A Potentially Good HTPC Prospect, If The Price Is Right
Let’s consider average game performance:
First, we should be clear: this class of card is not aimed at our gaming audience. These products are for folks who want something better than integrated graphics for any number of reasons like multiple display support, video acceleration, quality enhancements for HTPC use, 3D video playback, and yes, even casual gaming for folks who can’t justify a pricier product.
As a cheap gaming card, the Radeon HD 6450 doesn’t stand up well compared to the Radeon HD 5550. If you’re looking for a sub-$100 gaming upgrade, spend $10 more on the Radeon HD 5570. The Radeon HD 5550 and GeForce GT 430 numbers show you that the Radeon HD 6450 isn’t in the running for any speed trophies. As a low-cost, multi-monitor option for the workspace, the Radeon HD 6450 fares a little better. But is it any better than the cheaper Radeon HD 5450? Not really. And if you’re looking for gaming across multiple monitors, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Once again, this is where a few more dollars will make a big difference.
As an HTPC card, though, that’s where the new Radeon HD 6450 stands out. It’s tiny, uses very little power, is relatively quiet, delivers great image quality, can accelerate Blu-ray 3D over HDMI 1.4a, and can push modest frame rates at 720p, though it's really not suited for that task. The passive, silent, DDR3-based version of the Radeon HD 6450 offers all of those same traits for $50 (maybe even less than that, depending on launch pricing; AMD was unable to supply that number for us) if you’re willing to give up 3D potential. That’d also be a compelling HTPC solution.
Before today, the cheapest card to offer all of those HTPC-oriented features was Nvidia's GeForce GT 430. As I write this, I notice that a couple models are priced as low as $60 on Newegg, within $5 of the Radeon HD 6450 GDDR5’s launch price. So, while the Radeon HD 6450 DDR3 may undercut the competition as a low-cost HTPC option, the Radeon HD 6450 GDDR5 has to contend with the GeForce GT 430. There, the question becomes whether you prefer gaming performance or multi-monitor connectivity. Either way, you’re probably better off spending a few dollars more for the Radeon HD 5570 unless you really want Blu-ray 3D decode acceleration.
Bottom line, if the Radeon HD 6450 DDR3 goes on sale for less than $50, it'd be a budget winner for an HTPC. Starting at $55, the GDDR5-based version of the Radeon HD 6450 is much closer to tough competition from Nvidia's GeForce GT 430 and AMD's own Radeon HD 5570, which makes it impossible to recommend.
Of course, prices are shifting faster than ever, so today’s great deal becomes tomorrow’s poor choice (and vice versa) in the blink of a browser-refresh. For those looking for up-to-date price recommendations, check out our Best Graphics Card For The Money column, which gets updated every month.