Powercolor Radeon HD 5550 Review

Geekspeak411 - 2010-05-19 13:31:52 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Geekspeak411   
Reviewed on: June 9, 2010
Price: $70

Introduction:

Well the battle is on. With everything unveiled on both sides, nVidia and ATI are going at it with guns blazing. With close to a half-year lead, ATI has a distinct advantage in this war in that it has had plenty of time to unleash its full arsenal while nVidia is still deploying. With the 5550, ATI is covering the casual gamers and graphics professionals out there by delivering modest DX11 capable power at a measly $70. At that price, you can budget this card into almost any build, and with the HDMI port, I can see this card going very nicely into an HTPC.

 

Closer Look:

Following the card's budget price, the packaging is anything but spectacular. In the top right corner, the PowerColor logo is displayed along with its slogan 'Unleash the Gaming Power' directly beneath. To the right of the logo is a sticker publicizing this card's respectable 512MB of DDR3 RAM. As usual, there is a pretty intense graphic adorning the front panel in the form of a warrior wielding a large sword, which looks like it would be a pain to sharpen (think of a giant serrated knife blade gone shark's tooth). Ouch. Along the bottom, Radeon HD 5550 is proudly shown in big text and the ATI Radeon logo sits snug in the bottom right corner. The sides are fairly bland with either the brand name or the product name being displayed, flipping to the back, PowerColor lists some features and a graphic rating the card's abilities out of five stars, they are as follows: Gaming - 3 stars, Video - 4 stars, and Office - 5 stars. Let's take a look inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening up the small box sheds light on a red bubble-wrapped card, the driver disc, and some manuals. There are no tricks or gimmicks here, PowerColor seems to be doing everything possible to keep the price down for the end user. The bundle included with the 5550 is the definition of slim, but hey, at $70 no one's complaining. All you get with the card is a slim quick install brochure and an ATI labeled driver disc.

 

So far we have what seems to be a run-of-the-mill budget card, but packaging doesn't matter, it's the performance that counts, but first let's take a look at the card itself on the next page.


 

Closer Look:

With the PowerColor Radeon HD 5550, you are getting 627 million transistors based on a 40nm node, this enables 320 Stream Processors, 16 Texture Units, 32 Stencil ROPS, 8 Color ROPs and 512MB of DDR3 RAM on a 128-bit interface. The cooler on the 5550 is pretty tiny, consisting of a basic single slot solution and little heat fins with the entire heatsink covering about a third of the card. Obviously, this card was not made for overclocking so there isn't too much of an issue here as long as it can handle the heat at stock clocks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first saw that there were no adapters included with this card I was a little bit worried, but really, there is no need for them. CrossFire runs through the PCI-E lanes so no supplementary power is required and the connectivity options on this card should keep pretty much everyone who buys this card happy. Your options consist of a DVI port, a VGA port, and an HDMI port. All that is missing is a DisplayPort output, but considering the fact that the few monitors even sporting this new connector all have alternative inputs, there shouldn't be any conflicts.

 

 

As I said above, there is no need for any bundled accessories because everything is meshed into the PCI-E lane, so no CrossFire adapters or power connections to see along the edges. Removing the few screws holding the 5550 together reveals some really hard and crusty thermal compound. Although this wouldn't normally be my first choice but is what is delivered with the OEM solution, the TDP of this card is so low, that this cooling solution shouldn't be a problem.

 

 

With the PowerColor 5550 you are getting some fairly decent clock speeds at 550MHz on the GPU core. The GPU interfaces with Hynix based memory modules clocked at 800MHz.

 

 

Well we've seen the packaging, we've seen the card, now let's check out what really counts, let's see how the card performs.

