Sapphire HD 6450 FleX Edition Review

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Anything with passive cooling generally makes me shudder, but when it comes to my HTPC setup, small and quiet hardware is of the utmost importance. The Sapphire HD 6450 FleX Edition is already the least expensive Eyefinity solution on the market, but how flexible is this card really?

Specifications and Features

The full specifications are listed below, notice the 625 MHz core and 800 MHz memory clocks (1600 MHz effective):

Specifications (Courtesy: Sapphire)
Output 1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x Single-Link DVI-D
GPU 625 MHz Core Clock
40 nm Chip
160 x Stream Processors
Memory 1024 MB Size
64 -bit DDR3
1600 MHz Effective
Dimension 180(L)x110(W)x43(H) mm Size.
Software Driver CD
Accessory DVI to VGA AdapterHDMI to DVI Adapter

The card is tiny, but does not lack options when it comes to output. Now On to the condensed feature list, (which I trimmed from the full version available in the link below):

Features (Courtesy: Sapphire)
AMD EyefinityAMD Eyefinity technology maximises your field of view across up to three displays, fully engaging your peripheral vision.  For gamers this puts you right IN the game and for other applications it helps to increase productivity by maximising your visual workspace so that you can see more windows simultaneously.  AMD Eyefinity technology is also ideal for multimedia applications as it allows you to keep several ‘palettes’ or ‘panels’ open over a larger workspace whist you edit your images or videos.*Eyefinity Demo
*To support 3 displays, one of the monitors has to support DisplayPort
**When running Microsoft Windows XP, Eyefinity technlogy supports a maximum of 2 displays.

Sapphire FleX Technology3 DVI Eyefinity Out of the BoxTargeting maximum flexibility with minimum outlay, Sapphire FleX Technology simplifies AMD’s multi-monitor Eyefinity solution by allowing 3 X DVI monitors to be connected to the board ‘out of the box’ WITHOUT the requirement for expensive DisplayPort monitors or Active Adapters.

AMD HD3D TechnologyEnjoy the most immersive experience possible with full support for High Definition Stereoscopic 3D, a technique that presents 2D images (movies, games, photos) in a format that creates the illusion of three-dimensional depth when using compatible 3D displays / glasses / software.

Dolby® TrueHD and DTSHD Master Audio™ SupportSupport for copy protected, high bandwidth, 7.1 channel surround sound over HDMI. Get a fully immersive, high definition audio experience with the latest Blu-ray movies. (Requires a DVI to HDMI dongle on some models, an HD capable monitor and a Blu-ray drive)

AMD PowerPlayDynamically manage power efficiency and take control of your performance with AMD’s revolutionary AMD PowerPlay TM power management technology delivering high performance features when needed and conserving power when the demand on the graphics processor is low. This seemless technology dramatically reduces the overall power consumption allowing for break-through energy efficiency.

Enhanced Unified Video Decoder 3 (UVD 3)Watch the hottest Blu-ray movies or other HD content at full 1080p (and beyond !) display resolution. Enjoy a feature rich video experience with enhanced Unified Video Decoder 3 (UVD 3), offloading the bulk of the video decoding tasks from the CPU to the GPU allowing for a cooler, quieter and more balanced system.

Photo Tour

The box exhibits the standard Sapphire babe sporting a couple of handguns. Can this card render that babe at over 10fps in a DX11 game engine? Well, that remains to be seen. The backside of the box is filled with features, product descriptions and some of our competitors’ logos (maybe we’ll be on the next one).

Box Front

Box Front

Box Back

Box Back

The HD 6450 FleX is equipped the standard battery of accessories like an installation CD, manual and DVI to VGA adapter. All of those are useless, as we’ll be using the freshest Catalyst drivers, HDMI output and no manual is necessary to get this card installed. Two mystery items remain that have not been mentioned yet: an HDMI to DVI adapter and low-profile output shield. These accessories are what give this card it’s unique feature-set or angle.

Accessories

Accessories

Accessories

Accessories

With the HDMI to DVI adapter, users now have the ability to use Eyefinity, or a three monitor setup, right out of the box. No additional adapters have to be purchased, no additional GPUs. That functionality adds significant value to the Sapphire HD 6450 FleX, making it the least expensive Eyefinity solution on the market by a hefty margin.

The low-profile output shield (pictured above and to the right below) opens up a world of possibilities as far as compatibility with all types of cases, including standard ATX, slimline workstation setups, and HTPCs. For such a low price-point, having all this versatility came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Sapphire’s HD 6450 FleX is equipped with three outputs, two DVI and one HDMI. As mentioned above, the use of an adapter essentially transforms the final output into DVI, which makes three DVI outputs total, allowing for full Eyefinity support. To the right is a comparison of how the standard and low-profile IO shields stack up to eachother. Pretty clever design by Sapphire if you ask me.

Outputs

Outputs

Outputs vs. Low-Profile Outputs

Outputs vs. Low-Profile Outputs

Finally after all my innate rambling, it is time for the first look at the card itself. The GPU is about half the height of the average enthusiast graphics card and features a low-profile passive heatsink. Also notice this card requires no additional power from the PSU, again making it ideal for an HTPC or small form-factor setup where watts are at a premium.

