Nvidia takes aim at the crowded budget market, but does the GeForce GTX 550 Ti score a direct hit?
All the talk right now is about beefy multi-GPU cards, with AMD’s HD 6990 blowing away the opposition and Nvidia strongly rumoured to be launching a rival. Under the cover of that expensive hardware battle, however, Nvidia has quietly launched a new mid-range card, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti.
As is often the case with Nividia’s mainstream cards, it’s a reworking of an older model - in this case the GTS 450 - and the updates are minor. It still boasts 1.17 billion transistors across its 40nm, 238mm2 die, but the base clock of 783MHz has been boosted to 900MHz – the highest stock speed of any current Nvidia card – and its shaders are clocked at 1,800MHz instead of 1,566MHz. There’s still 1GB of GDDR5 memory, but that’s been enhanced from 3,608MHz to 4,104MHz.
We were keen to see whether these tweaks would be enough, since there’s plenty of competition in this lucrative mainstream area. While the GTX 550 Ti costs around $230, the award-winning GTX 460 768MB can be had for around $30 more, while the vanilla GTS 450 itself now costs around $120. This new card sits directly between the two, so we were keen to see the effects of those clock tweaks.
Results were mixed. The GTX 550 Ti scored a healthy 39fps in our 1,920 x 1,080 High quality Crysis benchmark – 6fps quicker than the cheaper GTS 450 – and this dropped to 23fps when we upped the quality to Very High. That’s 4fps slower than the GTX 460, so performance is between the two, as expected.
There’s a decent amount of overclocking headroom, but we’re not convinced of its efficiency. We tested a Zotac model with the core and shader clocks boosted to 1,000MHz and 2,000MHz respectively, but saw a tiny 2fps improvement in our Very High quality Crysis benchmark. There was marginal gain in Just Cause 2: an average of 33fps in our 1,920 x 1,080 Very High quality test (with 8x anti-aliasing) improved by just 3fps to 36fps with the hefty overclock applied.
There was little to choose between the GTX 550 Ti and the GTX 460 in our thermal tests. The newer card proved slightly more efficient, drawing 107W from our idle test rig and 271W when we stress-tested the GPU, compared with 127W and 273W from the GTX 460. The GTX 460 dissipates heat better, though: it peaked at just 68 degrees, compared with a maximum temperature of 82 degrees from the GTX 550 Ti.
Both cards will fit into all but the smallest of cases, and have a single six-pin power connector. Both also come with double-height coolers – we suspect that the GPUs are slightly too powerful to be cooled by a single-height heatsink.
The prices are similar, too, so the buying decision comes entirely down to your budget. If it’s tight, by all means go for the GTX 550 Ti – it’s a capable performer at a reasonable price, even if it’s little more than a slight tweak and a rebadging job. But every £10 you spend at this level gets you a few more frames on the latest games, so unless you’re really battling with your bank manager we’d push a little further and go for the GTX 460.