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ATI Radeon HD 4770 512MB GDDR5 Review

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SKYMTL

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ATI Radeon HD 4770 512MB GDDR5 Review





Even though I (along with probably everyone else on this planet) am sick and tired of hearing the word “recession”, we can’t escape the fact that the economy and our savings are taking one hell of a beating. Because of this, more and more people are being forced to take a step back and reevaluate what they are doing with their money and shift cash from unnecessary purchases to the essentials. That means the high tech industry in particular has been hit hard considering many people are holding off on purchasing big-ticket items such as computers or upgrades. You can only guess where that leaves $400 graphics cards. What the market needed was a budget-concious graphics card that put some serious muscle in cahoots with a great price. Enter the ATI HD 4770.

The HD 4770 is the poster boy for the changing face of ATI. They have forgone the push for a power-hungry monolithic architecture and have instead focused their energies on scalable, more compact GPU cores which can be used for multiple cards in various price ranges. This was first accomplished with the 55nm HD 4800-series and later perfected with the lower end HD 4600 series and more recently the HD 4890 1GB. As technology has progressed, so too has ATI’s shift towards a more price and efficiency-conscious manufacturing processes. While Nvidia has had some serious issues moving from 65nm to 55nm, with the HD 4770 ATI has now gone directly to the use of 40nm chips. What this means for power consumption has yet to be seen but what we can tell you is that a smaller manufacturing process could conceivably allow ATI more pricing flexibility in the long run due to lower production costs. That should translate into a better pricing structure.

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We don’t usually post non-technical PR slides but we feel like the one above is quite telling. Nvidia has been spinning their wheels for some time now with the same G92 core and until recently, their 9800 GT had very little competition. The HD 4830 changed this somewhat but it was not able to best Nvidia’s renamed card in the majority of benchmarks. As such, Nvidia has been getting away with a ~$115 USD price on their mid-range card while the HD 4830 goes for under $100. The HD 4770 with its GDDR5 memory should change that pricing scheme quite a bit since it should outperform the 9800 GT by a relatively wide margin. What this means for the HD 4830 is anyone’s guess but like we always say: competition is a great thing.

If we take back and look at the last few months, ATI seems to have really hit their stride and from the 40nm manufacturing process to the GDDR5, the HD 4770 definitely looks promising. But can it deliver?

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SKYMTL

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ATI HD 4770 Specs / Market Positioning

ATI HD 4770 Specs / Market Positioning


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Even though ATI’s lineup is a bit further-reaching than what you see here (the HD 4870 X2, HD 4650 and lower-end cards were omitted), it is quite apparent that some very interesting things are happening with the release of the HD 4770. Recently, the HD 4830 received a pretty steep price cut to the point where mail in rebates are beginning to bring its price closer to the $80 USD mark. We can assume this was done in order to clear out excess stock before the HD 4770 512MB made its presence felt.

By taking a close look at its specs, it is quite obvious that the HD 4770 512MB will be taking the place of the 55nm HD 4830. The number of ROPs, Texture Units and Stream Processors is a carbon copy of what we saw with the HD 4830 but where the new RV740 core differs is in its smaller 40nm manufacturing process and internal clock speed. The 40nm manufacturing process seems to have helped in two areas: bringing power consumption to a more than manageable level of around 80W under load and allowing ATI run the core at reasonably high clocks.

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Out with the old, in with the new?

However, the one crowning achievement of the HD 4770 is the inclusion of GDDR5 memory. Before today, GDDR5 had been reserved for higher-end cards which carried with them performance and prices that mid-range products could not hope to match. Well, that has now changed with a $99 card sporting some of the fastest memory available on the market. This in turn has allowed ATI to forgo the usual 256-bit wide bus and replace it with a less expensive 128-bit affair. I am sure that some of you will roll your eyes at seeing the specifications for the memory bus but I highly suggest you hold out coming to any rash conclusions until you see how this card actually performs.

ATI used to be the underdog and many of us naturally rooted for them to succeed for that one fact alone. Now they have finally come into their own once again and have an extremely strong lineup to show for it. The HD 4770 seems to be the perfect fit for the current economic conditions and if it is available in large enough numbers, it will take the market by storm. Or at least that’s what ATI hopes…
 
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SKYMTL

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The R700-series Features

The R700-series Features


It seems like in this brave new world of parallel processing capabilities of GPU cores, both ATI and Nvidia are racing to take advantage of the potential the modern graphics card has locked away within its confines. What we will soon see is a massive increase in the performance of certain applications like video transcoding, Folding and physics calculations. ATI has been on this bandwagon for some time now with their Folding @ home application which first came out for X19xx-series graphics cards, made the jump to the R600 / RV670 cores a while ago and has now been moved over to the new HD4800 / HD4700 / HD4600-series as well. With their massive number of stream processors, the RV700-series cards should be able to handle any application thrown at them. Let’s take a look at what ATI has to offer with additional features.


