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ATI Radeon HD 5450: Eyefinity And HTPCs For Everyone?

Now that we've seen what the new Radeon HD 5450 can do, we can say that it's certainly the least awe-inspiring Radeon HD 5000-series card we've seen. But this utilitarian model was never designed to inspire. It was designed to work, to offer better-than-integrated graphics performance, to enable Eyefinity for the masses, and to give the HTPC enthusiasts bitstreaming from a passive card. And it does these things on a $50 budget.

That's a tall order given the price. It necessitates a significant functionality boost in an entry level graphics card. In this regard, the Radeon HD 5450 is certainly more impressive to those who don't necessarily care about gaming, but would give an arm and a leg for more computing desktop space. HTPC builders also have quite a bit to forward to.

But lets be frank. As impressive as these new abilities are to the folks interested in them, average buyers aren't going to realize much gain over what a Radeon HD 4550 would have facilitated. Most causal users are comfortable using one monitor; very few want to see three on their desk. And Dolby TrueHD- and DTS-HD Master Audio-compatible receivers are overall, fairly rare. Even more scattered are the folks attaching HTPCs to those components. Thus, there is little reason to run out and upgrade a Radeon HD 4550 to a new 5450 model.

Nevertheless, the Radeon HD 5450 is notable in that it raises the bar on what we expect from an entry-level graphics card, while cutting power consumption. It also sets the stage for a day when multiple-monitor support becomes the norm--long overdue in our books.

Where does the gamer fit into all this? Give our performance benchmarks, you can easily see that the similarly-priced Radeon HD 4650 is a vastly superior gaming solution. Regardless, the Radeon HD 5450 can offer passable performance in challenging titles at medium to low settings at 1280x1024. At this point, the low-budget gamer has to make a choice: do you opt for the faster card or a slower card that delivers triple-monitor gaming? Is the panoramic desktop experience worth dropping the details in your games? Certainly, games that are easy on the graphics subsystem (World of Warcraft, for example) could work on ATI's Radeon HD 5450 in triple-monitor Eyefinity mode. You don't want to play any graphically-intensive titles with this setup, though.

Spoiler alert: if you're a cost-conscious gamer faced with this choice, I'd suggest holding on just a little bit longer for AMD to launch something between the $50 Radeon HD 5450 and the $100 Radeon HD 5670. The company has already indicated that a 5500-series is forthcoming, and it is reasonable to expect such a product to offer higher performance than the Radeon HD 5450 at a lower price than the Radeon HD 5670. This is likely to be a far more desirable card for budget gamers interested in a triple-monitor Eyefinity setup.

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