Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti Roundup

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/nvidia_gtx_550_ti_palit_msi/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Nvidia’s "Sniper" class of graphics cards offers gamers a nearly unmatched price to performance ratio, and effectively brought the Fermi architecture down to a very affordable price point. The first product to earn the Sniper title was the GTS 450 which came packed with 192 CUDA cores, 1024MB of GDDR5 memory and had a GPU clock speed of 800MHz, making it a force to be reckoned with in the $150 price range. The second Sniper product has just been released to the wild, and the specifications are very impressive for a graphics card under the $200 mark.

The new Sniper class card is the GTX 550 Ti, also known as the Sniper reloaded. This graphics card follows in the tradition of the GTS 450 by giving mainstream gamers an excellent option to play even demanding DirectX11 titles at a low price point. However, the GTX 550 Ti boasts 28% better in-game performance than the GTS 450 and also has an improved performance per-watt ratio of up to 20%.

The GTX 550 Ti achieves its additional performance by being the latest graphics card to undergo Nvidia’s transistor-level changes. This improves the overall power efficiently of the GPU and also reduces leakage. The new GPU is dubbed the GF-116 and with the internal optimizations, the core is able to clock up to 900MHz. In addition, Nvidia is using a brand new technology to improve the memory bandwidth. Essentially what Nvidia has done is engineer the GDDR5 memory controller to support mixed density memory chips, which allows the 550 Ti to use a 192-bit memory interface with 1GB FRAM buffer. This gives the GTX 550 Ti a memory bandwidth increase of 70% in comparison to the GTS 450, but without the additional cost of including larger capacity memory chips.

We are going to be looking at two GTX 550 Ti graphics cards. Both come with increased clocks speeds out of the box and use a custom design. One comes to us from MSI, while the other is a Palit design. Also, since we have two cards on hand we will be able to test the GTX 550 Ti in SLI to see how well they scale together.

(Image of Nvidia's reference GTX 550 Ti)

The Palit GTX 550 Ti  Sonic Edition comes packaged in a stylish box that uses an image of a robust engine to highlight the power of the graphic card. Palit has listed all the supported features and technologies of the GTX 550 Ti.

The inner packaging uses a plain cardboard box to house the graphics card and accessories. Palit has included a 6-pin power adapter, a driver CD and the quick install guide. This might seem a little light on the accessories front, but this is in fact average for a graphics card in the $150 price range. With on-board VGA, DVI and HDMI ports, it is not necessary for Palit to include many video adapters.

 

 

The Palit GTX 550 TI Sonic is built on a custom red PCB that measures just over 8 inches in length, and features a dual-bay thermal solution. The cooler consists of a black cover with an orange PWM fan that sits atop a large aluminum heatsink. The custom design is built around the latest GPU from Nvidia the GF-116. This new core is a GF-106 that has optimized transistors for improved power efficiency, which allowed Palit push their GPU clock speed up to a very impressive 1000MHz. Additionally, the Sonic Edition GTX 550 Ti utilizes a 1GB frame buffer with an 192-bit interface, and the memory is overclocked to 1100MHz (4400MHz effective).

Nvidia has included a single SLI connector that will allow the 550 Ti to be used in 2-way SLI. To use SLI another GTX 550 Ti is required, as the 550 Ti will can not link with any other graphics cards in the series, including the GTS 450.

The Palit GTX 550 To utilizes a PCIe 2.0 bus that will work with any PCIe x16 slot. The PCIe interface also supplies the graphics card with up to 75W of power of its total TDP.

The reference GTX 550 Ti has a TDP of 116W, which requires a single 6-pin power connector. The Sonic Edition 550 Ti has a slightly higher TDP due to the increased clock speeds, but it still only requires a single 6-pin power connector. A power supply of 400W or greater is necessary to power this card.

The Palit GTX 550 Ti Sonic uses a very mainstream friendly video output configuration; in all there is a Dual-Link DVI port, VGA port and a HDMI port. With three different video connection standards onboard, there is no need for additional video adapters to connect the 550 Ti to supported monitors. Also, like all current Nvida based graphics cards the Palit graphics card supports 3D Vision via the DVI and HDMI ports, and can also support 3D Vision Surround when two graphics cards are installed.

The included packaging uses a very stylish design based on the Cyclone II cooler as the general theme. Surrounding the image of the Cyclone heatsink, MSI lists the features of the graphic card such as PhysX, SLI, 3D Vision and use of CUDA technology. The box also highlights the new propeller blade design used with the Cyclone II cooler. The front panel can be opened and includes even more details about the graphics card.

The inner packaging consists of a large styrofoam insert that protects the N550GTX-Ti during shipping. The accessories are found under the styrofoam and consist of a 6-pin power adapter, VGA to DVI adapter, mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter, driver CD, quick install guide and user manual.

