by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko , Anton Shilov
04/27/2009 | 05:33 PM
All PC gaming enthusiasts remember that about a year ago the graphics division of Advanced Micro Devices, former ATI technologies, performed a real revolution in the sub-$200 price segment having set a new performance standard. Radeon HD 4850 turned into a real legend since then and proved to be a true “people’s product” as its price dropped down to $129. As a result, ATI not just improved its position in the 3D gaming market, but pressed Nvidia quite noticeably in several market segments. A year is a pretty long period of time for IT industry, so time has come for a new revolution. What has ATI prepared for us this time?
We all know very well that even though the flagship is the face of the squadron, the actual battles are usually fought by smaller “ships”. Yes, monsters like ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 boast unprecedented performance; however, it comes at extremely high price, which may often make over half of the budget for the entire platform. Far not every gamer is ready to buy a graphics card for the price of a complete gaming console.
As we have already mentioned, it is usually graphics cards priced around $100 that turn out the most demanded. However, until recently, the low price could get you pretty mediocre performance in contemporary games.
ATI Radeon HD 4670 was AMD’s first attempt to turn things around in this segment, but it wasn’t very successful: although the new card performed pretty well, it was still defeated by Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT in most gaming tests. Another attempt was the launch of Radeon HD 4830 aimed at a gaping breach between Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4670, however solutions built from cut-down high-performance configurations are always temporary. Although Radeon HD 4830 turned out a very successful card, it was evident right from the start that is had to be replaced with a new solution with similar or better performance at a lower price. Since the graphics card prices kept going down it was no longer profitable to use RV770 and Radeon HD 4850 PCB layout.
So, Radeon HD 4770 announced today, on April 27, 2009, became this new solution. ATI often testdrives some technological innovations on inexpensive graphics solutions first and Radeon HD 4770 is no exception: it is based on RV740 – the world’s first graphics processor manufactured with 40nm process. It is also the first budget graphics adapter equipped with GDDR5 memory. The new solution promises to be pretty exciting from all standpoints that is why our today’s review will try to reveal if the new Radeon HD 4770 can really perform a revolution in the budget gaming segment. But at first let’s check out the technical details.
The new card has the following standing amidst the ATI Radeon HD 4000 family:
Click to enlarge
The RV740 is 312 million transistors more complex than the RV730. As a result, it has twice the computing capacity (640 ALUs against 320 ALUs) and twice the rasterization performance (16 RBEs against 8 RBEs). On the other hand, the new chip is 130 million transistors simpler than the RV770. Considering that the graphics cores of the Radeon HD 4830 and Radeon HD 4770 have the same configuration (640 ALUs, 32 TMUs, 16 RBEs), we can calculate the theoretical cost of the two disabled SIMD modules of the former. Easy to see, 160 ALUs (32 superscalar processors) and 8 texture processors take 130 million transistors, and one such module takes 65 million transistors.
As we’ve said above, the RV740 has eight SIMD modules, so the total amount of transistors for the computing and texture resources of the RV740 is 520 million. For the RV770 with its 10 SIMD modules the number is 650 million transistors. Thus, there is 306 million transistors left for each GPU. They are used to implement the rest of the GPU subunits: RBEs with memory controllers, task scheduler, PCIe interface, display controllers, UVD video processor and HDMI audio core.
There is only one trick here: the RV740 has a 128-bit external memory interface. Judging by the flowchart above, the new core has one memory controller with two 32-bit channels per each two RBEs (equivalent to 8 ROPs). The RV770 has four such controllers, so the RV740 is theoretically simpler.
If we get back to our mathematics, the first implementation of ATI’s unified architecture R600 incorporated 720 million transistors and had a 512-bit memory bus. The second generation employed the RV670 core with only half the memory bus width. The RV670 consisted of 666 million transistors, which means a difference of 54 million transistors. We have but rough estimates here because the second-generation Radeon HD differed from the first generation not only with the memory bus width but also with other innovations such as DirectX 10.1 support and the hardware video-processor UVD. Still, we can estimate the four 64-bit memory controllers at 40-45 million transistors. And two such controllers equal 20-22 million transistors.
