The ZOTAC GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! Edition
Based in Hong Kong, ZOTAC has been around since 2006 and entered the market with an expanded lineup of NVIDIA GeForce based graphics cards, which included the passive-cooled ZOTAC GeForce ZONE Editions and class leading overclocked ZOTAC GeForce AMP! Editions, in addition to the standard GeForce series lineup. ZOTAC has since expanded its focus to include motherboards, mini-PCs and innovative accessories worldwide.
ZOTAC runs with 44 SMT lines, and has over 6,000 workers in a combined 100,000 square-meters of factory space. In addition, ZOTAC has over 130 R&D professionals in Hong Kong, China with warranty and service centers worldwide to provide effective and efficient support.
NVIDIA has been a whirlwind of activity since the development of the FERMI chips starting with the GeForce GTX 400 series and then the improved GeForce GTX 500 series. They have tried to bring the latest DirectX 11 technology to every price point with the current king of the hill being the GeForce GTX 590 currently priced at $749.99 shipped down to the entry level GTX550 Ti series which is where the card we are review today sits. The ZOTAC GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! Edition (model ZT-50402-10L) is one of three models offered by ZOTAC in the 550Ti family.
Three versions of the ZOTAC GeForce GTX 550 Ti graphic cards:
ZOTAC GeForce GTX 550 Ti ZT-50401-10L $109.99 shipped
ZOTAC GeForce GTX 550 Ti Multiview ZT-50403-10L Not Yet Released
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti ZT-50402-10L $124.99 shipped
The AMP! version has an MSRP of $172.99 but we found it as low as $124.99 from our shopping network, which includes Newegg. The multi view version of the GTX550Ti was not shipping as of this review but it is on the ZOTAC web site with out a price.
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti Specifications:
- Model: ZT-50402-10L
- Cooler Type: Fan (Dual Slot)
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti GPU
- Core Clock: 1000 MHz
- Shader Clock: 2000 MHz
- Core Processors: 192 Stream Processors
- Memory Clock: 4400 MHz (1100 MHz)
- Memory Size 1GB
- Memory Interface 192-bit
- Memory Type: GDDR5
- DirectX Support: DirectX 11
- DisplayPort: 1
- Dual dual-link DVI (Up to 2560x1600)
- Max Resolution: 2560 x 1600
- HDCP Ready: Yes
- HDMI Support: 1x HDMI 1.4a w/audio (8-channel LPCM & bitstream)
- Interface: PCI Express 2.0 x 16 (Compatible with 1.1)
- Single 6 Pin PCI-E power connector required
- Recommended Minimum PSU Wattage: 400-Watt
- SLI Supported: Yes (2-Way ready)
- HDTV Support: Full HD 1080p
- Dimensions: 4.376 in x 7.4 in (111.15 mm x 187.96 mm)
Warranty: 2-Year Standard Warranty; 3-Year Extended Warranty
- Counting cooling shroud 4.376 in x 7.625 in (111.15 mm x 193.67 mm)
Inside the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti box:
- DVI-to-VGA adapter
- Dual MOLEX to 6-pin PCIe power adapter
- Driver Disk
- ZOTAC Boost Premium software bundle
- User manual
Looking at the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti :
The front of the card has a sharp looking black and dark yellow almost orange theme with black plastic and yellow painted metal mesh. The front of the card has a single 75 cm fan set right above the heat sink attached to the GPU. No exotic heat pipes or other extreme cooling solutions for the entry level GPU of the NVIDIA 500 GTX series. You will be able to see on the thermal testing page just how well this simple cooler works.
The back of the card is a typical PCB in black to keep the black and yellow theme going. In this shot you can more clearly see the SLI connection point for 2-Way SLI.
ZOTAC has modified the reference design of the NVIDIA GTX550 Ti to include a port for Display Port connectivity. To keep this card as a dual slot form factor they had to reduce the size of the port vent and put the two DL-DVI ports next to each other instead of stacking them. This gives them room to keep both of the DVI, the HDMI,and the added Display Port. They also colored the DL-DVI ports yellow in keeping with the theme even though you would never see them with a DVI cable plugged in.
