PowerColor X1550 512MB Extreme Video Card Review

Sagittaria - 2007-02-03 21:35:42 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Sagittaria   
Reviewed on: February 12, 2007
PowerColor
PowerColor
Price: $100 USD

Introduction

The X1550 series is ATI's new, refreshed line of entry-level cards, designed to replace the highly successful  X1300 series. So of course, the X1550 is going to be faster, but even faster due to the fact that PowerColor have overclocked it by 50mhz, earning it the "Extreme" name. Now, why is this good? You get a faster card guaranteed to run great, without taking a big chunk out of your wallet. To top it all off, it comes from PowerColor, a long-time and extremely reputable brand known throughout the world.

You've probably seen PowerColor before, as they are one of ATI's long time partners - from 1999 to be exact. Ever since, they've been turning out great video cards in all ranges, whether it be budget or high end. Today, they are one of the top brands, established as one of the top manufacturers in the ATI video world. This is therefore likely to be another great bang-for-the-buck card from PowerColor.

Closer Look

Starting off the review is of course the box. The same style of box used on most of their entry-level products, it isn't much larger than the video card itself.



The extreme and X1550 label are both stickers. You can probably already guess that they use this box on all entry-level X1XXX series.



The first thing that pops out is the card in a bubble wrapped envelope - a nice way of packaging the video card in such a small container.

Closer Look Continued

Here is everything the package includes.



The card comes with a translucent, red DVI to VGA adapter, which is pretty slick! It also includes an S-Video to Composite adapter, driver CD, and a short installation guide, which you probably won't even need. It's pretty simple to install a video card for most users.

Finally, a good look at the card itself.




Nothing too special here. The card is fairly small and almost hits the end of the PCI-E slot. There is only a small heat sink on the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit, similar to a CPU) with a 40mm fan, as it doesn't need much cooling. There is no need for an external power connector, as it is a low wattage card, so all it's power is supplied by the PCI-E slot. In the front, we have the video outputs and dual DVI connections. This is a definite 'plus' as you can use a dual monitor setup using the DVI interfaces! You won't have to worry about having one monitor using analog and one using the digital connector. I'm surprised by this, as you normally don't see this feature on lower-end cards like this one, but if you have a VGA monitor, you can still use the VGA to DVI connector. Lastly, there is a S-Video output in the center of both DVI connectors allowing you to use your TV as a monitor.

Closer Look Continued

PowerColor chose to utilize the standard two-hole heat sink design. So all you have to do to remove it is squeeze the two pins on the bottom of the card and out it goes. Here is the HSF (Heat Sink Fan) removed.



They used a thermal pad! Thermal pads are generally considered 'bad' as they don't transfer heat as well as thermal paste can. This is not a big issue though, as this card does not produce much heat anyway. Once again, this HSF uses the standard two-hole clip and two-pin connector, so you can change the HSF pretty easily. The foam around the thermal pad is a cheap little shim. In other words, it prevents the fan from rocking all around the sensitive core of the graphics card, damaging it. Here is the core in detail.



You're probably wondering what you're looking at right now. This is the physical GPU of the card, and you might notice that "RV515" is printed on the die - what is this? Every GPU on every video card, whether it be ATI or nVidia, has a specific name. For instance, the G80 is used in nVidia's Ge-Force 8800 series, hence the "G" and "80." The same is true about ATI GPUs. The "RV" suffix means that it is a entry-level GPU and the 515 telling us that it is used in the X1XXX series.

Now, why am I showing this to you? The RV515 is the same chip used in the X1300s. Yes - the very card that it is set to replace. This is why I used the term "refresh" in the beginning of this review - it is basically a tweaked X1300. However, it will still be interesting to see how well it fares.

Closer Look Continued

What about the memory used on the card?



The chips are manufactured by Qimonda, a subsidiary company of Infineon. These chips are DDR2 rated for 400mhz (800mhz effective), each being 64mb in size giving the card a total size of 512mb. This is built into the card, so it will not eat RAM from your system, unlike other cards in the same price range with Hyper Memory or Turbo Cache, which is simply a marketing ploy designed to give you more memory on the outside, but in reality it doesn't do much for you due to the slower interface.

As for the 512mb of memory, this would also fall under the umbrella of 'shady' marketing. Most games and applications today will rarely use more than 256mb of memory, which coupled with the fact that this video card is not exactly powerful enough to even utilize it effectively, just makes it look useless. It's kind of like sticking 2 gigs of ram into a Pentium I - more of a marketing gimmick than anything.

PowerColor was kind enough to throw in some freebies! They included a shiny pen, clear stickers, and a notepad.



I like the pen, which is a heavy, strong, durable, and classy looking item. Thanks PowerColor!

That about wraps up the Closer Look part of the review, now for installation and configuration.

Installation

Installing this card, or any sort of peripheral card for that matter is extremely easy. Simply remove a PCI cover that is adjacent to the PCI-E slot, push in, and screw.



Once again, the card is very short, so you will not have to worry about physical compatibility issues.

Configuration

Configuration Setup
OS: Microsoft Windows XP SP2

Well, the only thing to do really is to install the drivers. Let's take a look at the software included on the CD first though.




