Closing Thoughts

This is ultimately an underwhelming launch for NVIDIA, but perhaps it’s best we first start with the positives.

The GTS 450 was the first Fermi launch that didn't result in some immediate fanfare for NVIDIA. With performance treading between a Radeon HD 5750 and 5770, the GTS 450 didn’t look good. So if they could be a “most improved” award for a GPU, GF116 and the GTX 550 Ti would most certainly get it. Even though all NVIDIA did was enable a 3rd memory controller and ramp up the clocks, it’s enough to increase performance by 20% - at other segments of the market we regularly settle for less. With these improvements the GTX 550 Ti is finally almost consistently ahead of the Radeon HD 5770.

So what’s the problem? The same problem NVIDIA normally runs in to: pricing. The GTX 550 Ti seems destined to sell based on NVIDIA’s name and market presence more than it will sell based on performance characteristics. Not having a reference card muddles our results some, but ultimately it’s clear that AMD’s pricing has caught NVIDIA flat-footed.

Indeed the GTX 550 Ti is faster than the 5770 - by around 7% - but then the GTX 550 Ti costs 36% more. At the other end of the spectrum is the 6850, which is 7% more expensive on average for 25% better performance. Even the GTX 460 768MB is going to gnaw at NVIDIA here so long as it’s still on the market; it’s 15% faster and yet it’s $20 cheaper. It’s with a dash of Alanis Morissette irony that while having so-so graphical performance the GTX 550 is a remarkable compute card compared to similar AMD cards, but at the same time a CUDA memory bug sliped by before the product shipped.

In these situations NVIDIA reminds me of Intel in the sub-$200 market before Sandy Bridge was released: gross margin first, competition second. AMD is quite willing to cut prices to the bone, NVIDIA is not. As a result on these lower-end products AMD has quite the performance lead for the price. This of course is NVIDIA’s choice, but so long as they choose to go about pricing products this way they’re going to play catch-up to AMD.

In the end the GTX 550 Ti just isn’t a compelling product at $149. At that price you’re much better served by ponying up the extra $10 to pick up a 6850 for much better performance – and if the Zotac GTX 550 Ti AMP is similar to other GTX 550 Ti cards – lower power consumption and less noise. Alternatively the GTX 460 768MB is an absolute steal while it’s still available.

Meanwhile partners like Zotac are left in a rough spot. At $169 $155 the GTX 550 Ti AMP closes the performance gap with the 6850 by some, and at $5 more than a stock clocked GTX 550 Ti is quite a good deal for 10% better performance. But ultimately it's only $5 less than a notably better performing card, the 6850. However the fact that so many partners are doing overclocked cards speaks well of GF116’s overclockability. More significantly it’s quite remarkable that these overclocked GTX 550 Ti’s can get so close to the GTX 460 768MB – a card with a much bigger GPU with many more functional units to work with. With these factory overclocks, the GTX 550 Ti could almost be a decent replacement for the GTX 460 768MB. Pricing is the enemy however – these guys can only lower prices if NVIDIA lets up on the $149 MSRP for the stock clocked GTX 550 Ti.

Finally, we certainly haven’t forgotten about NVIDIA’s interesting memory arrangement with the GTX 550 Ti. It’s a shame that they won’t tell us more about how they’re interleaving memory accesses on this unique design, but hopefully they’ll open up in the future. It’s something we’re definitely going to revisit once the CUDA memory bug is dealt with, and hopefully at that time we’ll be able to learn more about how NVIDIA is accomplishing this. If this is the start of a long term change to memory layout by NVIDIA, then getting to better understand how they’re interleaving memory accesses here will be all the more important to understanding future products.

Power, Temperature, & Noise
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  • Marlin1975 - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    But over priced.

    If this was in the $100 area it be a much better buy. But the cheaper 460 is better right now.