DirectX 10.1

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Even though DX10.1 is a minor update to the Vista-exclusive DX10, ATI feels that its implementation will benefit gamers quite a bit in today’s market. Let’s cut right to the chase: DX10.1 doesn’t offer us anything particularly new in terms of outlandishly new features but it does offer new paths for developers to simplify their code which in turn has the potential to increase performance in certain areas. At present, among the “big two” graphics processor manufacturers, ATI is the only one which supports DX10.1

Even though we run the risk of editorializing here we have to say that ATI’s acceptance of the DX10.1 API seems to be the right thing to do in today’s graphics card industry. After seeing first-hand the performance benefits it brings when applying AA to a DX10 environment in games like Assassin’s Creed we can only express disappointment and outright shock that other GPU manufacturers haven’t followed ATI’s lead. Consumers have been left high and dry without any reason to purchase an OS with DX10 for the simple fact that the performance in impact of DX10 is does not justify minor graphical benefits. DX10.1 works to alleviate those performance hurdles by offering developers more options when producing their games. We can only hope that ATI’s present generation cards become widespread enough that more game developers will implement DX10.1 into their titles.


Crossfire X

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Up until the HD2900-series was introduced, running more than one ATI card was a clumsy affair which included external cables and more headache than should have been necessary. Then they introduced their very own Crossfire bridge connector and it was all sunshine and roses since daisy chaining two, three or even four cards together became possible. This technology continues today with the HD4000-series cards and AMD has promised that users will get better drivers, quick driver revisions and better industry acceptance among game developers.


PowerPlay Technology

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In ATI’s never-ending quest to offer us the most power savings possible they have introduced something called PowerPlay. This technology allows the Catalyst software to dynamically adjust voltages and core speeds depending on the application it is being used for. This results in less idle power consumption and power being distributed when and where you need it.


Havok Physics

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When AMD and Havok announced their partnership to optimize the Havok physics engine to run on ATI hardware, many enthusiasts perked up and listened. Havok Physics has been implemented into a vast variety of games form every single genre the vast majority of the industry’s upcoming blockbuster titles (including Starcraft II) support it. This not only gives ATI’s physics push a massive installed user base but it also guarantees that there will be games with Havok released for years to come. With both ATI and Nvidia firmly entrenched in the war to bring physics processing to a wider market acceptance, we may look back at this point in time as the moment when the renaissance of in-game physics really began.
 

SKYMTL

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Enhancing the Visual Experience

Enhancing the Visual Experience


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ATI’s cards have been the staple of people building HTPCs for some time now with features like UVD, HDMI and high-end audio options. With the HD4000-series, AMD are taking things to the next level with some very interesting advances on their already-established technologies which will make these cards even more appealing to HTPC aficionados and regular consumers alike.

To do this they have set before themselves three primary goals: to provide multi-stream HD playback as supported in Blu-Ray 2.0 profiled movies, to improve the visual quality on HD monitors and to accomplish fast video transcoding by taking advantage of the processing power of the R700-series cores. Considering we have seen in the past how well features like UVD work, any enhancements to already-existing features is more than welcome in today’s quickly changing world of high definition. While we will be going over some of the features ATI has implemented it is just the tip of the iceberg of what is being offered to those of us who use our graphics cards to process HD signals.


UVD 2 – Dual Bitstream Playback

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With Blu-Ray finally winning the high definition format wars, manufacturers have taken lightning-quick steps to step up support for the format. One of the many ways AMD is doing this is through full support of the Blu-Ray 1.1 profile and BD Live (profile 2.0). With UVD 2 the R700-series processors are able to decode two streams of high definition (H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2) content in order to give the viewer the picture-in-picture options present in the 1.1 profile. This gives us the capability to watch a movie in large format while having something like an alternate scene or director’s commentary playing in the smaller picture in the corner of the screen.


High Definition Audio & Video through HDMI & Displayport

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HDMI is quickly becoming the standard of choice for high definition movie and audio aficionados. With the HD3800 series AMD supported 5.1 channel audio-out through the HDMI connector but with the HD4800-series, they have taken things one step further by offering full 7.1 channel output. This means the these new cards will have support for AC3, DTS, Dolby True-HD and DTS HD formats with a full 6.144 Mbps bit rate and 192KHz sample rate along with up to 24 bits/sample. Add to this native HDCP support and true 1080P output and what we have here is a true multimedia powerhouse.

