ATI Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 Review

While the Radeon HD 5550 may not be a new card, the inclusion of GDDR5 is.  This should add a small boost in performance over the GDDR3 and DDR2 models while retaining the low-power profile, perfect for inclusion in a Home Theater PC (HTPC) build.

Introduction

The Radeon HD 5550 is an entry level card aimed at the HTPC market.  The most notable features are it’s very low power draw (39W maximum) and hardware acceleration for video.  If you throw a Bluray Disc Drive in with it, then you can also stream the uncompressed audio directly to your receiver without the need for another audio card.  All in all, the specs add up to a decent option for a HTPC and possibly even worthy of a low end gaming computer with it’s DirectX 11 support.  When you consider this card has a MSRP of $75, it begins to look even better.

Notable Technologies

  • ATI Stream technology – hardware acceleration for video
  • ATI Eyefinity technology – run up to 3 monitors off one card
  • Bitstream Audio – pass uncompressed audio from Bluray Discs straight to a receiver via HDMI

Specifications (as seen by GPU-Z)

HD 5550
(as tested)
HD 5570 GT 220
Core Clock 550 MHz 650 MHz 625 MHz
Memory Clock 1000 MHz 1000 MHz 790 MHz
Memory Type GDDR5 DDR3 DDR3
Memory Size 512 MB 1024 MB 1024 MB
Memory Bus Width 128 Bit 128 Bit 128 Bit
Direct X Support 11 11 10.1
ROPs 16 16 8
Shaders 320 400 48
Texture Fillrate 22.9 GTexel/s 29.4 GTexel/s 14.9 GTexel/s
Pixel Fillrate 11.4 GPixel/s 11.8 GPixel/s 7.4 GPixel/s
Memory Bandwidth 73.6 GB/s 33.3 GB/s 31.2 GB/s
GPU Technology 40 nm 40 nm 40 nm
Transistors 627 M 627 M 486 M

You can see in the images below that ATI was kind enough to send us a reference card to test.  I was told that the retail models will be low-profile cards so they can be used in Small Form Factor (SFF) cases.

Top view of the heatsink-fan

Top view of the heatsink-fan

Bottom view of the card

Bottom view of the card

Profile view

Profile view

Connector view

Connector view- features DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort

Close up of the core

Close up of the core

Another close up of the core

Another close up of the core

Top view of card without heatsink

Top view of card without heatsink

Testing Platform

To test this puppy, I’m going to throw it in my relatively old Core2Duo/P45 based system.  I say “relatively old” because it’s not the most recently released hardware, obviously, but is still readily available and still performs well for gaming and multimedia.

  • Processor: Intel E8400 @ 4.23 GHz
  • Motherboard: Asus P5Q
  • RAM: 4 GB GeiL Ultra DDR2 @ 470 MHz
  • Hard Drive: Western Digital 74GB Raptor
  • Power Supply: Enhance ENP-5150GH 500W
  • Heatsink: Zalman CNPS9900
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 x64, Phoronix Test Suite Live (Ubuntu)
  • Drivers: Catalyst 10.5 and 10.6

Benchmarks

  • Cyberlink Mediashow Espresso (encoding)
  • Youtube 1080p and 4k resolution (video playback)
  • Hulu Desktop (video playback)
  • 3DMark 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, and Vantage (gaming)
  • Aquamark3 (gaming)
  • Unigen (DirectX 11 gaming)
  • Alien vs. Predator (DirectX 11 gaming)
  • Linux: JXRendermark
  • Linux: Warsow

Hardware Acceleration Performance

First, I have to mention that hardware acceleration will not work without the Avivo package, which is separate from the standard Catalyst Control Center package. It looks like they’ve already fixed this problem, but their download page used to say the Avivo package was not needed for 5000 series cards and I spent a great deal of time searching the internet to find out why I could not get the hardware acceleration to work.  However, I still don’t think it is shown prominently enough on the page to show that this package is highly recommended, if not mandatory, for proper use of this card.

I actually didn’t notice that much of an improvement in processor usage while using hardware acceleration, but there was a huge difference in encoding time.  To encode in Mediashow Espresso, I created a 2 minute video (640×480, AVI) using my camera then used the iPhone 3g preset (h.264 video, AAC audio).

Encoding Time

HW Accel. On HW Accel. Off Difference
24 seconds 43 seconds 19 sec. (44%)

Processor Usage

Flash Video Playback - processor usage

Processor usage

UPDATE (7/22/2010):

Our ATI representative brought a few issues to my attention and apparently I missed a setting or two while testing the processor usage.  So, I re-ran the Cyberlink Mediashow Espresso and Youtube tests to see if I would get different results this time.  For the record, I did.  I’m not sure exactly what I missed in the previous tests, but in this round of tests I did see a good difference in processor usage between having the hardware acceleration turned on an off.  For the YouTube testing, I used a 4K Resolution playlist to play two videos in succession at both 1080p and original 4k resolution, Life in the Garden and Surf NYC.  These are the same videos, played in the same manner for the original test.  When I changed the Hardware Acceleration setting in Flash, I made sure to refresh the page several times to make sure the setting took.