This is how much simpler the RV740 should be theoretically, but we know its actual complexity. So, we can only make guesses about what the extra millions of transistors do. Do they implement some internal improvements or the new core potentially has a 256-bit memory bus that is kept secret for the time being?
Otherwise, the RV740 and the RV740-based Radeon HD 4770 seems to be a predictable and yet promising product. It is predictable because the new card is in fact a Radeon HD 4830 implemented on a new technological level. And it is promising because the core frequency of 750MHz should allow this card to beat the Radeon HD 4830 and be not much slower than the Radeon HD 4850. We need to check these suppositions in practice, though.
Just like with Radeon HD 4890, the first batch of RV740 based graphics cards will use ATI’s reference design and only a little later the market will welcome unique products with proprietary layouts. Although Advanced Micro Devices graphics division speaks of sub-$100 price point, it is not quite so. The new product MSRP is set at $109, and the $99 price is what you get after rebate. New graphics cards are going to start selling widely right after the official launch.
The new AMD budget graphics accelerator looks very similar to Radeon X1950 XTX, primarily because of the cooling system casing. The card is very compact, it is only 20.7cm long, which means it will fit in almost any system case, including barebone solutions like Antec NSK1380.
Although they used 128-bit memory bus that made the PCB circuitry quite simple, the board is “packed” with electronic components, mostly because they used 8 memory chips and pretty powerful voltage regulator circuitry. Although they use new 40nm production technology to make their new RV740, which should demonstrate pretty modest power consumption, there is a three-phase voltage regulator with three power transistors in each phase.
The heart of this VRM is the L6788A controller from ST Microelectronics that we haven’t seen on graphics cards yet. This chip supports software control over the output voltage with 1.35V being the maximum. Therefore, real overclocking enthusiasts will most likely need to resort to hardware voltmodding. The voltage regulator works at only 200kHz frequency that is why they used regular polar capacitors with polymeric dielectric for the regulator circuitry. Compared with more powerful graphics cards’ VRM working at 1MHz+ frequencies, it is a definite step backwards. However, the use of low-frequency circuitry lowers the production costs, which is very important for a sub-$100 solution.
The memory voltage regulator uses a single-phase circuitry with uP6101 chip from uPI Semiconductor performing as a PWM-controller.
We would like to pay special attention to a very interesting Renesas R2J20602NP chip located beneath CrossFire connectors. It combines MOSFET and corresponding drivers within the same packaging and can work at up to 2MHz frequency returning about 40A current. These chips are generally known as DrMOS (Driver-MOSFET) and are often used in CPU voltage regulator circuitry of advanced mainboards. However, the role of R2J20602NP in the Radeon HD 4770 voltage regulator is still a mystery to us.
The card may have separate voltage regulators for memory VDD and VDDQ, but why would anyone want to use a super-powerful solution capable of handling 40A and theoretically powerful enough for the entire Radeon HD 4770?
We also expected Radeon HD 4770 to require no external power and to receive enough through the corresponding part of the PCI Express x16 slot. However, ATI’s reference design offers at least one 6-pin PCIe 1.0 connector with up to 75W capacity. We are going to find out later if this connector is really needed.
The card is equipped with 8 GDDR5 chips from Qimonda marked as IDGV51-05A1F1C-40X. According to the manufacturer specification, these 512Mbit chips can work at up to 1000 (4000) MHz frequency with 1.5V voltage as 16Mx32 or 32Mx16. Since RV740 uses a 128-bit external memory bus, they use the latter mode.
The current GPU-Z version reports incorrect memory frequency for Radeon HD 4770: 850 (3400) MHz. In fact, the correct frequency is displayed in Default Clock field: 800 (3200) MHz. The graphics memory works at this frequency providing about 51.2GB/s peak bandwidth. It is a remarkably high value for a graphics solution with a 128-bit memory bus. However, now that GDDR5 gets more and more widespread, these numbers may become more and more common. The use of memory chips capable of working at up to 1000 (4000) MHz frequencies suggests that the video memory on this graphics card may be seriously overclocked, however, let’s not jump ahead of our story here.
40nm manufacturing process allowed to significantly reduce the size of RV740 die. You can see right away that RV740 is much smaller than RV630, even though it has 312 million more transistors than RV730 (RV740 has 826 million transistors). However, there is also a similarity: the die inside the package sits at a 45-degree angle and the package itself has no protective frame around it. The GPU marking tells you only the production date: week 11 of 2009 that falls onto March 8-14, 2009.
As we know, Radeon HD 4770 boasts pretty advanced technical characteristics for a sub-$100 solution. It contains 128 super-scalar computational units each with 5 ALU (640 ALU total, twice as many as by RV670) that are arranged into 8 SIMD cores. 4 texture processors are responsible for each SIMD core (32 TMU total). Raster operations are performed by four large Render Back-Ends (RBE) that are equivalent to 16 regular ROPs. This way, the configuration of Radeon HD 4770 functional units makes it equivalent to Radeon HD 4830 with that only difference that the former works at much higher frequency: 750MHz vs. 575MHz. It gives us reasons to expect considerably higher gaming performance from the newcomer. It is a true leap forward compared with Radeon HD 4670.
The interface connectors on the new Radeon HD 4770 are quite standard. They include a pair of dual-channel DVI-I ports supporting resolutions up to 2560x1600 and sound output over HDMI, a seven-pin mini-DIN port delivering analogue video output in S-Video, Composite and YPbPr formats, and two CrossFireX interface connectors. This is the most optimal configuration today because you can easily implement VGA and HDMI connections with the corresponding DVI-I adapters. As for DisplayPort, it is not popular enough yet to justify the support of this standard in gaming graphics accelerators, even though RV740 does have this feature. I have to say that analogue video out support looks a little bit archaic for the year 2009, but it hardly affects the production cost and retail price of the product, so cannot be regarded as a drawback by all means. Especially, since quite a few users out there may actually need it.
Radeon HD 4770 cooling system uses a well-established solution with a radial fan that removes hot air outside the system case. We will not dwell on its detailed description again, because we have already discussed it multiple times in our previous articles. However, there is one thing that we would like to draw your attention to.
As you know, starting with Radeon HD 2900 ATI have been using high-quality but rather noisy fans from NTK Technologies for their reference cooling systems. These fans became known for a typical crackling of the bearing even at low rotation speed. This is why these cooling solutions have been criticized fairly multiple times by users seeking quiet comfort. Finally, Radeon HD 4770 has come to turn things around here.
As you see, the new cooler uses a Delta Electronics fan. Moreover, our regular readers should know the BFB1012 model very well, because Nvidia use exact same fan for their reference coolers, and they are known for being pretty quiet. Therefore, we have every reason to expect Radeon HD 4770 to work very quietly, too.
Like in most similar systems, the heatsink is made of thin aluminum plates and uses two heatpipes to connect to the cooler base, which is made of aluminum. The contact area is covered with a layer of traditional dark-gray thermal grease, while the rest of the base is covered with clear protective film. They may have done it to eliminate the possibility of a short circuit. However, I can hardly imagine how the cooler base could shift far enough to short circuit any of the PCB electronic components without ruining the fragile GPU first. The base is attached to the card PCB with four threaded spindles, spring screws and an X-shaped metal backplate. As usual, hot air goes through a number of vertical slits in upper part of the card retention bracket: despite being a budget solution, Radeon HD 4770 uses a two-slot cooling system. It is not very common for a sub-$100 graphics adapter, but if it proves worthy in games, we will be able to forgive it. :)
The memory chips are cooled with a special shallowly ribbed metal plate that contacts GDDR5 chips through rubber-like thermal pads. The specifics of its retention also help prevent the bending of the graphics card PCB.