Did we mention that the R700-series core has native support for Display Port as well? Well, it does but it is up to the board partner’s discretion whether or not they add the necessary output connector.


Enhanced DVD Upscaling & Dynamic Contrast

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While there are plenty of us who will use HD signals through the HD4000-series of cards, whether we like it or not we will still be outputting lower definition signals to our wonderful new HDTV every now and then. In these cases, a standard 480i picture will look absolutely horrible if it is scaled up to fit on a high definition 1080P TV so ATI provides the Avivo HD upscaling option in their drivers. What this does is take the low resolution signal and clean it up so to speak so it looks better when displayed on a high definition screen.

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Another interesting feature ATI has packed into their drivers is the Dynamic Contrast Adjustment. Personally, I more often than not adjust the contrast manually based on the application since the values from one game or movie to the next can vary a lot. ATI has taken the guesswork and thrown it out the window by providing a post-processing algorithm which will automatically (and smoothly) adjust the contrast ratio in real time.


AVIVO HD: The Real Deal


Even though we have reviewed quite a few ATI graphics cards which support AVIVO HD technology, we have never really touched upon its benefits. Since this card can caters to the HTPC crowd as much as it does towards the casual gamer crowd, we figured now would be as good a time as any to touch upon the benefits.

First of all, AVIVO HD (and its accompanying UVD 2) offers hardware decoding of high definition video streams which will minimize load on your CPU and thus provide smoother playback. Some Nvidia cards like the 9500GT offer full H.264 decoding and AACS decryption but offloads decoding of VC-1 video streams to the CPU. Meanwhile, all of the cards in ATI’s lineup from the lowest HD 4500-series all the way up to the HD 4800-series support full VC-1 and H.264 hardware decoding. Just remember, you need software which supports hardware decoding such as Cyberlink’s PowerDVD.

Let’s take a look at what is offered in the Catalyst Control Center when it comes to AVIVO options

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When you first enter the AVIVO portion of the CCC, you have a quick-select box which will give you various preset video settings so you won’t have to fiddle around with too many settings to get your desired color levels. However, for those of you with a finer taste for the perfect picture, ATI has more for you.

In the Basic Color section you have all of the, brightness, contrast, tint and saturation controls at your fingertips. There is also a Use Application Settings which will cause any game or software-specific color profiles to override the settings you choose in this section.

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ATI also includes and area with finer color adjustments for skin tone and color vibrancy. Normally, we don’t dare touch these settings but since some movies tend to have different color parameters than others, they come in handy every now and then.

In the Basic Quality section, you are able to control the deinterlacing mode used in videos. While we normally recommend you keep this at its default value, when watching movies on a high resolution screen, I personally set it to Vector Adaptive and Pulldown Dection.

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The two final options you have here are Theatre Mode and All Settings. In Theatre Mode, you are able to scale the video output across multiple displays while the All Settings holds….well...all the settings from the previous sections without their accompanying thumbnail preview.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Radeon HD 4770 512MB

A Closer Look at the Radeon HD 4770 512MB


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The first thing anyone is bound to notice when looking at the HD 4770 for the first time is how much its heatsink differs from past ATI cards. While some of you may be thinking that we received a design with a non-reference cooler; I can assure you that a number of ATI’s board partners will be using this exact heatsink on their initial run of cards. We will take a bit closer look at the heatsink a bit later in this section.

Other than the dual slot cooler and the usual ATI red PCB, there isn’t much to distinguish this card from countless other cards which are on the market today. However, as we take a closer look, you will see that there are a number of interesting differences between the HD 4770 and some other ATI cards.

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Past, present and future ATI cards all seem to have different lengths with the new HD 4770 fitting somewhere between the HD 4670 and the HD 4830. Its 8.25” length means it would a perfect fit for mATX HTPCs.

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The power distribution section on the back of the card consists of a simple 3+1 phase layout consisting of analog chokes, solid state capacitors and digital VRMs. Considering the fact that the 40nm GPU is supposedly quite efficient, this is a pretty robust layout.

Since the HD 4770 uses about 80W when at full load, ATI needed to use a single PCI-E 6-pin connector. This power connector lies next to one item on the PCB which raises a red flag for me: a 2-pin header for the heatsink fan. While it may not seem like much of a problem at first, in our experience a 2-pin header usually means that the fan speed cannot be regulated which more often than not leads to an annoyingly loud card. It is possible that the card regulates fan speed by way of varying voltage to the connector but we highly doubt it. We will have to see how this affects the overall noise levels of the HD 4770.

