Review: The first sub €50 DirectX 11 card
AMD announced their Radeon HD 5450 yesterday and nicely filled out its HD 5000 offer in the low-end segment. The HD 5000 series will go down in history as the first Windows 7 compatible series, meaning the first to support DirectX 11. Naturally, AMD went ahead and practiced the good old “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” routine since Nvidia currently has no DX11 hardware to challenge the company.
HD 5000 series is also known as Evergreen series and it features Cypres, Juniper, Redwood and our today’s Cedar graphics processor. Note that Cypress is the fastest in the pack whereas the rest are various iterations with less shaders and computing power with Cedar holding the last spot.
So let us recap on AMD’s HD 5000 series and its five sub-series. Naturally, they’re easily told apart; the higher the number – the better the card.
HD 5900 sits proudly on top with dual-GPU Cypress-based Radeon HD 5970 as the fastest one. Cypress packs 1600 stream processors, 32ROPs and 80 texture units and its architecture is very complex, as is evident from the fact that it has 2.15 billion transistors. AMD made the card in 40nm so all these transistors fit on the 338mm2 GPU. This is the fastest AMD GPU up to date and it offers more than 2 TeraFLOPs (single precision) of pure computing power.
Next in line is the HD 5800 series aimed at hard-core gamers, and they’ll surely be more than happy with Radeon HD 5870 and HD 5850. Radeon 5870 is the faster of the two as it comes with full Cypress GPU whereas Radeon HD 5850 comes with Cypress LE GPU with 1440 stream processors, 32 ROPs and 72 texture units. Both cards use GDDR5 on 256-bit memory interface.
Mid-range is reserved for HD 5700 series which is priced below €140. The Radeon HD 5770 and HD 5750 are featured on Juniper core, which is basically a Cypress core slashed in half. Transistor count is at 1040 million and comes with 800 stream processors, 16 ROPs and 40 texture units. The slower Juniper LE GPU found on the HD 5750 features 720 stream processors, 16 ROPs and 36 texture units. Both cards use 128-bit memory interface, but GDDR5 memory means that the card won’t suffer from lack of bandwidth (HD5770 bandwidth is 76.8GB/s whereas HD 5750 has 73.6GB/s).
For those looking for a sub-€90 graphics card that will be good for occasional gaming at lower resolutions, AMD has the HD 5600 series. These cards are based on Redwood GPU, they don’t consume much and need no additional power connectors. HD 5600 features only 400 stream processors, 8 ROP units and 20 texture units. The cards use a 128-bit interface and, just like on the HD 5700 series, GDDR5 memory.
The weakest link in the HD 5000 series chain is Cedar GPU, which ticks within our today’s graphics card. This card does not have the processing power of the previously listed Evergreen offsprings, but it does share the flagship features – DirectX 11 support, ATI Stream technology, TeraScale 2 Unified Processing Architecture, ATI Avivo HD Video and 40nm technology.
Cedar core features 80 stream processors, which is only 20% of what Redwood GPU offers or 5% of the SPs on the Cypress GPU. In order to meet the price of €40-50, AMD had to reduce quite a few features, so you’ll get only 4 ROPs and 8 texture units. The card uses 64-bit interface combined with either DDR3 or DDR2 memory, depending on the partners’ choice.
Naturally, reducing processing power and shader count does introduce benefits of its own, most notably power consumption and thermals. The HD 5450’s TDP is only 19.1W whereas idle consumption is as low as 6.4W.
HD 5450’s thermal properties were virtually begging for passively cooled iterations, and Sapphire pounced on the chance to deliver such a product. Sapphire’s passively cooled card’s GPU runs at 650MHz and the DDR3 memory at 800MHz (1600MHz effectively).
Although the HD 5450’s graphics performance isn’t quite staggering, plenty of users were waiting on AMD’s cheaper DirectX 11 offer. Low consumption, low profile, silence and HD playback are HTPC owners’ dreams, and Sapphire kindly made them a reality. Thanks to ATI’s Stream technology, the HD 5450 will share the load between the CPU and GPU during more intensive data processing tasks such as image and video editing. Naturally, this is true only in apps that support ATI Stream, although we don’t think that 80 stream processors will introduce significant help.
