Sapphire HD5550 Ultimate Review

Nerm - 2010-04-30 10:07:25 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Nerm   
Reviewed on: May 5, 2010
Price: $80-90


Are you in the process of building a new system? Well one of the most debated aspects of a build is your video card, mainly because there are so many of them out there. Picking the right video card depends on what you are planning on using your system for. If you are going for a high performance build for gaming and video editing, you should be looking for the top-performing card out on the market. On the other hand, if you are looking for a video card to give you some good looking graphics, lower power consumption and a smaller hit in the piggy bank, you should be looking at the more mainstream cards for your setup. Sapphire has just released their HD5550 Ultimate, a mainstream card that is not only going to offer you DX11 support, but also going to give it to you in a silent package with a completely passive cooling system. I am curious to see exactly how well this card is going to stack up against the other cards out on the market in its class.

Closer Look:

The front of the package for Sapphire's new HD5550 Ultimate video card has a nice large image of a warrior woman dressed in white with a sword, looking like she is ready to go to battle. The top left corner is where you are going to find the Sapphire logo, with the 1GB DDR2 logo off in the top right hand corner. Below the 1GB DDR2 logo, you will find the Ultimate logo that Sapphire has placed on the package with the tag, "Passive Silent cooling" printed below, letting you know that there is no fan on the card and it is going to be fully passive cooling. Radeon HD5550 is printed towards the middle of the box to let you know what model is inside. Below that, you are going to find the ATI Stream GPU  Processing, Onboard HDMI and DVI, CrossFireX Ready, and 40nm process badges to give you an idea of some of the features the card has. The back of the package is going to get into more detail, list off some of the features, and give you a description of each of them. The side of the package is where you will find the system requirements of the HD5550, such as the operating system that is required to use the card, as well as a few other hardware related requirements.













When you open up the outer package, you will find a brown box that holds the Sapphire HD5550 card securly and should prevent any damages that may occur during the shipping process, this includes not only an anti-static, bubble-wrap bag, but also piece of gray foam at the top to keep the card from sliding around inside. The card itself is wrapped in cardboard in orderto keep it from being squished and to help keep the heatsink from being damaged. Under the card  is where you will find all of the accessories, which only includes the driver installation CD and two installation documents.



Now that we know how the Sapphire HD5550 is packaged and what it comes shipped with, its time to take a closer look at the card and see what sets it apart from its competition.

Closer Look:

Once you get the card taken out of all the packaging, you are going to notice that the PCB is a nice bright blue. It has a massive heatsink with two heatpipes that go from the front of the card to the back. When you're looking at the front of the card, you will see a black plaque at the top of the heatsink with Sapphire's logo printed on it to let you know exactly who's card it is. Taking a look at the back of the card, you will notice that the heatsink wraps around the card to give it even more space to dissipate the heat. The heatsink is till mounted to the card with the four typical spring-screws. The IO panel of card features three different video outputs,  DVI, HDMI, or D-Sub outputs. This means what ever type of monitor or display device you are planning on using, it will be supported by this card. As you would expect with a passive GPU, this card get's all of it's power from the PCIe slot and thus requires no external power connections.















When you get the heatsink pulled off of the card, you are left with something that looks like every other standard ATI card out there. The HD5550 is built on the latest 40nm architecture from ATI and supports DirectX 11 with DirectCompute 5.0. You will find 1GB of GDDR2 memory located on the card, with clock speeds coming in at 550MHz on the GPU and 800MHz for the memory. There are 320 Stream processors that can flex their muscles in any application that supports ATI Stream.



When it comes down to the cooling solution, it is a completely passive system, meaning it is only a heatsink with no fan. This obviously makes it a completely silent card, but with the expense of slightly higher temperatures compared to an active cooling solution. There are two heatpipes that go from the base of the heatsink, (Positioned over the GPU) to the back of the card where there is a seperate heatsink fin array to help increase the surface area. The base of the heatsink that sits on the GPU is made up of copper. This allows the heat to be quickly drawn off of the GPU, through the heatpipes and into the heatsink to dissipated.




Now that we know what the card looks like, it's time to take a look at the specifications / features and move on to the testing.


Engine Clock
Bus Width
128 Bit
Memory Type
Memory Clock
800MHz GDDR2
Bus Interface
PCI-E 2.0 x16



Information courtesy of Sapphire


Testing the Sapphire HD5550 Ultimate is not a challenge, so much as determining what kind of gaming performance this card is capable of. The computing attributes make it a card that will help improve the everyday experience of a computer for the mainstream user. To test out the HD5550 Ultimate's gaming credentials, I will run the card through the OverclockersClub suite of benchmarks, but since it won't be able to deliver playable frame rates at the settings I typically use, I will reduce the settings to a level that gives an expectation of playability. In reality, this card will most likely find its home in a mainstream computer with a 17" to 19" LCD panel in a home office or in the family computer. Testing will be limited from 1280x1024 to 1920x1200, with the revised settings listed at the top of each game page. 1280x1024 should be playable in all the games in the suite, so let's get to it and see if we can make it playable. Of course, overclocking will be part of the exercise. The drivers used for this test will be Catalyst 10.4 for all ATI cards and 191.07 for the NVIDIA cards.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