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The memory modules on the HD 4770 are Qimonda GDDR5 ICs arranged in an 8x64MB pattern. If ATI or one of their board partners chose to, these 64MB chips could easily be substituted out for 128MB units for a total of 1GB of GDDR5. It wouldn’t surprise us one bit to see 1GB HD 4770s making their way onto the market soon after the release date. Interestingly, the hot-running GDDR5 does not have ramsinks installed.

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The underside of the HD 4770 512MB doesn’t really hold anything of interest other than the retention bracket for the heatsink. It should be noted that the spacing between the retention bracket’s holes is 45 mm. This means that while some older heatsinks will fit (any heatsink compatible with the X1650 or 8600GT), newer ones compatible with the HD 4800-series will not fit.

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As with most ATI cards, the HD 4770 uses standard Crossfire connector which can be used to link two cards together for some extra performance. Meanwhile, the backplate has the usual single HDTV Out connector and dual DVI-D outputs.
 
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SKYMTL

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Under the Heatsink / A Closer Look at the Heatsink

Under the Heatsink / A Closer Look at the Heatsink


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Here we have the tiny 40nm RV740 core. As usual, ATI has forgone the use of a large IHS like we usually see on higher-end Nvidia cards and instead allows the core to come in direct contact with the base of the heatsink.

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The cooler used on the HD 4770 is unique among reference cards since it uses a totally exposed copper fin assembly and an oversized 80mm fan. There is a small shroud around the whole affair which leaves a bit of place for manufacturer stickers or advertising materials.

While this whole heatsink looks impressive; it comes with a few potential issues other than the aforementioned 2-pin fan header. First of all, there are no shrouds to make sure that any heat is directed towards the back of your case which means that without sufficient airflow, this card can increase the ambient temperatures within your case. In addition, the whole dual-slot height of this heatsink marks an odd departure from the single slot HD 4830 and HD 4850. Maybe the 40nm core isn’t as cool-running as we all hoped it would be.

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While they may look like copper, the heatsink’s fins are nothing but standard painted aluminum. One way or another, this whole setup should hopefully ensure great cooling for the core. Meanwhile, the base of the cooler is flat but not finished to the highest quality standards. There are some gouges in it and some major tooling marks.
 

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

ATI HD 4770 512MB (Reference)
Palit HD 4870 512MB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 4850 512MB (Stock)
Gigabyte HD 4850 1GB (Stock / custom cooling)
EVGA 9800 GTX+ 512MB (Stock)
EVGA 9800 GT 512MB (Stock)
EVGA 9600 GT 512MB (Stock)



Drivers:

ATI 9.5 Beta (HD 4770)
ATI 9.4
Nvidia 185.66 Beta


Applications Used:

3DMark Vantage
Call of Duty: World at War
Crysis: Warhead
Fallout 3
Far Cry 2
Grand Theft Auto IV
Left 4 Dead
Tom Clancy’s Hawx


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game
 
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SKYMTL

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3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage


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We know synthetic benchmarks don't mean much (or at least Nvidia hopes they don't after seeing this) but Vantage does a good job in separating the men from the boys. It is interesting to see that not only does the HD 4770 beat the HD 4830 but it was also pretty far ahead of the 9800 GTX+ and edged close to the HD 4850. Definitely a very interesting first result.
 

SKYMTL

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Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War


To benchmark this game, we played through 10 minutes of the second mission (Little Resistance) starting from right after the player calls in the rocket strike on the enemy positions on the beach. This was benchmarked using FRAPS.

1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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The HD 4770's performance puts it ahead of the HD 4830 with some very impressive results, especially when it comes to performance without AA enabled. It seems that when AA is enabled, it seems like the HD 4770 takes a performance larger hit than the HD 4830. This is probably due to the fact that the GDDR5's high memory clocks benefit in situations where pure GPU processing power isn't a necessity.
 

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Crysis: Warhead (DX9)

Crysis: Warhead (DX9)


To benchmark Warhead, we recorded a 5 minute timedemo on the Ice level which included ranged and hand to hand combat. The sequence was then played back using the Crysis Benchmarking Tool from HOC

1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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ATI cards have traditionally done well in Crysis Warhead DX9 and that shows through here again. The HD 4770 is actually able to keep ahead of the much more expensive 9800 GTX+ even though its minimum framerates tend to lean in favor of the Nvidia card.
 
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