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 5570GT 220
Core Clock550 MHz650 MHz625 MHz
Memory Clock1000 MHz1000 MHz790 MHz
Memory TypeGDDR5DDR3DDR3
Memory Size512 MB1024 MB1024 MB
Memory Bus Width128 Bit128 Bit128 Bit
Direct X Support111110.1
ROPs16168
Shaders32040048
Texture Fillrate22.9 GTexel/s29.4 GTexel/s14.9 GTexel/s
Pixel Fillrate11.4 GPixel/s11.8 GPixel/s7.4 GPixel/s
Memory Bandwidth73.6 GB/s33.3 GB/s31.2 GB/s
GPU Technology40 nm40 nm40 nm
Transistors627 M627 M486 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. OnHW Accel. OffDifference
24 seconds43 seconds19 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 OnHardware Acceleration OffDifference
25 Seconds44 seconds19 seconds (44%)
Processor Usage
MediaShow EspressoYoutube 1080pYoutube 4k resolution
Core0Core1Core0Core1Core0Core1
Hardware Acceleration Off93%85%39%39%87%86%
Hardware Acceleration On43%52%27%20%84%83%
Difference50%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 Vantage3849484938754683
3DMark06835810217843510291
3DMark0515902194771598819477
3DMark0325308317362538832013
3DMark0150702531375150553999

3DMark performance
3DMark performance
Aquamark3

Score
10.5 stock144920
10.5 oc154694
10.6 stock144679
10.6 oc157406

Aquamark 3 performance
Aquamark 3 performance
Alien vs. Predator  – DirectX 11

Avg. FPS
10.5 stock11.3
10.5 oc14.5
10.6 stock11.3
10.6 oc14.5

Alien vs. Predator performance
Alien vs. Predator performance
Unigine – DirectX 11

Avg. FPSMin. FPSMax. FPSScores
10.5 stock 1600×12009.7622.9243
10.5 stock 1024×76815.28.446.6384
10.5 oc 1600×120012.47.629313
10.5 oc 1024×76819.510.759491
10.6 stock 1600×12009.7622.3244
10.6 stock 1024×76815.2945.7382
10.6 oc 1600×120012.37.628.5310
10.6 oc 1024×76819.410.758.5490
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 Composition110067.8926996.69
Put Composition170497.0920728.61
Simple Blit482905.75138167.72
Transformed Blit Linear98998.788309.44
Transformed Blit Bilinear24891.392017.26
Transformed Texture Paint26365.211909.9
Linear Gradient Blend53296.335047.67
Radial Gradient Paint31678.782363.81
Gradient Temp Texture45277.174796.62
12pt Text Grayscale18277.985445.58
12pt Text LCD19292.265587.61
JXRendermark performance
JXRenderMark performance

Warsow

Avg. FPS
800×600266.53
1024×768230.43
1280×960184.93
1440×900184.06
1280×1024176.2
1400×1050162.5
1600×1200142.53

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

Discussion

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