This cooling solution looks pretty promising, primarily due to Delta Electronics fan. However, if the rotation control system is set up too aggressively, we won’t achieve the desired level of acoustic comfort. However, let’s not speculate anymore and check things out in real tests.
Since RV740 is the first GPU manufactured with 40nm process, it is extremely interesting to investigate its power consumption. Of course, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to check it out and used the following testbed for our experiments:
Following our standard procedure, the 3D load was created by the first SM3.0/HDR test from 3DMark06 running in a loop at 1600x1200 with forced 4x FSAA and 16x AF. The 2D load was emulated by the 2D Transparent Windows test from PCMark05.
Click to enlarge
The results turned out absolutely shocking: the peak power consumption of our Radeon HD 4770 didn’t exceed 50W in 3D mode, while Radeon HD 4830 with the same core configuration but working at only 575MHz frequency consumed around 85W! Excellent unprecedented result! Moreover, Radeon HD 4770 has no real need for a separate power connector: the total load on both +12V power lines is a little over 47W, while the power part of the PCI Express x16 slot may provide up to 75W of power. In other words, even if we power the card solely through the PCIe x16 slot, there still will be more than enough reserves for serious overclocking. I am sure that ATI partners will soon roll out Radeon HD 4770 modifications like that, too.
The thermals of the new graphics processor matched its economical character:
In idle mode the temperature stayed stably around 43-44°C in an open testbed and around 52°C in a closed system case. In burn mode the GPU temperature didn’t exceed 65-66°C in both cases, at least according to Catalyst Control Center. These are excellent results, especially considering that the card is almost noiseless.
I would like to remind you that the noise measured in our lab at a 1m distance from the system case equipped with a passively cooled graphics card is 43dBA, which is a starting point for all our noise measurements. So, the results of Radeon HD 4770 turned out as follows:
The card is subjectively noiseless and the fan rotation speed is set at 32% in Catalyst Control Center.
Nevertheless, we discovered an issue with the fan rotation speed control logics of Radeon HD 4770 samples: sometime it would increase the fan rotation speed to its maximum for some reason, which is accompanied by a noise upsurge for 1-2 seconds and then the card gets quiet again. It happens pretty rarely, but always unexpectedly, which may be quite annoying. The graphics division of Advanced Micro Devices is aware of the problem, so it should be fixed in the mass production graphics cards.
Unfortunately, the official Radeon HD 4770 overclocking tools - Catalyst Control Center control panel – has very limited functionality: the maximum GPU frequency is only 830MHz, and maximum memory frequency 850 (3400) MHz.
The card worked stably at these speeds, but the 40nm GPU could definitely do better than that. And we did find a way of overcoming the unfounded limitation by slightly modifying the latest RivaTuner version. In order to teach this popular utility to work with RV740, you need to open Rivatuner.cfg file, get to [GPU_1002] section and locate the “RV770 = 9440h-9443h,944Ch” line. Then you have to add “94B3h” descriptor to it.
This method allowed us to overclock Radeon HD 4770 to 860MHz GPU and 975 (3900) MHz memory frequency. The card remained stable at these frequencies and went through the entire test session without nay failures.
It is extremely interesting not just for overclocking fans, but for everyone to see how well the newcomer will perform at higher frequencies. That is why we are going to include these results together with the performance in the nominal mode. So, let’s move on to the gaming performance analysis.
We are going to investigate the performance of Radeon HD 4770 graphics card on our universal testbed with the following configuration:
The graphics card drivers were configured in the same way as before: to provide the highest possible quality of texture filtering and to minimize the effect of default software optimizations. As a result, our ATI and Nvidia driver settings looked as follows:
The list of benchmarks includes the following gaming titles and synthetic tests:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game using standard tools provided by the game itself from the gaming menu. The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We made a few exceptions for selected games if that was necessary. We are going to specifically dwell on each exception like that later on in our article.