When it comes down to overclocking the Sapphire HD5550, I used MSI Afterburner which has proven to be quite a good overclocking utility and with the Kombustor stress tester, will allow me not only to overclock the card, but test my clock speeds well. The maximum core clock that I was able to set the GPU to was 690MHz. This is no small feat as the stock setting is 550MHz, which is a 25% overclock. When it came down to the memory speeds, I was able to get the memory bumped up to 445MHz which is an 11% overclock. The memory did start to give me a few artifacts on the screen once I went any higher than 485MHz. As a result, I had to bump it down to make sure that it would end up being stable enough to run all of the benchmarks back to back. I am really happy with the overclocked settings I was able to get with the card considering the low clock speeds it ships with. During the testing, the highest temperature that I saw was 78°C, which isn't too bad considering the fact that it uses a completely passive cooling solution.


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 15 minute test at 1920x1200 8x AA.



Gaming Tests:

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. Darkest of Days
  4. Call of Duty: World at War
  5. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
  6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  7. Resident Evil 5
  8. Left 4 Dead
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage


Far Cry 2:

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 story line 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.
















During the Far Cry 2 Benchmark, the HD5550 was able to score just above the Inno3D GT220 in all benchmarks except for 1680x1050 resolution.


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.



















The Sapphire HD5550 was almost able beat out the Axle GeForce G210 by two fold in all resolutions duirng the Crysis Warhead benchmark, and was falling just behind the Inno3D GT220.


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.

Game Settings:
















The HD5550 fell into second to last place in this benchmark again, only beating out the Axle G210, and again by almost twice the FPS.


Activision's Call of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought CoD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a high resolution. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.

















Sapphire's HD5550 was sitting just behind the Inno3D GT220, once again only losing by 4FPS in the 1920x1200 test.


Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is a real-time strategy game that is significantly different than its predecessor, with improved AI and an improved physics engine. You can play either as a single player in campaign mode, or in a multiplayer game where Microsoft's Live ranking system can be used.




















The Axle GeForce G210 and the Sapphire HD5550 both had very similar performance in this benchmark, both at the end of the pack.


Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter rivals, 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 become the Dark Knight.

Game Settings:
















Once again, the Sapphire HD5550 was just barely able to beat the Axle G210 in this benchmark, by only 1 FPS in most of the resolutions.


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 genesis 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 co-op multiplayer.

Game Settings:
















The HD5550 was able to catch up, but still fall short to the Inno3D GT220, however it was only by a few FPS.


Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. Your goal is to make it to a rescue point, all while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie "I Am Legend" comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombies. These zombies are quick and work with pack mentality. You have but one job; survival!


















The Sapphire HD5550 was able to beat the Axle GeForce G210 by more than twice the FPS in all of the resolutions and just barely fell short of the Inno3D GT220 in the 1920x1200 resolution.


3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest begins. 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.





















As all of the other tests have alluded towards, the Sapphire HD5550 was unable to beat out any of the other cards it was put up against, with the exception of the Axle GeForce G210.


Featuring all-new game tests, this 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.


















And once again, the HD5550 was able to beat the Axle G210 by over twice the score in all three resolutions during the 3DMark Vantage testing.


Lets go back to my original question, are you looking for a new card for your system? Well Sapphire's newest card, the HD5550 may just be the solution you are looking for if you are building a new setup. Now we all know that this card is not going to be able to push the games to their fullest potential at maximum settings. What this card is going to be able to do though, is give you that extra power when you are building a new computer that is being designed as an HTPC or a workstation where image/video editing is going to be done or CAD work.

The gaming performance that the card was able to give was not too bad when compared to the other cards. The limited clock speeds did slow down the card quite a bit, I would've liked to see a little bit higher of memory speeds on this card, as that would have helped out with the scores. The limited 1GB of GDDR2 memory is what effected the gaming scores quite a bit, there was not only the capacity issue, but the issue of not being able to have high memory speeds/bandwidth limited by the memory generation choice.

The fact that the card does not have an active cooling solution, means it won't sound like there is a 747 flying around inside your chassis, allowing you to have a graphics card that supports DirectX 11 inside your HTPC and have a near silent operation. The lower power consumption of the card does add even more value to anyone building an HTPC, as you will be able to use a smaller power supply (350 Watt suggested by Sapphire) and not have to worry about trying to find enough power for all of the components inside.

The DirectCompute 5.0 technology is going to allow you to use the card for CAD applications and give you better performance than using an integrated video solution. DVD and Blu-ray playback is also a big plus with this card if you are looking to build an HTPC, as it will allow you to use what ever format disc you wish to, only being limited to the drive that you have installed in the system.

Overall, if you are looking for a card for general use, an HTPC build, or even a system that is going to use CAD applications that support ATI Stream technology, you may just want to pick yourself up a Sapphire HD5550.