If you look at the other side of the card you can see the fan stacked on top of the heat sink. The fan blows the air over the heat sink and then it goes either left out of your case or right and goes into your case. As always as long as you are aware of this and have decent case airflow this should be a non-issue.
This graphics card requires a single 6-Pin PCI-E power connectors and the recommended minimum PSU is 400 Watts. This really is a minimum as this is based on a PC with an Intel i7 CPU, single HDD, single ODD and only one GTX 550Ti. If you want to run SLI or have a broader range of power consuming hardware you should consider a PSU supplying 500 Watts or more. Personally I try to run at least 650 Watts or more in any of my systems with my daily rig running a 850 Watt PSU for plenty of room to grow.
Overall I would say that ZOTAC has made the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti aesthetically pleasing especially given this is a $130.00 entry level card. Even those on a seriously tight budget can still get bling!
Retail Box and Bundle
On the front of the box for the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti you can see a mean looking dragon and all the icons for PhysX, OpenGL, HDMI, and 1024MB of DDR5 Memory. ZOTAC also calls out the "ZOTAC BOOT" bundle that is several software packages that help with video encoding, DVD burning, and playback. There is also call outs for the extended warranty and that this is one of ZOTAC's AMP! Edition cards meaning it comes overclocked from the factory.
On the back of the box is more marketing text and a description of SLI and how this graphics card works in SLI. Then there are call outs for DirectX 11 support, improved performance over the GTX 400 series, and all the NVIDIA features such as 3D Vision.
The left side of the box has all the specifications, key features, and minimum system requirements.
The right side of the box has a few more marketing highlights and the part number as well as other bar codes.
The card is inside a bubble pack anti-static sleeve.
Inside the box there are several items in addition to the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti itself:
- Driver and software CD
- DVI to VGA converter
- 6-PIN PCI-E to molex power cable
- Users manual
- Quick install guide and extended warranty
- Flat sheet description of the ZOTAC Boost software
- ZOTAC sticker
The Test System
The test system we used for the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti card is an Intel i5-2500k 'Sandy Bridge' quad core processor running at stock 3.3 GHz, 4 GB of Corsair Dominator 1600 MHz memory, 700 Watt OCZ PSU, OCZ 100GB Vertex Limited Edition SATA II SSD with Window 7 Professional 64-Bit SP1 with all the updates, and a Seagate 7200 RPM 500 GB hard disk for additional storage. We used our Dell U3011 30" flat panel display for all testing so we could go up to the maximum of 2560 x 1600 resolution this card supports.
The ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti was run with the latest Forceware 280.26 WHQL drivers that were just released on August 9th.
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti comparison product and pricing notes:
In order to give a frame of reference we are going to compare our tests against the ASUS GTX560 DCII Top card we just finished testing. The GTX560 is the next level up in the GTX500 family and this one also happens to be a factory overclocked version. However, that card was selling for $257.86 shipped
against this card currently selling for $134.99 shipped
so please keep that in mind as you are looking at these next pages that it is not a fair fight so to speak. If you wanted just the reference model GTX560 with no factory overclock you can get this ZOTAC version for $196.04 shipped
. We call that out so you can see that it is roughly a $61.00 jump to the next platform from this one and then another $61.00 to top level overclocked version of the GTX560. Hopefully this helps you make purchasing decision between these budget GTX500 graphic cards.
Aliens vs. Predator
We fired up Aliens vs Predator D3D11 Benchmark v1.03 which is a standalone benchmark test based upon Rebellion's 2010 inter-species shooter Aliens vs. Predator. The test shows multiple scenes from one to many Aliens using heavy tessellation among other nice DX11 features.
We ran the test at both 2560 x 1600 and 1920 x 1200 with all the settings set to the maximum to see how this entry level GTX500 series card from ZOTAC would perform at its maximum resolution and a more common size.
