AMD debuted two new budget 3D cards today, bringing the same core design from its flagship ATI Radeon HD 4800series to the $50 and $40 price points. The $50 Radeon HD 4550 features 512MB of DDR3 video memory, and the $40 Radeon HD 4350 comes with 256MB of DDR2 VRAM.
As usual with low-end 3D cards, they won't break benchmark records, but you can still benefit from upgrading to a 3D card from an integrated video chip. Between the two, you'll be happier with the 512MB model, as that extra RAM can really make a difference, even at modest 3D settings. The 256MB version features a half-height card design only (the 4550 comes in both normal and half-height designs) aimed at PCs with restricted expansion room.
Like all of AMD's new chips, each of these supports DirectX 10.1, a relatively meaningless graphics programming update from standard DirectX 10 that came with the introduction of Windows Vista. It's a marketing point for AMD, but DX 10.1 serves little to no practical purpose with current games, and we suspect few game developers will spend the time on advanced features that only a segment of its customers will benefit from. AMD likes to hold it over Nvidia's head that its GeForce cards only support vanilla DirectX 10, but as usual with Nvidia, we suspect it's holding that capability until the software's ready, assuming Windows 7 and DirectX 11 don't come out first.
Both new AMD cards also support on-board audio decoding via an HDMI-to-DVI adapter, which means that you need no separate sound card or internal audio connection if you want to output to an HDMI-capable display. The cards also boast particularly low 20 watt power consumption. Neither card appears to be on-sale as of this writing, but we expect to see them at retailers shortly.