Radeon HD 5450’s competitors from the green camp would be Geforce GT210 and GT220 cards, whereas AMD’s own offer has competing products in HD 4550 and HD 4650. HD 5450 is priced from €42 to over €50, but bear in mind that this is the cheapest DirectX 11 card on the market. All things considered, don’t expect gaming performance miracles, but if you’re willing to lower detail settings to minimum, gaming is possible as you’ll soon see for yourself.
Sapphire HD 5450 512 DDR3 PCI-E VGA/DVI-I/DP SKU#11166-00-40R comes in a large box that Sapphire used on HD 5600/5700 series, but with another picture. The front of the box shows flagship features to attract the customers – ATI Eyefinity multi-display support, DisplayPort and DVI onboard, DirectX 11, ATI Stream technology, PCI-Express 2.0, CrossFireX, LP bracket, 512MB DDR3 memory and SimHD plug-in for ArcSoft application.
The back of the box is pretty uninteresting and it features some of the afformentioned specs.
Within the box is another box that keeps the card from being damaged in transport. Of course, all of the used paper is recycleable.
As is usual with cheaper cards, the card doesn’t come with a free game, but Sapphire conveniently included two low profile I/O panels that can be used instead of the standard panel. The reason is that the original panel might not fit into your HTCP case, and it shows that Sapphire thought it out pretty well. The additional panel with an opening for a VGA connector can be mounted in the free slot next to the card. The VGA connector is connected with a cable so routing it to the next slot is not a problem.
As you can see from the following picture, Sapphire HD 5450 is a low profile card. The card is 16.8cm long and 7.2cm high (from PCI-E connector to the top of the passive cooler)
On the card you’ll find a single slot (we’ll call it that for now) passive cooler which stretches to the back of the card. Although the card is single slot on the front, the cooler is protruding in the back and might get in the way of hardware in the slot above.
Since the HD 5450 features a Cedar GPU that consumes only 19.1W, passive cooling is enough for this card. The card also features a 2-pin fan connector on the front of the card, just in case you need active air cooling
HD 5450 is inaudible and will be attractive to HTPC owners, but HTPC cases are often pretty compact and standard I/O panels are in turn often too high. Sapphire remedied that problem by including two low-profile I/O panels. The additional I/O panel, which features an opening for VGA out, is there so that you can mount it in one of the neighboring slots (ideally the one above the card, as the protruding part of the cooler wouldn’t have any components above it).
The I/O panel features dual-link DVI, VGA and DisplayPort outs, meaning the card is capable of ATI Eyefinity support of up to three monitors. If ATI Eyefinity is what you’re looking for, then you’ll have to purchase an HD 5450 card with DisplayPort connector, otherwise you’ll be limited to two monitor setups. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a DisplayPort monitor, you’ll have to purchase an active DisplayPort-to-DVI/VGA/HDMI that’s priced at around €100 (not to be confused with ordinary passive dongles which are cheap and often shipped with cards). Passive converters are much cheaper and will work well but in that case you can forget about Eyefinity.
Sapphire uses 512MB of DDR3 Samsung memory K4W1G1646E-HC12 running at 800Mhz. Two memory modules are on the face of the card and two on the back.
Motherboard: Elitegroup X58B-A (provided by Elitegroup);
Processor: Intel Core i7 Extreme 965 (provided by Intel);
Memory: 6GB Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24 (provided by Corsair);
HDD: WD VelociRaptor 300G 10,000RPM (provided by SmoothCreation);
Power Supply: CoolerMaster Ultimete 1100W (provided by Cooler Master);
Case: Obsidian 800D (provided by Corsair);
Fan Controler: Kaze Master Ace 5.25" (provided by Scythe);
Operating System: Win7 64-bit;
Driver: Catalyst 10.1 ; Forceware 196.34
Radeon HD 5450 is aimed at those who don’t use demanding 3D apps or hard core gaming but make no mistake - performance wise it’s better than integrated graphics. Of course, you can play games as long as you turn the effects of and set detail settings at minimum. To prove our point, we tried playing Dirt 2 with these settings, and while it is possible, note that there’ll be no people on the stands, no team in pit-stop section, no mud and dust under the wheels and in general the gaming is surely not like it was intended to be. On the other hand, if you don’t care for these details, then you’ve got nothing to worry about, the card’s got you covered.