Not surprisingly this card did not achieve a playable 30+ FPS score at either resolution even though this is a factory overclocked card. This would require turning down the eye candy a bit on a typical 24" monitor running at 1920 x 1200 to get the frame rate above 30 FPS which is more than reasonable given where this card sits in the NVIDIA GTX500 line up.
Just Cause 2
The next benchmark we used was Just Cause 2. This is an open world action-adventure video game released in North America on March 23, 2010, by Swedish developer Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive published by Square Enix. Just Cause 2 employs a new version of the Avalanche Engine, Avalanche Engine 2.0, which is an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause.
This benchmark component of Just Cause 2 is basically a 2 minute fly through of the demo level that records your average FPS which is great because it is perfectly repeatable. You can see that we maxed out the eye candy with 4x AA, 16x AF, and SSAO to high.
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti 2560 x 1600:
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1920 x 1200:
We had a bit of an anomaly with this benchmark as the ZOTAC GTX550 Ti was reporting as fast or faster than the other two GTX560 cards at 1920 x 1200. Knowing that the GTX550Ti has 192 cores vs. the GTX560 336 cores and a memory bus of 192 bit vs. 256 bit for the GTX560 this should not be the case. In fact when we ran it at 1920 x 1080 the results dropped to around 26 FPS which is inline with the rest of the results.
Running at 19.8 FPS shows this card is not up to the task of max visual effects at 2560 x 1600 but a GTX550Ti card is not really intended to perform at that level.
We do not have an answer to why the ZOTAC card is performing so well at this one benchmark at this one resolution so we made multiple runs and took the middle result but still feel it is a bit skewed for the 1920 x 1200 resolution.
To really push this card we fired up Metro 2033. This game is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in the Ukraine. The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Moscow, mostly inside the metro station where the player's character was raised (he was born before the war, in an unharmed city), but occasionally the player has to go above ground on certain missions and scavenge for valuables.
With all the settings set to maximum and run at both resolutions you can clearly see this game is unplayable on our 30" test monitors native resolution of 2560 x 1400 giving us 4.1FPS and hardly playable at 1920 x 1200 posting 11.2 FPS. Based on these results to make this game playable at either of these resolutions you would probably have to turn of the majority of the visual effects.
This is an extremely demanding DirectX 11 game and the result prove this out. If this is your game of choice and you have a 24" display or larger you should consider something higher up in the GTX500 series from ZOTAC or at a minimum run a pair of ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti in 2-Way SLI configuration.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat unfold shortly after the end of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl following the ending in which Strelok destroys the C-Consciousness.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat utilizes the XRAY 1.6 Engine, allowing DirectX 11 to be fully integrated; one outstanding feature is the inclusion of real-time GPU tessellation. Regions and maps feature photo realistic scenes of the region it is made to represent.
In order to make repeatable tests we chose to use the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CoP benchmark utility instead of the actual game. You can see we again used both the 2560 x 1600 and 1900 x 1200 resolutions for our test runs. We also selected Enhanced Full Dynamic Lighting "DX11" as our rendering solution.
Under the advanced settings we picked 4x MSAA and set our SSAO to HDAO and Ultra to really push this card since HDAO forces the SSAO buffer to render at full resolution.
This benchmark shows that the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti is able to maintain a playable frame rate at resolutions of 1920 x 1200 or less. Like these other tests if you have a larger monitor you would need to dial down the eye candy to prevent stutter. Again these are very good results for the entry level GTX500 series showing that ZOTAC's overclock giving this card enough extra horsepower to work on 24" displays.
H.A.W.X. 2 Benchmark
H.A.W.X. 2 is an aerial warfare shooter from Tom Clancy allowing you to pilot some of the most advance fighters in the world. This benchmark also has good support for DirectX11 running tessellation on all of the mountain terrain giving it a much more realistic look.
Once again we maxed out all the settings and made sure tessellation was enabled in hardware to see what this card could do.
We were very surprised at the jump in performance when we reduced the resolution down to 1920 x 1200 but assume this is simply highlighting what all those extra cores provide when you jump to the GTX560 from the GTX550Ti. The ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti makes this game very playable at all but the largest native display resolutions. We are sure the overclocking that ZOTAC put on this card is helping achieve these very respectable results.