The overall look of the MSI N550GTX-Ti is very unique due to the custom designed PCB and large Cyclone II cooler. Aside from just adding to the aesthetics of the card, the Cyclone II heatsink has an improved design that utilizes dual heatpipes along with a nickel-plated base, and has two separate thermal zones to disperse heat. MSI has also improved the fan, as it now uses a propeller design that improves the airflow by up to 20% which allows it to push more air through the heatsink while at the same time cooling the components on the PCB. In addition, MSI has included a low-profile heatsink on the PWM for improved cooling performance. In all this design should improve the cooling efficiency of the N550GTX-Ti by up to 23% in comparison to the reference model.

The MSI N550GTX-Ti uses a overclocked GF-116 GPU that includes 1 Graphics Processing Cluster (GPC) with 4 Streaming Multiprocessors, 192 CUDA cores, 32 Texture Units and 24 ROP Units. These specifications are very close those used in the GF-106, but the new core includes double the amount of ROP Units and has a larger memory bus. The GPU clock speed of the MSI N550GTX-Ti is set to 950MHz, which is 50MHz faster than the reference models and it also sports a 1GB frame buffer of GDDR5 memory rated at 1075MHz (4300MHz effective) running on a 192-bit bus.

The MSI N550GTX-Ti features a single SLI connector, giving the card 2-way SLI support.

The PCIe interface uses the PCIe 2.0 standard, which is compatible with PCIe and PCIe 2.0 compliant motherboards. The board requires only a single PCIe slot, but will need two open expansion slots to fit into a chassis.

The MSI N550GTX-Ti has a single rear facing 6-pin supplementary power connector at the back-end of the PCB. To properly power this card it is recommended that at least a 400W power supply with a minimum 12V rating of 24A be used.

To improve the efficiency over the reference models, MSI has used their "Military class" components on the N550GTX-Ti, including their Solid State Chocks (SSC) and all Solid Japanese Capacitors.

The rear video outputs include dual DVI-I ports and a single Mini HDMI connector. The DVI ports the video card support resolutions up to 2560x1600, and can support NVIDIA 3D Vision technology when connected to a 120Hz monitor. The 550 Ti also supports 3D Vision Surround, but dual graphics cards are required. Lastly the included HDMI port supports a full HD video signal with bitstreaming support for Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master audio.

To overclock the GTX 550 Ti graphics cards we used the latest MSI Afterburner utility, which allowed us to tweak the voltage level as well as the memory and GPU clock speeds. To test the graphics cards for stability we used the Unigine heaven benchmark with the highest in-game settings, and only considered the clocks stable if it could run the benchmark in its entirety and without pixel issues or crashing.

MSI Overclocking:

The MSI N550GTX-Ti really impressed us with its high overclocking ceiling, as the GPU clock speed could ramp up to 1102Mhz, which is an increase of 14% over the factory setting and a nearly 23% increase over the reference models. The memory on the NGTX550-Ti was also able to clock very well and in the end we pushed it up to 2400MHz (4800MHz effective).

Palit Overclocking:

The Palit Sonic Edition graphics card was also able to be pushed beyond the 1GHz barrier, but unlike the MSI card it was not stable when the GPU clock settings was increased beyond 1100MHz. It played nice with a GPU clock speed of 1079MHz. The memory chips proved to have a higher overclocking ceiling than those used on the MSI model. We were able to increase the memory frequency up to an impressive 2433MHz (4866MHz effective), putting it very close to a maximum rating of 5000MHz.

Both the Palit and MSI graphics cards were able to overclock by a decent margin, especially when taking into consideration that both companies have already pushed the cores beyond the reference specifications.

Hardware Configuration:

Software:

All the ATI cards released prior to the 6800 series will be tested using AMD's Catalyst 10.8 drivers, while the 400 series NVIDIA graphics cards will be tested using their 260.89 drivers. The GTX 570 and GTX 580 were tested with the release drivers. The two GTX 550 Ti graphics cards will be tested with Nvidia's 267.59 drivers.

Benchmarks DX11:

Benchmarks DX10:

Test Settings:

All in game benchmarks were performed at resolutions of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Vsync is disabled in the control panel and AA is set to x4 with AF set to x16. The only benchmarks performed with lower AA and AF is Street Fighter IV and the Futuremark test which either showed better scaling when AA and AF were disabled, or have their own built in settings.

Usage:

MSI's Kombuster will be used to gauge the power requirement and temperature of the graphics cards. The program applies a very heavy load to the GPU and as such will push the card beyond that of a game or benchmark. For the minimum temperature and power consumption the system will be left in an idle state for 15 minutes and for load Kombuster will be left on for 15 minutes.

