Not every PC needs to have two GTX 480’s, a 5870, or even a 5770. Sometimes you need something quiet, low power, and just enough power to get the job done. Today I will be taking a look at the HD5550 Ultimate from Sapphire. With a large heatsink and no fan this card is perfect for builds where sound is critical, today we are going to find out how well it performs.
Product Name: Sapphire HD5550 Ultimate 1GB
Review Sample Provided by: Sapphire
Review by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
1 x D-Sub(VGA)
550 MHz Core Clock
1024 MB Size
-PCI Express® based PC is required with one X16 lane graphics slot available on the motherboard.
-400 Watt Power Supply is required.
-Certified power supplies are recommended. Refer to https://ati.amd.com/certifiedPSU for a list of Certified products.
-1024 MB Minimum of system memory.
-Installation software requires CD-ROM drive.
-DVD playback requires DVD drive.
-Blu-ray™ / HD DVD playback requires Blu-ray / HD DVD drive.
-For best cooling performance, a chassis installed with at least one 120mm or 90mm fan is required.
Sapphire packed the HD5550 in a white box with a rather scary girl wearing goggles and wielding a dagger. Along the bottom there are icons for a few of the video cards features. Around back you will find more information and no angry women to attack you. You will find a listing of everything to expect in the box, more features explained, and a picture of a guy with headphones showing off the silent passive cooling of the HD5550 Ultimate. Inside there is a 2nd cardboard box with everything packed away in it. To keep everything protected Sapphire included a piece of foam on one end, the foam keeps the goods from sliding around. The card itself is packed in a padded static free bag. Along with the HD5550, they have also included a driver disc, an installation guide, and important installation instructions.
Our Test Rig
Intel i7 930
GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD5R motherboard
Danger Den MC-TDX water block
240mm Black Ice Xtreme II Radiator
Danger Den 1 bay Reservoir
1/2 inch tubing
Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue 128Gb SSD
Raptor X under the top mesh with LED lighting
Samsung DVD Burner
OCZ DDR3 PC3-1600MHz Ram
Sparkle 1250Watt Gold Class PSU
To get an idea of the HD5550 Ultimate’s performance I put it to the test with 3DMark Vantage, Modern Warfare 2, and Battlefield Bad Company 2. Obviously this isn’t a fair test when put up against the much more expensive cards we have tested in the past. But I went ahead with it because I was curious how well this card would perform. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get a quick game in using your HTPC when your main rig is in use? I should point out the one issue we did have while installing the card. The heatsink goes around to the top side of the card taking up the slot above it. If you need to use the PCI Express x1 slot normally found above your x16 slot, you may be out of luck. In my case, I was worried that it would touch against my CPU heatsink. It was close, but I did have a little room (as seen in the photo below.
Here are our test results.
As you can see Battlefield Bad Company 2 and 3dMark Vantage both put a hurting on the HD5550. This was to be expected. The impressive thing was both BF:BC2 and MW2 were tested using the highest settings while running in full 1080p. This means that if you wanted a little better performance you could just drop the settings down a little bit. MW2 at 35 FPS was surprisingly playable, games that require less like TF2 would be perfect for this card.
The HD5550 Ultimate being a silent card I couldn’t let it get away without letting it do a little decoding. I swapped out our DVD burner for a BluRay drive and watched a few movies (with hardware acceleration turned on of course). At no point did the card have any trouble with the full HD movie decoding. For an HTPC the 7.1 audio this card is capable of running over the HDMI interface along with full hardware decoding, you couldn’t ask for a better solution. Hooking everything up is as simple as plugging in the HDMI cable into both your HTPC and your TV, in the past I would have to hook up both the video and audio individually.
If you are considering the Sapphire HD5550 Ultimate I am sure you are interested in the noise output of this card. I was going to run a few tests and pull out my trusty decibel meter until I realized that this card makes NO noise. Of course it’s not going to make any noise, it has no moving parts! They do suggest that for the best performance that you run at least one fan in your case to keep some air flowing over it. During all of my testing I saw a low temperature of 46 degrees Celsius along with a high of 65 while playing Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2. All in all I would say those temps are respectable considering the lack of a fan, under a load they are even lower than some cards with fans.
After spending a little time with the HD5550 Ultimate from Sapphire I have a new appreciation for mid-range cards. I was expecting the performance to be subpar at best for gaming and was surprised to find out that this card can and will perform well enough in most games and less than high settings. Perfect if you want to get a game in on your HTPC. Sapphire clearly has put a lot of time into putting together a perfect solution for those who are looking for a silent video card for their next HTPC build.