NVIDIA unveiled the GeForce GTX 550 Ti GPU yesterday, and we took a look at MSI's version and also Gainward's card. See the MSI review for a general introduction to the new GPU.
We have ASUS's GTX 550 Ti DirectCU TOP on our test bench today. ASUS have really stepped it up with their GTX 550 Ti card by customising it from start to finish. They started with a slick black PCB and strived to improve on the reference power circuitry, as well as including their own DirectCU branded cooling solution following the PCB colour theme throughout the design process. So is this card just all show and no go? Let's find out what it has to offer!
ASUS's GTX 550 Ti DirectCU TOP measures in at approximately 225 millimetres in length (8.86 inches), slightly longer than NVIDIA's reference design of 8.25, and requires a minimum of 400W or greater system power supply. Cooling is provided by a custom 7.5cm PWM controlled fan linked to a dual heat pipe and aluminium fin array that allows for efficient heat transfer and dissipation with minimal noise.
As with the majority of mainstream NVIDIA graphics cards it features support for NVIDIA's SLI multi-GPU technology, 3D Vision, 3D Vision Surround (two cards required), CUDA technology, PhysX acceleration and Microsoft DirectX 11 game support, as well as a variety of video enhancement technologies under the NVIDIA PureVideo HD umbrella. More information about these technologies can be found here.
Inside the box we find a quick install manual, graphics card software and driver DVD, along with a 6-pin to dual-Molex PCI-Express power adapter. Overall a simple package, but fairly standard for a card in this price range.
The ASUS GTX 550 Ti DirectCU TOP has moved away from the NVIDIA reference design chosen by some manufacturers. The first change was the mini-HDMI connector, replaced by a full-sized HDMI, and the addition of a VGA connection, replacing the second DVI connector seen in reference design cards. As with the GTS 450 and GTX 460 it features bitstreaming support for both Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio, handy for home theatre PC use.
On the edge of the card we find a single SLI connector. Due to the mainstream nature of this card NVIDIA has limited its scaling abilities to two cards. Only the GTX 465, 470, 480, 570 and 580 allow for more than two cards in SLI.
At the top of the card there is a single PCI-Express 6-pin power connector, which is the same as NVIDIA's reference design, however ASUS did end up moving the power connector to the top of the card instead of the side/back of the PCB. In most PC cases neither configuration should cause an issue, but in places where card length is limited like HTPC cases, having the power connector on the top reduces the space required for installation.
The cooling solution implemented with ASUS's GTX 550 Ti DirectCU TOP is a familiar design seen in previous mainstream and entry-level products sporting the DirectCU branding - it's a scaled-down version of the DirectCU II seen in this earlier review. The success of the design stems from the heat pipes directly contacting the GPU core to speed up heat transmission and effectively dissipating heat up to the fin array with minimal interference. All nickel-plated to reduce the chance of discolouring, the heat pipes used are the chunkiest we've seen in some time.
In addition, this card features 'Super Alloy Power' technology (as branded by ASUS) that utilises a special alloy formula in power components like chokes, capacitors and MOSFETs for better power delivery, and a cooler running product compared with generic components. The card also includes support for ASUS's own Voltage Tweak overvolting software included in the package without the need for third party alternatives.