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
Radeon HD5550
Video Memory
512MB DDR3
Engine Clock
550MHz
Memory Clock
800Mhz
Memory Interface
128bit
DirectX Support
11
Bus Standard
PCIE 2.1
Standard Display Connectors
DL-DVI/HDMI/VGA
OpenGL
Supported
CrossFireX Technology
Supported
ATI Stream Technology
Supported
Eyefinity Technology
 
ATI Hypermemory Technology
Supported
VGA Output
Yes
DVI Output
Yes
DisplayPort Output
No
HDMI Output
On Board
TV Output
 
HDTV Output
 
HDCP Support
Yes
Max VGA
2048x1536
Max DVI
2560x1600
Max HDMI
1920x1200
Board Dimensions
168mmx111mmx19mm
Minimum Power Requirement
400W

 

Features:

1. OpenCL compliant driver and SDK release scheduled for later in 2010 2. ATI Eyefinity Technology can support up to 6 displays using a single enabled ATI Radeon™ graphics card – the number of displays may vary by board design and you should confirm exact specifications with the applicable manufacturer before purchase. ATI Eyefinity technology works with games that support non-standard aspect ratios, which is required for panning across multiple displays. To enable more than two displays, additional panels with native DisplayPort™ connectors, and/or certified DisplayPort™ adapters to convert your monitor’s native input to your cards DisplayPort™ or Mini-DisplayPort™ connector(s), are required 3. ATI Eyefinity technology works with games that support non-standard aspect ratios which is required for panning across three displays 4. Requires application support for ATI Stream technology 5. Digital rights management restrictions may apply 6. ATI CrossFireX™ technology requires an ATI CrossFireX Ready motherboard, an ATI CrossFireX™ Bridge Interconnect (for each additional graphics card) and may require a specialized power supply 7. ATI PowerPlay™, ATI Avivo™ and ATI Stream are technology platforms that include a broad set of capabilities offered by certain ATI Radeon™ HD GPUs. Not all products have all features and full enablement of some capabilities and may require complementary products 8. Upscaling subject to available monitor resolution 9. Adobe Flash video acceleration and post-processing is supported for H.264-encoded content. Requires Adobe Flash Player 10.1 plug-in and ATI Catalyst 9.11 or higher video driver.. 10. Blu-ray or HD DVD drive and HD monitor required 11. Requires Blu-ray movie disc supporting dual 1080p streams 12. Playing HDCP content requires additional HDCP ready components, including but not limited to an HDCP ready monitor, Blu-ray or HD DVD disc drive, multimedia application and computer operating system. 13. Some custom resolutions require user configuration

 

Courtesy of PowerColor @ http://powercolor.com/us/products_features.asp?id=238#Specification

Testing:

Testing of the PowerColor Radeon HD 5550 will consist of running the card through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of equal and greater capabilities to show where it falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to each other. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where PhysX will be disabled in the nVidia control panel. I will test the card at stock speeds, then overclocked in order to see how much additional performance is available and to determine if it can run with the current fastest single GPU cards on the market.  The drivers used in this test will be the 10.4 Catalyst drivers for ATI and 197.45 Forceware drivers from nVidia. Tests will be conducted at both stock and overclocked settings to gauge performance when an increase in clock speed is applied.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

After looking at the cooler and taking the price of the card into account, I was not expecting too much additional performance headroom from this card. Actually, the numbers I got in the end weren't bad at all. The core clock was fairly simple, I just loaded up MSI's Kombuster utility alongside ATI's Overdrive Utility, and I let Kombuster run for a few minutes to heat up then ratcheted the clock speeds up in 10MHz increments every minute all the way up to 700MHz with no signs of any artifacts. I let the card run Kombuster for fifteen minutes to ensure it was stable and then repeated the process with the RAM until I maxed out at 900MHz, only 50MHz away from maxing out the Overdrive utility. Hopefully these increases will show some decent gains, I am impressed with how much headroom the tiny heatsink offered. It is worth noting that while the fan might have been set to 100%, I was unable to hear it at all.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Each card has been tested for its maximum stable clock speeds using MSI's Kombuster utility. So far my testing has shown that higher clock speeds may be stable in games where GPU usage does not reach 100%, but will crash within a few minutes using this utility. The reported clock speeds are those that proved stable over a fifteen minute test at 1920x1200 8x AA.

 

 

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
  5. Darkest of Days
  6. Bioshock 2
  7. Just Cause 2
  8. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0
  9. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  10. Resident Evil 5
  11. 3DMark 06 Professional
  12. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Testing:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Well that's not something you see every day! The HD5550 beats out the competition, including the HD5570 thanks to its DDR3 RAM, let's see if the trend continues.

Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA Physx and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied - in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots, and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses - chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows, just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The 5550 just dogs through Metro 2033, the game is in no way playable on any of these cards. Since this is a DirectX11 game, the nVidia card was unable to run through and was omitted.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Nice! The HD5550 cleanly beats out everything we threw against it, remaining playable all the way up to 1920x1200!

