Sapphire – Radeon HD 5550 512MB GDDR5 DP review

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Photo of Sapphire – Radeon HD 5550 512MB GDDR5 DP

When ATI initially launched the low end mainstream Radeon HD 5550 it came in two memory flavours; DDR2 with a memory clock speed of 800MHz, and the 1,600MHz GDDR3 version, each with a standard 550MHz core clock.

Since then there have been more versions than you can shake a stick at. For instance, Sapphire alone has seven cards based on the 5550 in its product range, including the silent Ultimate version we have already looked at here, while the current flagship of the range is the overclocked 512MB GDDR5 DP we are looking at in this review.

The ‘DP’ part of the name is the important bit, as it stands for DisplayPort, and as this card is the only one of the range to support the three usual HD5xxx ports – namely DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort – it’s also the only card in Sapphire’s HD 5550 line-up that supports ATI’s multi screen Eyefinity technology.

Sapphire has tweaked the core clock on this version of the HD5550, adding 100MHz to the reference speed so that it runs at 650MHz, but the real improvement comes from the use of 512MB of GDDR5 memory running at 1,000MHz (4,000MHz effective).

This gives the card a massive boost in bandwidth over its siblings in Sapphire’s HD5550 line-up (64GB/s compared to the HD5550 Ultimate’s 14.2GB/s). But, and it’s a very large ‘but’, this still isn’t anywhere near a full-on gaming card, as despite this huge increase in bandwidth, the HD5550 GDDR5 DP is still struggling against the cut-down nature of the HD 5550′s architecture and memory bus.

Measuring just over 171mm long, it’s a compact card making it ideal for the smaller PC or HTPC case, and the fact that it doesn’t need any more power than what’s provided by the motherboard’s x16 PCI-E slot also helps in this respect.

However, the large Arctic Cooling heatsink and fan which keeps the GPU and the four Samsung K4G10325FE HC05 memory modules nice and cool (and does so with the minimum amount of noise) is big enough to make the card a dual slot solution, which might rule it out of being able to fit in some of the very compact HTPC cases that are currently available.

When it comes to performance, the overclocked core and better, faster memory chips still can’t overcome the limitations of the cut-down nature of the HD 5550′s architecture and it can’t really handle hard core games like Crysis Warhead (15.4fps at 1,280 by 1,024 resolution).

It does do a little better with FarCry 2 (32.3fps) and DiRT2 (36.6fps) and you may be able to squeeze a few more frames per second out of it by turning down all the in-game details, but it’s better to look at this as an HTPC card that can do some light gaming, or as a reasonably priced step up from an integrated graphics solution, especially as it doesn’t need any extra power and is ideal for those whose purse strings are a little tight.

Company: Sapphire

The faster clock speed and the extra bandwidth offered by the GDDR5 memory on Sapphire's Radeon HD 5550 512MB GDDR5 DP still can't compensate for the cut-down nature of the HD5550's architecture, but will help when it comes to delivering multimedia content via the ATI video technologies in the architecture. Although not silent, the quietness of the way it goes about its business makes it an ideal candidate for an HTPC.