Besides Radeon HD 4770 we have also included the following graphics accelerators to participate in our test session:
We ran our tests in the following resolutions: 1280x1024, 1680x1050 and 1920x1200. Since Radeon HD 4770 belongs to the sub-$100 price range, we decided not to run any tests in 2560x1600 resolution. Everywhere, where it was possible we added MSAA 4x antialiasing to the standard anisotropic filtering 16x. We enabled antialiasing from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers.
Performance was measured with the games’ own tools and the original demos were recorded if possible. We measured not only the average speed, but also the minimum speed of the cards where possible. Otherwise, the performance was measured manually with Fraps utility version 2.9.8. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three for the performance charts.
Starting from version 1.3 we use the game’s integrated benchmarking options together with a custom demo record. Unfortunately, this method does not report the bottom frame rate.
Despite its modest specs, particularly the 128-bit memory bus, ATI’s newcomer takes a good start, outperforming the Radeon HD 4830 as well as GeForce 9800 GT and being quite competitive to the more expensive GeForce GTS 250 512MB. This is not to say that its narrow memory bus does not affect its performance. It is perfectly clear that the gap between the Radeon HD 4770 and Radeon HD 4830 shrinks from 17 to 7% as the resolution grows up, yet ATI’s decision to use GDDR5 together with a 128-bit memory interface works here.
The current Radeon HD architecture is known to show its full worth at frequencies of 700MHz and higher, so the 256-bit memory bus does not save the day for the Radeon HD 4830 that has a core frequency of only 575MHz. The new Radeon HD 4770 is but slightly slower than the Radeon HD 4850 at 1280x1024 and 1680x1050 and even at 1920x1200 where it is already limited by its 128-bit memory bus and gives way to the GeForce GTS 250 512MB.
Overclocking provides a performance boost to the level of the Radeon HD 4850 but Crysis Warhead is not the kind of a game that can run quickly on $100 graphics cards, at least at the maximum settings. The frame rates are too low for comfortable play even at 1280x1024.
We disabled the integrated frame rate limiter in the game console for the sake of comparing the cards. The game’s built-in benchmarking options do not provide information about the bottom speed, so there is no such info in the diagrams.
The 128-bit memory bus is not a hindrance for the Radeon HD 4770 although the game engine uses MegaTexture technology. The new card is comparable to the Radeon HD 4850 and GeForce GTS 250 512MB at every resolution and has no rivals when overclocked. In fact, this is just the kind of revolution the Radeon HD 4850 provoked before, but this time it is in the sector of the most affordable gaming graphics cards.
This is a revolution indeed. The Radeon HD 4770 delivers the same performance as the Radeon HD 4850 at resolutions up to 1680x1050 inclusive. It is only at 1920x1200 that it loses its ground, being limited by its memory subsystem, but remains as fast as the GeForce GTS 250 512MB anyway.
When talking about practical play, the Radeon HD 4770 is limited to 1280x1024 in this game at highest settings together with 4x FSAA. Note that the newcomer has a higher bottom speed at that resolution than the Radeon HD 4850. This is an excellent result for a graphics card with a recommended price of only $109.
The Radeon HD 4770 is 6-7% behind the Radeon HD 4850 even at 1920x1200. Moreover, the new card provides higher comfort at the latter resolution as it has a higher bottom speed. The RV740-based solution even beats the RV770-based one when overclocked!
The best result in this test is from the GeForce GTS 250 512MB, yet the Radeon HD 4770 delivers comfortable conditions at resolutions up to 1920x1200, too, while being somewhat cheaper.
The game runs on the Source engine and has an integrated benchmark, but the latter does not report the bottom speed information.
As opposed to most other tests, the difference in performance between the Radeon HD 4700 and Radeon HD 4830 is no bigger than 7%. However, the new card from ATI is fast enough for playing at 1920x1200 together with full-screen antialiasing. When overclocked to 860MHz GPU and 975 (3900) MHz memory frequencies, the new card becomes as fast as the Radeon HD 4850: a little faster at low resolutions and slower than it at high resolutions.
