Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! £129
15th Mar 2011 | 12:55
Save your pennies, this isn't the card you're looking for
Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP!: Overview
Another new graphics card from Nvidia... Here's Zotac's factory overclocked take on it, the Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! Newer means faster, right?
So, what is the best entry-level graphics card you can buy? How much should a DX11 capable graphics card cost?
Those looking to get their hands on reasonable levels of performance haven't exactly been spoilt for choice lately. The likes of the Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 and AMD Radeon HD 5750 are looking a little long in the tooth now, but still hover around the £100 mark.
Could this Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! represent a new dawn for DX11?
Apart from a little tweaking of the name – the S has been transformed into an X and the needless Ti suffix has been added, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti suggests that this is a next-generation replacement for the existing Nvidia GeForce GTS 450. A card that originally shipped with a £100 price tag, but can now be had for a mere £88 if you shop around.
Overclocked spins on this architecture, such as this Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! we have here has a price tag of £129, putting it directly up against the GTX 460 1GB version.
Here is a card that needs to pull some magic out of its silicon to impress…
Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP!: Architecture
Based on yet another spin of the Fermi core, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti uses the new GF116 core.
This core has a lot in common with the GPU it's destined to replace, the GF106 found in the GTS 450.
Created using a 40nm fabrication process, and measuring a mere 238mm2, this is a core made for a pricepoint more than for setting the polygon-pushing world alight.
Inside the relatively small die, you'll find 1,170 transistors strutting their stuff, offering up 192 CUDA cores. Indeed, the first impressions will show that there's very little on offer in the GTX 550 that wasn't available previously in the GTS 450.
There are some notable exceptions though.
Where the GTS 450 boasts 16 Render Output units (ROPs), the GTX 550 Ti has 24. This, combined with the notably wider 192-bit memory bus, as opposed to the GTS 450's 128-bit bus, should mean that this new chip outperforms its predecessor significantly when it comes to heavy post-processing titles.
The big news for the GeForce GTX 550 Ti though is that the new GF116 core has been streamlined, so that it can operate at much higher frequencies than its predecessor could manage.
This means that the base GeForce GT 550 Ti is rated to run at 900MHz, and there's room for overclocking as well. This version provided by Zotac has the AMP! suffix, which means that it's overclocked straight out of the box – the core is running at 1,000MHz, equating to a 2,000MHz shader clock.
This is a cool running chip too – in testing the core temperature peaked at 81oC under full load, but importantly, the fan noise was never notable over the background hum of the rest of the system.
Given the requirement for a single 6-pin power connector, and the low 110w TDP, this is a relatively efficient offering from Nvidia.
Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP!: Benchmarks
The faster core clockspeed, wider memory bus and higher ROP count conspire to lift the GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! above its predecessor, the GeForce GTX 450.
You're probably going to be running this card at a limit of 1,680 x 1,050, in which case you will see smooth frame rates at the highest settings in the likes of Far Cry 2, Dirt 2 and Just Cause 2.
More recent DX11 titles will struggle though, and you're going to have dial back the settings to achieve figures over the all-important 30fps threshold. Importantly though, the cheaper Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 768MB produces better performance at this resolution across the board.
DirectX 11 tessellation performance
DirectX 11 gaming performance (2560x1600)
DirectX 11 gaming performance (1680x1050)
DirectX 10 gaming performance (2560x1600)
DirectX 10 gaming performance (1680x1050)
Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP!: Verdict
The performance offered by the Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! isn't about to rewrite any of the performance graphics record books.
This is a card aimed squarely at the budget end of the serious gaming market, and as such it wouldn't be expected to.
It's aimed at those looking to hit playable framerates on a 20-inch or 22-inch screen at the default resolution of 1,680 x 1,050.
To a certain degree it fulfils that remit well enough.
If Nvidia's goal was to soundly smash the performance of the GeForce GTS 450 then, it can hold its head up high. The core shader count may be the same, but the added ROPs and faster core speed have paid off to offer a much-needed boast in key titles.
Even so, it still struggles to really impress when it comes to more recent DX11 titles, and this is a concern given the increasing take-up of Microsoft's latest API.
The real problem for the GTX 550 Ti though is something that originally affected the GTS 450, and it's a problem that Nvidia can't easily resolve.
When Nvidia released the GeForce GTS 450 we were impressed with its new affordable chip, particularly when it came to DirectX 10 games. Even so, the close pricing of the GTX 460 made it a tough card to recommend.
That was back when the extra £30 would buy you a card that was notably quicker.
Today you can buy a GTS 450 for just under £90, while the 768MB versions of the GTX 460 can be had for as little as £120, with the full-fat 1GB rolling in at £130.
The basic referenced clocked versions of the GeForce GTX 550 Ti start at £120, with this overclocked rendition muscling in at £129.
That's one or two pounds at most cheaper than the faster 1GB GTX 460, and the best part of a tenner more expensive than the cheapest 768MB models.
And that's a card that actually outperforms the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, even this AMP! edition from Zotac.
It's not necessarily that the GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! is actually a bad card, in many respects it's a perfect entry level gaming card. Unfortunately it simply doesn't make any sense in this market at that price.
Drop the pricing closer to the £100 level and you have a card worthy of serious consideration. As it is though, you're better off grabbing a GeForce GTX 460 while you can.
The boost in the core clockspeed has improved the raw performance on offer noticeably; making for smooth framerates recent games at the maximum settings.
It's quiet in operation, and won't put undue demands on your PSU either.
The winder 192-bit memory bus combined with 1GB of GDDR5 as standard ensure that there is enough bandwidth and capacity on offer to keep the GTX 550 Ti relevant for the foreseeable future.
The pricing simply doesn't make sense – it's too expensive compared to the GTX 460.
DX11 performance isn't particularly impressive, anyone looking for a serious investment is going to come up wanting.
A definite improvement over the GTS 450, but too expensive to seriously consider just now.