More expensive than the 4550 (and thus more appropriate for today's hardware-intensive gaming world), but still a good £23 short of the three figure mark, the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 graphics card marks ATI's fiercist assault on the value gaming market.
In most departments the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 adheres closely to the blueprint laid down by the glut of new Radeon HD 5570 cards launched in recent months. That means DirectX 11 support (more of which later), Eyefinity and a compact, efficient design.
Indeed, the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 is not much larger in size than the less powerful Radeon HD 4550. Crafted using ATI's now standard 40nm manufacturing process, the 5570 consumes just 45 watts at its most intense - rather than 65 watts for the similarly equipped nVidia GeForce GT 240. It requires no additional power connector, and its ability to operate with a very skimpy cooling system makes it almost as quiet as the virtually silent 4550.
Sapphire's take on the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 sticks very much to the default settings laid down by ATI. Its main rival appears to be the nVidia GeForce GT 240 GDDR5, and it scores an early victory here by sheer quantity of graphics memory - the 5570 has 1GB to the 240's relatively meagre 512MB. However, while the 5570 makes do with the older and slower GDDR3 memory, the Zotac GeForce GT 240 we reviewed before features GDDR5 memory. (Cheaper GDDR3 versions of the GT 240 are available too, although the savings to be had on these aren't enough to compensate for the reduced speed.)
The Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570's standard memory clock of 900MHz is actually 50MHz higher than the GT 240's. Crucially though, the GT 240's superior GDDR5 memory quadruples that figure for effective use - to 3400MHz - while the 5570's is merely doubled - to 1800MHz. Since both cards have 128-bit memory interfaces, this does give an edge to the GT 240.
The Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 cuts some of this lead with its stunning 400 stream processors (to the GT 240's 96), while the core 650MHz clock speed is also up by 100MHz.
However, in terms of hardware, the GT 240 has the drop on the Radeon.
In a new batch of tests, the GT 240 showed itself to be the faster card. In Crysis Warhead, for example, the GT 240 notched up figures of 24 and 15 frames per second at resolutions of 1280x800 and 1680x1050. In reply, the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 could only manage 16 and 11fps respectively.
The gap did start to close at higher resolutions, and at 1920x1200, the lead was cut to just 3fps.
Far Cry 2 was another example. Here the GT 240 started with a lead of two frames per second (48 to 46) at 1280x800, and opened the gap to 8fps at 1680x1050 (40 to 32), before closing it to just 6fps at 1920x1200 (35 to 29).
In truth, you can probably ignore the results at 1920x1200, since few users will be buying such a card for running the highest resolutions. However, at fairly standard resolutions like 1280x800 and 1680x1050, the GT 240 is a winner. Not usually by a huge amount, but certainly sufficient to attract the neutral.
So if it can't match the GT 240 on speed, can the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 offer any other advantages? Well, one of its uses could be for Eyefinity, allowing you to connect three screens to your PC and enjoy a wider field of view in supported games titles. While you won't be wanting to use this card for such a feature on more demanding games, it is still powerful enough to bring Eyefinity on a budget.
This version of the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570 comes with HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort connectors. You'll need the latter if you're to take advantage of EyeFinity, and not all 5570s (indeed, not even all Sapphire 5570s) have it. So make sure you're getting the full range of connectors if you think you might want to give Eyefinity a try.
Potentially more momentous in its battle against the nVidia GT 240 is the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570's support of version 11 DirectX, when GT 240 owners are stuck with version 10.1.
In practice though, this is unlikely to be a killer feature. In a preliminary set of DirectX 11 tests (that included DiRT 2), the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5570's performance fell by around 46 percent when using DirectX 11. Given that its frame rates are already a little low, this is likely to make the 5570 a little too sluggish to run future DirectX 11 games.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>