The Perfect HTPC Cards

Like the rest of the Radeon HD 4000 series (4870, 4850, 4670 and 4650) the new Radeon HD 4550 and 4350 both support 8-channel LPCM over HDMI. This makes these two cards the perfect addition to any HTPC for use in a 6 or 8 channel home theater setup. The Radeon HD 4550 reference design is a full height PCI Express x16 card but it's completely passively cooled, making it an even better HTPC solution than the 4670 and cheaper. If you don't care about gaming performance but want a good way of upgrading your PC to full hardware H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 acceleration, the 4550 is perfect, especially if the multi-channel LPCM over HDMI output matters to you.


Radeon HD 4550

We tested the 4550's 8-channel LPCM output and it worked just as advertised, no different than the more expensive ATI cards. And honestly, compared to integrated graphics solutions, getting 8-channel LPCM and hardware decode working is just as easy if not easier.

The only requirement is that you install the Realtek HDMI Audio driver from Realtek's site, once that's done you'll get the option to enable 8-channel audio output in Vista's speaker configuration settings.

The Radeon HD 4350 is an even cheaper alternative to adding 8-channel LPCM output and hardware Blu-ray acceleration, however the half-height reference design does require a fan by default. While add in board partners will undoubtedly produce passively cooled versions, the default 4350 includes a fan; it's small and reasonably quiet, but it's still a fan.


Radeon HD 4350

AMD states that while both the 4550 and 4350 support full hardware Blu-ray decode acceleration, the 4350 may not be able to fully accelerate a high bitrate 2nd stream for picture in picture scenarios. We didn't have the opportunity to test this on our 4350 but we'll be following up with more HD decode tests in a future HTPC article. Both GPUs should decode a single stream 1080p Blu-ray movie without any issues, offloading 100% of the decode pipeline to the GPU; we confirmed that the 4550 works as expected and we're assuming the 4350 is the same given that the hardware is identical.

Index The Test
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  • ThePooBurner - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    If yo are going to test something as a gaming alternative for those who want a bit of a boost in their gaming, try actually setting the games to settings people might use. Also, testing with just 2 games, both of which either were or are system breakers seems a bit... dumb.

    I would prefer the cards be tested with actual settings to see what they can ACTUALLY do and give a better indication of performance. It's been my experience that turning on some of the eyecandy and turning up the resolution for a slightly reduced framerate is preferred over looking at something ugly for hours. Also, why test the 780G instead of the 790G? or why not both?

    Here is are test setups i would suggest that would be more reasonable and representative of what people would actually do with these cards.

    1) 1024x768 Med Quality (as in the second down from the highest setting), no AA, Triliner/8x filtering.
    2) 1024x768 High Quality, no AA, Triliner/8x filtering
    3&4) Same as above but with 1280x1024(or 960).

    These tests are much more inline with the testing that happens on their big brothers and allows for a much more quantitive comparison of what you are getting. Automatically testing everything at junk levels is worthless to people. It gives us no basis for comparison. We need apples to apple and orange to orange testing if we want to see what exactly the fruit we are looking at is. Also as a point of comparison it should include the 4850 or the 3850. Those are both very well performing cards that will give a good idea of how much more you would get for more money. But as this review currently stands it is of little to no worth to anyone.
    Reply
  • superflex - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Using a $1450 processor, $240 mobo, $300 RAM and $400 PSU to test a $40 GPU is assanine. That does no service to the HTPC end user. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    It is their standard graphics test bed, you can't very well make comparisons if you are changing non-tested hardware around.

    They probably shouldn't have bothered posting anything on these though until they were done with the HTPC portions, judging by all the complaints in the comments.
    Reply
  • deruberhanyok - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Yeah, it would be completely irrational to have a second standard test system for mid-range parts and a third for these lower end ones. I mean, what do you think this is, a tech website? Reply
  • PAPutzback - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Something along the lines of it being tested in hybrid mode if it is capable with an HTPC type setup. IE, low watt fanless PSU, and low watt processor.

    The new game should not be benchmarks scores but more about what is the leat wattage I can make a PC and still have all the function of a Media HTPC. No gaming.

    I was really disappointed seeing as Anand has a theater blog on the site and this would of been a perfect setup to test along with his theater.
    Reply
  • whosthere - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Derek,
    You guys published an article on G45 a few days back, then why didn't you show any G45 numbers in this article and still showing the antiquated G35 numbers?


    Reply
  • fic2 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Looking forward to the article on how well a 4870 runs on an Atom based computer.

    Got to go google for articles on how well a Landrover does on an F1 track.

    What a waste of an article. Best thing that can be said is that trees died for it.
    Reply
  • archer75 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    The ATI cards have problems with some receivers and TV's. It has to do with the EDID and is documented over at avsforums.com
    This affects some Onkyo, Denon and Yamaha receivers.
    Reply
  • madspartus - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Honestly why did you pair a $40 graphics card with a qx processor at 3.2 ghz...it just doesnt make any sense.

    Then showing power consumption differences on that system using a qx processor and 1200W power supply where the power used by the video card is little more than a unmentionable blip.

    next time would you try testing it in a system we might actually use this hardware in, like HTPC which you said yourself.

    maybe compare the power consumption to an IGP solution...and use a ~300W power supply etc.

    All those graphs were of no value to someone who wants to evaluate this thing for HTPC.
    Reply
  • duploxxx - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I agree, keep the review in reality and put this in a 780-790 mobo with x2 6000 or 6500 and an intel p45 with e5xxx - e7xxx series.

    that would give a realistic platform
    Reply

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