MSI R9 270X Hawk Reviewccokeman - October 14, 2013
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MSI R9 270X Closer Look:
Built around the Curacao XT GPU core, the MSI R9 270X Hawk is a custom-configured video card and sits at the top of MSI's R9 270X product stack. The R9 270X is built upon a custom PCB configured with MSI's Military Class technology, including Super Ferrite chokes, tantalum-filled Hi-C caps, and dark solid capacitors that are designed to extend the lifespan of the components and card while running more efficiently. Measuring 263 x 126 x 38 mm, or just under 10.5 inches, it will occupy a pair of PCIE slots worth of space on the motherboard and should easily fit most current chassis. Interestingly enough, most motherboards that support dual graphics cards solutions now build this dual-slot spacing into the design of the board. From the front we can see the Twin Frozr 4 cooling solution that is equipped with a pair of 10cm PWM-controlled propeller blade fans to supply the airflow to the large Superpipe-equipped heat sink. The back side has a backplate used to stiffen the PCB to prevent flex from damaging the traces in the PCB. Near the front of the card you can see the active phase switching LEDs that light up when each phase is in operation. The top and bottom views show that the MSI R9 270X Hawk is built for use in a motherboard that supports a 16x PCIe3.0 slot, but is backwards compatible. On the top, the large 8mm Superpipe carries part of the core's thermal load to the fin array, while the four smaller pipes carry the rest of the load.
The display configuration on the MSI R9 270X Hawk is a bit different than MSI's previous offerings. You get a full size DisplayPort with multi-streaming support, HDMI 1.4a, a single DL-DVI-D, and a single DL-DVI-I port. You can use any combination of these ports to run an Eyefinity panel without using active adapters, matching what NVIDIA is doing with its 700 series GPUs. This alone is a welcome addition from the red camp for gamers using multiple panels. A vent above the HDMI and DP ports is used to help vent some of the thermal load outside the chassis, although most of the load will be recycled within the chassis. Most modern chassis provide enough airflow that this should not be a concern. The back end of the PCB has little of interest, other than the V-Check points. These connection points allow the more technical user the ability to hook up a multimeter and read the applied voltages to the GPU core, memory, and PLL, so you do not have to rely on the readings given in a software utility. I found these easy to use and helped diagnose one issue I had with the card. To use this tool, just insert the adapters into the ports on the PCB and insert the leads of your meter into the red and black plugs.
MSI's R9 270X can be used in a two-card, multi-GPU CrossFireX configuration due to the single CrossFire bridge connection on top of the PCB. Running a pair of these cards in a CrossFireX configuration will enable you to have the same gaming experience at resolutions greater than 1920 x 1080. A pair of 6-pin PCIe connections are at the back end of the PCB to support the rated 161W board power requirement before using the triple voltage controls to really see what this card can do when it is time to push the clock speed limits. A memory heat sink works in concert with the back plate to stiffen the PCB. Just forward of the PCIe power connections is the dual BIOS switch that is used to switch from the standard profile to the LN2 profile that disables the OCP limits and APS (Active Phase Switching) on the 8+2 phase VRM design.
Cooling abilities for the R9 270X Hawk come in the form of MSI's own Twin Frozr 4 cooling solution. This dual-PWM propeller blade fan equipped heat sink assembly uses many unique features to cool down the GPU core. Inside the nickel-plated fin assembly are air diverters that redirect airflow through the fin array to provide enhanced cooling while still retaining the low noise benefits of the PWM fan design. A large 8mm heat pipe is used to supplement the four 6mm heat pipes to more efficiently move the thermal load from the GPU core. Using this type of cooling solution allows the PCB components to receive airflow to expand the lifespan of the onboard components. Many of these designs are noisy once you ramp them up to full speed. Not so with the Twin Frozr design. Inside the chassis, the fans were barely audible when set to run at 100% and totally silent at less than 75% when the chassis is buttoned up. MSI rates these fans at just over 21dBa with the card under full load and controlled by the card's BIOS. Silence and cooling do go hand in hand here.
AMD has given the 28nm Pitcairn GPU a couple new features and now call it Curacao XT. You get the same 2.8 billion transistors, 1280 streaming processors, 32 ROPs, and 80 texture units packed into the 212mm2 sized core. The memory interface is unchanged with 2GB or 4GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 256-bit bus, so not much has changed here either. In light of that, MSI has bumped up the core clock speeds on the R9 270X Hawk to 1100MHz, with a 1150MHz boost clock on the core, while the 2GB of GDDR5 memory sees a clock speed of 1400MHz. MSI has chosen to use Elpida EDW2032BBBG modules that are rated to run at up to 6Gbps using 1.5v, leaving some headroom over the 1400MHz rated speed.
In the past, MSI's Hawk Edition video cards have proven to be stellar performers that offered up a little something more when pushed to their limits. Let's see if the R9 270X Hawk can live up to that reputation.