This past February, AMD quietly launched the Radeon HD 5550 alongside the much more touted HD 5570. At about $10 less than that card, the HD 5550 is an unusual breed. To help put all of the pieces together, Sapphire sent us its “Ultimate” edition of the card, which uses reference clock speeds, but features a very effective passive cooler.
Normally, I reach my opinions of a product long before I make it to the “Final Thoughts” page, but the HD 5550 is a unique product that just perplexes me. I mentioned in the introduction page that I couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of this card, and that hasn’t changed. As far as I’m concerned, and I’m sure I’m not alone… the Radeon HD 5550 has no reason to exist. None.
In the sub-$100 AMD space, there are four GPU’s. The HD 5450 begins at about $50 – $60, while the HD 5550 is around $75 – $80. Then there’s the HD 5570, which is priced at around $80 – $90. Finally, there’s the HD 5670 at around $100. As you can see from this pricing alone, the top three cards are priced close to one another, and surprisingly, the respective performance from each varies wildly.
Take for example our Modern Warfare 2 results. The ~$100 HD 5670 hit 49 FPS in our 1080p tests, and the ~$85 HD 5570 hit 38 FPS. The difference in performance here is understandable, although still high for the matter of $15. Then we have the HD 5550, which is a mere $10 less than the HD 5570, that hits 20.5 FPS in the same test. That’s a major drop in performance if you ask me.
Sapphire’s Ultimate card aside, you can score an HD 5550 for less than $75 if you are crafty and on top of sales. But even at that point, I still have a hard time recommending it, because for what’s equivalent to three or four coffees from Starbucks, you get a card that’s almost 100% faster. Then there’s the fact that Sapphire’s Ultimate edition is set to be priced at $90. Currently, a popular e-tailer is holding a sale on an HD 5670 for $87, and Sapphire’s own reference HD 5670 is only $95… for a card that’s about 250% more powerful than this one.
Not to discredit Sapphire’s card here, the Ultimate does have one major perk… the passive cooler. This is a cooler that impressed the heck out of me, because as we saw on the overclocking page, it can handle some punishment, and handle it well. But as nice as that is, the HD 5550 and Ultimate edition are a tough buy. The performance simply isn’t good, so at that point, a better HTPC card to pick up would be the also passively-cooled HD 5450, which retails between $45 – $60. If the HD 5550 is in your radar, you might as well just pay the extra few dollars for a far superior card. If you read our HD 5670 launch article, we tested out Sapphire’s own card, and even though it uses a fan, it was quiet, and overall, no larger than this one.
For the $80 – $100 segment, I can recommend both the HD 5570 and HD 5670, but not the HD 5550.
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