Comparison Specifications AMD:

 
AMD Radeon HD 6870
AMD Radeon HD 6850
ATI  Radeon
HD 5750
ATI Radeon HD 5770
ATI Radeon HD 5830
ATI Radeon HD 5870
AMD Radeon HD 6950
AMD Radeon HD 6970
Processing Cores
1120
960
720
800
1120
1600
1408 1536
Core Clock
900MHz
775MHz
700MHz
850MHz
800MHz
850MHz
800MHz
880MHz
Memory Clock
1050MHz
1000MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
1250MHz
1375MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit
256-bit
128-bit
128-bit
256-bit
256-bit
256-bit
256-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
2GB GDDR5
2GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm

 

Comparison Specifications Nvidia:

 
Nvidia GeForce GTS 450
Nvidia Geforce GTX 460 FTW
Nvidia GeForce GTX 470
Nvidia GeForce GTX 480
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti
Nvidia GeForce GTX 570
Nvidia Geforce GTX 580
Processing Cores
192
336 448 480 384 480 512
Core Clock
783MHz
850MHz
607MHz
700MHz
822MHz
742MHz
782MHz
Memory Clock
900MHz
1000MHz
837MHz
924MHz
1002MHz
950MHz
1002MHz
Memory Interface
128-bit
256-bit
320-bit
384-bit
256-bit
320-bit
384-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1.25GB GDDR5
1.5GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1.25GB GDDR5
1.5GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm

3DMark Vantage is the stunning sequel to 3DMark 06. Futuremark's benchmarking programs have always been at the center of every bragging match. The best way to show that you've got the greatest gaming rig, is to show that you've got the highest 3DMark score. Vantage does just that. It puts your system through a series of strenuous tests, and provides you with a score to brag about!

Both the MSI and Palit 550 Ti graphics cards put up good numbers in 3DMark Vantage. In comparison to the GTS 450 the 550 Ti managed to outperform it quite handily, especially in the higher resolutions, and it even managed to outperform the HD 5770. Also, the 550 Ti appears to have excellent SLI scaling. In our testing it was able to compete nearly at the same level as a HD 6870 and hD 6850 in CrossFire.

Futuremark's latest 3DMark 2011 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The benchmark includes six all new tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

Again we are looking at a decent increase in comparison to the GTS 450, and the overall performance level like in the last test falls in between a HD 5770 and HD 6850. We are also continuing to see a substantial performance increase when using the 550 Ti in SLI.

Unigine Heaven became very popular very fast, because it was one of the first major DirectX 11 benchmarks. It makes great use of tessellation to create a visually stunning...heaven.

In Unigine the GTX 550 Ti graphics cards performed considerably better than in our previous benchmarks, as they were able to achieve a higher frame rate than the HD 5830. It is very impressive to see a card in this price range compete with boards using the Cypress core.

Aliens vs Predators is a DX11 Benchmark that runs though a scene straight out of the classic 80's movie, Aliens. Since it uses DX11, it can often be more than a graphics card can handle.

The testing in Aliens vs Predator remains consistent with what we have seen thus far. So, at least to this point it appears as if the GTX 550 Ti fills a performance gap between the HD 5770 and HD 6850. Also, we continue to see a nice performance increase over its predecessor, the GTS 450.

Metro 2033 puts you right in the middle of post apocalyptic Moscow, battling Mutants, rivals and ratio-active fallout. The game is very graphics intensive and utilizes DX11 technology, making it a good measure of how the latest generation of graphics cards performs under the latest standard.

For a graphics card in the $150 price segment the GTS 550 Ti cards performed admirably, but Metro 2033 was just too much for this card at anything but the lowest resolution. However, dual 550 Ti graphics cards scaled very well in Metro 2033, allowing it achieve playable frame rates up to 1920x1200.

Street Fighter IV doesn't necessarily push a graphics card to the limits, but it is a good benchmark to gauge the overall performance. This test is run at default settings to show the best scaling possible.

No problems here, so if Street Fighter IV is your game of choice this card will fly through it. At this point Street Fighter is no longer pushing even entry-level graphics cards, so this benchmark will be retired as of this review.

Batman: Arkham Aslyum mixes extraordinary visuals with great gameplay, in order to make an excellent benchmark. It's not a stressful as Crysis, but it can still push cards to their limits.

During our testing of Batman we were very impressed to see that the GTX 550 Ti could play this game at resolutions up to 2650x1600.

Crysis Warhead is one of the most graphically intensive games on the mainstream market. It's graphically breathtaking, and can bring any system crashing to it's knees.

The increase from the performance over the GTS 450 is decent in this benchmark, which can be attributed to the GTX 550 Ti's larger memory bandwidth and higher clock speeds.

Call of Duty is one of the most successful game franchises of all time and Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration in the series. The games combine modern-day settings and locations with jaw-dropping graphics and explosions.

