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Sapphire Radeon HD 5550 Ultimate review

Sapphire Radeon HD 5550 Ultimate
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £69
inc VAT

The most powerful passively-cooled 5000-series card to date; but it’s overkill for simple video acceleration, yet not quick enough to satisfy most gamers.

Another month and, surprise-surprise, it’s another new ATI 5000-series graphics card. The HD 5550 sits towards the lower end of the range, and it would be easy to dismiss as yet one more under-powered card. However, this Ultimate version does have the distinction of being the most powerful card in ATI’s current line up to use a passive heat sink.

The large silver heat sink makes the card itself completely silent in operation, which is great if you want to keep the noise down, such as for a media centre PC. It takes up a considerable proportion of the front of the card, but doesn’t stick out far, so it won’t foul the expansion slot below it. A pair of heat pipes runs from the GPU round to the top of the card, where the cooler extends over the rear. This could potentially block the expansion slot above the card, but the design means you should be able to fit a low-profile card in above it without the two clashing.

Speaking of low-profile cards, it’s a little disappointing that this card isn’t one. We can see that the cooler takes up a lot of room, but the lack of a low-profile option means this won’t fit in a number of media centre cases. On the other hand, passively-cooled cards like this one need decent airflow through the case to work properly, and so could cause problems in a low-profile chassis – or at the very least make your system fans work a lot harder, which would make the silent card a bit pointless.

There are HDMI, DVI and VGA outputs, but the lack of DisplayPort means this card can only support at most a pair of monitors from these, rather than three using EyeFinity; however, that’s unlikely to bother most people. The card is more than capable of accelerating HD video playback, with Blu-ray quality footage playing with ease, even on an older dual-core PC.

With a core clock speed of just 550MHz and 800MHz memory, it’s certainly not a powerhouse. It’s also limited by its 128-bit bus, although this is true of all the cards from the HD 5770 down. Its 320 stream processors may seem like a lot, when compared to the 80 processors on the only other passive 5000-series card to date (the HD 5450); however, our favoured HD 5770 has more than double this number with 800.

Performance wise the HD 5550 isn’t particularly impressive. Even at the lowest acceptable detail setting it wouldn’t handle demanding titles like our Crysis test. Given more mainstream fare it managed acceptably; 21.0fps in our Call of Duty 4 test isn’t playable , but drop the resolution to 1,366×768 (that used by most LCD TVs) and reduced anti-aliasing to 2x and you’ll get a playable 36.8fps. To put this in perspective, the HD 5550 will produce graphical effects somewhat similar to the current range of games consoles.

If you absolutely have to have a passively-cooled card for playing games on a media centre PC then this is up to the task, just about. However, for simple video acceleration you’d be much better off with the far cheaper HD 5450, and most gamers should aim for at least an HD 5770 instead.

Basic Specifications

Price £69
Rating ***
Interface PCI Express x16 2.0
Crossfire/SLI CrossFireX
Slots taken up 1
Brand ATI
Graphics Processor ATI Radeon HD 5550
Memory 1GB DDR2
GPU clock speed 550MHz
Memory speed 800MHz


Architecture 320 stream processors


DVI outputs 1
VGA outputs 1
S-video output no
S-Video input no
Composite outputs no
Composite inputs no
Component outputs no
HDMI outputs 1
Power leads required none

Benchmark Results

3DMark Vantage 1680 1,105
Call of Duty 4 1680 4xAA 21.0fps
Call of Duty 4 1440 4xAA 27.0fps
Crysis 1680 High 4xAA 11.2fps
Crysis 1440 High 4xAA 14.3fps

Buying Information

Warranty one-year RTB
Price £69

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