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The cards
AMD intends for the first Radeon HD 4770 cards to sell for about $110 straight up, but like almost everybody involved in PC hardware these days, AMD and its partners are hooked on mail-in rebates. The initial rebates for 4770 cards should promise $10 on Tuesday (six to eight weeks from now) for a hamburger today, taking the net price down to $100, also known in sales parlance as $99.99.

As complicated as that sounds, the 4770's value proposition should be fairly simple to see. The cards pack 512MB of GDDR5 memory, and the two examples we've seen sport dual-slot coolers that should be relatively quiet.

Here's the Asus card we used in testing, which comes with a very fancy-looking cooler.

This cooler appears quite similar to the one we recently tested on an Asus Radeon HD 4850 that had a major problem: with a card installed in the adjacent slot—either a video card for CrossFire or simply something large enough like a sound card—the fan became starved for air and the GPU overheated. Naturally, we were worried about this cooler having the same problem, so we tested the Asus 4770 in CrossFire for any signs of overheating. Happily, it passed with flying colors, keeping GPU temperatures well in check during extended use without even making too much noise. We've noticed that this particular cooler is affixed to several brands on Radeon HD 4770 cards selling on Newegg, so it must not be an Asus exclusive.

Believe it or not, the card pictured above is our sample of the Radeon HD 4770 from AMD, and it comes complete with a dual-slot cooler that blows hot air out of the expansion port covers. This cooler is quite the improvement over the single-slot reference cooler on the Radeon HD 4850. Compared to the Asus card, this reference one is very perceptibly heavier, likely due to the presence of more copper in the heatsink under that plastic shroud. Don't write the Asus off yet, though. The reference cooler is potentially louder, as we'll show.

We needed a foil for the Radeon HD 4770, and the natural choice would seem to be the GeForce 9800 GT. These sell in the same basic price range as the Radeon HD 4770, although some after-rebate deals can take net prices as low as about 90 bucks.

Asus was kind enough to provide us with a sample of its GeForce 9800 GT Matrix for use in this review, and it's a good representative of the breed, with a tricked-out cooler and a built-in HDMI port. In spite of this extroverted exterior, the Matrix doesn't stray too far from formula. The GPU core clock is up 12MHz from stock, at 612MHz, but its 1500MHz shader and 900MHz memory speeds are bone stock for a 9800 GT.