MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition Reviewccokeman - July 21, 2011
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MSI's R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition factory-overclocked video card is built around AMD's Cayman core, complimented by 2GB of GDDR5 memory. A quick look at the card tells you that this is far from a stock card. The massive cooling solution is the big giveaway. This card measures 10.75 inches in length from the mounting bracket to the edge of the extended fan shroud — not too large to fit in a mid tower chassis, but long enough to present some challenges in the tighter cases. This card is PCIe 2.0 compliant and is meant to be used in a motherboard with a 16x PCIe slot. The card physically covers two slots while using only a single slot.
Connectivity is standard for the HD 6900 series, with one Single Link DVI, one Dual Link DVI port, a pair of mini DisplayPorts, and a single HDMI 1.4a port that supports Dolby TrueHD, AC-3, DTS-HD, DTS, and up to 7.1 channel HD audio. With DisplayPort 1.2, the ability to connect multiple monitors via a DisplayPort hub or by daisy chaining monitors together. MSI ships the R6950 with plugs in or on all the connection points to protect them from dust and damage. The back end of the card shows the Twin Frozr III cooling and shroud extending past the edge of the PCB.
Dual bridge connections allow for up to four HD 6950s to be connected in a CrossFireX configuration when used in a motherboard that supports up to four 16x PCIe video cards. A 500 watt power supply is listed as one of the system requirements for this card from MSI. The dual 6-pin PCIe power connectors bring in an additional 150 watts of power, bringing the total power available to the card to 225 watts. A switch is mounted midway down the PCB and is supposed to function as a dual fan profile switch. I did not see an appreciable difference in noise when using this switch, but was able to recover from several failed attempts to flash this card to a 6970 by flipping the switch to the number two position, so it does function as a dual BIOS switch.
Pulling off the Twin Frozr Cooling is a simple matter of removing a few screws that hold on the main heat sink and memory heat sinks. The heat sink is just massive and contains five large heat pipes. Cooling the memory is an aluminum plate that is cooled by the airflow through the fin array of the main heat sink. While this looks to not be as efficient as what you might get on other cards, it is functional to a point — though adding some ribbing to this plate would increase its efficiency exponentially. A 6+2 Phase PWM circuit is used with MSI's Military Class II technology, using Hi-C caps that offer less current leakage with improved stability, Super Ferrite chokes that offer a 30% improvement in current carrying capacity with a 10% improvement in efficiency, and aluminum capacitors for longer life, reduced ESR, cooler temperatures, and improved efficiency.
The heat sink used by MSI on this card is massive and uses five large heat pipes to transmit the thermal load from the base plate to the fin array where the dual Propeller Blade fans move 20% more air through the heat sink. The base is smooth with a fine finish that appears to be flat, providing a great contact patch for the thermal interface material.
The Propeller Blade fans are made by Power Logic. These fans are 80mm in diameter and 10mm thick, operating on 12v DC using .35 amp. The blades feature a unique deisgn that MSI says is worth up to 20% more airflow over conventional designs. At stock speeds, these fans are very quiet and deliver great cooling with the Twin Frozr III heat sink. Bumping up the fan speeds results in some noise, but nothing I find objectionable when compared to the reference design howler. MSI claims a 13db difference in noise between this design and the reference design. I would say that's on the low end and the differential grows when both designs are spooled up.
AMD's Nothern Islands Cayman GPU core powers this card from MSI. The core is built using a 40nm process at TSMC. Inside the core is AMD's VLIW4 architecture with 2.64 billion transistors and 1408 streaming processors to get the job done. This card was rumored to be able to flash up to HD 6970 specs, but would not do so. The 2GB of GDDR5 memory used is from Hynix and is part number H5GQ2H24MFR. This memory is specified to run at 1500MHz. The 2GB of Henix memory runs through a 256-bit bus for high bandwidth.
The card looks great and should stay cool under load, but the key is how will it perform by comparison and will this performance make it a value.