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Not many cards can boast over 100FPS, especially not cards in the sub $100 price range. You have to temper that with the lower end settings used. When you turn up the eye candy the performance takes a hit. Apparently the DDR3 balances the GPU and the shaders much better than the DDR2 interface on the 5570 can.

Testing:

What would testing be if you did not show both sides of the fence? In this test, PhysX was set to low, while leaving the remaining settings intact. You have seen time and again where the ATI cards suffer when PhysX is enabled. Mirror's Edge and Cryostasis are two prime examples. Darkest of Days is no different. What happens in this test shows that, although the game can be played by cards from the red team, the video effects and quality are diminished.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

At these settings the game is playable all the way up to 1920x1200. Can you say casual gaming potential?

Testing:

BioShock 2 is the sequel to a game that won more than 50 game of the year awards and sold more than 2.5 million units worldwide. Though a first-person shooter at its core, BioShock 2 blends that with RPG elements and drops you into an environment like no other - the underwater dystopian city of Rapture. Set approximately ten years after the events of the original, BioShock 2 allows the player to be one of the most iconic video game characters of recent years, a Big Daddy. Powered by the Unreal Engine 2.5 and featuring Havok Physics, BioShock 2 also adds multiplayer to the mix, filling in the one hole prevalent in the first game. There are seven different multiplayer game modes that take place in 1959, before the events of the original BioShock.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The 5550 delivers decent performance all the way up the scale when overclocked and stays right above the 5570, good show.

Testing:

Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main storyline, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to; crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

If you get the 5550 you can expect good frame rates in Just Cause 2 in the all resolutions.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes; Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and OpenGL. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Overall a decent entry-level showing, but overclocking shows almost no gain.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, The Joker and Batman. The Joker Has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to ply your trade.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Woah! A $70 card just broke triple digits again! This, of course, with the lower end settings used. Turn up the eye candy and performance will scale accordingly.

Testing:

Resident Evil 5 is the sequel to one of the best selling video games of all time. You play the game as Chris Redfield a survivor of the events at Raccoon City who now works for the BSAA. Sent to Africa to find the gen6sis of the latest Bio Organic agents you meet up with another BSAA operative and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3D effects and a co-op gaming style.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Another good showing for $70 worth of power.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The 5550 comes out on top of the pack!

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, the 3DMark Vantage benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Wow, the overclock gave the 5550 over 1000 points extra in the entry level tests. Overclocking shows good gains throughout.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster which is paired with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a fifteen minute time frame to run the test ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the first test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario. The idle test will be a twenty minute cool down with the fan speeds left on automatic.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

For being such a scrawny heatsink, the 5550 stays nice and cool while remaining nearly silent.

Testing:

Power consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and load states and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use MSI Kombuster to load the GPU for a fifteen minute test and use the peak load of the system as my result for the maximum load. The idle results will be measured after fifteen minutes of inactivity on the system.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

It looks like the 5550 is scaling quite nicely and consumes very little power when idling compared to consumption at load.

Conclusion:

The PowerColor Radeon HD 5550 is quite the grab for professionals on a budget. At $70, it is hard not to be able to legitimize its purchase. You are still getting Eyefinity, you are still getting Stream, and you are still getting some good connectivity options on-board. All you are lacking is the oomph to push newer games at their higher settings. The card did really well compared to its competition, although the competing cards were running DDR2 so that would have adversely affected their performances.

I was pretty disappointed with the stock cooling solution at first due to its size. After putting it under load and seeing how fast this card could go, though, I have no worries about the card overheating. I was impressed with the extra power I gained from the overclock, seeing over a 10FPS boost in some cases. That is free power, and at $70 you can't beat it. The other reason I was impressed was the fact that this card requires no supplementary power connections from your power supply, everything the card needed for the increases was able to be pumped right through the PCI-E port.

The HD 5550 can fill the needs of a lot of people; if you are looking for a card that is DX11 capable and can push pixels for two or three of your monitors at once, then this card fits the bill. With its near silent operation even with its fan at 100%, you could easily fit this into an entry-level gaming rig, a professional-grade photo or video editing rig, or even a living room HTPC build not using a low profile case. The Powercolor HD 5550 offers great casual gaming performance for a modest price point.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: