radeon HD 4770 Review

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  • Pros

    Pros

    • Low power consumption
    • Not too hot
    • $99!
  • Cons

    Cons

    • Fan kicking on/off is striking
    • Dual-slot cooling design
    • Lower memory bandwidth compared to other cards

ATI released their newest video card today, the Radeon HD 4770.  While high end video cards like the Radeon HD 4870X2 and GeForce GTX 295 tend to get all the press and glory, it’s the less expensive half of the market that drives sales.  All too often, users on a budget are forced to settle with low frame rates or really low resolutions in their games.  ATI is looking to change all of that with the 4770, offering consumers high performance for their dollar.  Read on for our full review.

Specifications

  • GPU: 40nm RV740    
  • Core clock: 750MHz    
  • Memory: 512MB GDDR5 @ 800MHz (3200MHz effective)
  • Digital output: 2 x DVI-I    
  • Analog output: 1 x S-video    
  • Power: 1 x 6-pin PCI Express    
  • Interface: PCI Express 2.0 x16    

The suggested retail price of the ATI Radeon HD 4770 is $109, though AMD is pressuring partners to offer a $10 mail-in rebate, bringing the eventual price down to $99.  It’s been some time since a sub-$100 video card has offered any amazing value, which makes the HD 4770 a fairly exciting product.

Build and Design
This is a reference card from ATI without any third party manufacturer branding on it, so it’s hard to say what potential cards  might be introduced by board partners.  This version used a solid red circuit board with a red cooling setup and the same cylindrical fan we’ve seen on the past several video cards. 

The card does use a two slot cooling design in order to keep the card from overheating; while effective, it would have been nice to see a single-slot design employed, instead.  All the board partners I could find are already shipping cards that technically take up a single slot but have large heatsink assemblies attached directly to the GPU instead of using a convoluted air tunnel.  The downside to that implementation means that hot air won’t get funneled out of the case, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

The card itself is relatively short, compared to many cards that have passed through lately.  Midtower cases shouldn’t have too much of a problem, thankfully, as the card clocked in at right around nine inches or so.  Internally, the card uses a new variant of ATI’s R700 GPU, the RV740.  RV740 is the first card offering chips built on a 40nm manufacturing process (meaning this GPU is built on a smaller process that traditional CPUS – a first).  Aside from being able to physically fit more transistors into a discrete area, smaller processes also tend to allow for greater power efficiencies and lower operating temperatures.  In addition, the chips should be less expensive for AMD to produce, hopefully resulting in even lower prices that get passed on to consumers. 

Once again, the power connector for this card is on the end of the board, rather than resting in the middle.  On the opposite side of the board,  two DVI-I connectors flank the almost-useless S-video output. In terms of expansion, the HD 4770 does have two CrossFire connections which means up to four different cards can be chained together in a quad-CrossFire setup.  Users pursuing such a feat would almost certainly be disappointed, however, due to the reduced memory and bandwidth available. 

Performance
AMD is suggesting that this card offers stellar performance both for the price and for the power consumed, so let’s take a look a see how it holds up.  The suggested competition for this card is the GeForce 9800GT, which, granted, is getting on in age but still being sold all over and at the matching price point.  We’re going to take a look at it up against the slightly retouched GeForce GTS 250 in a 1 GB variety.  While the GPUs themselves will trade blows, the HD 4770’s limited memory bandwidth will definitely come into play at higher resolutions, especially when gamers start piling on things like anti-aliasing.

Our test system used an AMD Phenom II X4 955 CPU, an ASUS M4A79T Deluxe motherboard, 4GB of Corsair XMS3 DDR3 RAM, an OCZ Vertex SSD and of course the card itself.

3DMark Vantage results:

Category 3DMark Vantage score 3DMark06 score
Overall score P7274 12195 3DMarks
GPU subscore 6661

Bioshock results:

Settings

Minimum framerate Maximum framerate Average framerate
GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770
1680×1050, settings maxed 66 fps 58 fps 192 fps 163 fps 103.8 fps 93.9 fps
1920×1200, settings maxed 61 fps 56 fps 145 fps 125 fps 84.9 fps 81.4 fps

Bioshock unsurprisingly ran beautifully on the HD 4770, with even minimum framerates far above the line where it stops being easy on the eyes.  This benchmark sets the tone for the rest of the review, with the GTS 250 1GB edging out the HD 4770 512MB by between five and ten percent.

Call of Duty: World at War results (4x AA/AF):

Settings Minimum framerate Maximum framerate Average framerate
GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770
1680×1050, settings on auto 40 fps 37 fps 82 fps 66 fps 62.6 fps 55.2 fps
1920×1200, settings on auto 38 fps 36 fps 68 fps 60 fps 53.6 fps 46.1 fps

Call of Duty 5 showed similar promising results on the lower midrange card, with an average framerate of 55 frames per second at 1680×1050 resolution.  In this test we kept the anti-aliasing down to 4x and the anisotropic filtering off.  Without meaning to, this may be slightly misleading since it’s at the higher resolutions/AA/AF that the memory limitations inherent in the 4770 will stand out, and they just won’t be seen here.

