Sapphire Radeon 5550 Ultimate
The Sapphire Radeon 5550 Ultimate is a budget graphics card, and sits directly between the 5450 and 5570 in ATi’s product lineup as designed. The performance is not directly in between the two cards, however, as the 5550 Ultimate is about 50% more powerful than the passively-cooled 5450. That’s not a bad performance jump, however, it lags considerably behind the 5570.
In terms of gaming, the 5550 Ultimate is limited to 1280 resolution and low quality settings overall. Some games perform better, depending on the graphics engine, and we’ve seen that 30 frames per second is achievable if you disable antialiasing and ratchet down the eye candy a great deal. For someone with an older OEM machine, this could be a nice swap-and-drop card, requiring no power supply upgrade or anything else other than a driver update. And make no mistake, there is a considerable market out there for people in this situation or similar.
The argument could be made that the 5450 and 5550 are true HTPC cards since they feature passive heatsinks, but the similarities generally stop there. The 5550 Ultimate has a dual slot heatsink, whereas the 5450’s is single slot. The 5550 is also physically a much larger card. But perhaps the most significant difference is that the 5550 temperature runs hot, especially under load, where the passive heatsink is entirely dependent upon good case airflow to keep things under control. The 5450 by comparison, barely gets warm under load, regardless of the airflow present or not.
Set to retail for about $90 USD, this pricing puts the 5550 Ultimate in for a tough fight in the HTPC market given that the 5450 is a very compelling card for considerably less money. The 5550 Ultimate’s performance is fine, but the dual slot cooler takes up valuable real estate in a smallform case, and the temperatures will get uncomfortably warm if your internal airflow is suspect. That is far from an ideal situation, as the 5450 will provide respectable use in an HTPC and run significantly cooler and cheaper to boot.
Overall though, Sapphire has released a good card for a select market and it serves its purpose, running silent, power-frugal, and offering some basic gaming capabilities. It is better suited for an HTPC setup, and provided you have some good airflow across the passive heatsink, it can get the job done.
Sapphire Radeon HD5550 Ultimate