    Also you have the 450 in yoru graph as a 256bit bandwidth, not the 128bit it is.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    I'm not usually an advocate of OCing gpus, but I'm curious how much more performance could be achieved. We know there's some room in the memory, how much more can the gpu/shaders really extract? While Zotac OCs, they normally don't max it out on air cooling, so a little testing would be nice :) Reply
  • slickr - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    Its a crap card.

    Its about $50 overpriced, its worse in consumption, noise and coolness than Nvidia's own 1 year old GTS 450.

    So how can this be a good card? For the same price I can get a GTX 460 768mb that performs 20% faster and I can get cooler, quieter and less power draw card for $50 less in the 5770 and still get the same performance.

    If you ask me this card is a rip off for consumers who don't know anything about graphic cards.
    Reply
  • Aircraft123 - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    I really don't understand why nVidia is so concerned with these lower performing cards.

    Their own cards from TWO GENERATIONS AGO perform better then this "new" card.

    I have a GTX275 it will perform equivalent or better than this new card and you can find it on a particular auction site for ~$100.

    The only thing missing from my 275, is directX 11. Which unless you get a 470 or greater the card isn't powerful enough to run any dx11 stuff anyway.

    I could also say the same for AMD considering the 4870 performs better than the 5770.

    I am interested in the dual fermi card due out soon though. It will be interesting if/how they can beat the 6990 with lower power sonsumption/noise.

    Anyhow good article.
    Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    The reason is the re-work I bet has a better yeild number, let alone more performance from the same chip with a new series number.
    So people think they are getting new cutting edge when its just a 4xx series chip re-worked.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    In fairness, if we are considering dollars and cents your GTX275 has a TDP twice the 550 Ti, and probably eats up double or more at idle as well. Reply
  • jiffylube1024 - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    The GTX 275 costs a lot more to make than the Ti 550 (they couldn't mass manufacture the GTX 275 card at a $100 or even $150 pricepoint and hope to make a profit) and a GTX 275's that you could find for $100 today would either be old stock (meaning they're just clearing inventory) or a used card, meaning no profit for Nvidia whatsoever.

    It's pretty obvious that companies come out with these cards to occupy lower pricepoints... The problem is that, as you point out, they are often too cut-down and previous generation cards throttle them. It's a balance, and when they hit the right price/performance, magic happens (GTX 460), but they often miss the mark on other cards (GTS 450, Ti 550).

    Even if you examine the Ti550 on paper, it stands no chance vs the GTX 460 -- it has 56% less shader power than the GTX 460 (336 shaders vs 192; a similar drop in texturing power) and not enough of a clockspeed advantage (900 MHz vs 675 MHz) to make up for that. At $150, the Ti550 is a total waste since you can find GTX 460's for $130 or less these days. It's going to take a fall below $100 for these cards to become worthwhile.

    Nevertheless, if GTX 460 stock dries up, then without a Ti 550, Nvidia has a gaping hole below $250.

    I think this has a lot to do with manufacturing costs -- it's not economical to keep making GTX 460's and sell them for ~$100. The Ti 550 has 66.7% the transitor count of the GTX 460, meaning a much cheaper die to manufacture.
    Reply
  • Kiji - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    "Indeed the GTX 550 Ti is faster than the 5770 - by around 7% - but then the 5770 costs 36% more." - I think you mean "..36% less."

    Good review, and it's disappointing NVidia doesn't want to change their mentality.
    Reply
  • Kiji - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    Nevermind, already fixed :) Reply
  • passive - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    At the end of page 5 you say that the 550 is ahead of the 5770 by 50%, and at 90% of the 6850. According to your graphs, both of these are very wrong (even when using the Zotacs numbers):

    23.1 (550) / 19.8 (5770) = 16.6%
    23.1 (550) / 29.8 (6850) = 77.5%

    What's weird is that immediately after you say how the 550 is beating the 450 by 30%, which is accurate, but further paints a pro-Nvidia picture.

    I know we live in era of community edited content, but in order to prevent accusations of bias, you should really catch this before you publish.
    Reply

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