The GeForce GTX 550 Ti is the latest addition to the GeForce GTX 500 series from NVIDIA, coming with a nice USD 150 suggested price, putting it between the GeForce GTS 450 and the GeForce GTX 460 768 MB. The MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC comes with a custom GPU cooler and factory-overclocking, costing only USD 5 above the reference model. Let’s check it out.
In the table below we compare the main specs of the video cards included in our review. They are all DirectX 11 parts. The prices listed below do not include rebates. With them, the price of the Radeon HD 5830 drops to between USD 130 and USD 145, and the price of the GeForce GTX 460 768 MB drops to between USD 130 and USD 140. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review, except for the GeForce GTX 550 cards, that we are publishing the suggested prices according to NVIDIA and MSI.
|Video Card||Core Clock||Shader Clock||Memory Clock (Real)||Memory Clock (Effective)||Memory Interface||Memory Transfer Rate||Memory||Shaders||Price|
|GeForce GTS 450||783 MHz||1,566 MHz||900 MHz||3.6 GHz||128-bit||57.7 GB/s||1 GB GDDR5||192||USD 110 – USD 140|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||675 MHz||1,350 MHz||900 MHz||3.6 GHz||192-bit||86.4 GB/s||768 MB GDDR5||336||USD 150 – 170|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||900 MHz||1,800 MHz||1,025 MHz||4.1 GHz||192-bit||98.4 GB/s||1 GB GDDR5||192||USD 150|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||950 MHz||1,900 MHz||1,075 MHz||4.3 GHz||192-bit||103.2 GB/s||1 GB GDDR5||192||USD 155|
|Radeon HD 5830||800 MHz||800 MHz||1 GHz||4 GHz||256-bit||128 GB/s||1 GB GDDR5||1,120||USD 156 – USD 175|
You can compare the specs of these video cards with other video cards by taking a look at our AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table and NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table tutorials.
NVIDIA is targeting this video card to users playing at 1680×1050 and this will be the resolution we will be using in our review.
Now let’s take an in-depth look at the MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC.
[nextpage title=”The MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC”]
Below we have an overall look at the MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC. It requires one six-pin auxiliary power connector.
Figure 1: MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC
Figure 2: MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC
This video card has one mini HDMI and two DVI-D connectors.
[nextpage title=”The MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC (Cont’d)”]
In Figure 4, you can see the video card with its cooler removed and, in Figure 5, a close-up of the voltage regulator circuit.
Figure 4: Video card with the cooler removed
The voltage regulator circuit uses solid capacitors, ferrite-core coils (which make the regulator to have higher efficiency because they have lower energy loss than iron-core coils), and low RDS(on) MOSFET transistors (i.e., higher efficiency).
Figure 5: Voltage regulator circuit
The GPU heatsink can be seen in Figures 6 and 7. It has nickel-plated copper base, two five-mm nickel-plated copper heatpipes, aluminum fins, and a 90 mm fan.
NVIDIA decided to use a different memory configuration with the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, using two 2 Gbit chips and four 1 Gbit chips. This allowed the video card to have a 192-bit memory interface (32-bit interface per chip) while maintaining 1 GB GDRR5 memory. The traditional design for a video card with 192-bit interface would be using six 1 Gbit chips, making the video card to have 768 MB instead of 1 GB.
The chips used are four H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C and two H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C parts from Hynix, which support up to 1.25 GHz (5 GHz QDR) and since on this video card memory is accessed at 1,075 MHz (4.3 GHz QDR), there is still a good 16% margin for you to increase the memory clock rate while keeping the chips inside the maximum they support. Of course you can always try to overclock the memory chips above their specs.
Before seeing the performance results, let’s recap the main features of this video card.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC video card include:
- Graphics chip: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti running at 950 MHz
- Memory: 1 GB GDDR5 memory (192-bit interface) from Hynix (4x H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C and 2x H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C), running at 1,075
MHz (4.3 GHz, QDR)
- Bus type: PCI Express x16 2.0
- Video Connectors: One mini HDMI and two DVI-D
- Video Capture (VIVO): No
- Cables and adapters that come with this board: One mini DisplayPort to DVI-D, one DVI-to-VGA and one power adapter
- Number of CDs/DVDs that come with this board: One
- Games included: None
- Programs included: MSI After Burner (overclocking utility)
- More information: https://www.msicomputer.com
- MSRP in the US: USD 155
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the video card being tested.
