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Whether you play games or not, a graphics card is an essential part of your machine. Without it, your monitor lacks the ability to display anything at all! Unless you’re running a Linux server, this can hinder productivity considerably.
Generally speaking, if you aren’t a games player you could consider using onboard graphics, but this can have negative performance impacts such as decreasing system memory performance. However, the main issue is that onboard graphics are usually only available on budget chipsets and budget motherboards. This can hinder the overall performance of your system, or limit functionality with features such as RAID often missing. If you want to run dual monitors, you’ll also need to think again.
The better option is to buy a cheap discreet graphics card, and at £52, you’ll struggle to find one much cheaper than this Sapphire X550.
The X550 sounds like it should be an entirely new product range, but is incredibly similar to the X300. The X300 is built on a 0.11 micron fabrication process and is incredibly small, kicking out very little heat. With only four pixel pipelines and two vertex pipelines, it hardly sets itself up as a gamer’s dream.
The X300 has a 325MHz core and a 200MHz (400MHz effective) memory speed. Not all X300s are the same however. Some employ HyperMemory technology, which uses system memory to supplement the frame buffer. Most cards have a 128-bit memory bandwidth – but not all.
This X550 from Sapphire has 256MB of memory, with 128-bit memory bandwidth. It runs with a 400MHz core and 250MHz (500MHz effective) memory. It is fairly obvious, that the X550 is little more than a speed bump of the X300, bringing it closer to the speed and specifications of the X600.
However, Abit launched an X300SE which used 128-bit memory and was guaranteed to overclock to 405MHz on the core and 255MHz (510MHz effective) memory. This is in fact a higher speed than the X550! Not only this, but it is cheaper at a mere £37. We decided to use this for comparison, to see if it was worth spending the extra £15.
We tested both of our cards with our standard benchmark suite, which includes Doom 3, 3DMark 03/05, Far Cry, Half-Life 2. This was performed on an MSI K8N SLI Platinum motherboard, with an AMD FX55 processor and 1GB of Crucial Ballistix PC3200 memory.
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