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When Budget Graphics Clash: GeForce 9400 GT Meets Radeon HD 4550

When Budget Graphics Clash: GeForce 9400 GT Meets Radeon HD 4550



The ATI Radeon HD 4550 512MB DDR3

The ATI Radeon HD 4550 512MB DDR3

We received a low profile version of the Radeon HD 4550 from ATI. While the company's presentation slides showed a similar low profile card with 256MB of DDR3 memory, our review sample came with 512MB of DDR3. This is quite unlike the usual practice of having GDDR memory, which is preferred for graphics cards. However, ATI believes that the lower cost of DDR3 memory (dropping rapidly to DDR2 levels) and its comparable bandwidth is the way to go for these lower end and mainstream cards.

 

The standard Radeon HD 4550 comes with either 256 or 512MB of DDR3 and has a core clock running at 600MHz. The memory chips are clocked at 1600MHz DDR. Architecturally, it is similar to the higher end Radeon 4000 GPUs, with ATI cutting down proportionally the number of stream processing units, texture units and ROPs found onboard the Radeon HD 4550. Hence, there are only 80 stream processing units for a total of 96 GFlops of processing power. On paper, that's roughly 20% the performance of a Radeon HD 4800 GPU. It does however only has a 64-bit memory interface, which does limit its memory bandwidth somewhat to 12.8GB/s despite its use of up to 512MB of DDR3.

Our review card was designed to be used for smaller chassis like those used by HTPC enthusiasts and is a low profile card that meant sacrificing its CrossFireX capability. It is in fact supported by ATI so if you're so inclined, you may setup CrossFireX with a suitable motherboard. With its small, quiet fan, our review unit certainly fitted the bill for a HTPC configuration.

Additionally, the presence of ATI's 2nd generation Avivo HD technologies meant that playing back a Blu-ray movie using a Radeon HD 4550 is entirely feasible. We'll be covering some of our findings about CPU utilization later but with its native HDMI and DisplayPort support, not to mention 7.1 channel audio through HDMI, it looks just the right fit for HTPCs.

Power consumption is also expected to be low, with ATI citing the statistic that the Radeon HD 4550 requires only 20W of power maximum. This is helped by its support for ATI's PowerPlay technology, where the GPU will throttle its clock speeds according to usage automatically. At idle, we found that our 4550 dropped down to a low 110MHz for the core and 600MHz DDR for its memory.