- CPU: Core i7 Extreme 965 (3.2 GHz, 8 MB L2 memory cache)
- Motherboard: MSI Big Bang XPower (1.3 BIOS)
- Memories: 3x 2 GB G.Skill F3-10666CL7T-6GBPK (DDR3-1333/PC3-10666, CL7-7-7-18)
- Hard disk drive: Western Digital VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS (300 GB, SATA-300, 10,000 rpm, 16 MB cache)
- Video monitor: Samsung SyncMaster 305T (30” LCD, 2560×1600)
- Power Supply: SilverStone Element ST75EF
- CPU Cooler: Intel stock
- Optical Drive: LG GSA-H54N
- Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
- Video resolution: 2560×1600 @ 60 Hz
- AMD/ATI video driver version: Catalyst 11.2
- NVIDIA video driver version: 266.58
- NVIDIA video driver version: 266.71 (GeForce GTX 550 Ti)
- Intel Inf driver version: 184.108.40.2068
- 3DMark 11 Professional 1.0.0
- Aliens vs. Predator + Benchmark Tool
- Call of Duty 4 – Patch 1.7
- Crysis Warhead – Patch 1.1 + HOC Bench Crysis Warhead Benchmark Tool 1.1.1
- Far Cry 2 – Patch 1.03
- Lost Planet 2
- StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty – Patch 1.1.0
We adopted a 3% error margin. Thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”Call of Duty 4″]
Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, exactly what will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.
To get accurate results, we had to disable the 80 FPS limit in the game. To do this, input the command, “/seta com_maxfps 1000” (minus the quotes) into the console (` key). It can be set to any number greater than 200.
We ran this program at 1680×1050 maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was set to the maximum values in the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the internal game benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo here for downloading if you want to run your own benchmarks. We ran the demo five times, and the results below are the average number of frames per second (FPS) achieved by each video card.
|Call of Duty 4 – Maximum||1680×1050||Difference|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||101.6||19%|
|Radeon HD 5830||96.4||13%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||85.6|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||82.6||4%|
|GeForce GTS 450||74.6||15%|
[nextpage title=”StarCraft II”]
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is a very popular DirectX 9 game that was released in 2010. Though this game uses an old version of DirectX, the number of textures that can be represented on one screen can push most of the top-end graphics cards to their limits (especially when the graphics settings are set at “Ultra”). StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty uses its own physics engine that is bound to the CPU and thus does not benefit from PhysX.
As this game is a very competitive and widespread “e-sport,” many LAN cafés and competitions will be building systems to run this game at high frame rates, but at lower graphics settings. For gamers that play StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty at a higher level, “Ultra” graphics settings can be a hindrance due to clutter. Due to this, the more popular video cards for this game will be the mid-range cards.
We tested this game at 1680×1050. The quality of the game was set to the high preset and the textures were also set to high. We used the NVIDIA and ATI consoles to force both Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering at 4x. We then used FRAPS to collect the frame rate of a replay on the “Unit Testing” custom map. We used a battle between very large armies to stress the video cards.
|StarCraft II – High||1680×1050||Difference|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||91.36||49%|
|Radeon HD 5830||84.87||38%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||61.43|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||59.84||3%|
|GeForce GTS 450||50.39||22%|
[nextpage title=”Crysis Warhead”]
Crysis Warhead is a DirectX 10 game based on the same engine as the original Crysis, but optimized (it runs under DirectX 9.0c when installed on Windows XP).
We used the HardwareOC Crysis Warhead Benchmark Tool to collect th
e data for this test. We ran this program at 1680×1050 at high image quality (but with no anti-aliasing and no anisotropic filtering) and using the Airfield demo. The results below are the number of frames per second achieved by each video card.
|Crysis Warhead – High||1680×1050||Difference|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||41||21%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||34|
|Radeon HD 5830||34||0%|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||31||10%|
|GeForce GTS 450||29||17%|
[nextpage title=”Far Cry 2″]
Far Cry 2 is based on an entirely new game engine called Dunia, which is DirectX 10 when played under Windows Vista with a DirectX 10 compatible video card.
