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ATI Radeon HD 5500 Series GDDR5 Review
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Date: Aug 31, 2010
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

A few weeks back, AMD quietly released a couple of new graphics cards in the Radeon HD 5500 series. For a while there, starting with the Radeon HD 5870 in late September of last year, it seemed like AMD was releasing a new series of graphics cards aimed at different price points, practically every few weeks. Things slowed down a bit once the company had a complete top-to-bottom line-up of DX11 and Eyefinity capable cards from prices ranging from about $49 to $600, but obviously AMD wasn’t quite done beefing up the Radeon HD 5000 series.

The recently released Radeon HD 5500 series cards differed from their predecessors in only one meaningful way—they were equipped with GDDR5 memory. The original 5500 series cards sported GDDR3 or GDDR2 memory. The move to GDDR5 allowed AMD to crank the memory clock speed up a bit, which would have a positive impact on overall performance.

We’ve got both the Radeon HD 5550 and Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 edition graphics cards in house and have taken them for a spin around the lab with an assortment of popular games and benchmarks. Take a look at the pages ahead to see just what a sub-$90 graphics card can get you these days…

 


The Radeon HD 5550 and 5570 GDDR5 Editions

Radeon HD 5500 Series
Specifications & Features
627 million 40nm transistors

TeraScale 2 Unified Processing Architecture

  320 (5550) / 400 (5570) Stream Processing Units
  16 (5550) / 20 (5570) Texture Units
  32 Z/Stencil ROP Units
  8 Color ROP Units 

DDR3/GDDR5 memory interface

PCI Express 2.1 x16 bus interface

DirectX 11 support
  Shader Model 5.0
  DirectCompute 11
  Programmable hardware tessellation unit
  Accelerated multi-threading
  HDR texture compression
  Order-independent transparency

OpenGL 3.2, 3.3, and 4.0 support

Image quality enhancement technology

  Up to 24x multi-sample and super-sample anti-aliasing modes
  Adaptive anti-aliasing
  16x angle independent anisotropic texture filtering
  128-bit floating point HDR rendering

ATI Eyefinity multi-display technology

  Three independent display controllers 
  Drive three displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls, and video overlays
  Display grouping
  Combine multiple displays to behave like a single large display

ATI Stream acceleration technology

  OpenCL Support
  DirectCompute 11
  Accelerated video encoding, transcoding, and upscaling
ATI CrossFireX multi-GPU technology
Dual GPU scaling

ATI Avivo HD Video & Display technology
  UVD 2 dedicated video playback accelerator
  Advanced post-processing and scaling8
  Dynamic contrast enhancement and color correction
  Brighter whites processing (Blue Stretch)
  Independent video gamma control
  Dynamic video range control
  Support for H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, and Adobe Flash
  Dual-stream 1080p playback support
  DXVA 1.0 & 2.0 support
  Integrated dual-link DVI output with HDCP 
  Max resolution: 2560x1600
  Integrated DisplayPort output
  Max resolution: 2560x1600
  Integrated HDMI 1.3 output with Deep Color, xvYCC wide gamut support, and high bit-rate audio
  Max resolution: 1920x1200
  Integrated VGA output
  Max resolution: 2048x1536
  3D stereoscopic display/glasses support
  Integrated HD audio controller
  Output protected high bit rate 7.1 channel surround sound over HDMI with no additional cables required
  Supports AC-3, AAC, Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio formats

ATI PowerPlay power management technology

  Dynamic power management with low power idle state
  Ultra-low power state support for multi-GPU configurations

Certified drivers for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP

The Radeon HD 5500 Series GDDR5 editions have the exact same feature set as their GDDR3/2 counterparts. The GPU configurations on GDDR5 cards are identical to those of the original GDDR3/2 cards. Also note, the Radeon HD 5550 and Radeon HD 5570 sport the same GPU, hence the similar features. The only differences between the two cards are that the higher-end Radeon HD 5570 has more stream processing units and texture units. Whereas the Radeon HD 5570 has 400 stream processors and 20 texture units, the Radeon HD 5550 has 320 and 16.

 

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The Radeon HD 5500 Series GDDR5

The Radeon HD 5550 and HD 5570 GDDR5 edition cards we received for testing looked identical to each other. In fact, the only discernable difference between the two cards was a cryptic model number on a small sticker on the back of the PCB.

We should point out, however, that these cards are reference models and that AMD’s board partners will be releasing different variations of these products that use different PCBs, including half height models, and different coolers. What you see pictured here are strictly reference designs produced by AMD.

 

 

In terms of their specifications, they are largely unchanged from the original GDDR3/2 versions of the Radeon HD 5550 and HD 5570. The original Radeon HD 5570 reference design called for a 650MHz GPU clock with 900MHz memory. The new GDDR5 edition has the same 650MHz GPU clock, but the memory has been goosed up to 1GHz. We should also point out that both of these cards sport 512MB frame buffers.

Similarly, the original Radeon HD 5550 called for a 550MHz GPU clock with 800MHz memory; the new GDDR5 model has the same GPU clock, but the memory has been pushed to the same 1GHz as the 5570. What the higher speed memory means to both cards is that more memory bandwidth will be available, which in turn will improve performance virtually across the board in mid-to-low end graphics cards such as these.