So it comes with DirectX 9.0c, Hydravision, an online manual, .NET framework 2.0, ATI AVIVO, a Visual C++2005 package, the Catalyst Control Center and ATI's Parental Control. This may all sound very confusing at first, but you probably won't need a lot of this. The only thing you'll definitely need is DirectX and the ATI Display driver of course. If you are gamer, you can use the Catalyst Control Center (.NET Framework 2.0 needed, which is included) to tweak options. Still, it is generally a good idea to download the latest ATI drivers from the ATI website as the ones from the CD will become dated.

Installing the drivers is just like installing any other piece of software, it only takes 20 seconds.

Now let's get the specs.

Specifications

Part Number X1550 512MB DDR2
2nd Part Number 47125050 20778
Memory & Bus Width  512 MB DDR2 / 128 bit
Core Speed 600 MHz
Memory Speed 400 MHz x2
Output Dual DVI/TV Out/HDTV
Interface PCIE x16
Pixel Pipelines 4
Direct X Support 9.0
TV Connector S-Video
Remark RoHS / Windows Vista™ ready / CrossFire™ ready



















Features
High Definition 3D Performance & Image Quality to Your PC!
¡E Step-up to serious 3D performance and high-definition image quality with ATI’s new Radeon® X1550. For enhanced visuals and graphic performance the Radeon X1550 combines a new ultra-threaded core architecture with ATI’s revolutionary AvivoTM video and display technology. Radeon X1550 delivers exceptional visual performance for PC entertainment and productivity.

Brilliant New Avivo™ Video and Display Technology
With ATI’s Avivo™ technology the Radeon® X1550 connects to home entertainment devices and allows you to view your digital media and play games with vibrant colors, ultra sharp images, true-to-life image reproduction, and the smoothest video playback ever offered by ATI.

A New Era of 3D Gaming
Enjoy smooth texture rich gaming with advanced 3D features including: a 90-nanometer GPU, ultra-threaded processing architecture, and an advanced memory controller.

Opening Doors to Visual Realism and True-to-life image Graphic Animation
With industry leading 90-nanometer process technology and ultra-threaded shader core the Radeon® X1550 is optimized for Shader Model 3.0 to deliver new high dynamic range visual effects, enhanced adaptive anti-aliasing realism and lightening fast performance.

Next is testing.

Testing

Testing Setup
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo e6600 @ 2.4ghz
Mother Board: eVGA 680i SLI "AR"
Memory: Crucial Ballistix 2x1gbDDR2 1000 @ 800mhz 4-4-4-12
Video Card: PowerColor X1550 Extreme 512mb PCI-E
Sound: Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
Hard Drives: 2xWestern Digital 80gb SATA2 8mb RAID-0
PSU: Etasis 850watt Gaming
Case: Apevia X-Pleasure

Video Cards
Drivers:

It is a video card, so we naturally test it by running games for benchmarks! In all of our benchmarks, we test at the following resolutions: 800x600, 1024x768, and 1280x1024, today's average resolutions. Also, all our games are tested at approximately 3/4s of their maximum quality. As usual, all the results are average FPS. I will be comparing this entry-level card with a mid-range, X850XT, and a high-end card, the 8800GTS.

Far Cry




Far Cry, A slightly dated game but it still gives many of today's latests cards a run for their money. It is still a beautiful game which revolutionized the gaming industry in graphics.

Settings


F.E.A.R



F.E.A.R is an excellent first person shooter with extremely complex shadows that is fairly new. Even some high-end cards today still have problems running it.

Settings


Call of Duty 2



Call of Duty 2 is a slightly older game, but is still a good benchmark.

Settings
  • Anti-aliasing: x4
  • Texture Filter: Trilinear


Quake 4



Quake 4 is a game based off the highly demanding Doom 3 engine. Yes it is old, but it's still very demanding.

Settings
  • Quality: High
  • Aspect Ratio: [4:3]
  • Antialiasing: 4×
  • Anisotropic filtering: 16×
  • Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP) disabled




The 8800gts seemed to have driver issues here, unfortunately.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted



The classic NFS series. Most Wanted is an extremely sharp looking game, which can take a high toll on video cards everywhere.

Settings
  • 3/4 Quality Automatic



Overclocking
Of course being staff of OverclockersClub, I absolutely had to overclock it even more! I ran ATI Tool .26, an ATI overclocking utility and tried seeing how much further it could go. Unfortunately, I couldn't even get past 5mhz on both the core or the memory. It appears that PowerColor has it maxed out already.

Noise
Generally speaking, the smaller the fan, the louder it is going to get. But, this isn't the case here. At full load, with no other fans running, I could barely hear this fan.

Conclusion

Well, this card is ATI's new line of entry-level cards and it did quite well at a hundred dollars. It played just about all of our games at acceptable resolutions and stacked up very well in terms of price and performance. It is silent, doesn't require external power, small and  made by PowerColor. Best of all, it comes overclocked already! A good card for the average Joe and casual gamer on a budget.

However, the only real gripe I have about it is the price. It is a brand new series, so naturally it comes out a little bit expensive. It might be wise to wait for the price to come down before buying this.

Pros

Cons