Left 4 Dead results (8xAA/no AF):

Settings Minimum framerate Maximum framerate Average framerate
GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770
1680×1050, settings maxed 48 fps 52 fps 135 fps 133 fps 87.1 fps 98.1 fps
1920×1200, settings maxed 34 fps 56 fps 103 fps 103 fps 68.7 fps 80.1 fps

Left 4 Dead isn’t exactly a graphically complex game, so it’s not too hard for graphics cards to run against.  L4D has so many utterly random components to the game that it’s always difficult to gauge how well a video card is performing at any given time.  Our benchmarking took place on the first level, where zombies tend to horde a little less than normal.  Still, both cards did well here, and surprisingly, the HD 4770 kicked the pants off of the GTS 250.

Crysis v1.2 results (no AA/AF):

Settings Minimum framerate Maximum framerate Average framerate
GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770
1920×1200, all settings medium 18 fps 19 fps 60 fps 54 fps 39.5 fps 35.9 fps
1680×1050, all settings high 17 fps 15 fps 46 fps 36 fps 29.1 fps 26.3 fps
1920×1200, all settings high 14 fps 13 fps 39 fps 33 fps 26.4 fps 22.9 fps

Crysis Warhead results (no AA/AF):

Settings Minimum framerate Maximum framerate Average framerate
GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770 GTS 250 HD 4770
1920×1200, all settings mainstream 20 fps 20 fps 55 fps 51 fps 40.7 fps 38.1 fps
1680×1050, all settings gamer 14 fps 12 fps 44 fps 34 fps 29.8 fps 25.4 fps
1920×1200, all settings gamer 12 fps 9 fps 35 fps 30 fps 24.8 fps 20.0 fps

The Crysis games always do a great job of stressing out the latest video cards great and small.  If there’s anything to learn from this benchmark, it’s that the 4770 won’t be playing any of the Crytek engine games without stepping down to the lower end of the detail spectrium.  Pushing detail levels down is typically easier on a graphics card than resizing you’re revoluion.  More to the point, though, the 4770 did perform admirably, garnering almost forty frames per second at higher resolutions once the details were turned down to less than half of their maximum levels.  Still, the game looked more than good enough to play through, despite the limited nature of the graphics card.

Power, Heat and Noise
In addition to the high performance for dollar ratio, ATI also goes on and on about the power efficiency found in this card.  At idle, our system ran around 128 watts of power.  The kicker, though, is when the graphics card sped up to maximum output: even then, the test system would only draw around 205 Watts.  With power comes heat, however, and the HD 4770 handled it with aplomb.  At idle, the card hovered around 46 degrees Celsius.  Once the OpenGL FurMark benchmark was up and running for a good half an hour, the temperature had only increase to a max of 67 degrees Celsius.  This is pretty low for graphics cards but more importantly for ATI specially, since most of their recent video card releases have run very, very hot. 

To keep heat down, there needs to be a fan or twelve, and in this case it’s the same cylindrical fan we’ve been seeing on several graphics cards lately.  MSI’s version of the ATI HD 4890 performed very well in the cooling arena, with increased temperatures meeting gradually increasing fan speeds.  Since the card increased the fan speeds gradually and not all at once, it was hard to pick up the fans getting louder at all.  Unfortunately, the HD 4770 seems to suffer from short, staccato bursts.  As the temperature of the GPU begins to rise, the fan will suddenly kick in, run for three or four seconds, and quit out just as suddenly as it came.  This is extremely distracting, since at full blast the card sounds like a blow dryer.  It’s hard to keep up an assault on thecard for this, however, since it’s not an official board from a major board partner, and firmware can always be tweaked.  Fortunately, for those users stuck with loud and annoying fans, there are always applications out there than can help overcome and change the fan speed settings.

Conclusion
Overall, the new ATI Radeon HD 4770 offers tremendous value for the money.  At under $100, users get the oppotunity to play almost any game at lower settings and most older ones even higher.  In addition to its great gaming performance, the HD 4770 is fairly power efficient, needing less than 80 watts to run the board. At first the naming convention is a little hard to understand, since the performance of the HD 4770 puts it in the middle between the HD 4830 and the HD 4850.  It makes sense, however, looking at the card from more of a physical standpoint, as it does have a different GPU, different manufacturing process and different targeted market segment.

ATI makes the point that during the recent economic downturn, users are increasingly looking toward the lower end of the market segment to fulfill their computer needs, and it looks like they’re right.  With a rebate pushing the price down to less than one hundred dollars, consumers can purchase a relatively cheap card that will push over 30 frames per seconds in a high resolution game of Crysis on medium settings.  Compared to the cards and price points of just a yeer ro so ago, it’s shocking how good today’s deals are. 

If nothing else, ATI has shown that they’ve got the chops to take on NVIDIA in essentially any of the market points they control and win.  The exceptional value for the price is evident and if a user were building a new computer today, it’d be hard to go wrong with this card. 

Pros

  • Low power consumption
  • Not too hot
  • $99!

Cons

  • Fan kicking on/off is striking
  • Dual-slot cooling design
  • Lower memory bandwidth compared to other cards


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