Sapphire Pulse RX 5500 XT review – best mid-range AMD GPU for gamers
The day arrived and as expected AMD approves the launch of its most demanded graphics cards by users. We talk about the manufacturer’s medium and medium-low range, where prices are more affordable and in performance it is usually sufficient for resolutions like 1080p. Today we have with us one of the models that will be most quoted in the market: the Sapphire Pulse RX 5500 XT, a GPU that comes to us in its 4 GB version, what can you do?
The Radeon RX 5500 XT are included in the 5500 series, so we can more or less intuit the performance that this new card will have, somewhat more advanced in performance than its sister RX 5500.
Therefore, to begin with this analysis, let us first know its technical specifications.
This graphics card comes to us based on the Navi 14 chip, specifically in its Navi 14 XTX mode, being the largest of its generation and with RDNA 1.0 architecture. Its lithographic process is the advanced 7 nm manufactured by TSMC, which allows this Navi GPU to acquire up to 6.4 billion transistors in a die that occupies only 158 mm2.
Its GPU packs 1408 shaders in 22 CU, with 88 TMUs and 32 ROPs that will share a 2 MB L2 cache. As a curious fact, its Boost Clock is set at the same level as that supplied by AMD (1845 MHz), but its Game Clock amounts to 1737 MHz, 20 more than the official AMD specifications.
This model carries 4 GB of GDDR6 giving a bandwidth of 224 GB / s thanks to a 128-bit bus and a VRAM speed of 14 Gbps.
Its interface is PCIe 4.0, so you get on the car of that version with the consequent improvements in bandwidth. In the absence of a reference model as such available for sale, the FP32 data between it and this model will be practically the same, about 5,196 TFLOPS.
To power it, we will only need an 8-pin connector, since its consumption is only 130 watts.
This Sapphire Pulse RX 5500 XT 4 GB arrives with quality packaging. Good impressions, good materials, compact size and quite sober.
In its back we have the typical minimum system requirements for said card to work without problems, where its main differences are also specified compared to the other models in the range.
Once opened, the first thing we will find will be a fairly sturdy pressed cardboard box, where nothing stands out beyond its sobriety.
Already within it, the first thing we find is the quick installation guide and the manufacturer’s warranty, where in the background we see how the card comes well wrapped in an envelope covered with bubbles.
This Sapphire Pulse RX 5500 XT 4 GB arrives without any accessory, only what is seen in the image above, so the brand has focused the model at the lowest possible cost outside of what the card itself is.
The first impression has left us a good taste, product of its size and packaging. What stands out at first are its fans, which undoubtedly attract the eyes, which we will analyze later.
Secondly, we have to highlight its standard backplate, something that not all models include, where as you can see it protrudes from the PCB to the height of the rest of the heatsink.
As already mentioned, it includes a single HDMI and three DisplayPort, where even the bracket is customized by the manufacturer. The back and opposite of this shows the density of the heatsink, which is not too impressive, something logical due to its low consumption and by the way, manages to keep the two slots of total thickness in this model.
The side of the PCIe reflects three dense 6mm heatpipes that at the moment we do not know if they are in direct contact with the die or instead include coldplate. Here we can see in a better way how both the heatsink and the backplate are oversized, which could indicate that AMD is providing manufacturers with reference PCBs.
The other side is much simpler, where only the screen printing of the brand and the 8-pin connector can be mentioned.
The upper part of the card does not stand out for its ash gray color and its two fans. These fans are 10 cm and carry 9 blades with channels for channeling the air, as well as a final part of them with a touch of brightness.
Due to the height of the card, its angle of inclination is not very pronounced and thanks to its number of blades the turning radius is smaller than in other models. This should allow a good performance with a contained loudness, something that we will check later.
Touch to know the measures of this Sapphire Pulse RX 5500 XT 4 GB, since it is a very important section for many users, especially in terms of length. This model goes to the exact 23 cm, only 0.3 mm difference compared to the factory specs.
As for its width, we have not found those 121.8 mm that the manufacturer affirms. We understand that it may be because it takes such measurement from the PCIe and not the width of the card itself.
On the thickness, Sapphire reports 39.6 mm, but we have not been able to verify this measure, even knowing that its screws protrude a millimeter from the backplate. The greater height is reflected in the back, since the slits of the cover mold are a few millimeters taller and the screws also gain an extra millimeter, but still, only 36.11 mm according to our digital king foot.
PCB disassembly and analysis
The heatsink with the cover is removed from the PCB only by removing the four center screws with a common star screwdriver. To remove it we just have to unplug the cable from the fans and it will come out without problems.
As you can see, the heatsink density is not high, but it is well thought out.
The three heatpipes cross the width of the same, where in all cases they converge at the central point to dissipate the heat of a small coldplate that Sapphire has included. This coldplate does not come into direct contact with the midplate that integrates said heatsink to cool the GDDR6 memories, although they form a single piece that is cooled independently.
It is necessary to highlight the VRM cooling system, since the company has included an appendix on the left side for such a need by means of a specific midplate with thermalpads.
