The ATI Radeon HD 5450 is the cheapest 5-series card, but it packs quite a punch for its low price. Namely, it is also the cheapest card to support three monitors and ATI Eyefinity.
I purchased this card to replace a semi-broken Radeon x1600 (the fan stopped working). My model, made by Sapphire, features a fanless low-profile design, perfect for an HTPC. With 512MB of DDR3 RAM aboard, it's also good for lighter gaming (games being limited by the relatively low power of the GPU). All in all, this is a pretty solid lower-midrange card.
My 3 monitors
I have one 22" monitor and two old 15" LCD monitors. The 15-inchers were basically salvaged (if I hadn't taken them, they'd be lying in some landfill). Since my desk does not fit all 3 monitors and my speakers comfortably, I had to place one of the monitors atop a speaker. However, despite this somewhat asymmetrical placement, the setup is quite usable.
The productivity boost is quite apparent with 3 monitors, although not as pronounced as switching from 1 to 2. I use my leftmost 15" monitor as a "communication center" – that's where I place my chat windows and the like. The large 22" monitor is in the center for my main focus, and the 15" one on the right is for entertainment (i.e. watching an online video while doing other work).
The ATI Eyefinity website states that in order to use more than two monitors with their cards, one of the monitors must be connected through the DisplayPort connector. (DisplayPort is a new, open standard competing with DVI and HDMI.) Sadly, most monitors nowadays don't come with DisplayPort connectors, and passive electrical adapters (like those DVI-to-VGA adapters) simply do not work.
Why is this? Is ATI trying to push DisplayPort to consumers and force them to upgrade? No. There is actually a simple explanation: typical video cards only come with two timing generators for their DVI/VGA signals. (DVI-I ports also include analog capability.) Thus, with 3 monitors and 2 clocks, it's only possible to control two at a time. Using a standard passive DisplayPort adapter makes the video card see the monitor as a DVI or VGA device.
The solution? An active DisplayPort to DVI adapter, which actually converts the DisplayPort signal into a DVI signal with its own timing, using a small circuit inside the adapter itself. These cost around $30 each, but will allow you to use three monitors and Eyefinity.
Catalyst Control Center
The latest version of Catalyst is a noticeable downgrade from the last one. The user interface is terribly designed – random scrollbars pop up everywhere and it is quite difficult to find the settings I need. (It took me a long time to find the Avivo color controls, which were buried in a "Configure..." context menu on one of the smaller monitor icons on the "Desktops & Displays". It doesn't help that there's also a "Configure..." context menu on the larger monitor icons above, which takes you to a different place. WTF, ATI?)
I miss the good old days of tabbed ATI control panels on Windows XP, or heck, the older Catalyst and the initial big-icon NVIDIA Control Panel. Why graphics manufacturers come up with an excellent "new" control panel design and then totally botch it up in subsequent "revisions" is beyond me.
Despite meeting the technical requirements for 3 monitors, I am unable to get all of them to work on Windows XP. It seems like Catalyst is not allowing more than two monitors per card. Obviously, Eyefinity is not supported under Windows XP – I did know that, but I had no idea it meant I couldn't use my 3 monitors.
The Radeon HD 5450 is a lower midrange card, thus its performance is nothing stellar. Unlike my old Radeon x1600, however, this card has more RAM and supports DirectX 11, the latter of which allows me to run Crysis at max settings should I so desire. Windows rates it a 6.1 for gaming graphics and 4.6 for desktop graphics, making my video card responsible for both my lowest and my highest scores.
Eyefinity is ATI's multi-monitor technology that combines multiple single monitors into one large one, making it perfect for multi-screen gaming. In order to work properly, however, all monitors must be set to the same screen resolution.
All in all, the ATI Radeon HD 5450 is a very solid lower midrange card, offering great bang for the buck. The card works in standard PCs as well as low-profile HTPCs, and is perfect for media centers, casual gamers, and basic business use (i.e. 3 monitors). And for the $54 I paid for it, I'd say it's one of the best cards available for that price.