3DMark Vantage is one of the industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, It includes two graphics tests, two CPU tests, and several feature tests. 3DMark Vantage is based on a rendering engine developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10.
We used the default Extreme setting in 3D Mark Vantage to run this test.
The ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti posted a very nice score and when we looked it up on the futuremark site there were no scores posted on an i5-2500K CPU, but this would be the second highest score behind an i7-2600k CPU rig.
This card fits right in below the 560 family just as it should.
We do want to point out that the difference between these numbers highlight a higher gap than you might notice if you are playing on smaller monitors. As most of the tests have shown, this card is pretty capable below 24" displays.
We used 3DMark 11 since it uses a native DirectX 11 engine designed to make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11, including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.
We ran Futuremark's 3DMark 11 benchmark at all three settings and with the default resolutions and you can see that this budget card is really struggling at extreme settings. This is the trade off between $130.00 card and a $200.00+ card.
Given this is a factory overclocked card we were wondering how ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti handled the thermals. Given the lower number of cores in the NVIDIA GTX550Ti design compared to the rest of the GTX500 series we assumed that the cooling requirements would also be reduced.
To set our baseline we allowed the system to just sit at the desktop with GPU-Z running for 15 minutes and captured the readings.
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti card idle temperature:
Like the other GTX500 series cards NVIDIA's design has the core and memory clocks throttle way back for 2D applications to save power and reduce heat output. The core clocks dropped from 900 MHz down to 50.6 and memory scaled back from 1100 MHz to 67.5. This gives us 31C in a room with an ambient temperature of 25.55C. This temperature delta is a bit higher than we have seen with some of the other cards with dual fans and heat pipes showing that the fan on heat sink is not nearly as efficient. Seeing how this graphics card has lower power requirements and 42% less cores and targeted at the budget consumer this is perfectly acceptable.
For realistic load we played a few different games as maximum resolutions for over 15 minutes and observed temperatures between 65C and 74C which is well below the Max TJ of 99C
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti card max load temperature:
To test maximum loading we fired up the much discussed FurMark 1.9.1 to see if this unrealistic test would push the card further and ran this test for 15 minutes. FurMark is considered unrealistic because it basically hits all processes on a GPU at once, something no game or application would ever do. NVIDIA has black listed this and OCCT so that the reference designs automatically throttle down if they detect either application running.
Getting a maximum temperature of 82C tells us this card does not throttle down and in this worst case scenario the card still keeps its cool (pun intended) by providing 17C of headroom.
While this performance is not quite as good as we were expecting given this is the entry level GTX500 the ZOTAC cooling solution proves to be more than sufficient to cool this card.
You can see even under the most extreme circumstances the fan only runs at 54% hitting 2450 RPM and we are happy to report makes minimal noise doing this. In fact under more realistic loads this fan was under 50% and was almost inaudible so it could be a contender for a media center PC.
We did manually force the fan to 100% to see if it would provide better cooling. Unfortunately setting the fan on the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti this high only provided a bunch of noise with a drop in temperature from 82C to 79C, hardly worth the noise.
For testing the power consumption of our test system with the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti we connected a Kill-A-Watt EZ to the power connection and monitored the readings. For idle numbers we allowed the system to idle for 15 minutes on the desktop screen and took a reading from the Kill-A-Watt EZ.
Then for peak overall system power draw we ran two different tests. The first was several loops of Alien vs. Predator benchmark with all settings maxed out. This represents real world gaming and a typical load that would be placed on the system and graphics card. The second test , FurMark 1.9.1, has considerable controversy due to the synthetic nature of the test and the extreme load it places on video cards.
During AvP we saw a maximum power draw of 202 Watts for the entire system which is surprisingly low for a graphics card able to push 2560 x 1600 resolutions.
In order to show that absolute worst case scenario we added in the power draw during the FurMark stress test for informational purposes. This is by no means real world so do not expect to have this level of power draw during normal gaming sessions. This number show that ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti is not limiting power based on the use of FurMark 1.9.1 currently.
