MSI N260GTX-T2D896 OC V3 Review

ccokeman - 2009-06-15 22:43:27 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: July 22, 2009
Price: $159

Introduction:

The GTX 260 216SP video cards have been out for quite a while now. With that passage of time comes the realization that the old workhorse needs a little pep to keep delivering the same performance as games continue to evolve and demand more and more processing power. Offering factory overclocked cards is one way of giving a refresh to a tried and true performer. Some manufacturers just give a small bump to the GPU core and call it the OC model and leave it at that. Others take a few steps further with improvements on all the clock speeds and a marginally better cooling solution, and yet a few go whole hog and slap on a massive heatsink along with much higher clock speeds. MSI is one of those companies.

The N260GTX OC V3 is just one of the overclocked versions that MSI has to offer. It features an increase in clock speeds on the shader processors cores the GPU core and the GDDR3 memory to boost performance as well as a massive heatsink that contains 5 heatpipes and dual fans to make sure that heat will not be an issue during an all-night frag fest. There have been plenty of overclocked cards that have landed on the OCC test bench, so let's see what this model from MSI can do and see if it will prove worthy of your hard earned dollars.

Closer Look:

The outer packaging of the card shows an ogre ready for battle on a dark green background. The amount of cores is prominently displayed to make sure there is no confusion as to how many this card uses. The fact that this is an overclocked edition is shown in the bottom right-hand corner. Additional features such as the dual fans 896MB of GDDR3 memory and the fact that this is indeed part of MSI's gaming series, are items to note. The back panel lists additional features such as support for Cuda, Physx and Pure Video HD technologies. Company contact information is on the bottom right with fetures being listed in many languages since MSI is indeed a global brand. The definition of the Mazarine DVI port is explained on the rear as well. One feature not seen on many cards is the handle so you don't drop this card on the way to the counter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you open up the package and pull out the internals you can see that the card is enclosed in an anti-static bag in a bubble wrapped bag in a form fitting open cell foam enclosure. Considering the weight of this card's cooling solution, it is packed well. Under the N260GTX OC V3 is where all the accessories are stored and looks to be a pretty substantial bundle.

 

 

 

The bundle that comes with the N260GTX is pretty substantial and should cover just about any connectivity need you have, although an HDMI cable is not supplied. What you get are the manual, quick start guide, driver disk, DVI to D-Sub and HDMI adapters, an RCA adapter, S-Video cable and S-Video to component dongle and an SPDIF interconnect cable. One thing missing is the traditional power adapter to make sure that as long as your PSU had at least one 6 pin power connector, you were covered. I'm guessing the assumption is that those that buy this card will have a more than capable power supply.

 

 

 

 

The packaging and bundle look to be up to scratch, so let's looks at the N260GTX OC V3.

 

Closer Look:

On first glance you notice that this isn't your ordinary reference GTX 260. The tip-off is the massive cooling solution that contains 5 heatpipes and two fans to keep the OC V3 cool, something needed with a factory overclocked video card. A reference card comes with clock speeds of 576MHz on the core, 1242MHz on the shader clocks and 999MHz on the GDDR3 memory. MSI has built this card to run at higher clock speeds of 655MHz on the core, 1408MHz on the shader procesors and 1050MHz on the 896MB of GDDR3 memory. The clock speed increases are pretty substantial. The N260GTX OC V3 is PCIe 2.0 compliant and offers support for Physx, Cuda and PureVideo HD technologies. The 360 view shows that the card is to used in a 16x PCIe slot and that the cooling solution extends the length of the red PCB. A black PCB would have given the card that "look".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front end of the card contains the connectivity to the display. For options there are two DUAL Link HDCP capable DVI ports and an HDTV out port. To run an HDMI video and audio signal through this card, you will need to use a DVI to HDMI adapter. You will notice that DVI ports are blue and are what MSI calls DVI Mazarine outputs. These ports allow an HDMI signal to be output at resolutions of up to 1920x1200 instead of 1920x1080. On the mounting brackets are also a little different. Instead of just slotted vents MSI has put their logo in place of most of the slots, which may allow more airflow through the back of the card and chassis. On the back end of the card you can see part of the cooling plate that both stabilizes the PCB as well as acting as a heatsink for the memory and voltage regulation circuits. This plate uses a pin fin method of heat removal, much like that seen starting on the ATI HD 3000 series cards. MSI uses solid capacitors on the OC V3 for an extended lifespan.

 

 

Since the motherboard cannot hope to supply enough voltage to run this card additional power is required in the two 6 pin PCIe power connections on the rear spine of the card. Next to the power connections, is the SPDIF digital sound input. You would connect this port via a two-wire harness to the digital output of your sound device. Just like all of the GTX series the OC V3 is both two and three way SLI capable by connecting the cards together via the bridge harness. It would be interesting see how three of these cards do in Tri SLI.

