- Review Price: £86.24
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.
While the back plate of the card only uses a single slot, the cooler is tall enough that it will interfere with the adjacent expansion card slot. Outputs are the same as on pretty much every other modern graphics card with two dual-link DVI sockets flanking an analogue video output. The DVIs can be used in conjunction with DVI-to-VGA and DVI-to-HDMI adapters, one each of which is included in the box, while the latter supports S-Video.
Aside from those display adapters, there’s not much else of note in the box unless you count a driver disc, a sticker, and a quick start manual worthy of attention.
Despite there being nothing about this card that would suggest it might perform differently to our reference board, we still gave it a full once over in our performance tests. What we found was both interesting and probably entirely inconsequential. There were consistent differences of up to 5fps between the two cards with the reference card being slightly faster on average. However, the scores did fluctuate right across our testing with the HIS card often out performing the reference board. Ultimately, the scores are ”just” close enough that we can put this down to margin of error so we don’t think it’s something that should affect your buying decision.
Once we’d established that this card could maintain performance parity with the reference board we set about assessing the effectiveness of the different cooler. To start, we checked thermal performance by reading the reported GPU temperature using ATI’s drivers. At idle the HIS card was 2 degrees Celsius cooler than the reference card (42 vs 44), which is quite a good start. We then checked again while the card was running our Crysis benchmark at 1,920 x 1,200 with 2xAA and found that the HIS HD 4770 actually improved its lead making it 8 degrees cooler than the reference board (62 vs 70).
Of course, this wouldn’t be a particularly brilliant achievement if the cooler wasn’t also quiet so we set our test bed up in our sound isolation box and checked the noise these cards made under the same conditions as our previous thermal tests. Remarkably the HIS card once again came out victorious with an idle noise level of 37dB and 41dB when under load. In contrast, the reference board could only manage 44dB while idling and 49dB when under load. We did notice both cards spun up to an even noisier level once each during our testing but only for half a second or so and we couldn’t get either card to repeat this, no matter how much we stressed them.
Were the review to end here, this would seem like an out and out victory for the HIS card and all others that use a similar cooler. However, this particular card seems to have limited availability and where it is available the price is a little higher than the competition for no apparent reason.
The HIS HD 4770 (H477F512P) is a great graphics card for those building a modest gaming PC with ample performance, quiet operation, and low power consumption. However, as of right now, there are other versions of the HD 4770 with the same cooler available for less money.
Score in detail
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