Value GPU Shootout - Radeon 9550 vs. GeForce FX 5500 and 5700LE

While ATI's Radeon 9550 based graphics cards have been selling well in the China market, we will only just begin to see them showing up in all other markets now. Today we compare ATI's new Radeon 9550 GPU against the GeForce FX 5500 and 5700LE to find out which company has the lead in the value to mid range graphics market. ATI or nVidia?
Shawn Baker
Published Mon, May 17 2004 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:26 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

Value GPU Shootout - Introduction

IntroductionWith all the hype of the X800 Pro and X800 XT in play over the past few weeks, the latest value range Radeon 9550 chip to enter the market place has gone slightly forgotten with very little media coverage.When nVidia released their 128-bit bus enabled GeForce FX 5500 based on the slower 64-bit bus FX 5200 core and the FX 5700LE based on the FX5700 core a little while ago, a strong market presence was generated for nVidia while ATI were slightly left out. Their value 64-bit bus Radeon 9200 wasn't able to compete with the mentioned cards and while the Radeon 9600 XT was faster, it was also more expensive making it unsuitable for this market segment.What we want to find out today is how the new ATI Radeon 9550 compares against nVidia's FX 5500 and FX 5700LE GPUs as each company battles it out for this value to mid range graphics section of the market. We have two different versions of the Radeon 9550 here which we will have a look at today - one from PowerColor which follows the reference design from ATI and the other from GeCube that is a slightly modified version and dubbed as the 9550 Extreme.Let's have a look at what the new Radeon 9550 offers us and see how it performs against the competition from nVidia in this often forgotten market segment.

Value GPU Shootout - Overview of Radeon 9550

Overview of Radeon 9550RADEON 9550 delivers a cinematic experience to devoted gamers and casual enthusiasts alike, featuring optimized DirectX 9.0 and AGP 8X support to push next-generation 3D games to their limit.- Get in the GameFull AGP 8X support doubles available bandwidth for the most engaging game play in its class Four parallel rendering pipelines process up to 1.6 billion pixels per second 128-bit full floating point precision enables billions of color variations to render the same lighting and effects as Hollywood studios Core Speed 250MHz and Memory Speed 200MHzx2 (400MHz DDR)- Microsoft DirectX 9 supportEnjoy better performance and 3D imagery in multimedia, games and applications with Microsoft DirectX 9 optimized architecture Supported by CATALYST™, the industry's most stable 3D acceleration software Also supporting the latest OpenGL functionality and feature sets - Extra LifeOptimized to run the most demanding 2D and 3D next-generation games and applications without putting extra strain on the CPU FULLSTREAM™ removes blocky artifacts from streaming Internet video to deliver smoother looking, higher quality online content VIDEO IMMERSION™ integrates features to provide unprecedented support for digital and high definition video. - System requirementsPentium 4/Celeron/III/II, AMD K6/Athlon or compatible with AGP 2X or AGP 2X/4X universal slot Installation software requires CD-ROM drive DVD playback requires DVD drive on PCs with an Intel Pentium II processor (or equivalent) and 64MB of system memory- Monitor supportCRT Monitor: 15-pin VGA connector Composite connector DVI-I (flat panel display) connector - Display supportRegister compatible with VGA BIOS compatible with VESA for super VGA DDC1/2b/2b+ monitor support VESA Display Power Management Support Separate horizontal & vertical synchronization at TTL levels

Value GPU Shootout - The Core and 9550 Participant Cards

9550 CoreWhile the 9550 sounds like it has something to do with the previous generation of 9500 cards, it actually has nothing to do with them. The 9550 is here to offer an upgraded 9600 SE with there being one major difference. The 9550 offers a 128-bit memory bus as opposed to the slower 64-bit bus on offer with the 9600 SE.Fortunately we are lucky enough to have two different 9550's on offer here today and not only will we have a look at how the compare against each other but also how the cards compete against the GeForce FX 5500 and FX 5700LE.9550 Participant Cards- PowerColor 9550PowerColor has chosen to follow the reference design from ATI for their first revision Radeon 9550. One thing that was quite surprising is that PowerColor have chosen to include 256MB of memory on their card compared to 128MB on the GeCube 9550.
As you can see the cooler on the card isn't the most exciting and it only covers the core. You get your DVI and VGA connector as well as the TV-Out port which we have grown so accustom to.
Having a look at the back of the card you notice something out of the ordinary and we will have a quick look at the 9550 on offer from GeCube before we check out the benchmarks.- GeCube 9550 ExtremeGeCube, on the other hand, has decided to go a little bit further with their 9550 and one of the most noticeable things we can see is the cooler on the front of the card.This cooler, unlike the one on the PowerColor unit, covers the memory as well which while at first you might not think is important, once you pay more attention to the card you notice that it uses faster clocked BGA memory.
This cooler is found on the some of the faster 9600 XT models on offer from GeCube. While this card uses BGA memory, it also only uses 128MB as opposed to 256MB like we see on the PowerColor card. What performance influence will this mean? Read on a little further as we find out.
Moving around to the back of the card, it is slightly disappointing to see that there is no type of cooling on the rear memory. Something that stood out was the bolt-on heatsink. This helps make the heatsink more secure and effective than previous designs.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - Test System Setup and 3DMark 2001 SE

