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HTPC And Stream

ATI Radeon HD 5450: Eyefinity And HTPCs For Everyone?

HTPC Use: Bitstreaming Encoded Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio

The Radeon HD 5450 is a silent passively-cooled low-power card with a half-height bezel option. All of these attributes are ideal for home theater PC duty. In addition, the card is able to bitstream high-def audio codecs to your compatible receiver over a protected audio path. This is the only $50 card with this ability (if you're not counting Intel's Clarkdale-based processors and H55/57 motherboards), and HTPC enthusiasts will undoubtedly gravitate toward this card as a result.

We did a quick test of the Radeon HD 5450's ability to playback and post-process Blu-ray content, and compared it to the similarly-priced GeForce 210 (in addition to some of the integrated solutions we tested in September of 2009).

HD Benchmark Totals
(100 possible points)
Graphics ProcessorScore
Radeon HD 5450 100
GeForce 210
Integrated Radeon HD 4200 80
Integrated GeForce 9400 100
Integrated Intel G45

Essentially, the results are identical between the discrete cards. Both models provide flawless playback quality enhancements. I'd give the Radeon a slight edge in noise reduction and the GeForce a slight advantage when it comes to jaggy reduction, but both solutions are good enough to achieve a perfect 100 point score in the HD HQV benchmark. We did notice a slight delay between the beginning of a video clip and the application of video enhancements in the case of the Radeon, but in a real-world situation this would be completely unnoticeable. When you consider that these cards are similarly priced, and that the Radeon HD 5450 offers vastly superior audio capabilities, an HTPC enthusiast will find the Radeon a much more attractive option.

ATI Stream

This new card supports ATI's Stream technology. But with 1/20 of the shader cores found in the 5870, we don't expect great things from it on this front, and the number of applications that support ATI Stream is still limited at this point. It's difficult to get excited about a feature that hasn't achieved the critical mass to be useful to a majority of customers on a regular basis. Having said that, we do look forward to the proliferation of Adobe's upcoming Flash 10.1 browser plug-in. The video acceleration and enhancements offered by the Radeon HD 5000-series cards will undoubtedly see a lot of use by those who watch YouTube videos, so we did give the beta Flash 10.1 plug-in a try.

We tested using the Muppet's version of Bohemian Rhapsody at 1080p on our slowest test platform, one we use for graphics card power measurements and driven by an Athlon II X2 240e. At this high resolution, the CPU was taxed to about 50% during playback without acceleration. And with Flash acceleration enabled, the Radeon HD 5450 brought CPU usage down to just over 40%. The data AMD supplied suggested we should have seen a much larger difference when the video acceleration was enabled, but we couldn't replicate its results. Keep in mind that CPU utilization during YouTube video playback is typically much lower, as most of the videos are displayed at a correspondingly lower resolution. Dropping playback quality down to 720p resulted in 25% less CPU usage.

DirectX 11

The Radeon HD 5450 supports DirectX 11. But lets face it, this card is far too anemic to be purchased for its gaming prowess. At the risk of spoiling the gaming benchmark results, let's just say this is not the card that will bring DirectX 11 to the masses in a meaningful way. We established this to a degree in our Radeon HD 5670 review, and it's even more the case here.

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