Long-term ATI partner Sapphire has just released a passively cooled Radeon HD 5500 graphics card, which uses a custom PCB and cooler.
Primarily targeted at the media centre PC market, the Sapphire HD 5550 Ultimate isn’t equipped for top-end gaming, but its specs aren’t awful either. The 40nm DirectX 11 GPU has 320 stream processors, which is a long way off the 1,600 found in top-end ATI GPUs, but it was only a couple of years ago that ATI’s top-end Radeon HD 3870 had the same number of stream processors.
The GPU is clocked at 800MHz, and addresses 1GB of RAM via a 128-bit wide memory interface. Unlike many low to mid-range cards that have a crippling 64-bit interface, this should actually enable the card to play games at basic settings without a bottleneck.
On the downside, it only comes with DDR2 memory, but this has a comparatively high clock speed of 400MHz (800MHz effective), and for some reason you get a whole 1GB of it at your disposal.
The card only takes up a single slot, although you may need to leave some space behind it. The passive heatsink wraps around the card, with heatpipes linking the main components together. The card doesn’t require an external power connector either, and takes all of its power from the PCI-E slot.
All the basic outputs are also covered, including DVI, HDMI and VGA. The latter can be quite handy for media centre PC cases that have a touchscreen and a VGA interface, and the HDMI 1.3a port will output Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio as well as video.
Meanwhile, the GPU’s video features will make the card appealing to those looking to playback HD video on their PC. Featuring ATI’s hardware unified video decoder (UVD), the chip can offload a lot of the work from the CPU when decoding VC-1 and H.264 video, making it ideal for playing back Blu-Ray discs.
Sapphire also says that the card features an enhanced UVD that enables it to simultaneously play two 1080p HD video streams and to display HD video in high quality in Windows Aero mode.
There’s no word on pricing or availability yet, but we’d guess that it will probably cost around £75 inc VAT when it hits the online retailers.