MSI N460GTX Hawk Reviewccokeman - October 28, 2010
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The MSI N460GTX HAWK is far from being a reference design video card. The fact is that this is a custom creation from MSI all the way from the PCB up to the Twin Frozer cooling solution. Sure, you get all the basics of this NVIDIA Fermi GF 104 based card such as being built on a 40nm process with two GPU clusters that house the seven streaming multiprocessors, 336 CUDA cores, 56 texture units and 32 ROP units. This card uses 1GB of onboard GDDR5 memory running through a 256 bit bus. Each manufacturer has its own spin on how best to build a video card and with each company you get a long list of what makes one better than the other. So let's look at this version from MSI and see just what differentiates the MSI N460GTX HAWK from the rest of the field. The first thing that stands out are the four massive 8mm heat pipes and dual 80mm fans that are the hallmark of the Twin Frozer cooling solution. From the back you get a look at the Active Phase switching LEDs on the bottom left with the Overcurrent and Thermal limits dip switches above them. On newer cards these switches have a sticker letting you know you will be voiding your warranty by employing these switches to defeat the built-in protections on the card. Other than these items, there is not much of interest on the backside of the HAWK. From the side views you can see just how the Twin Frozer heat sink design fits the card.
Connectivity on this card is pretty much standard fare for the GTX 460 with two Dual link DVI ports and a single Mini HDMI 1.4 port that provides bit streaming support for Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio over HDMI. This gives you options when and if you want to use this card in a media center style PC. For gaming use though, you will need two of these in an SLI configuration to take advantage of several of the supported technologies, namely NVIDIA Surround and 3D Surround when you add NVIDIA's 3D Vison system to the equation. The GTX 460 is only able to run in a two-card SLI configuration because it is equipped with only a single bridge connection. The three and four card setups are for the GTX 470 and higher cards. The backplane has the MSI logo cut out in the location of the exhaust vent so you know whose card you are running at the next LAN party. The rear end of this card features an item of note not seen on any of the GTX 460 video cards I have looked at before. You get the dual six pin PCIe power connections but the added bonus on this card are the voltage monitoring points so you can directly measure the GPU, Memory and PLL voltages being supplied to the components. These three voltages are adjustable in the MSI Afterburner utility. This gives you a way to make sure you keep the voltages in the safe ranges as well as an idea as to what the voltages are really set at. This is much better than using a software utility to tell you what the voltage might be running at. MSI just makes it just plain easy to monitor the voltages applied with this feature.
Remember those three small wiring pigtails that were part of the accessory bundle? Well sure you do. If you look at the rear of the HAWK there are three sockets that allow you to plug these test leads in so that you have the ability to monitor voltages more easily than trying to stick the leads of your multimeter onto a little point on an PCB. In this application, you can slide the leads into the sockets on the pigtails so that you do not have to physically hold the leads in place. You can actually hook up three different meters at once without having to hold a single one of the leads in place. From left to right you have PLL , GPU and memory voltage test points.
To get a better look at what lies under the massive heat sink and to examine its construction, its got to come off. The Twin Frozer heat sink is made up of a large nickel plated copper base that has four large 8mm heat pipes to carry the thermal load from the base to the full size fin array. This is MSI's Superpipe technology front and center. The base looks flat and contains some machining marks that the remnants of the abundant application of thermal paste still fill. While the base looked flat, I was surprised to see that when re-mounted to the card, the heat sink only made contact with the center section of the core. This makes the thermal performance of this card that much more amazing as it is the coolest running 460 I have looked at under load. If the base was in full contact, then this cooling solution should do even better than it did.
The fans used by MSI on the Twin Frozer cooling solution are a pair of PWM fans from Power Logic. These fans have 11 blades and use .35a when in operation.
The PCB is where all of the military class components are located. MSI uses a 7+1 phase power circuit that makes use of Hi-c tantalum capacitors to stabilize the power fed to the core, Super Ferrite sealed chokes offer a 30% increase in current capacity while being 10% more efficient. Also found on the PCB are solid aluminum capacitors that run cooler and are more efficient. All these components team up to allow the N460GTX to have higher stable overclocks. MSI uses Active Phase Switching to intelligently provide the right power profile to the components on board in an effort to reduce the power consumption on this card. As a factory overclocked card it is already going to be using more current, so every bit helps.
The N460GTX is built upon NVIDIA's FERMI GF 104 architecture. This card from MSI is shipped out with factory clock speeds of 780MHz on the 40nm core and 900Mhz on the 1GB of GDDR5 memory. The core gets a nice boost that the memory does not get. Strange but true for a card that has received a ton of online buzz. The features of the GF 104 core include two GPU clusters, seven streaming multiprocessors (each with its own Polymorph engine to handle tessellation duties), 336 CUDA cores, 56 texture units, 32 ROPs and 1.95 Billion transistors. There are a total of eight memory modules that make up the 1GB on this card. The modules are made by Hynix and carry part number H5G01H24AFR-T2C and are rated for operation at 1250MHz.
Now it's all up to the N460GTX HAWK to see if it can soar with the eagles or if it just roosts with the turkeys! With excellent build quality and high end components, it should deliver excellent performance characteristics.