Returning to the central coldplate, we see the use of thermal paste by Sapphire. Too much is appreciated in the coldplate, something that should be reflected in the die being so abundant. The compound is of a rather low density, easy to spread and slightly viscous.
These types of compounds tend to solidify over time, but they usually offer good performance by filling all imperfections of both materials with ease.
The backplate that includes this model has no greater mystery, since the only thing it provides is a better aesthetic and better support for the heatsink and the PCB, freeing some components of it to cool better, something we will see next.
Meanwhile, the PCB that includes this model is quite complete to be a GPU of this range, we should not be fooled by its compact size, typical of ITX GPUs.
Let’s start with the chip, which arrives without any screen printing and where it was expected to see such a quantity of thermal paste. Luckily it is not conductive of electricity and the amount and overflow of it would only affect the thermal efficiency.
Next to it we have the VRAM model available. We talk about a Micron D9WCW, which respond to the specific model MT61K256M32JE-14: A, where in turn its specifications indicate that they run at real 1750 MHz or at 14 effective Gbps.
Here we have the person in charge of controlling the power phase system for the GPU exclusively. It is an International Rectifier IR35217, widely used in the industry for its efficiency and effectiveness.
For the GDDR6 instead, Sapphire has arranged an OnSemi NCP81022N controller, which according to its specifications could control up to 4 phases if required.
In this case it is not necessary, since we are talking about a 6-phase system for the GPU and 2 for the GDDR6 memories, which are based on MOSFET 4CG29 and phases LR22 and LR27.
Here we can see the switch to change BIOS between primary and secondary. Sapphire calls this element TriXX BIOS Switching, something that we can also select using its TriXX 7.0 software.
The back of the PCB does not reveal just interesting information, only the electronic components that Sapphire has uncovered in the backplate to improve dissipation.
In the first case we see a large SMD as a voltage rectifier and the NKS 6S7103 bios chip. On the other hand, we have the linear voltage regulator 78M05G, widely used in the industry and where it apparently acquires great importance in this PCB.
With this Sapphire Pulse RX 5500 XT 4 GB we have had some lights and some shadows. Starting with the negative, we must say that we had serious problems with the drivers.
Logically this is not the fault of the graphics card itself, but of AMD, which claimed to offer support for said card model, but the GPU model was not well detected by the new 19.12.2. It had to force the installation as RX 5500 to dry to start working.
Regarding the driver itself, it was not possible to work with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Metro Exodus, so they have not been included in the comparison. We assume that this will be corrected in the future and is only the result of an immature release of these cards.
Saving these problems, which on the other hand we could reproduce in the second model supplied by AMD, PowerColor RX 5500 XT Red Dragon8 GB, the card has behaved as expected. It is one step ahead of the RX 580 and very close to the RX 590, with a much lower consumption, much better temperatures and a fairly similar cost.
If we focus on the specific model and comparing with the rest of competitors, the temperatures have not been too good for the consumption that it reports, but it is true that, in terms of loudness, we are really facing a model that without overclock is a Authentic delight
Sapphire seems to have balanced the balance towards this last parameter, since temperatures do not exceed 70 degrees at any time (nor rubs them), so in this case the sound prevails before lowering 2, 3 or more degrees, which would not make a difference in frequencies.
As for these (frequencies) they are a clear step forward from AMD, where NVIDIA is almost equal in the current range. This certainly helps boost performance, but this at the same time shows something more erratic depending on what game and test.
It may be for an immature driver (we attest), but in any case his fight with the already veteran GTX 1060 6GB comes and goes. In any case, it is quite ahead percentage talking about the RX 580 and surely in a dispute with the RX 590, especially in 1080p.
In 2K the differences are reduced by the smaller bus of this Sapphire Pulse RX 5500 XT 4 GB, something normal in this range of graphics cards, where in the background they are not intended for this resolution, but for players who use FHD.
On overclocking, it is a very limited card, probably because of the pure performance of the PCB. The second BIOS only increases the frequency a few MHz, so you can not talk about something significant. In either case, we cannot raise the voltage and the Power Target is only available by + 20%.
The frequencies in the GPU are not blocked, but in your VRAM GDDR6, since we will not be able to go beyond 1860 MHz, where it is even difficult to find stability. We could say that it is a model that allows overclocking, but in moderation.
Finally, we must bear in mind that this model only has 4 GB of VRAM, which limits it to higher resolutions and according to what games. This must be assessed positively, since it still defends itself with nails and teeth, does not falter and is competent.
The best is undoubtedly that there is a possible performance improvement as AMD polishes the drivers. This is the typical situation where, as analysts, we see potential in that GPU. We will not get drastic performance improvements, but a better frametime and some extra FPS, especially where it currently falters.
Therefore, it is more than likely that the passage of time feels good, since AMD still has work ahead. This is something that also applies to the PowerColor model, since the symptoms are in most cases extremely similar.
Posted by Mohit Sharma on December 15, 2019 in Reviews