The GeForce GTX 550Ti is Nvidia's entry into the lower-midrange graphics card segment. This second-gen Fermi architecture card is meant to be the successor to the older GeForce GTS450. As with other cards of the same family, this one also has an alphabet soup of a name, with a prefix of GTX and a suffix of Ti.

Despite its current price, we expect it to drop considerably and be a good option for people looking for a graphics card that performs just a bit better than budget-priced ones. Its performance in benchmarks was fairly middling, being almost at the same point as its predecessor, the GTS450. Its competition from the AMD side would have to be somewhere between the Radeon 6850 and the Radeon 5770 (perhaps the newly released Radeon 6790).

The GPU of the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, codenamed the GF116, is a so-called second generation Fermi GPU (the GeForce 400 series was the first). It claims better temperatures and output per shader, besides better overclocking abilities. As the model number makes clear, the MSI N550GTX-Ti-M2D1GD5/OC graphics card is factory overclocked. It has 1GB of GDDR5 video memory clocked at 1075 MHz (1026 MHz on reference card) and a GPU core clocked at 950 MHz (900 MHz on reference card). It has a 192-bit memory interface and 192 unified shaders that support DirectX 11, OpenGL 4.1, OpenCL, CUDA/PhysX and Nvidia 3D Vision.


For more first-hand information, a GPU-Z screenshot above shows the GPU's specs in detail.

Design

MSI has used a cooler with its favourite colour scheme of red and black. The fan is sufficient as our temperature tests showed, but the cooler is not of the closed type, meaning some heat may escape into the cabinet as well. This card utilises a dual-slot cooler and stays within manageable temperature limits. As with any current graphics card, the cooler is geared to exhaust heat through the heat vent/grill at the back (positioned alongside the display outputs).

The card is quite short, which is a good thing for those who own relatively smaller desktop PC cabinets. Equally good is the power requirement, you only need to feed one 6-pin PCI-E power input slot, so it is not much of a power hog. It has a single SLI connector, to be able to operate more than one Nvidia graphics card in the same PC. Display outputs at the rear consisted of two DVI ports and one mini-HDMI port.

Package Contents

The MSI GeForce GTX550 Ti graphics card's package contents included one DVI-to-VGA port adapter, one mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter, one 6-pin PCI-E power input connectors (connecting to two 4-pin molex connectors) and the manual. The mandatory CD offered the Nvidia ForceWare drivers, manual, MSI utilities for the graphics card and an application called Afterburner (for monitoring and overclocking).

Performance

To eliminate bottlenecks to the extent possible, the testbed consisted of an Intel Core i7 965 processor, Intel DX58SO motherboard, Intel X25-M 80GB SSD, 12GB of Silicon Power DDR3 RAM, Tagan BZ-1300W PSU and Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit edition. We used the latest drivers for the GeForce GTX 550Ti available at the time of testing: Nvidia ForceWare 267.59. Note that PhysX was enabled wherever supported by the benchmark or game.

The graphs here show performance numbers selected from a wider set of tests conducted. To put the results in context and help you compare, we compare the benchmark scores of the card being tested against other graphics cards. This is useful to see its price/performance in context. Note that the GeForce GTS 450 shown in the graphs is also a factory overclocked model, so its performance is a lot closer to the GTX550 than a normal card clocked at default speeds.

Below is a graph of how the MSI N550GTX-Ti-M2D1GD5/OC fared in synthetic benchmarks:


Benchmarks: 3D Mark 2006 (DirectX 9.0c) and 3D Mark Vantage (DirectX 10).


Benchmark: 3D Mark 11 at all presets (to test DirectX 11 performance).


Benchmark: Unigine Heaven 2.1 (DirectX 11) at Full-HD resolution with 7 GPUs in the race.

Below is a graph of gaming performance showing frame-rates, to reflect what you would see in real-world usage patterns:


Benchmark: Crysis and Far Cry 2.


Benchmark: Metro 2033 (DirectX 11) at three different resolutions.

At any chosen resolution (1920x1080 or Full-HD in the case above), averaging 30 fps (frames/second) or higher is a good sign that the game would be fluid onscreen, without choppy play. In this case, the GTX550 is meant for a lower resolution, so its scores in the full HD resolution tests are not bad at all.

Across all benchmarks and games, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti was consistently better than the older generation GTS 450. It also manages to stay pretty close behind the AMD Radeon 6850, which is not bad at all for a mid-range GPU.

OUR VERDICT

The factors at play here are interesting. Firstly, this is a second generation Fermi GPU core, so we may see its full capability as time goes on and drivers get further optimised for it. Secondly, the improvement over the GTS450 is not as obvious at first glance, the increased memory bandwidth could be just what the doctor ordered for newer games.

Thirdly, as with AMD's strategy with the Radeon 6800 series, it looks like Nvidia is trying to give a performance boost but just enough so as to not cannibalise sales of its higher-end products. The GeForce GTX 550 Ti is a good graphics card, but is better off waiting on the store shelves for now. We expect price drops to make it a more compelling choice.