MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB Cyclone II Video Card

NVIDIA release a new mid-range card. So who should be looking at the GTX 550 Ti? - We'll tell you!

Published Tue, Mar 15 2011 7:06 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:02 PM CST
Rating: 91%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Package


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Last week we were looking at AMD release a new card that manages to take top spot as the fastest VGA card currently on the market. From one extreme to another, we're checking out the new baby mid-range card from NVIDIA today in the GTX 550 Ti.

Like us, though, NVIDIA understand that $699 cards aren't for everyone, and really, where the bread and butter is for these companies is the mid-range market, as that's what really sells.

So the question is, how's the GTX 550 Ti? Well, we're not sure yet, but we're going to find out soon enough. Like most mid-range models lately, though, NVIDIAs partners have come out hard and fast with models that move away from the reference design with the one we're looking at today coming from MSI and using the new "Cyclone II" cooler.

The "Cyclone" series isn't new to us as we've seen it for a while now, but this is the second iteration in the series and we'll have to see how it differs. Before we look at the actual card, though, let's have a look at the package that MSI has put together. We'll then check out the card and look at the specifications before we get into the performance side of things.

So without further ado, let's check out the package!


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Looking at the bundle, there's nothing really exciting going on. Considering most cards don't have a whole lot going on in the package these days and mid-range models having even less going on, this is no surprise. The only extra that might look a little different is the HDMI to Mini-HDMI connector that's included.

Card and Specifications

The Card

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Looking at the card initially, you won't find anything too different to what we've seen before from mid-range cards and the Cyclone series. Looking a bit closer at the cooler and you can see a bit more of an aggressive styling which looks great. The cooler looks like it will deliver as always, thanks to those heat pipes coming out the top, but we'll find out later exactly what kind of temps are on offer.

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As for the rest of the card, we've got a single 6-Pin PCI-E connector at the back of the card along with a single SLI connector across the top. Connectivity comes in the form of two Dual-Link DVI connectors along with a single Mini-HDMI port. As we mentioned on the previous page, a HDMI to Mini-HDMI convertor is included in the bundle.


The MSI GTX 550 Ti Cyclone II is an overclocked model, so the clocks are slightly up from the default. A reference designed card will come in with a 900MHz core clock, while the 192 CUDA Cores carry a 1800MHz clock.

On the memory front we've got 1GB of GDDR5 which seems to have become the norm these days. That carries a clock of 4104MHz QDR. Some specifications shared between all GTX 550 Ti cards are 32 Texture Units, 24 ROP Units, 192-bit memory bus and a 40nm fab process.

MSI carries with it an increased core speed which bumps up the Shader clock. Fortunately they've also chosen to increase the memory speed which you can see below.

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The core on the MSI GTX 550 Ti Cyclone II comes in at 950MHz; this bumps the Shader clock to 1900MHz while the memory has been bumped to 1075MHz which translates to 4300MHz QDR.

Test System Setup and 3DMark 11

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Noctua and Corsair.

Due to the card being a real mid-range one and on the lower spectrum of that, we've modified our benchmarks slightly. We've removed our AA testing along with our 2560 x 1600 testing.

In the lineup we've got the older GTX 460 and the new GTX 560 Ti from NVIDIA. On the AMD front we've got the HD 5770 1GB that NVIDIA say this card goes directly against. While this holds true for now, we know that AMD have new mid-range cards coming in the next month and it will be interesting to see what happens then.

Let's get started!

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Under 3DMark 11 we can see that performance between the HD 5770 and GTX 550 Ti is very similar. This leaves me a little worried that NVIDIA might be offering a new card that only matches a card that will be last generation for AMD soon.

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

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3DMark Vantage of course favors the NVIDIA card quite strongly thanks to that PhysX support. The days for Vantage are indeed numbered as 3DMark 11 gains popularity.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Tessellation performance has always been strong for NVIDIA and you can see here that the card is able to really separate itself from the HD 5770. It will be very interesting to see how AMD is able to attack Tessellation with its next generation of mid-range cards.

Benchmarks - Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5

Version and / or Patch Used: Demo Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Resident Evil 5 is a survival horror video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on September 18. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

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Getting into some games, we can see some really strong performance under Resident Evil 5. The HD 5770 offers border line numbers of around 60 FPS. We'd consider it just playable at both resolutions. The GTX 550 Ti on the other hand has no problems dealing with the game at both resolutions.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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Exactly like Resident Evil 5, we can see that the HD 5770 is what we would just consider playable. The GTX 550 Ti on the other hand offers fantastic FPS and even offers playable FPS for someone on a 120Hz screen. If you halved these numbers you would get playable FPS at 1920 x 1080 in 3D.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Mafia II is a bit more intensive than the other two games we've looked at and you can see the GTX 550 Ti struggles at the higher 1920 x 1200 resolution. At 1680 x 1050, though, it manages to just break that 60 FPS mark. The HD 5770 on the other hand isn't anywhere near it.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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Most cards struggle under Lost Planet 2 and it comes as no surprise we've got some very low FPS here. Compared to the HD 5770, though, the performance is a lot stronger and that's again thanks to some very strong tessellation performance.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Low numbers again under Aliens vs. Predator and you'd really need to drop the detail levels to bring the performance up to a playable level. Compared to the HD 5770 performance is close between the two, but the GTX 550 Ti is indeed able to outperform the card.