Encoding Time
Hardware Acceleration On Hardware Acceleration Off Difference
25 Seconds 44 seconds 19 seconds (44%)
Processor Usage
MediaShow Espresso Youtube 1080p Youtube 4k resolution
Core0 Core1 Core0 Core1 Core0 Core1
Hardware Acceleration Off 93% 85% 39% 39% 87% 86%
Hardware Acceleration On 43% 52% 27% 20% 84% 83%
Difference 50% 33% 12% 19% 3% 4%
Updated Processor Usage chart

Updated Processor Usage chart

Hardware Decode On

Hardware Decode On

Hardware Decode Off

Hardware Decode Off

Hardware Encode On

Hardware Encode On

Hardware Encode Off

Hardware Encode Off

Finished encoding - hardware acceleration on

Finished encoding - hardware acceleration on

Finished encoding - hardware acceleration off

Finished encoding - hardware acceleration off

Overclockability

Surprisingly, I was able to work a 30% overclock (715MHz) on the core, which was the maximum that the MSI Afterburner program would allow.  Not as spectacular, the memory would not go past 1150 MHz.  There was more room on the slider bar, but ever time I hit apply it would revert back to 1150 MHz.  This happened on both the 10.5 and 10.6 drivers.  Also, the exact same clocks were stable on both the 10.5 and 10.6 drivers.

Gaming Performance

Without any further delay, let’s get to the numbers:

3DMark Vantage at stock clocks

3DMark Vantage at stock clocks

3DMark Vantage at 715/1150

3DMark Vantage at 715/1150

3DMark

10.5 Stock
(Marks)
10.5 Overclocked
(Marks)
10.6 Stock
(Marks)
10.6 Overclocked
(Marks)
3DMark Vantage 3849 4849 3875 4683
3DMark06 8358 10217 8435 10291
3DMark05 15902 19477 15988 19477
3DMark03 25308 31736 25388 32013
3DMark01 50702 53137 51505 53999

3DMark performance

3DMark performance

Aquamark3

Score
10.5 stock 144920
10.5 oc 154694
10.6 stock 144679
10.6 oc 157406

Aquamark 3 performance

Aquamark 3 performance

Alien vs. Predator  - DirectX 11

Avg. FPS
10.5 stock 11.3
10.5 oc 14.5
10.6 stock 11.3
10.6 oc 14.5

Alien vs. Predator performance

Alien vs. Predator performance

Unigine – DirectX 11

Avg. FPS Min. FPS Max. FPS Scores
10.5 stock 1600×1200 9.7 6 22.9 243
10.5 stock 1024×768 15.2 8.4 46.6 384
10.5 oc 1600×1200 12.4 7.6 29 313
10.5 oc 1024×768 19.5 10.7 59 491
10.6 stock 1600×1200 9.7 6 22.3 244
10.6 stock 1024×768 15.2 9 45.7 382
10.6 oc 1600×1200 12.3 7.6 28.5 310
10.6 oc 1024×768 19.4 10.7 58.5 490
Unigen performance - FPS

Unigen performance - FPS

Unigen performance - scores

Unigen performance - scores

Overall, this low-end card did pretty well with gaming.  It’s not setting any world records, that’s for sure, but it can easily handle older games like Counter Strike: Source and World of Warcraft.  I even got to use it with the StarCraft II beta, and I had no problem running the game at 1600×1200 with all settings at Medium.  As for the comparison between the 10.5 and 10.6 drivers, it’s almost a toss-up but the 10.6 drivers did have a slight edge when the card was overclocked.

For a quick and dirty overview of performance, you can check out this hwbot compare link to see what people are able to obtain with the various competing cards.  As of this writing, I’m the only one with scores submitted for the HD 5550 GDDR5.

Linux Performance

Since this card is aimed at the HTPC market and my personal favorite software to run is XBMC for Linux, I decided to run a  few tests using the Phoronix Test Suite Desktop Live DVD.

JXRenderMark

32×32
(Ops./sec)
128×128
(Ops./sec)
Rects Composition 110067.89 26996.69
Put Composition 170497.09 20728.61
Simple Blit 482905.75 138167.72
Transformed Blit Linear 98998.78 8309.44
Transformed Blit Bilinear 24891.39 2017.26
Transformed Texture Paint 26365.21 1909.9
Linear Gradient Blend 53296.33 5047.67
Radial Gradient Paint 31678.78 2363.81
Gradient Temp Texture 45277.17 4796.62
12pt Text Grayscale 18277.98 5445.58
12pt Text LCD 19292.26 5587.61
JXRendermark performance

JXRenderMark performance

Warsow

Avg. FPS
800×600 266.53
1024×768 230.43
1280×960 184.93
1440×900 184.06
1280×1024 176.2
1400×1050 162.5
1600×1200 142.53

Warsow performance

Warsow performance

These benchmark runs are also viewable online: JXRendermark and Warsow.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think this card packs a lot of punch for a sub-$100 price.  If you are building a HTPC or low-end gaming system, certainly take this GPU into consideration.

- splat

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5 Comments:

soldierguy's Avatar
You sure did a nice review/ good job.

Tom
splat's Avatar
updated the review with some new processor usage data. apparently I had something configured wrong in my initial testing.
macklin01's Avatar
Very nice testing.
splat's Avatar
thanks guys, trying my best to improve with every article i write.
macklin01's Avatar
Fantastic job. Our site is moving in a very good direction.
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