Given the typical target audience of Overclock3D, you may well be surprised to see a review of a "budget" graphics card. With our Graphics Card section now littered with reviews of Radeon HD 5800 series, GTX 480 and similar graphics cards, sub £100 graphics cards may not appear to have a place here. That said, we fully appreciate that many of today's users cannot justify nor afford today's latest graphics cards. More to the point, many DIY builders simply don't need the power offered by the high end.
HIS are among the most popular ATi Add-In Board Partners, known for selling a variety of innovative graphics cards. Aside factory overclocked editions, HIS are also well known for their own cooling solutions. This is why we're taking a look at the brand's new passively cooled HIS Radeon HD 5550 graphics card.
Many of us have lost sight of the specifications that make a graphics card fit for purpose.
|Model||Radeon HD 5550 (H555HC1G)|
|Stream Processor Count||320|
|Display Outputs||DVI, HDMI, VGA|
Half Height PCB, Passive Cooler
For those who have been part of the hardware scene for at least three years, you would know that the specifications of this graphics card closely resemble some of the high end graphics cards of 2007. Sporting 320 stream processors, a fairly healthy core clock and 1600MHz GDDR3, the technical specifications of the Radeon HD 5550 are within a stones throw of the old (but previously popular) HD 3850. Furthermore, the HD 5550 is smaller, consumes less than half as much power and is passively cooled.
Let's take a look at some photos.
Packaging & Initial Impressions
HIS' box designs are usually quite plain, mostly in white. The key features are mentioned on the front of the box while further details are available on the back
Upon unravelling the packaging, you'll find the bare minimums to get going. HIS have bundled a Driver CD and two low profile brackets in order to install the HD 5550 in shorter/narrower cases.
The HIS Radeon HD 5550 looks very plain in the flesh. Aside it's chunky heatsink that spans both sides of the graphics cards, it looks very much like the basic Radeon 9200SE style products of the past. Also note that there is no Crossfire port.
As previously mentioned, there are three display outputs available; VGA, DVI and HDMI. The VGA port is modular. Thus, if you wish to fit the HD 5550 inside a low profile case, you simply remove the port in question and replace the I/O bracket with the shorter plates included in the box.
Let's get testing.
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition
Gigabyte MA770T UD3P Motherboard
4GB Corsair Dominator GT DDR3-1600 C7 AM3
Samsung Spinpoint F1 320GB SATA II Hard Disk Drive
HIS Radeon HD 5550 1GB GDDR3 Graphics Card
XFX Radeon HD 5670 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
Samsung 22x DVD+/-RW SATA
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Catalyst 10.6 64bit Drivers
For a fair test, we will be comparing the Radeon HD 5550 graphics card against it's bigger brother; the Radeon HD 5670. While they are both based on the same graphics core, the HD 5670 has all 400 stream processors enabled (80 more), features a faster core and GDDR5 memory.
Both graphics cards are being tested with the latest 10.6 drivers from the AMD website on a single testbed.
It came to no surprise that when placed on an open case testbed with limited airflow, the passive cooling solution didn't work particularly well. Over the course of 25 minutes, the temperature increases had shown no sign of plateauing. Once the temperatures pushed over 95c, we decided that enough was enough where we proceeded to cancel the test.
Luckily for the purpose of accurate (and more relevant) temperature testing, we then placed the card in an Antec Fusion HTPC mATX Chassis, where the graphics card reached a maximum temperature of 82c within 10 minutes.
As always with most passively cooled products, a degree of airflow in the environment that surrounds it is required for it to function properly.
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
Recently Unigine produced the fantastic Heaven Benchmark. Based around a ficticious floating village the benchmark makes full use of the Direct X 11 API, most notably with the implementation of Hardware Tesselation. However with graphics cards of this calibre, we have the settings turned all the way down with many of these features (except DX11) disabled.
Err what's going on here? From the word go, it would seem that the HD 5550 is struggling to keep up with the HD 5670. To put these results into context, the HD 5550's average framerate is just 2fps more than the HD 5670's minimum and on average, the bigger brother is 69% faster. Is Unigine's Heaven benchmark just a blip in the charts? Let's continue
Futuremark's 3DMark06 is a means of testing a system's capability as a gaming machine.
Sadly the significant performance difference remains obvious in Futuremark's 3DMark06 suite, where the HD 5670 leads by 4000 marks overall.
3DMark Vantage is Futuremarks flagship gaming oriented benchmark at present and is considered to be a demanding one at that. Our tests were carried out under the "Performance" prefix.
Our series of synthetic benchmarks ends on a fairly disappointing note. It would seem that the castration carried out on the HD 5550 core had more of an effect on performance than we initially believed. We all know that synthetic benchmarks sometimes exaggerate the true difference between graphcis cards, so let's see how the pair of cards perform in games.
DiRT2 is a very recent race driving game, known for it's Direct X 11 support. Let's crank up the settings and give it a whirl...
For most of the part DiRT2 was playable on the HD 5550; even at a resolution of 1920x1200. The performance is adequate but it's hard to ignore that the HD 5670 beats it by huge margins.
Call of Duty - Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2 is among the most popular games available at present. With plenty of explosions and densely (polygon) populated maps, it should prove to be an interesting test for our setup.
The beatings continue in Modern Warfare 2, however once again the gaming experience was playable. With the exception of the drop to 9fps during a hefty explosion, the framerates remain in the 30's offering reasonably fluid game play.
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead is a very popular hit and should be an interesting choice to take our testbed for a spin. Let's see how well it performs.
L4D is an older hit than DiRT2 and MW2 but still, the HD 5550 continues to struggle.
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
Flight Simulator X remains to be a terribly demanding game for it's age. Known for being very demanding on the CPU but also requiring a level of GPU power in the process, we thought it'd be interesting to see how it faired.
The two graphics cards remain very much on par with each other here, most likely due to a CPU bottleneck. Let's wrap this one up.
The HIS Radeon HD 5550's intended application is for low height Small Form Factor and Home Theater PC computers. Noise is a concern for many in cramped chassis' and this is the HIS' main selling point. Where an integrated Core i3/i5 or AMD 785G/890GX graphics unit may not cut it for everyone, this is the next logical step on the performance ladder without compromising on your new system's size or noise levels. When you factor in the graphics card's AVIVO capability and 7.1 Channel Sound over HDMI, this may sound like the perfect solution for HTPC users.
Our test results may have painted a rather dire picture for the graphics card's performance. Featuring 80 stream processors less than its bigger brother and a narrow 128bit memory interface that is let down by slower GDDR3 memory, the performance of the HD 5550 was truly miles behind the similarly priced 5670. It is safe to establish that gaming is not this graphics card's primary objective and that its imperative not to consider "price:performance" when even considering one.
There is a price to pay for everything. There are very few passive and half height graphics cards that offer performance that's greater than today's Integrated GPUs. Even though the HD 5550 was beaten fair and square by it's bigger brother, lets not lose sight of the fact that almost all games in our testing suite were playable at a resolution of 1920x1200. This is very respectable regardless of what other full height and actively cooled solutions offer for the same money.
All in all, the HD 5550 Silent successfully satisfies a niche that simply needs more of its kind. If you need a quiet and small form factor GPU with some extra grunt, this is it.
- Passive Cooling Solution
- Half Height - Ideal for HTPCs
- Performance is lacking compared to similarly priced offerings
Thanks go out to HIS for the sample on review today, you can discuss our findings with the boys and girls in the forums.