To achieve a playable speed in this game we disabled FSAA and such resource-consuming options as Sun rays, Wet surfaces and Volumetric Smoke. We use the Enhanced full dynamic lighting (DX10) mode for our test and additionally enable the DirectX 10.1 mode for the ATI cards.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky shows that the performance of the Radeon HD architecture depends greatly on frequency: the Radeon HD 4830 has no chance against the Radeon HD 4770. The latter is quite good, yet its bottom speed is not high enough for comfortable play at 1280x1024. You need more overclocking for that.
The game is perfectly indifferent to memory subsystem bandwidth, so the Radeon HD 4770 beast the Radeon HD 4850 even when working at the default frequencies, at least at resolutions of 1680x1050 and higher. Considering the price reduction on the Radeon HD 4870 and the low price of the Radeon HD 4770, we can suppose that the Radeon HD 4850 will lose its popularity or even leave the market altogether. That’s how it goes: the device that set a new performance bar in the sector of mainstream graphics cards is now ousted by its successor.
Notwithstanding their memory subsystems, the advantage of the Radeon HD 4770 over the Radeon HD 4830 is growing up along with the display resolution: from 1% at 1280x1024 to an impressive 22% at 1920x1200.
Well, the frame rate is not quite comfortable even at the lowest resolution because the bottom speed is below 20fps (22fps with overclocking). Nvidia’s solutions are better for this game: the GeForce 9800 GT, even with its cut-down core configuration, delivers 25fps without any overclocking.
At the default frequencies the Radeon HD 4770 cannot cope with the resolution of 1920x1200 only, but beats it when overclocked, becoming as fast as the Radeon HD 4850. Overclocked versions of Radeon HD 4770 are going to enjoy high demand, we guess. But even without any overclocking the new card is no worse than the GeForce GTS 250 512MB and even faster than the latter at 1280x1024!
It’s different in Mass Effect: if you force full-screen antialiasing, the entry-level cards are not fast enough for this game that combines FPS and RPG elements. Anyway, the Radeon HD 4700 deserves our praise again. It is no worse than the GeForce GTS 250 512MB and is only 3-4% slower than the Radeon HD 4850 – this can be easily made up for by overclocking.
The Radeon HD 4770 is not much faster than the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT at first, but breaks away from its opponents at 1680x1050 and begins to compete with the GeForce GTS 250 512MB. It is quite successful in the competition: the gap is only 5% then and shrinks to zero at 1920x1200.
Like in many other tests, the new card is as fast as the Radeon HD 4850 at the overclocked frequencies and even beats the latter at 1920x1200 notwithstanding the 128-bit memory bus.
We use the in-game benchmarking tools that do not allow to measure the bottom frame rate. We also enable DirectX 10.1 support for ATI’s solutions.
This is a highly resource-consuming game, and there is no talking about comfortable performance when it comes to $100 graphics cards. Anyway, we can note that the Radeon HD 4770 is close to the Radeon HD 4850 and leaves no chance to the Radeon HD 4830. Also, that’s not enough to compete with Nvidia’s solutions at 1280x1024, which is the only playable resolution here. The Radeon HD 4770 is competitive to the GeForce 9800 GT and even GeForce GTS 250 512MB at the higher resolutions, but is 36% and 44% slower than them at 1280x1024.
The game has a frame rate limiter fixed at 30fps. We could not disable it.
ATI/AMD’s solutions are favourites in this game, and the new Radeon HD 4770 is only 3-6% slower than the Radeon HD 4850 at high resolutions without any overclocking. Unfortunately, although overclocking raises the frame rate up to the in-built limitation, but does not improve the bottom speed of the card.
The recently released add-on to the original game does not introduce any technical innovations but contains a new plotline that allows you to play for the USSR.
The Radeon HD 4770 is not brilliant in World in Conflict: its average performance is comparable to that of the GeForce GTS 250 512MB but its bottom speed is far lower. Well, both cards are far from perfect in terms of bottom speed, and the gameplay is somewhat jerky even at 1280x1024. Anyway, the Radeon HD 4770 is quite good in this test considering its price.