Both the MSI and Palit cards had excellent performance up to 1920x1200 and the game could even be played at 2560x1600 with only minimal slowdown. Also, SLI is really starting to look to be a good option for this card.

Darkest of Days puts the player in historic battles to ensure the survival of key figures from the past. It is a very interesting concept and the use of real life conflicts keeps the title engaging. The in-game options does not allow PhysX to be disabled, so it can often favor NVIDIA graphics cards.

The performance in Darkest of days was very good, as the 550 To performed equal to cards in a much higher price range.

Resident Evil 5 is the latest installment of the Resident Evil series. The game comes with a built in benchmark that features a bunch of zombies walking around the center of a village. Believe it or not this seemingly simple benchmark can push video cards way out of their comfort zone!

Again both the GTX 550 Ti graphics cards are performing between the HD 5770 and HD 5830, which is good for a product in this price range.

Just Cause 2 places you in Panau, Southeast Asia as Agent Rico Rodriguez. The game is a third-person shooter that pits you against countless enemies with the opportunity for plenty of environment destruction. With explosions and gun fire galore, this game is perfect for testing out the latest hardware.

The GTX 550 Ti struggled a bit in Just Cause 2, but is was playable across most of the tested resolutions.

Temperature:

To measure core GPU temperature, MSI's Kombustor was used. The idle temperature was taken after leaving nothing running for up to 15 minutes. The load temperature was taken 15 minutes after starting Kombuster for Multi-Core graphics cards

Both the Palit and MSI models were among the most efficient graphics cards tested in this price range. They were also some of the quietest graphics cards we have tested, and even when the fan speed was manually increased to a high RPM, the noise level was still minimal. Also, when testing the graphics cards' cooling efficiency in SLI there was no real temperature increase. For SLI testing we took the temperature reading of the MSI card during idle and load states and all told there was only a 1°C increase.

Power Usage:

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the above numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings at the end of a 30 minute Kombustor run.

The power rating of the 550 Ti models was also very good, considering that both the Palit and MSI have higher than reference clock speeds, which will make them draw more power. There was a considerable increase when run in SLI, but the total power draw consumption was still relatively low for a dual GPU configuration.

 

Conclusion:

The GTX 550 Ti is positioned in a very price sensitive segment of the market, as is the case with all sub $200 graphics cards. This is because casual and mainstream gamers alike tend to look for the best performing product at the lowest price point possible. Also, graphics cards in this segment tend to have a four year upgrade cycle, which makes long term performance extremely important. When taking these into consideration, the GTX 550 Ti is a very impressive graphics card, as it gives gamers a performance increase over previous generation’s mainstream graphic cards, yet it also has increased memory bandwidth, which could potentially allow this card to be used for years before becoming obsolete. As shown in our testing, the 550 Ti also scales very well in SLI, so even if a system using this card started to stutter in games, a second card could easily be added for additional performance.

The two cards we looked at in this review both have increased performance in comparison to the reference models, as both the Palit and MSI GTX 550 Ti models have higher clock speeds. This translates into better performance across the board, further increasing the price-to-performance ratio of the 550 Ti. In addition, both the graphics cards we looked at operated at a near silent level, even when the fan speed setting was increased. So while you get improved performance, both the MSI and Palit models also offer outstanding acoustics via their custom thermal solutions.

Another aspect where both the Palit and MSI graphics cards really stood out was in overclocking, with each having their own strong points. The MSI board had better overclocking potential when it came to increasing the GPU clock speed, as it was able to surpass 1100MHz which gave it a 14% increase over the factory setting. The Palit card on the other hand was able to increase the memory further than the MSI version and just came up a bit shy of reaching a 1025MHz (5000MHz effective) memory clock speed. Even while the GTX 550 Ti graphics cards already have high clocks speeds, there is room to push them even further for added performance.

The GTX 550 Ti is also a nice introductory graphics card for gamers looking to take advantage of features such as PhysX, 3D vision and 3D Surround (two graphics cards are required for 3D Vision). All of these features add to the gaming experience, however a little more horsepower might be needed to utilize these technologies at their full potential. The 550 Ti should have no issues running them in games at lower resolutions though.

All of these factors make the GTX 550 Ti an excellent solution for gamers looking for a decent level of performance for a low premium. However, the mainstream market is extremely competitive and higher performance graphics cards can be found for as little as $20 more than the GTX 550 Ti. This could make it hard for the GTX 550 Ti to stand out as mainstream market is currently crowded with DX11 graphics cards from the likes of both AMD and Nvidia.

The GTX 550 Ti is being released into a very competitive market, but it has performance, features and great SLI scaling backing it. In addition, Nvida’s AIB partners such as Palit and MSI are releasing their graphics cards with increased clock speeds, which makes either of the models reviewed today a great choice for gamers looking for a great out-of-the-box experience.

»Neoseeker.com

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