Benchmarks - Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

While Street Fighter IV features models and backgrounds rendered in 3D, the gameplay remains on a traditional 2D plane, with the camera having freedom to move in 3D at certain times during fights, for dramatic effect. Producer Yoshinori Ono has stated that he wanted to keep the game closer to Street Fighter II. A new system called "Focus Attacks" ("Saving Attack" for the Japanese version) has been introduced, as well as Ultra moves. The traditional six-button control scheme returns, with new features and special moves integrated into the input system, mixing classic gameplay with additional innovations.

All the characters and environments in Street Fighter IV are rendered as 3D models with polygons, similar to the Street Fighter EX sub-series Capcom produced with Arika. However, there are a couple of key differences. Art director and character designer Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, opted for non-photorealistic rendering to give them a hand-drawn look, with visual effects accented in calligraphic strokes, ink smudges and ink sprays during the fights.

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Street Fighter IV as you would expect gives us good numbers; compared to the HD 5770 we also see the model performs a good chunk stronger.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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While we've got almost a minimum of 30 FPS for the HD 5770 here, we would say its performance is still too low. On the other hand, the GTX 550 Ti Cyclone II has no issues dealing with Far Cry 2 and we've got averages well above 60 FPS and a nice increase over 30 FPS in the minimum department.

Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham Asylum

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum - Gotham's psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City's most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.

Using a wide range of Batman's gadgets and abilities, players will become the invisible predator and attempt to foil The Joker's demented scheme.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini, whose credits include Lost season one and Batman: The Animated Series.

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Batman AA has always been a game that runs extremely well on most cards and you can see here we've got some great performance again from the GTX 550 Ti 1GB Cyclone.

Temperature Test

Temperature Tests

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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Lower end spectrum of the mid-range segment combined with a good cooler means really low temps. This is a cool running card which is of no surprise to us.

Sound Test

Sound Tests

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Noise levels are also fantastic; at idle the card is near silent with the environment noise probably being louder.

Power Consumption Tests

Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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Power draw is low at just over 300 watt, but it's a little higher than I thought it would be. You can see it's higher than the HD 6850 and HD 5770. Again, though, overall it's still very low power draw and most power supplies won't have an issue.

Final Thoughts

I thought it was going to be a little tough to go from a card that was scoring in excess of P10,000 under 3DMark 11 to one that scores a bit over P2,500, but when you start to get into the game testing you can really see some great FPS.

Sure, you're not getting 400 FPS under Street Fighter IV, but under games like RE5, Batman AA and H.A.W.X. 2 we see the GTX 550 Ti just offers some great performance that translates into very playable numbers. In some of the more intensive games like Far Cry 2 and Mafia II we see some strong performance at 1680 x 1050 with very playable numbers and 1920 x 1200 numbers that are almost playable with in-game settings to high.

If you choose to drop back the detail slightly at 1920 x 1200, the GTX 550 Ti won't have trouble playing a lot of games at that higher resolution. Games like Lost Planet 2 and Aliens vs. Predator see the GTX 550 Ti struggle at the maxed out in game settings, but diving into the options and you should be able to bring those numbers up to a playable level at 1680 x 1050.

Compared to the HD 5770 which is what the GTX 550 Ti goes against at the moment, it's also clear which is faster. Initially we looked at 3DMark 11 and saw both cards perform very close to each other, and we were a little worried that performance was going to be similar across the board. Once we got into the games, though, we really saw the GTX 550 Ti pull ahead.

Getting more specific, the MSI version as you would expect performs extremely well. The decision to increase both the core and memory is a great idea and the new Cyclone II cooler looks a little meaner than the previous version and performs exceptionally well as you would also expect.

In the end the GTX 550 Ti has a clear market and the reference card should set you back around the $149 mark. Because we're seeing most companies offer a fancy version of the card at launch, you should see these overclocked ones with upgraded coolers for around the $159 mark.

It will be interesting to see if AMD become a bit more aggressive with the HD 6850 pricing which sees a lot of brands with overclocks and upgraded cooling around the $189 mark, or if they combat the GTX 550 Ti head on with what will no doubt be the HD 6700 series.

For now, though, you'll probably find it easy to decide where to spend your money if your budget is in the $150 area. While a bit low end for me personally, you can see this is going to be a popular model for NVIDIA and its partners due to the aggressive price point and the fact that you're talking about a card that can not only handle 1680 x 1050 very well with in-game detail on the very high end, but also 1920 x 1200 with in-game detail from medium to very high.

Strong performance for one of the most popular monitor sizes and an aggressive price tag make this a model that'll attract a lot of people. Companies like MSI, though; releasing these upgraded versions from launch is going to be the icing on the cake. The decent out of the box overclocks from day one are going to impress people and with NVIDIA saying 1GHz is an easy task, this is going to be a really fun model to play with when you fire up Afterburner for some overclocking fun.

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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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