Test System SetupProcessor(s): AMD Athlon 64 3400+ Video card(s): nVidia nForce 3 250GB Reference (Supplied by nVidia)Video card(s): PowerColor Radeon 9550 256MB (Supplied by PowerColor) and GeCube Radeon 9550 Extreme 128MB (Supplied by GeCube) Memory: 1 x 512MB Kingmax PC4000 (Supplied by Kingmax)Hard Disk(s): Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10,000 RPM SATA (Supplied by Western Digital)Operating System Used: Windows XP Professional SP1Drivers Used: ATI Catalyst 4.4, nVidia Reference 409 (NF250GB) and nVidia Forceware 56.72As we mentioned, the ATI Radeon 9550 series of cards are designed to compete against the GeForce FX 5500 and FX 5700LE offerings from nVidia. We will be comparing the two cards we have here today against the Sparkle FX 5500 and FX 5700LE.We will also have a look at what the Extreme version of the 9550 from GeCube offers over the other cards and if there is much difference from the BGA memory used compared to the slower TSOP used on the PowerColor 9550.Let's begin!3DMark 2001 SE3DMark2001 SE is a part of the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 8.1 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce4), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments.
The PowerColor 9550 compares very closely to the FX 5500 which is just behind in both benchmarks. The Extreme version from GeCube offers a huge jump from the PowerColor which follows the reference design. The Extreme model even passes the 5700LE on offer so it will be interesting to see what price is like when it hits the market.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - 3DMark 2003

3DMark 20033DMark03 is the latest installment in the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 9 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce FX and ATI Radeon 9800), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments. Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favor of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
In 3DMark 2003 we see that the 9550 is similar in speed to the 5700LE and the Extreme card really pulls ahead for a healthy lead.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - Aquamark 3

Aquamark 3 Aquamark3 is the latest installment of the Aquamark benchmark suite. This new benchmark is much more powerful and demands much more from both the system and the graphics card. If there is any weakness in the system or 3D components, Aquamark3 will find them.
Here we see the reference model again keep up with the FX 5700LE and again the GeCube Extreme model again pulling ahead.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - Jedi Knight 2

Jedi Knight IIJedi Knight II, Jedi Outcast is an OpenGL game that many have been playing of late. It has greatly improved graphics over its predecessor and it fully supports advanced shaders, as well as very high texture resolutions and effects. There is one demo included in the multi-player section that is good for benchmarking use.
At 1024 X 768 we see that there is no real difference. Even at 1600 X 1200 the cards are very close together except the 9550 Extreme pulls quite far ahead of the competition.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2003

Unreal Tournament 2003Unreal Tournament 2003 continues the success that Unreal Tournament generated as an online game and benchmark. UT2003 pulls all of its weight onto the 3D and memory subsystems, pushing graphics reality to the maximum is its game, and you need some serious power to gain playable scores with this game.
Here we see a very similar result as we have seen in the other benchmarks. Playing at 1600 X 1200 isn't going to be the smoothest although as you can see playing at 1024 X 768 with any of the cards is definitely going to be playable.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo

Unreal Tournament 2004 DemoUnreal Tournament 2004 is the latest installment to the Unreal Tournament series. While still using DirectX 8.1 the game has faced quite a big make over and is a lot more intensive then its predecessor. Currently we are only using the demo but as soon as the full version hit the shelves it will be making a regular appearance in future reviews.
Here we see that even the more recent games can be played at the lower resolution on the cheap Radeon 9550 chip. Moving to the higher resolution does drop the frame rate quite significantly and makes it slightly unplayable.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - Comanche 4

Comanche 4Comanche 4 is a helicopter simulation using the DirectX 8.1 graphics interface. It is used to test the memory and 3D subsystems of a motherboard and video processor. Any weaknesses will show up through this intensive benchmark.
As you can see, even at the lower resolution the FX 5500 doesn't handle Comanche 4 well when compared to the 9550 and FX 5700LE.

Value GPU Shootout - Benchmarks - Quake 3

Quake III ArenaQuake III Arena is a real-world OpenGL benchmark that we have been using here at TweakTown for quite a while now because it has proven itself to be one of the best gaming benchmarks around to compare a wide range of different products. Quake III is getting very old, but is still one of the best ways of testing video and PC systems for any instabilities and best performance.
As expected, Quake 3 is playable on all cards although for some reason the 9550 card following the reference design doesn't quite run as well as the FX 5500 and FX 5700LE.

Value GPU Shootout - Conclusion

ConclusionThe Radeon 9550 should hit the markets (other than China where is said to be selling quite well already) quite competitively and as you can see for yourself, the performance is quite competitive when it comes up against the nVidia competition. As we stated, the card is priced slightly cheaper then the competition which is going to make it for an extremely competitive product once it hits shop shelves which will not be too far off.ATI have a real winner on their hands here and the value to mid range market is something that they have been missing out on for quite a while now.PowerColor have simply chosen to follow the reference design which isn't a bad thing because it keeps up with the FX5700LE without any trouble. GeCube, on the other hand, have done a little bit more with the 9550 core and chosen to install a better cooler and place some faster BGA memory on the PCB to help increase performance.The benchmark numbers cannot lie - all signs point to ATI taking out the crown in this section of the market with the Radeon 9550 showing a fair overall lead against the GeForce FX 5500 in our tests. What will nVidia's answer be? We'll wait and find out.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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