Our Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: The new Radeon HD 4550 struggled in most of our in-game tests and benchmarks. It managed to pull ahead of the previous-gen 120 steam processor Radeon HD 3650 in a couple of tests, but more often than not the Radeon HD 4550 trailed our reference cards. SD and HD video playback was strong, however, as the Radeon HD 4550 put up a near perfect score in HQV and offered low-CPU utilization during playback of our 1080P H.264 video test clip.
With an expected price range of $45 to $55, the new Radeon HD 4550 is certainly an affordable product and it represents a significant upgrade over any integrated graphics solution. The card's feature set, low power characteristics, optional passive cooler, and HDMI / DisplayPort outputs are also appealing, especially to prospective HTPC do-it-yourselfers and systems integrators. However, the simple fact of the matter is, there are a multitude of similarly priced graphics cards in the Radeon HD 4550's class that offer better frame rates with similar video digital video performance. Currently we can find in our price search engine, a passively cooled Asus Radeon HD 3650 being offered for $35 and an EVGA GeForce 9500 GT 512MB for $49 after mail in rebates. In addition, GeForce cards also offer the added benefit of PhsyX support. Regardless, even without rebates, these cards are available in the $55 to $65 range. Considering how close they are in price--even if your budget is really tight--we'd recommend spending the extra few bucks for the increased performance.
With that said, the Radeon HD 4550, especially the passively cooled version we tested, is an intriguing option if low power and / or silent computing is your goal. If prices ultimately settle in at the lower-end of the product's expected range, this new entry-level card from AMD could make a good addition to a home theater or similar media PC.