In HD 5450’s price range we had only the GT220, but the better model with 1GB of memory. The difference between the HD 5450 and GT220 1GB is obvious so we don’t have to comment much. The important thing is that gaming is possible, but you’ll have to use bare minimums in settings. Every game except for Dirt2 ran in DirectX 9 mode.
World in Conflict
Far Cry 2
Sapphire HD 5450 is a low-profile passive graphics card which makes it ideal for HTPC. One of the main things HTPC owners usually look for is HD playback capabilities as well as high-definition audio codecs. Radeon HD 5450 meets all these requirements as it’s equipped with UVD 2.0 (Universal Video Decoder), which enables for dual-stream decoding. By turning on UVD 2.0 in apps like WinDVD and PowerDVD, you’ll enable hardware acceleration of H.264 and VC-1 HD video formats used on Blu-ray and HD DVD. If audio is what you’re worried about, it’s time to stop as HD 5450 offers 7.1 channel lossless audio at 24bit/192KHz.
Unfortunately for the red team, despite the fact that HD 5450 comes with all the bells and whistles, most HTPC users prefer Nvidia’s cards for as many of them told us themselves reliability reasons. Below you see the pictures we captured on playing a high-bitrate 1080p video file that’s often used for stress-testing HTPCs and other video setups.
Hardware support for DXVA in MPC-HC (Media Player Classic - HomeCinema) on Radeon HD 5450 didn’t always run, which wasn’t the case with the Geforce card. Modern graphics card offer the possibility to decode partially or completely a video stream using DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA), in order to reduce CPU usage dramatically. MPC-HC includes an embedded video decoder that uses this technology, to decode H.264 and VC-1 with hardly any CPU time required.
Playing Planet_Earth_From_Pole_to_Pole_1080p_sample.mkv with Radeon HD 5450 resulted in our CPU usage hanging around 30% whereas playing with Geforce GT 220 used only 1.5% maximum. The second videofile, Avatar – Trailer.mp4 ran on both cards without problems and resulted in CPU usage of about 1% in both cases.
Planet_Earth.mkv with HD 5450.
Note that Sapphire HD 5450 is a passively cooled card and while our Obsidian 800D case features a nice airflow, the card was somewhat stuck in a dead zone. Still, that didn't hinder the card's results and as you can see, the card has no problems with temperatures.
Radeon HD 5450 is the latest addition to the HD 5000 series and it will set you back between €38 and €50 depending on the type of memory and included video outs, here. Naturally, the price dictates performance so the HD 5450 had to sacrifice most of the power that comes with top HD 5000 series cards.
The card is based on the 40nm Cedar GPU, which runs pretty cool and consumes little. Sapphire HD 5450 card is low profile and passively cooled so it should be an attractive buy for HTPC users.
It features dual-link DVI, VGA and DisplayPort outs and the card features ATI Eyefinity support. Eyefinity allows for hooking up three monitors on the HD 5450 but you’ll need to use DisplayPort for the third monitor.
Radeon HD 5450 comes to replace HD 4550 and HD 4650 cards and is the first sub-€50 DirectX 11 card. Unfortunately, the HD 5450 performance won’t do DirectX 11 much justice as demanding games will usually require resolutions like 1280x1024 and lowest detail settings.
If you’re looking to upgrade from integrated graphics or looking to build an HTPC without having to shell out more serious bucks, this is probably a wise choice, but upgrading your HD 4550 for the sake of gaming alone might not be as wise.