Summary: With prices ranging from $49-$59, ATI's Radeon 5450 brings DX11 and Eyefinity to the entry-level price bracket for the first time. But how does it perform? Find out in today's article!
So youíre stuck with integrated graphics. The lure of an affordable $399 desktop PC was just too much to pass up. Unfortunately however, youíre now finding that your PCís integrated graphics arenít quite capable of keeping up with your Left 4 Dead 2 or Team Fortress addiction, much less a more graphically advanced game like Crysis or Batman: Arkham Asylum. You now need a faster graphics card, but canít afford to shell out the $100 for something newer like a Radeon 5700 series GPU, instead your budget is about $50-$60. What do you do?
ATIís hoping youíll opt for a Radeon 5450 graphics card. The 5450 is ATIís newest graphics offering for the entry-level segment of the graphics market. Based on ATIís ďCedarĒ graphics core, itís fully DirectX 11 compliant and features 80 stream processors running at 650MHz. It isnít exactly a blistering 3D performer (but nothing else is in this price bracket), as itís designed to be a small, efficient chip thatís inexpensive to produce and priced to move.
If historyís any indication, PC builders will buy these chips by the truckload for use in value PCs, but the Radeon 5450 has one additional trick up its sleeve that should improve its appeal beyond just the budget shoppers that flock to these cards: Eyefinity. With support for up to three displays, the 5450 should appeal to businesses as well. After all, studies have shown that adding monitors improves employee productivity.
Never before has a $50 graphics card offered support for up to three monitors. This feature alone could potentially sell more Radeon 5450 cards for ATI than any other.
We say this in large part because this is arguably the most groundbreaking new feature found in the Radeon 5450. Sure, DX11 and HDMI 1.3a compliance is important, but with just 80 shaders the 5450 doesnít have the horsepower to run a DX11 title with its eye candy effects turned up very far and still deliver playable performance. As youíll see in the following chart, many key performance metrics are only up slightly over its predecessor, the Radeon 4350:
As you can see, both the Radeon 4350 and 5450 feature an 80 stream processor architecture. The number of texture units and ROPs is also the same for both GPUs. ATI merely bumps up the graphics core clock in order to deliver improved fill rates.
ATI has told us that theyíre urging their partners to be as clear as possible when it comes to listing memory type and speed, but itís ultimately going to be in the hands of their board partners to police themselves. Bottom line: youíll want to read the specs list closely before forking over your hard-earned cash on a new Radeon 5450 card.
Like ATIís other Radeon 5000 series GPUs, Cedar is built on TSMCís 40-nm manufacturing process. Transistor count weighs in at 292 million transistors, thatís 50 million more transistors than RV710. Thanks to the smaller process though, die size is down from 73 square millimeters in RV710 to just 59 sq.mm for Cedar.
Weíre not going to spend a ton of time discussing the Radeon 5450ís board design, as ATIís allowing their board partners to come up with their own unique designs for this GPU, instead this could be a preview of whatís to come with final retail cards.
As you can see, the 5450 reference board is a low-profile design with passive cooling Ė no fan is needed to keep the GPU cool.
The heatsink ATI employs is a dual-slot unit, so you have to keep the expansion slot directly adjacent to your PCI Express Graphics slot empty in order for the 5450 reference board to fit. We donít think many of ATIís board partners will utilize a dual-slot cooler on their final boards though; in order to ensure that the 5450 is compatible with as wide a variety of system cases as possible, theyíll probably want to stick with a shorter single-slot cooler.
Moving around to the back of the card, ATI equips the 5450 reference board with one VGA, one DisplayPort, and one DVI output. Again, donít get too hung up on the video outputs you see here, as ATIís board partners will be offering a variety of options for end users. You may see some card makers ditch the VGA output on the reference board for an HDMI output for instance. Also remember that youíll need a 5450 card with at least one DisplayPort output in order to run Eyefinity across three displays.
Interestingly enough, our 5450 reference board actually shipped with Samsung memory modules running at 900MHz, 100MHz higher than ATIís specifications. ATI says that their board partners are free to OC the memory on their 5450 boards up to 900MHz, so itís possible that some partners may clock their boards that high. We made sure to clock the memory on our board down to 800MHz for testing purposes.