We used the benchmarking utility that comes with this game at 1680×1050, setting image quality to Very High (with x4 anti-aliasing) and running the “Ranch Long” demo three times. The results below are expressed in frames per second and are an arithmetic average of the three results collected.
|FarCry 2 – Very High – AAx4||1680×1050||Difference|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||92.5||15%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||80.4|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||76.5||5%|
|Radeon HD 5830||68.2||18%|
|GeForce GTS 450||62.5||29%|
[nextpage title=”Aliens vs. Predator”]
Aliens vs. Predator is a DirectX 11 game that makes full use of tessellation and advanced shadow rendering. We used the Aliens vs. Predator Benchmark Tool developed by Rebellion. This program reads its configuration from a text file (our configuration files can be found here). We ran this program at 1680×1050, with medium settings, 4x anisotropic filtering and 2x anti-aliasing.
|Aliens vs. Predator – Medium, AAx2, AFx4||1680×1050||Difference|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||32.4||14%|
|Radeon HD 5830||32.3||13%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||28.5|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||27.0||6%|
|GeForce GTS 450||22.2||28%|
[nextpage title=”Lost Planet 2″]
Lost Planet 2 is a game that uses a lot of DirectX 11 features, like tessellation (to round out the edges of polygonal models), displacement maps (added to the tessellated mesh to add fine grain details), DirectCompute soft body simulation (to introduce more realism in the “boss” monsters), and DirectCompute wave simulation (to introduce more realism in the physics calculations in water surfaces; when you move or when gunshots and explosions hit the water, it moves accordingly). We reviewed the video cards using Lost Planet 2 internal benchmarking features, choosing the “Benchmark A” (we know that “Benchmark B” is the one recommended for reviewing video cards, however, at least with us, results were inconsistent). We set graphics at “medium,” no anti-aliasing and DX11 at “full,” at 1680×1050. The results below are the number of frames per second generated by each video card.
|Lost Planet 2 – Medium, AAx0||1680×1050||Difference|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||43.4||26%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||34.4|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||32.0||8%|
|Radeon HD 5830||31.0||11%|
|GeForce GTS 450||28.8||19%|
[nextpage title=”3DMark 11 Professional”]
3DMark 11 Professional measures Shader 5.0 (i.e., DirectX 11) performance. We ran this program at 1680×1050, selecting the four graphics tests available and deselecting the other tests available. We used two image quality settings, “Performance” and “Extreme,” both at their default settings. The results being compared are the “GPU Score” achieved by each video card.
|3DMark 11 – Performance||1680×1050||Difference|
|Radeon HD 5830||2112||32%|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||2048||28%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||1594|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||1508||6%|
|GeForce GTS 450||1292||23%|
|3DMark 11 – Extreme||1680×1050||Difference|
|GeForce GTX 460 768 MB||1222||28%|
|Radeon HD 5830||1187||25%|
|MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC||953|
|GeForce GTX 550 Ti||909||5%|
|GeForce GTS 450||770||24%|
The MSI N550GTX-Ti was between 4% and 10% faster than the standard GeForce GTX 550 Ti, and since it comes with a better cooling solution and is only USD 5 more expensive than the standard GeForce GTX 550 Ti, it is a good option if you are thinking on buying a video card based on this latest GPU from NVIDIA.
The reviewed video card is, as expected, faster than the GeForce GTS 450, between 15% and 29% faster on our tests.
The problem of this latest release, however, is its price. Unless NVIDIA drops the price of the GeForce GTX 550 Ti by USD 20-30, it is a better option to buy a GeFor
ce GTX 460 with 768 MB, which was between 15% and 49% faster and can be bought for the same price, if you research carefully (in fact, the GeForce GTX 460 with 768 MB can be cheaper than the GeForce GTX 550 Ti if you are able to get a mail-in rebate). And even then you would have to think if it is not worthwhile to pay a little bit extra to have such performance gain. The same goes to the Radeon HD 5830, which was up to 38% faster, except on FarCry 2, where this video card from MSI was 18% faster, and on Lost Planet 2, where the reviewed card was 11% faster than the Radeon HD 5830.
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