Back when we first reviewed ATI's HD 4770, mid-range graphics card, we noted that all the cards available in the shops seemed to use a different cooler than the one on our reference board, which was provided directly by ATI. A quick chat to ATI and some of its board partners revealed that this basically came down to the fact that the reference cooler was more expensive than alternatives but offered little real world advantage so most partners went with a cheaper design. So, today we're going to set the record straight and find out how this different cooler holds up both thermally and acoustically and whether these board partners were right to penny pinch.
The card we've got to test is made by HIS, one of ATI's longest running board partners. HIS has in the past been known for its collaboration with Arctic Cooling, to provide coolers for its products, however the origins of the cooler used on the HD 4770 we're looking at today is not known. What we do know is it's very similar to many of the cooler's being used on other HD 4770 designs so should be representative of a fair chunk of these boards too. Before we get onto the specifics of the cooler, though, let's just quickly recap on what the HD 4770 chip is.
The ATI HD 4770 was the world's first commercially available graphics chip to be produced on a 40nm manufacturing process. As such it set a new standard for performance within a certain thermal and power consumption envelope. However, it is only a mid-range, or mainstream card so isn't the fastest solution on the planet. When we first reviewed it, though, the £70 - £80 it demanded made it a good buy. We'll see if that's still the case here today.
If you'd like a full break down of what's inside the HD 4770, we refer you to our review of the original HD 4770 but for a quick summary we've included our comparison table below.
Getting back to the differences between the reference card and the HIS we're looking at today, the most obvious thing about this different cooler design is that it doesn't suck in air from the front of the card, blow it across the GPU and exhaust it out the back (and thus the case as well). Instead, the fan for this cooler sits directly on top of the GPU and blasts air downwards onto a surrounding heatsink from where the hot air just drifts off around the insides of your case, rather than being exhausted out the back. This is a major issue if your case doesn't otherwise have good air flow to get rid of the accumulating hot air.
On top of this, the cheaper cooler doesn't incorporate heatsinks for the memory chips. Instead the fan just blows air directly onto the memory chips, which is arguably a better way of cooling them anyway.
We also noticed, as is quite common for partner boards, that HIS has removed quite a few components from the PCB as compared with the reference design. These components consist mostly of capacitors and high power transistors in and around the power regulation part of the circuit. They are used to smooth out and control the power being fed to the more power sensitive components of the card (i.e. the GPU itself) and are meant to help with overclocking and stability. Essentially partners remove as much of this 'non-essential' circuitry as possible to save money, which does sound bad but, assuming you have a decent power supply, you shouldn't notice a difference. Certainly, in our testing we noticed no ill effects at all.