Physically the reference board is just over 6.5Ē in length, and while it lacks dedicated CrossFire connectors, CrossFire support will be provided via software. When we asked if the chip would support Hybrid CrossFire with ATIís upcoming 800-series IGP we were told to ďstay tunedĒ, so weíre hopeful that AMD will continue to offer this interesting feature.
ATI says Radeon 5450 board prices will range anywhere from $49-$59, with board prices varying depending on memory type, size, and clock speeds.
Intel Core i5-661
Intel DH55TC (H55 Motherboard)
4GB (2x3GB) OCZ Reaper HPC 1600 @ DDR-1333 Speeds
ATI Radeon HD 4350 256MB DDR2
ATI Radeon 5450 512MB DDR3
Catalyst 8.69 Beta
2TB Seagate Barracuda XT
Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
CoD: MW2 Ė DirectX 9
Crysis Ė DirectX 10
Far Cry 2 Ė DirectX 10
Resident Evil Ė DirectX 10
Batman:AA Ė DirectX 9
Left 4 Dead Ė DirectX 9
When compared against Intelís Core i5-661 Ė the very best integrated graphics solution Intel offers at this time Ė the Radeon 5450 delivers a significant performance improvement. Frame rates were typically two times better than Intelís, and in a couple of cases it was even greater than that.
If youíre stuck on Intel integrated graphics and are desperate for a low cost upgrade, the Radeon 5450 clearly needs to be at the top of your wish list.
The performance improvement isnít as dramatic when compared against its direct predecessor though. Because ATI relies on the same number of units for pixel processing and texturing, the opportunity to double performance just isnít there. Instead the Radeon 5450 relies on its higher clock speeds to distance itself from the Radeon 4350. This is most dramatically demonstrated at 1600x1200, where the 5450ís memory bandwidth advantage allows it to run about 15% faster than the 4350 overall.
15% isnít a huge number though, and the margin separating both cards is actually slimmer at lower resolutions: this is something to keep in mind if youíre stuck with a smaller LCD.
Because of this, we think the 5450ís feature set Ė most notably Eyefinity Ė is the cardís most redeeming feature. The 5450 probably wouldnít be a great choice for Eyefinity gaming, but for anyone wanting to get a little work done, the 5450ís triple display capability is a real game changer. This feature alone has the potential to land a few design wins for the 5450 in low-cost business PCs.
Home theater PC users will also enjoy the Radeon 5450. Like the rest of ATIís DX11 Evergreen lineup, the 5450 supports HDMI 1.3a and can bitstream Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. It should also easily fit inside the most cramped HTPC enclosures and consumes very little power Ė idle board power is just 6.4W! Hopefully board partners will be able to squeeze their own passive coolers into a single-slot. That would be icing on the cake for HTPC enthusiasts.
So we can spot a couple of scenarios where the Radeon 5450 makes sense from the perspective of someone upgrading or building a new PC from scratch. As a pure gaming card however, this is a bit of a lackluster launch. ATI just didnít push the envelope like they did for some of the other Radeon 5000 series GPUs. ATI says that boards will begin shipping today from their board partners today with prices ranging from $49-$59: this places the card awfully close to the Radeon 4650 in pricing.
The 4650 offers 320 stream processors and a wider 128-bit memory interface, making it the better card for gaming in this price bracket. The GeForce 9500 GT is priced similarly as well and would also be a better alternative than the 5450 for gamers. The Radeon 5450 does have the advantage of offering DX11, but it just doesnít have the specs to deliver playable frame rates in todayís DX11 scenarios.
So depending on how you intend to use the Radeon 5450, this card is a hit or a miss. Hopefully weíll see prices come down quickly as the final boards hit retail. $59 is probably a little on the high side considering the 5450ís capabilities, especially when compared against other cards at that price.
This looks like another case where ATIís price cuts from last summer are still hurting the company today. We spoke of this when the 5700 launched last year, and again when the 5600 arrived last month. Looks like historyís repeating itself once again for ATIÖ
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