If the typical £70-£100 graphics card is aimed at the relatively undemanding members of the gaming community, the targets for the sub-£50 cards, such as this Sapphire Radeon HD 4550, have been less finicky still. But, with so many fantastic chips now available in the more expensive price categories, is there a trickle-down effect that allows even the sub-£50 incarnations to offer up a pretty passable imitation of a full-throated gaming card?
Well, the hardware hardly hints at such an outcome. Based upon the RV710 core (essentially a pared down version of the RV730 that lies at the heart of the 4670), the Sapphire Radeon HD 4550 compromises the user considerably with its 64bit interface - even the 4670 seems poorly equipped here, and that chip features a 128bit interface instead. This means that, in spite of some very decent core and memory clock speeds, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4550 is hampered by a tiny amount of memory bandwidth (12.8GBps) that effectively chokes its overall performance right from the beginning. Not that the 512MB of memory is anything to complain about. The 80 stream processors are passable, albeit a far cry from the vastly increased quantities of these delivered by the more expensive cards.
Unsurprisingly, the gaming performance of this card isn't astonishing. The 4670 was regularly twice as fast as the Sapphire Radeon HD 4550, and, in a few instances (Crysis being a particularly notable example) was over two and a half times faster, despite costing little over £20 more. Even at a resolution of 1,280x1,024, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4550 isn't really fast enough for today's games, slipping into single digit frame rates on Crysis.
Indeed, only on Quake Wars did the Sapphire Radeon HD 4550 manage to get up to truly playable framerates of 40-plus fps. But, provided your games collection isn't too demanding, and you didn't mind playing with low detail settings, or at a reduced resolution, we could see you getting some sort of performance out of this card.
Of course, this card (in keeping with the entire Radeon line) makes a good attempt at handling HD video. It's also worth remembering that the Sapphire Radeon HD 4550 consumes little power and is almost silent in use. This may allow it to appeal to those looking to kit out their media centre PCs with something that packs a little more oomph than the standard onboard graphics controller.