Not surprisingly the ZOTAC card had the best results and was sipping power compared to the overclocked GTX560.
Overclocking The Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP!
ZOTAC overclocks this card at the factory pushing the NVIDIA reference GTX550Ti from 900 MHz core clock to 1000 MHz and memory from 1025 MHz to 1100 MHz. This 11% increase helps this card maintain decent rates at 1920 x 1200 resolutions and allow it to perform at great rates on displays at 1680x1050 or less which is the sweet spot for the GTX550Ti.
While ZOTAC pushed this card above the reference clocks from the factory, we at Legit Reviews wanted to see if there was any more gas in the tank of the GTX550Ti. In order to push this card further we used the included ZOTAC Firestorm software but it does not have a voltage adjustment slider. We tried pushing with GPU Tweak that does have the voltage slider but did not get any different results at maximum voltage so we are assuming Firestorm must increase the v's in the background the best we can tell.
Overclock on the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti:
We were able to nudge the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti up a bit to 1062 MHz clock with shaders at 2125 MHz and memory to 1203 MHz. for a gain of an additional 6% and 9% respectively. If you feel like doing the math this means that ZOTAC had already boosted the reference GTX550 Ti design by 11% and 7% and we ended up with 18% and 17% over reference. Not bad but the improvement we gained was basically not noticeable since it was only a few extra FPS.
Even with our extra boost on top of ZOTAC's this card is not able to achieve playable rates in Aliens vs. Predator with all the visual effect maxed out. Again a lower resolution and/or dialing down the eye candy would address this issue. Still decent performance from the little brother of the family.
3D Mark 11 revealed the same thing, that our minor extra boost did not provide significant value.
ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti Power Consumption:
The power chart tells the typical story, you push the speed you increase the need. Our little 6% overclock took an additional 26 watts of power or 11% increase in consumption. The heat also jumped a little with the maximum hitting 85C in FurMark 1.9.1.
Simple, not worth it. ZOTAC picked a nice speed that left a little overhead so they were not running all the chips at their absolute fastest. Pushing the card to the extreme does not make games that were unplayable at the higher resolutions playable so other than benchmark numbers it is a total waste. Just run with the nice boost ZOTAC built in to this AMP! Edition.
Final Thoughts & Conclusions
We have to say that ZOTAC took an entry level graphics card and turned it into an attractive package with a dash of overclocking and silent cooling. While the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti struggles to perform at its highest supported resolution it is not targeted for those users and is really meant for gamers running 1680 x 1050 resolutions and below. It was actually playable in a few of the games with the visual settings turned up which shows how well the FERMI chips work regardless of the number of active cores.
We liked the looks of this card and with the new trend of budget cases with bling (See BitFenix Shinobi Window for example) it would add nice visuals. Given this card is near silent when running games at the edges of the cards performance shows that ZOTAC did put some thought into the cooling solution. The performance is just above par for where this graphics card sits in the overall NVIDIA GTX lineup and the 11% extra boost ZOTAC dials in can not hurt when you are turning on those DirectX 11 visuals. The low power draw and 3 year warranty are also in the plus category. Finally the price after rebate is $124.99 shipped, which makes it affordable for those on very tight budgets and with back to school time happening now, I am sure student gamers would be happy to pick one of these up.
What we think could be improved, not really much. I know some prefer graphic cards with the power connectors on the top edge instead of the back edge but I personally like the back edge to make cable routing, especially if you go SLI, a bit nicer. The only down side is on long cards and the power hitting the HDD cage but given how short this card is it absolutely should not be an issue.
Overall we liked this card for the market it is going after, the budget gamer. ZOTAC is bringing the latest chip from NVIDIA to the masses in a sleek package and overclocked while being currently priced only a few dollars more than the stock card. We wanted to recognize this with our value award.
Legit Bottom Line: If you are a gamer on a very tight budget the ZOTAC AMP! GeForce GTX 550 Ti ZT-50402-10L is something you should have on the top of your list.