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Review: Sapphire Radeon HD 4550 - a gamers' card or HTPC hero?

by Tarinder Sandhu on 18 November 2008, 19:51

Tags: Radeon HD 4550 , Sapphire

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qap6f

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Card appearance



Interestingly, Sapphire currently retails a passively-cooled card on its UK information site but, as you can clearly see, our sample is actively cooled, albeit by a tiny fan that's practically silent for both 2D and 3D. This is the 1141-01 SKU, also available in the UK, that's designed for a touch greater overclocking.

By reading the original overview it's clear that the HD 4550 is aimed at multimedia use rather than all-out gaming, because its architecture - comprising of 80 stream processors, 64-bit memory bus,  and relatively lowly clockspeeds - isn't potent enough to run modern games at anything much more than 1,280x1,024 resolution.

The multimedia bolt-ons are far more useful, including the revised Avivo 2 video-processing engine that offloads the decode of high-definition codecs (H.264, VC1, MPEG-2) from the host CPU and to provide features such as enhanced DVD upscaling and dual-stream decoding, too.

As such, it makes a case as part of a budget multimedia PC that can, for example, play Blu-ray films.



The half-height nature of the PCB lends itself well to being housed in smaller-than-normal HTPC chassis, and Sapphire provides an alternate also-half-height backplate which removes the cabled-on VGA output.

Equipped with a core running at 600MHz and 512MB of DDR3 memory at 1,593MHz, the frequencies are entirely reference, which is what we would expect.



Low power-draw means that no additional power is required for the HD 4550.

Here is the full-size backplate. Partners have a range of options they can implement, from dual-link DVI, VGA, TV-out, HDMI (passthrough, dongle), and DisplayPort. Sapphire's been conservative and gone for the established triumvirate of HDMI, VGA, and TV-out, although you can add HDMI to that list if using the supplied dongle and routing sound via your motherboard.

Summary

No great shakes in terms of design, Sapphire's Radeon HD 4550 512MB is currently difficult to find in stock at most reputable etailers, some six weeks after 'release'. Searching around, we've seen it for around £45, which is around £10 higher than expected.