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MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G Review

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MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G Closer Look:

As a baseline, MSI starts with an all-custom PCB loaded with its latest MIL-STD-810G certified Military Class components to manage the power systems on the GTX 980 Gaming 4G. An all new Twin Frozr V cooling solution is brought to bare with a pair of 100mm TORX independently controlled fans that work to provide improved cooling without the associated noise penalties incurred with higher fan speeds. This Zero Frozr feature is highlighted before you even install the card with a removable label. Flipping the GTX 980 Gaming 4G over shows there is not a lot to see on the back side of the PCB, with all the memory on the GPU side of the black PCB.

Measuring right at 11 inches in length, the card is going to fit in the majority of chassis as long as the height of 5.5 inches is not a problem. At just under 1.5 inches thick, the card is still a dual-slot solution despite only being physically connected to a single PCIe 3.0 16x slot. The all new Twin Frozr V shroud design is good looking to say the least, with the red and black coloring. This color scheme allows the GTX 980 Gaming 4G to easily mesh stylistically with the latest Gaming series motherboards from MSI. The shroud features the MSI Dragon emblem, which lights up when the card is powered on. The Super SU heat pipe based cooling design protrudes just over the top of the shroud, but does not detract from the images of the card.

 

 

 

From the factory, the MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G has all the connection points covered with either plugs or caps to reduce the chance of something damaging the bridge connections, PCIe slot traces, or the display outputs. A good policy to be sure. Display connectivity on the GTX 980 Gaming 4G mirrors that of the reference card with a single Dual Link DVI port, a single HDMI 2.0 port, and a trio of full-sized DisplayPort 1.2 ports. Adding an HDMI 2.0 port allows resolution up to 4K, supported natively with a refresh rate of 60Hz. The maximum resolution supported by the DisplayPort connections is boosted to 5120x3200 at 60Hz.

There are a total of five ports and seven links on-board that allow the end user to use any four of the connections simultaneously. Using the DisplayPort connectivity with a G-SYNC ready monitor, such as the ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q, will mean you can get all the performance potential that the GTX 980 Gaming 4G can deliver without the input lag or screen tearing you get when running with V-Sync enabled or disabled at refresh rates of up to 144Hz. The venting on the I/O plate looks like standard fare without any special treatments or logos. The back side of the card is open to allow airflow from the TORX fans to pass through the heat sink and exhaust around the card.

 

 

Power efficiency is the one of the hallmark features of NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture. A pair of 8-pin PCIe power connections is used to deliver up to 375 watts of power to the GTX 980 Gaming 4G when combined with the 75 watts delivered via the 16x PCIe bus. This current inrush is managed with a 10-phase power delivery circuit using Military Class components. The rated TDP for the GTX 980 Gaming 4G is 178W, or just 13W higher than the reference cards. This low board TDP lets users with power supplies as low as 500 watts enjoy the graphics firepower the card can deliver. Of course, overclocking will indeed drive that power requirement up, but not enough to be the break point in the system. A feature implemented with the GTX 980, and previously used on the GTX 780 Ti, is power balancing circuitry that ensures not one of the three power sources (two 8-pin PCIe and the 16x PCIe slot) will become overloaded by pulling power from a bus that has spare capacity versus one at the capacity limit. A pretty cool feature that can pay benefits when overclocking.

At the front end of the top of the PCB is a pair of SLI bridge connections, which when coupled with a board that supports it, up to four GTX 980s can be run in an SLI configuration. A bridge connection is still required to enable SLI with this generation of NVIDIA cards. Along the spine of the card is a brace that is attached to the VRM and memory cooling heat sink package and should prevent any trace damage due to board flex.

 

 

By pulling off the heat sink package, we can get down to the hardware level deployed on the card. MSI continues to use Military Class components that meet MIL STD 810G, including: Super Ferrite chokes, which run up to 35 degrees Celsius lower temperatures and have a 30% higher current capacity; HiC Caps, which are a small "super-efficient capacitors" that run at efficiency levels of 93%; and Solid Capacitors that provide lower Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) over the rated 10-year lifespan of the parts.

As part of the Twin Frozr V cooling solution, there are additional heat sinks on-board to promote cooling the VRM circuit and memory modules. The memory module cooler doubles as a PCB support brace to eliminate trace cracking in the custom PCB due to physical stress. The bulk of the VRM package sits under the finned heat sink on the left-hand side of the PCB and is cooled by airflow that has passed through the aluminum fin array.

 

 

The heat sink that makes up the most visible part of the cooling solution features what MSI calls a SuperSU Pipe. This large heat pipe is shaped like a large 'S' that works its way through the front and rear of the aluminum fin array to transfer the thermal load from the Maxwell core to the large fin array. Three additional heat pipes wind through the contact plate to help transfer the thermal load to the aluminum fin array for a total of four heat pipes. While you might think that would be the end of the discussion, it's not. The fin array features air diverters that redirect airflow through the fin array to keep the airflow in the array longer, promoting improved heat transfer to the air passing through. The nickel-plated contact surface is smooth and looks free of any machining marks that would impact cooling performance.

But wait, there's more! The hybrid cooling fans consist of a pair of 100mm TORX fans that are independently controlled, giving the user the best of both worlds: great cooling performance with a low noise penalty. By using a large fan blade, you get up to 90% coverage of the heat sink for improved cooling. New dispersion blades for every other blade on the fan deliver reduced noise and promotes up to a 10% increase in cooling capacity at max fan speed. I would have to say that, after my testing, this does indeed work as intended.

 

 

 

MSI's version of the GTX 980 looks to be a beast, not only from the factory clock speeds, but the cooling features that should make it stand out in the crowd both in looks and the reduced noise levels. Let's see what it will do when compared to the reference card and the best single-GPU from AMD, the R9 290X.




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