3DMark06 produces interesting results. The new inexpensive card from ATI performs like in the real-life games in the SM2.0 tests, i.e. outperforms the Radeon HD 4830 and is somewhat slower than the Radeon HD 4850. In the SM3.0/HDR tests it is only as good as the former, though. Its performance must be limited by the memory subsystem then: the Radeon HD 4700 has a lower memory bandwidth than the Radeon HD 4830.
We minimize the CPU’s influence by using the Extreme profile (1920x1200, 4x FSAA and anisotropic filtering). We also publish the results of the individual tests across all display resolutions to provide a full picture.
The new card is more predictable in 3DMark Vantage: like in most of the gaming tests, it is comparable to the GeForce GTS 250 512MB at the default frequencies and to the Radeon HD 4850 at the overclocked frequencies.
The first test shows that the Radeon HD 4770 is somewhat superior to the Radeon HD 4850 at 1280x1024 and 1680x1050 but the latter is ahead at 1920x1200. That’s reasonable, considering that this test mostly loads the GPU’s computing resources – the Radeon HD 4770 has a higher core frequency than the Radeon HD 4850, let alone Radeon HD 4830.
The new card is somewhat slower than the RV770-based solution in the second test, though. On the other hand, it is far ahead of the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT and is competitive to the GeForce GTS 250 512MB at resolutions above 1280x1024.
We are going to investigate the decoding performance and playback quality of our today’s testing participants on the following platform:
The following graphics cards took part in our tests:
We used the following tools to estimate the video playback quality in standard (SD) and high-definition (HD) resolutions:
The driver settings remained the same. However, according to the HQV HD suite requirements, the noise suppression and detail levels for Nvidia GeForce graphics cards were set to the maximums.
Keeping in mind that all tests are run under Windows Vista OS without disabling background services, the CPU utilization peaks shouldn’t be regarded as critical. It is much more important how much time it takes the CPU on average to complete the task. Note that the CPU utilization may vary. Therefore, 1-2% difference is not indicative of any advantage of a certain graphics accelerator over the competitor.
To estimate the CPU utilization during full-HD video playback (1920x1080) and full-HD video with enabled “picture-in-picture” (PiP) feature, we used the following movies:
We decided to give up tests with free online media content, because of an ongoing discussion as to whether this sort of performance analysis is justified and credible. As an excuse we can also say that a pretty popular Matroska (.mkv) container is currently not supported by existing commercial software.
The HQV benchmarks from Silicon Optix are one of the few available methods of evaluating the playback quality of Blu-ray, DVD and HD DVD movies. They have at least one objective drawback, however: perception subjectivism.
The three major developers of graphics solutions, ATI/AMD, Intel and Nvidia, are constantly optimizing video playback settings in their drivers, which improved the playback quality in general as well as HQV HD result in particular. Unfortunately, ATI and Nvidia do not take the HQV test seriously as not very high results indicate.
So, considering the subjective nature of this test, you should not view the HQV and HQV HD results as the ultimate truth.
Although DVD has become obsolete, ATI Radeon HD 4770 can’t boast high performance in it. The problem will most likely be resolved in the new drivers, and at this time we can only state that DVD playback is not among the strengths of the new graphics accelerator.
HD video playback quality on ATI Radeon HD 4770 is practically ideal: the chip shows the highest results in HQV HD test.
ATI Radeon graphics processors traditionally demonstrate lower CPU utilization than Nvidia GeForce solutions even when picture-in-picture mode is on. It results from hardware support of bit-stream processing for VC-1 codec implemented in all ATI Radeon HD 2000/3000/4000 solutions. New ATI Radeon HD 4770 performs very well, as has been expected; however, there is no breakthrough here: it performs just like its predecessors. Besides, RV740 chip utilizes the CPU much more than ATI Radeon HD 4650/4670.
As opposed to VC-1, there are no winners or losers with MPEG4 AVC/H.264: the average CPU load varies from 20-25%, which is low. The ATI Radeon HD 4770 is good in this test, but its CPU load is higher than that of the ATI Radeon HD 4650/4670. We guess it is due to its new driver not being quite polished off yet.
MPEG2 has been very long on the market, and there is an integrated MPEG2 decoder in each modern GPU, so it is quite a surprise to see such a high CPU load in the Alien versus Predator movie. Perhaps this is a driver’s fault or the developer’s neglect of this codec.
The ATI Radeon HD 4770 has satisfactory results, being just as good as the other cards. Considering that the CPU load grows up to 40% at some moments, you should not save on the CPU for your HTPC if you’ve got a 4770 as your graphics card.
Now, let’s summarize a little. It is about a year since AMD’s graphics department provoked a revolution in the sector of inexpensive gaming graphics cards with the release of Radeon HD 4850. It looks like the revolutionary aspirations of ATI Technologies have become a tradition. The newly announced Radeon HD 4770 is even better in some aspects than its predecessor. The transition to the 40nm tech process is nothing extraordinary in itself, yet the new card’s performance in games is really amazing.
The fact that a $100 graphics card is only 5-7% slower than the Radeon HD 4850 is indeed fantastic and signifies that the wave of revolutionary change has finally arrived to the sector of the most inexpensive gaming products.
The Radeon HD 4770 leaves its market opponents, Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT, far behind, outperforming them by an average 14 and 17%, respectively. The average difference between the new card and the GeForce GTS 250 512MB is less than 1%. But if you consider the results of the individual tests, you can see that Nvidia’s solution is somewhat more confident at 1280x1024 because the Radeon HD 4770 wins only 5 tests, including Red Alert 3 (thanks to which it has such a high average). On the other hand, the Radeon HD 4770 is far inferior to the GeForce GTS 250 512MB in only three games: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, Prince of Persia and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.
At a resolution of 1680x1050 the average advantage of the new card over the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT is 15 and 20%, respectively, and the advantage over the GeForce GTS 250 512MB grows to 2%. The Radeon HD 4770 is only far slower than the latter card in two tests now: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. Considering the difference in price, the Radeon HD 47700 is the winner.
When it comes to the resolution of 1920x1200, the Radeon HD 4770 beats the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT, outperforming them by an average 16% and 29%. It also leaves the GeForce GTS 250 behind in most of the tests, except for F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin where it is 26% slower. In the other four losses, the Radeon HD 4770 is slower by less than 13%. The average difference between the Radeon HD 4770 and Radeon HD 4850 is only 7%, which can be easily eliminated by means of overclocking. And this is a graphics card with a 128-bit memory bus and fewer ALUs and texture processors! What is especially amazing, the Radeon HD 4770 maintains a playable frame rate in quite many games. That’s very good news since the resolution of 1920x1200 is not a prerogative of 24-inch or larger monitors anymore. The resolution of 1920x1080 is getting popular, too.
Thus, the Radeon HD 4770 is a revolutionary product indeed as it can deliver excellent performance, equal to the previous year’s $200 solutions, for only $100 or even less. Moreover, the new card from ATI is compact, quiet and economical despite the complexity of its GPU, thanks to the 40nm tech process. Additionally, like the rest of the ATI Radeon HD 4000 family, it is endowed with advanced multimedia capabilities including a full-featured hardware HD video decoder and an integrated HDMI audio core.
Right now, Nvidia does not have anything that might compete with the Radeon HD 4700 as it easily beats the GeForce 9800 GT, let alone GeForce 9600 GT, whereas the GeForce GTS 250 belongs to higher price category even in its 512MB version. The release of the Radeon HD 4770 means that the Radeon HD 4850 is going to leave the market: officially priced at $129, it is no faster than the cheaper Radeon HD 4770 whereas the higher-performance Radeon HD 4870 now costs only $149. And this does not seem to be the limit of price reduction.
Summing up everything we have just said, Radeon HD 4770 has every right to be titled the best budget graphics accelerator – it has a ton of advantages and we couldn’t find any serious drawbacks.