Sapphire Radeon HD 5550 Ultimate review

Can this passive cooled GPU take the fight to the budget gaming graphics cards?

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  • Passively cooled
  • Price
  • DX11 and CrossFire ready


  • Not very powerful
  • Passive cooling not sufficient

You can tell the Sapphire 5550 Ultimate isn't a high-end graphics card from the off; the box isn't a ridiculous size.

As the name suggests, it slots neatly between a 5870 and 5450 and offers a DX11 card at a budgety price.

Performance is mediocre. On our beefy test rig it ran DiRT 2 at 1680 x 1050, with all the frills turned on, at 13.4fps. The same system sporting a 5870 managed 51fps. Far Cry 2 managed 16 against 77 and Just Cause 2 dropped from 50 to just 6fps.

Perhaps at under a third of the price we shouldn't be too surprised. We had to drop the games to 800 x 600 and turn off the fancy stuff to get a decently playable frame rate, if you think 40ish frames properly playable.

Modern game engines are so effective that even such a modest card still looks pretty good, but only if you don't know any better.

Its claims to be a DX11 gaming card don't really cut much ice. The 'Ultimate' part of the tag denotes the passive cooling, although the box does say that the "use of a fan inside the system case is required". So you still need to keep air moving mechanically somewhere. In our test rig, open to the air, it reached 80º.

The 5550 ticks all the DX11 boxes, is CrossFire-compatible, and can make a reasonable fist of undemanding jobs, but it's neither one thing nor the other.

It's not got efficient enough passive cooling for media players, it's not got enough gaming oomph for 'proper' gaming, and it isn't cheap enough to be a real bargain. We're not sure, in other words, who would really want it.

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Tech Specs

Product TypeGraphic Card
Chipset ManufacturerATI
Chipset Model5550
Chipset LineRadeon
Chipset SeriesHD 5000
Maximum Resolution2560 x 1600
Brand NameSapphire
Standard Memory1 GB
Host InterfacePCI Express 2.1
Bus Width128 bit
RAMDAC Speed400 MHz
Analog SignalYes
Digital SignalYes
Dual Link DVI SupportedYes
Number of VGA Outputs1
Number of DVI Outputs1
Number of HDMI Outputs1
Memory TechnologyDDR2 SDRAM
ManufacturerSapphire, Inc
Memory Speed400 MHz
Product Model11170-14-20R
Product Name11170-14-20R Radeon HD 5550 Graphics Card
Manufacturer Part Number11170-14-20R
Manufacturer Website Address
Marketing Information

The Sapphire HD 5500 series is based on the architecture of ATI graphics division of AMD, the second generation GPU to be manufactured with 40 nm manufacturing process. Supports advanced graphics features Microsoft DirectX 11 and video ensures clarity and spectacular visual effects, with power consumption levels actually limited. Sapphire HD5550 has 320 stream processors and supports Microsoft DirectX 11 and features acceleration compatible with ATI Stream. Since this is a low-power technology, the graphics card does not requires external connection and thus becomes the ideal solution for mainstream PC upgrade systems lacking auxiliary power. Sapphire HD 5550 has 1GB of DDR2 memory with clock speeds of 550 MHz (Core) and 400MHz (800MHz effective) memory.

API SupportedDirectX 11.0