Sapphire Radeon HD 5450 review
Although graphics cards are synonymous with gaming, they do have a lot of other uses – not least letting you connect a monitor to your PC. Less obvious uses include video playback acceleration, multiple monitor support, speeding up parallel processing tasks like video encoding and even outputting HD audio via HDMI.
The Radeon HD 5450 is easily the cheapest card in the latest range of Radeons to date. Such a card is ideal if you're looking to build a media centre PC for your living room. Like more expensive 5000-series cards, the HD 5450 supports output for HD audio formats (like Dolby TrueHD), letting you output the full audio glory of Blu-ray movies to a surround sound amplifier.
It's also a good choice if you want to upgrade an older PC, with a single integrated graphics output, to support multiple monitors. It has DisplayPort and DVI outputs mounted on the card itself, plus a VGA output also on the backplate, but connected to the card via a cable. We were disappointed not to see a dedicated HDMI port, and no adaptor was bundled with our test card, though these are easy enough to get hold of for about £3. The three outputs allow you to drive a triple-monitor setup, which ATI calls Eyefinity, making this the cheapest card capable of this feat.
Sapphire's version of the HD 5450 is excellently designed, and so should be compatible with practically any PC with a PCI-Express x16 slot. For starters it's a half-height design, so it will fit in slimline PC cases. To do this you'll need to fit the smaller, supplied, backplate. Such a backplate is only big enough for the DisplayPort and DVI connectors, but Sapphire has thoughtfully included a second backplate so you can use an adjoining slot to host the VGA output. As expected, this card doesn't require a separate power supply, and according to ATI it typically uses just 19.1W.
If you're building a media centre PC then noise is a big issue. This card's passive heat sink means there's no whiny little fan to annoy you; plus it's more compact than the one on ATI's reference card, and so won't block an adjacent slot on your motherboard.
As with all 5000-series cards, the HD 5450 supports DirectX 11. However, it's simply not powerful enough to run modern 3D games smoothly at the kind of detail levels required to benefit from the new graphics standard. It struggled in our tests, and we only managed to get Call of Duty 4 running smoothly by turning off anti-aliasing and reducing the resolution to 1,280x720. We can't recommend this card for running modern 3D games, and you should invest more to enjoy the latest titles at their best.
Video acceleration isn't a problem though, with the CPU usage of our test PC kept to a minimum when playing Blu-ray quality HD video. It will also reduce video encoding times, if used with an encoder that supports ATI's Stream technology – like Roxio's Creator 2010.
The HD 5450 is a smart little card, but its uses are rather niche. Unless you want to output HD audio, or run three monitors simultaneously, then you're better off buying the older HD 4350. It'll do the same job, but you can pick it up from as little as £25 inc VAT.