The MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti is a good graphics card, but nVidia seems to have given just enough of a performance boost so as to not cannibalise its higher-end products.
The GeForce GTX 550 Ti is nVidia's entry into the lower-midrange graphics card segment. This second-gen Fermi architecture card is meant to be the successor to the older GeForce GTS450. It's pretty good at running games with full visual effects at resolutions upto 1366x768. As with other cards of the same family, this one also has an alphabet soup of a name, with a prefix of GTX and a suffix of Ti.
Despite its current price (well over £100), we expect it to drop considerably and be a good option for people looking for a graphics card that performs just a bit better than budget-priced ones. Its performance in benchmarks was fairly middling, being almost at the same point as its predecessor, the GTS450. Its competition from the AMD side, would have to be somewhere between the Radeon 6850 and the Radeon 5770 (and perhaps the newly released Radeon 6790).
MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti (OC): Specifications
The GPU of the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, codenamed the GF116, is a so-called second-generation Fermi GPU (the GeForce 400 series was the first). It claims better temperatures and output per shader, besides better overclocking abilities.
As the model number makes clear, the MSI N550GTX-Ti-M2D1GD5/OC graphics card is factory-overclocked. It has 1GB of GDDR5 video memory clocked at 1075MHz (1026MHz on reference card) and a GPU core clocked at 950MHz (900MHz on reference card). It has a 192bit memory interface and 192 unified shaders that support DirectX 11, OpenGL 4.1, OpenCL, CUDA/PhysX and nVidia 3D Vision.
For more first-hand information, this GPU-Z screenshot shows the GPU's specs in detail:
MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti (OC): Design
MSI has used a cooler with its favourite colour scheme of red and black. The fan is sufficient as our temperature tests showed, but the cooler is not of the closed type, meaning some heat may escape into the cabinet as well. This card utilises a dual-slot cooler and stays within manageable temperature limits. As with any current graphics card, the cooler is geared to exhaust heat through the heat vent/grill at the back (positioned alongside the display outputs).
The card is quite short, which is a good thing for those who own relatively smaller desktop PC cabinets. Equally good is the power requirement - you only need to feed one 6-pin PCI-E power input slot, so it is not much of a power hog. It has a single SLI connector, to be able to operate more than one nVidia graphics card in the same PC. Display outputs at the rear consisted of two DVI ports and one mini-HDMI port.
MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti (OC): Package Contents
The MSI GeForce GTX550 Ti graphics card's package contents included one DVI-to-VGA port adaptor, one mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter, one 6-pin PCI-E power input connectors (connecting to two 4-pin molex connectors), and the manual. The mandatory CD offered the nVidia ForceWare drivers, manual, MSI utilities for the graphics card, and an application called Afterburner (for monitoring and overclocking).
MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti (OC): Performance
Our colleagues at PC World India tested the MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti in their labs. Here's how it got on.
To eliminate bottlenecks to the extent possible, the test-bed consisted of an Intel Core i7 965 processor, Intel DX58SO motherboard, Intel X25-M 80GB SSD, 12GB of Silicon Power DDR3 RAM, Tagan BZ-1300W PSU and Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64bit edition. We used the latest driver for the GeForce GTX 550 Ti available at the time of testing - nVidia ForceWare 267.59. Note that PhysX was enabled wherever supported by the benchmark or game.
The graphs here show performance numbers selected from a wider set of tests conducted. To put the results in context and help you compare, we juxtapose the benchmark scores of the card being tested against other graphics cards. This is useful to see its price/performance in context. Note that the GeForce GTS 450 shown in the graphs is also a factory-overclocked model, so its performance is a lot closer to the GTX 550 than a normal card clocked at default speeds.
Below is a graph of how the MSI N550GTX-Ti-M2D1GD5/OC fared in synthetic benchmarks:
Benchmarks: 3D Mark 2006 (DirectX 9.0c) and 3D Mark Vantage (DirectX 10)
Benchmark: 3D Mark 11 at all presets (to test DirectX 11 performance)
Benchmark: Unigine Heaven 2.1 (DirectX 11) at Full-HD resolution with 7 GPUs in the race
Below is a graph of gaming performance showing frame-rates, to reflect what you would see in real-world usage patterns:
Benchmark: Crysis and Far Cry 2
Benchmark: Metro 2033 (DirectX 11) at three different resolutions
At any chosen resolution (1920x1080 or Full-HD in the case above), averaging 30 fps (frames/second) or higher is a good sign that the game would be fluid on-screen, without choppy play. In this case, the GTX 550 is meant for a lower resolution, so its scores in the Full-HD resolution tests are not bad at all. Across all benchmarks and games, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti was consistently better than the older generation GTS 450. It also manages to stay pretty close behind the AMD Radeon 6850, which isn't bad at all for a mid-range GPU.
MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti (OC): Heat Dissipation
The cooler on this card is evidently good as its temperatures are the lowest of the lot at idle state. The claimed TDP on the GTX 550 is 116W, as against the 106W of the GTS450, an increase of 10W.
Temperature load tested using FurMark
At full blast (load), the 550 is running hotter than the 450. Even though it is still a very manageable temperature, this is the only thing to complain about in a product that is otherwise a very good one.