 

 

To remove the heat from the GPU core and board components MSI has taken a two part approach. First is the use of a massive heatsink that uses 5 heatpipes attached to a fin array to pull the heat from the GPU core. The contact plate was coated in a liberal amount of TIM and made good contact with the GPU core. Once the heat is in the fin array it has to go somewhere so MSI has employed two fans to supply cool air through the heatsink. Once the heatsink is removed the second part of the cooling approach can be seen. The cooling plate covers the memory and all of the heat generating components on the PCB and is cooled via airflow from the two fans. The plate is held on by screws but the thermal interface appears to be a tape not just the pads you see on a reference card. The top of the plate has both pin fins and regular fins to increase the surface area and heat dissipating properties of the plate.

 

 

 

The GPU core on the MSI N260GTX OC V3 is a B3 revision. The GT200 core features 216 shader processors running at 1408MHz while the memory used on this card is GDDR3 made by Samsung and is rated for operation at 1000MHz. Even with this spec there is usually some serious headroom above the 1000MHz rating.

 

 

After a quick look, let's get this card installed and see just how well it performs!

 

Closer Look:

Just because you put that shiny new graphics card into your computer does not mean that it will work as intended right off the bat. For that to happen you need to install the drivers to make it work correctly. To do this, insert the supplied driver disc, or better yet, go on over to nVidia's website to download the latest drivers for your specific operating system and hardware. In doing so, you guarantee that you have the latest game and performance fixes available. Start the install by choosing the autorun feature if using the disc or double clicking the file you downloaded from nVidia. Make the choices that are applicable and then click finish and you will need to restart the computer to finish the installation process. MSI offers the end user a driver disk that contains the drivers and a few programs to take advantage of the abilities of the N260GTX OC V3.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the drivers are installed, you have access to the nVidia control panel. Here is where you can adjust the performance and visual quality settings to the level you like. The first tab is labeled "3D Settings". The first section "Adjust image settings with Preview" offers pretty granular adjustments for performance vs. quality. The second section allows for fine adjustments by application. A new feature in this section is "Ambient Occlusion". This feature is added with the 185 series drivers. What this feature does is simulate shadows where ambient lighting should be blocked by an object. Something as simple as a pay phone on a wall will have its shadow cast on the wall when rendered with this option enabled. You can see examples of this in use on the Extras page. The last part of this section is the option to enable or disable PhysX.

 

 

The second section is strictly about managing the display. Setting the resolution, flat panel scaling, custom resolutions, and managing the color profiles are all done here.

 

 

 

Last in line are the video and television settings. If you had the Geforce 3D Vision installed on your system, this option would be available to you as well.

 

 

There are a few technologies that can be used with nVidia graphics cards to take advantage of the massive performance potential designed into them. First off, there is CUDA, a programming language that takes advantage of the parallel computing power of the nVidia GPU. There are already many applications that take advantage of this technology. Badaboom from Elemental Technologies uses the technology to reduce the time it takes to convert media files between different formats. There is Arcsoft's Total Media Theatre that uses CUDA technology to upscale video to HD levels by leveraging the performance of the GPU to increase the frame rate to a steady 30+ FPS. When run in the compare mode, CPU usage peaks in the high 80+ percent range and offers reduced performance. When using CUDA technology to get the GPU to do the work, the CPU load drops to the 2 to 3% range, resulting in far superior performance.

 

 

One of the other applications that uses the technology is one that is near and dear to our hearts here at OCC, Folding@Home. What this program does, is use the parallel computing power of the nVidia GPU to simulate protein "folding." What is this, you ask? Well, when proteins don't fold correctly the result is some really heinous disease, such as cancer, Alzheimer's, BSE (Mad Cow), and Cystic Fibrosis. By simulating how chains of amino acids fold or misfold, researchers hope to find cures for these diseases and more. You can find more information here. If you decide to join the ranks of the people looking for a cure, make sure you select team 12772!

 

One enhancement that nVidia has had success with is PhysX technology. This technology is used to enable a more realistic gaming experience. Glass that shatters and stays in the environment instead of just fading away into the floor, curtains and cloth that move realistically and react to impacts and the wind, realistic smoke and bullet fragments and ricochets that do more than just flash on a wall. All of these things are visual enhancements that PhysX acceleration brings to the table. As of the end of 2008, there were three major game manufacturers committed to developing games using PhysX technology. These manufacturers are Take Two Interactive, Electronic Arts and THQ. As time goes by, there are even more jumping on the Physx bandwagon. One of the latest is Cryostasis from 1C games. Developed by Action Frames and distributed by 505 games, this game takes Physx effects to a new level with water that is simulated using smoothed particle hydrodynamics.

 

 

 

Specifications:

Processor Cores
216
Graphics Clock (MHz)
655MHz
Processor Clock (MHz)
1408 MHz
Memory Clock (MHz)
1050MHz
Standard Memory Config
896 MB GDDR3
Memory Interface Width
448 Bit
NVIDIA SLI®-ready
2-way/3-way
Bus Support
PCI-E 2.0 
Supplementary Power Connectors
6-pin x2 
Maximum Digital Resolution
2560x1600 
Maximum VGA Resolution
2048x1536 
Audio Input for HDMI
SPDIF
HDMI*
Via adapter
Length
10.5 inches (267 mm) 
Cooling
Twin Frozer 5 heatpipe

Features:

Testing:

Testing will consist of running the card through the Overclockersclub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance against many popular competitors to gauge its performance. The games used are some of todays popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to each other. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where Physx will be disabled in the Nvidia control panel. Clock speeds on each card are left at the as delivered speeds.I will test the card at both stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Overclocking this card from MSI was no more challenging than any other GTX 260 I have looked at. As a factory overclocked card I was expecting the head room left over to minimal. What I was able to get was a 101MHz increase on the CPU core,104MHz on the shader cores and 162MHz on the GDDR3 memory. Pretty decent for an air cooled card. The large 5 heatpipe cooler did wonders keeping the card cool but that did not translate into a massive increase in clock speed. When compared to the ASUS Matrix the clock speeds were similar on the core and memory but the MSI fell quite a bit short of the 1593 MHz shader clock the Matrix was able to reach. I reached the overclock I did using traditional overclocking methods increasing clock speeds then testing stability and moving higher. Although video cards are binned pretty closely, your results may vary from those I was able to reach.

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World at War
  5. Dead Space
  6. Fallout 3
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

 

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MSI N260GTX OC V3 starts of the testing with a performance that puts it above that of the stock clocked cards. When overclocked even further it plays well above its price point.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THe N260GTX OC V3 delivers a higher FPS in three out of four resolutions when compared against the ASUS Matrix GTX 260. Overclocking drives the performance upwards in all four resolutions.

 

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies" It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment as well as the story line will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The N260GTX delivers performance numbers close to those of the GTX 280 when run in as delivered trim. Overclocking shows a measurable improvement in frame rates. Not huge, but if you are looking for every frame, it's worth the effort.

Testing:

Activision's Call of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought CoD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a high resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The additional clock speed of the N260GTX OC V3 pays dividends in COD WAW. When compared to the stock clocked GTX 260's, the performance differential is anywhere between 4 and 15 FPS depending on the resolution. The N260GTX even trumps the HD 4890 at 2560x1600 in this benchmark.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse, starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no doubt that the green camp delivers a higher level of performance in this game. The pre-overclocked status of the N260GTX allows a substantial increase in performance over the standard clocked cards. When overclocked as far as it would go, it delivers numbers in GTX 275 territory.

 

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years, and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The N260GTX again out-performs the stock GTX 260s and even delivers slightly better numbers than the HD 4890. Overclocking does not show really significant benefits until 2560x1600.

 

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overclocking the N260GTX OC V3 allows the card to deliver performance levels of cards that cost more, for less money. When pushed, the performance delivered is close to that of the GTX 275 and HD 4890.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The N260GTX OC V3 delivers excellent performance numbers in 3D06 when compared to the stock GTX 260 and the HD4890/70. Overclocking it put the performance at the top of the comparison charts.

 

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you look at the scoring, the N260GTX delivers benchmark numbers much higher than the stock cards. Of course this is the expected result. When you push the MSI card, the performance delivered scales well, allowing it to deliver GTX 275/HD 4890 performance.

Conclusion:

When it comes time to spend your money on an upgrade, many people really want to feel they got their money's worth. With the N260GTX OC V3, MSI has hit a home run when it comes down to price as well as performance. Currently you find this card for 159 bucks online after a $30 rebate. A factory overclocked card with a massive heatpipe cooler that works for well under $200, is a heck of a deal. In fact I saw few reference cards far enough under the $159 mark to really pass up the value that the N260GTX OC V3 presents. As a factory overclocked card, the expectation is that it will out perform the reference versions - no surprises that it does this and does it well. In 34 out of 36 tests it performed better than the reference versions and in two the performance was even. When the card was overclocked even further, it started to play well above its price point. Speaking of overclocking, the N260GTX delivered an increase of 101MHz over the 'standard' 655MHz on the core, 104MHz on the shader clocks and 174MHz on the GDDR3 memory. All in all, pretty decent increases across the board.

Overclocking is not the only strong suite of the N260GTX OC V3. MSI has made cooling the card a priority. First you have the massive heatsink that uses 5, yes, 5 heatpipes to remove the heat generated by the GPU core. This it does very well. At the stock clocks and the fan speed controlled by the driver I saw 48 degrees Celsius under load. When overclocked and running the fan at 100%, the load temperature only reached 45 degrees Celsius. Just for kicks I ran Futuremarks stability test at 2560x1600 with 2x AA and only reached 62 degrees Celsius. The heatsink does its job very well. While the cooling solution works well, it does get a bit loud once you increase the fan speed beyond 70 to 75%. If you use headphones while gaming, this won't be an issue, but if not, the noise penalty is there. The only other downside to this card is the fact that the heat is exhausted back into the case. The potential to increase the rest of your system temps is there with a case that is not well ventilated.

The MSI N260GTX OC V3 is one of several cards in the OC lineup and falls just below the Lightning Black Edition that runs at the same clock speeds, but includes native HDMI connectivity, while the OC V3 needs to use an adapter for this connection. This means you have several different overclocked cards to choose from, but only the OC V3 and Lightning featuring the 5 heatpipe cooling solution. The OC V3 delivers excellent performance in both stock and overclocked trim for a price point that really can't be beaten by any GTX 260 with non-reference cooling right now.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: