Sapphire Radeon X550 low-cost graphics card

Cheap as chips?

Review If you aren't a gamer, integrated graphics may seem the best imaging option to choose for your next PC. Integrated graphics engines may be cheaper than add-in cards, but they can hit system memory performance hard, and since on-board graphics are usually only available on budget chipsets and motherboards, you may also miss out on key features such as RAID storage or dual-monitor support, writes Andrew Miller.

Sapphire Radeon X550A better option is to buy a cheap discreet graphics card, and at £52, you'll struggle to find one much cheaper than the 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 using a 110nm fabrication process and is incredibly small, kicking out very little heat. But 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.

The X550 is essentially a speed-bumped X300. This one, from Sapphire, has 256MB of memory with 128-bit memory bandwidth. It runs with a 400MHz core and 250MHz (500MHz effective) memory.

Abit recently launched the X300SE, which uses 128-bit memory and is guaranteed to overclock to 405MHz on the core and 255MHz (510MHz effective) for the memory - higher, in fact, than the X550. Not only this but, at £37, it's cheaper. We decided to use this for comparison, to see if it was worth spending the extra £15.

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