Sapphire HD 6450 FleX

Sapphire HD 6450 FleX

Sapphire HD 6450 FleX Back

Sapphire HD 6450 FleX Back

Taking a closer look at the cooler, it appears quite flimsy and weak at first glance. Never judge a book by its cover, because this heatsink can handle quite a bit of heavy lifting despite its small stature. There are five branches, or thick fins, that extend from the base of the heatsink. This design seems to indicate that Sapphire assumes there will be some airflow in the case itself, allowing for warm air to pass between the fins and out into circulation of the fans in the users’ setup.

Passive Cooler

Passive Cooler

Passive Cooler

Passive Cooler

Cooler Closeup

Cooler Closeup

Cooler Internal Closeup

Cooler Internal Closeup

Having seen the card from several angles, the prognosis was not positive for performance or a hefty overclock. Some of the features that are normally considered negative are in fact positive with a card like this including a low-profile, low-power design and a passive heatsink. It’s like my entire world has been turned upside down, but I am set in my ways, so this card will not escape the full battery of tests that other GPUs go through here are Overclockers.com.

Performance

Test Setup and Methodology

The middle column lists the test setup used to conduct this review, results were compared to tests run in previous reviews based on nearly identical setups from other Overclockers.com editors.

Video Sapphire HD 6450 FleX Edition

HD 6570

HD 5550

Processor Intel i7 2600K @ stock
Motherboard Gigabyte P67A-UD7-B3 Biostar TP67XE
RAM Kingston HyperX 2x2GB DDR3-2000 Patriot Inferno Viper II 2x2GB DDR3-2133
Power Supply PC & Power Cooling 750w NZXT HALE90 850 W
Operating Systems Windows 7 x64

All benchmarks and game tests on the Sapphire HD 6450 FleX were run once. Any outliers were thrown out and tests were run over again to verify accuracy. All game tests were run with their settings maxed out (everything at “high” or “ultra”). Synthetic benchmarks were run at stock settings.

Overclocking

To my surprise, the Sapphire HD 6450 FleX is actually a blast to overclock and clocks like a champ. To start, a few preliminary benchmarks were run in order to ensure the GPU would remain within an allowable temperature. If the card got too hot, overclocking would be completely off the table. Under a heavy dose of 3dmark11 and Vantage, the HD 6450 managed temperatures that did not eclipse the mid-60s (°C). There were no fans setup to circulate air near the GPU, however my setup is an open-air benching station, so air does circulate naturally. Under confined, cramped conditions, this card may get quite a bit hotter.

Free of worries about hitting a thermal limit, I promptly opened up my favorite GPU overclocking tool, Sapphire TRIXX. This is not a Sapphire marketing ploy by any means, it just seems to me at least, that TRIXX is simpler, lighter and more nimble than Afterburner or other utilities out there. The core voltage slider appeared unlocked, so I increased it by the max of .05 volts. Pretty tiny, but every last bit helps. After a few hours of testing, I settled on a whopping 850 MHz core, or 35% increase, and 825 MHz memory. It is strange seeing the core speed ahead of the memory like that, but here at Overclockers.com, every MHz counts. Let’s see how these improved clocks and stock speeds shake out after a run through out battery of tests.

Benchmarks

This suite of tests features synthetic and gaming tests, including several versions of 3DMark and games with a variety of different DX generation engines:

HD 6450 FleX Performance

HD 6450 FleX Performance

Based on the data, the HD 6570 and HD 5550 mop the floor with Sapphire’s HD 6450 FleX even with hefty overclocks. Both cards are a tad higher price-wise, but come equipped with a fan and stronger clocks. Keep in mind, all these tests were run at high settings in 1080p. That being said, the HD 6450 FleX will be able to handle most games at lower resolutions without any major issues. If you are a gamer, clearly this card is not for you, but if every once in a while you like gun down a few zombies on your 40″ HDTV through an HTPC setup, the HD 6450 is up to the task.

As for 1080p playback, I did not test this in any meaningful or repeatable way, but as far as I can tell this card can handle it just fine. If it can glide by in 3DMark and a few games churning out tessellation and 4x MSAA instructions (though, not well), it can tackle 1080p playback without any noticeable lag.

Conclusion

Though it comes with a performance hit, the HD 6450 FleX does offer two major things that neither the 5550 or 6570 bring to the table: absolute silence and Eyefinity support. Plus, including a low-profile output shield is a great added bonus allowing for additional versatility, which is ultimately what this GPU is all about. When it comes down to it, this card has a ton of options, it can perform many different tasks from an office setup, to HTPC and even some light gaming. Is it going to knock your socks off? Absolutely not, but at $59.99 on Newegg the HD 6450 FleX is $37 less than the next cheapest Eyefinity GPU. To put that in perspective, the difference in price is equal to more than half the original price of the Sapphire 6450 FleX.

One cannot discount the testing data entirely because if pure low-budget performance is what you seek, it is worth stepping up to the 6570 or other cards in the similar $75-$100 price range.

In the end, this card is most certainly Overclockers.com approved because of its versatility and Eyefinity support. If that’s what you are after, definitely consider the Sapphire HD 6450 FleX in your next HTPC.

Matt Ring (mdcomp)

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