The output configuration on both of the cards we tested consisted of HDMI, DP, and dual-link DVI outputs, and neither card required supplemental power.

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Test System and Unigine Heaven v2.1

We tested the graphics cards in this article on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard powered by a Core i7 965 quad-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3-1333 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and applications.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Core i7 965 (3.2GHz)

Gigabyte EX58-UD5
(X58 Express)

Radeon HD 5550
Radeon HD 5570
GeForce GT 240

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX June 2010 Redist
ATI Catalyst v10.7
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 258.96

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.1
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
H.A.W.X.
FarCry 2
Just Cause 2
Left 4 Dead 2*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*

* - Custom benchmark

Unigine Heaven v2.1 Benchmark
Synthetic DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and it also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering. Due to the fact that we tested Heaven in DX11 mode, no NVIDIA GT200 series cards are represented in the graph below.


 

Running the Unigine benchmark at these ultra high settings slows the Radeon HD 5500 series GDDR5 cards to a crawl. The additional GPU resources of the 5570 give it a marked advantage over the 5550, though.

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Futuremark 3DMark Vantage



Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark Vantage

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which y isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

The NVIDIA GeForce GT 240 finished well ahead of either Radeon HD 5500 series card in the 3DMark Vantage benchmark. Once again, the 5570 is measurably faster than the 5550, but the 240 finishes well ahead of both.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance


Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering

We see a similar trend in our custom ET: Quake Wars benchmark. Here, the GeForce GT 240 edges out the Radeons once again, but the competition from the 5570 is tight.

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FarCry 2

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA enabled.



The Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 ran neck and neck with the GeForce GT 240, with a slight edge going to NVIDIA's offering. The 5550 trailed both cards by a significant margin.
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Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


Left 4 Dead 2

Like its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that pits four players against numerous hordes of Zombies. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D 2 are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game has much more realistic water and lighting effects, more expansive maps with richer detail, more complex models, and the list goes on and on. We tested the game at various resolutions with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.

It was another tight race between the Radeon HD 5570 and GeForce GT 240 in our Left 4 Dead 2 benchmark, with each card taking the top spot in one resolution. And once again, the less-powerful Radeon HD 5550 trailed the other two cards be a decent margin.

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Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
DirectX Gaming Performance


Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.  We used the built-in performance test at two resolutions with all quality settings set to their highest values, using the DX10 code path for the GeForce GT 200 series cards, and DX10.1 path for the Radeons and GeForce GTX 400 series.

It doesn't get much closer than that. The Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 and GeForce GT 240 finished right on top of each other in the HAWX benchmark, with the Radeon HD 5550 trailing right behind.

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Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called The Concrete Jungle.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level. 

The Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 managed to pull just slightly ahead of the GeForce GT 240 in the Just Cause 2 benchmark, but this is one game that can really tax a GPU with the settings cranked up, as is evident by the framerates.

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Total System Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

All three of the cards tested here consume relatively little power. None of them require a supplemental power connector and can be fed completely by the PEG slot they are plugged into. As you can see, the GeForce GT 240 consumed the least amount of power while idling while the Radeon HD 5550 used the least under load, but all three of the card were within a few watts of each other. And all of the cards run so cool and quiet as to be a non-issue.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Both the Radeon HD 5550 and HD 5570 GDDR5 editions offer decent performance, that’s a significant step up from integrated graphics solutions. Generally speaking, the Radeon HD 5570 and competing GeForce GT 240 perform about on par with each other, with the cards trading victories depending on the applications being tested. The Radeon HD 5550 obviously performs somewhat lower than the 5570 due to its lesser compliment of stream processors, texture units, etc., but it is also less expensive.

The Radeon HD 5500 series GDDR5 editions aren’t barn burners, but they are welcome additions to AMD’s graphics card line-up for a couple of reasons. First of all, they perform better than their GDDR3/2 counterparts, which is a big plus in their price segment. Speaking of price, the Radeon HD 5500 series GDDR5 editions also arrive with price points right in line with the GDDR3/2 iterations—AMD is essentially offering higher-performing cards for the same price as the original version, which will obviously see a price drop as a result. These cards will also be offered in half-height or passively cooled versions as well.

The Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 can be found for approximately $60 - $80 depending on its memory compliment and cooler configuration. And the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 comes in at around $80 - $90, which is right in line with the similarly performing GT 240. Considering how close they are in price, we’re more intrigued by the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5, due to it offering much better overall performance. The extra few bucks are well spent in our opinion, if you’re shopping for a card in this price range. We’d also give the Radeon the nod over the GT 240—performance is similar, but the 5570 will net end users a more flexible output configuration and DX11 support. Of course, for a few more bucks, there’s a lot more performance to be had by opting for a card in the Radeon HD 5600 or 5700 series, but if you’ve got less than $100 to spend on a GPU, the Radeon HD 5500 GDDR5 edition should fit the bill nicely.

 

  • Low Power
  • Affordable
  • Quiet
  • DX11 and Eyefinity Support

 

  • Meager Performance in Cutting Edge Games
  • No Boost in GPU Speed

 



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