|MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Video Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Wednesday, 11 August 2010|
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Closer Look: MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC
The MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC is a prime example of how to make a good thing better. As I mentioned in the Features section, the N460GTX Cyclone distinguishes itself from the reference cards based on three major areas: improved cooling, Military Class components, and the included MSI Afterburner software. We're going to take a closer look at what MSI has accomplished here, and then dive into more detail in the next section.
The first thing you notice with this video card is the open construction of the heatsink and the oversized fan. It should be obvious to any computer enthusiast alive today that bigger fans push more air with less noise, all else being equal. The 90mm fan in the center of the radial heatsink assembly is 10mm larger than the fan on the reference design. That may not sound like a whole lot, but it has 30% more swept area, and the added area at the end of the fan blades is spinning faster than any part on the smaller fan. It's also a given that increasing clock speed and voltage for any GPU will increase heat generation within the chip, which has to be removed. So, if you're going to release a graphics card that is just begging to be overvolted and overclocked, it's a wise idea to bump up the cooling capacity, as well. The fan upgrade is an obvious enhancement, and it's an unusual design, so it‘s worth taking a good look around.
The basic concept behind the MSI Cyclone heatsink-Fin assembly is not new; in fact it has a lot in common with the reference design produced by NVIDIA. The difference is almost exclusively in the size of things. The fins attached to the twin heat pipes are larger than the reference design, and there are more of them (94 total vs. 56), extending 18mm above the PCB of the card itself. They won't be a bother in most gaming cases, but check for clearance if you have side fans. Don't try this in a typical HTPC case. The published card dimensions only include the card, not the additional height of the cooler. The heatpipes are 6mm diameter, nickel plated, and there are only two of them, but we'll see later that it's enough to get the job done. The bottom plate is thicker and larger than the reference design, it's nickel plated, and the mounting standoffs are attached directly to this plate, providing a much more direct load path for the tension screws. We'll take a look at the underside later.
In addition to the cooling changes, the MSI N460GTX Cyclone incorporates what it calls Military Class Components in the power supply. If you have seen any hi-res photos of the NVIDIA reference design, you would be forgiven if you thought that this image of the MSI board looks the same. They're the same. That's not a bad thing, and all the things that are specifically called out in the marketing material: Hi-c Cap, Solid State Choke, and all Solid CAP, are all there. The Hi-c (Tantalum) Caps are mounted on the back side, where their small size and low profile are particularly useful.
It's also fair to note that the first two power supply chokes, mounted right at the PCI-E power connectors, are open frame units, not SSCs. To be honest, I never heard them squeal, growl or even chirp, so it's a non-issue as far as I am concerned. I've also not heard any reports that the reference cards sent out to dozens of review sites had a problem with these chokes singing along with the theme music to Crysis; so again, I think it's a non-issue.
The board is fed from two 6-pin PCI-E power connectors exiting the rear of the fairly short card. There should be no problems fitting this card, and its connectors, in any standard ATX style chassis. The 6-pin PCI-E connection is highly underrated, at 75W each. Since the 8-pin connection is rated for 150W, I don't understand how 33% more pins give 100% more power. And BTW, the extra two pins are both for ground; there are still only three 12V+ pins, so it's really like 0% more pins providing 100% more power. The real capacity of a 6-pin connector is at least 100W, so there is at least 275 W available from the standard connector arrangement (including the X16 PCI Express connector on the motherboard), well above the card's rated 160W maximum requirement.
The PC board had excellent solder quality and precise component placement, as can be seen here. The component placement is quite good; this is the area on the back side of the board, directly below the GPU, and is one of the most crowded sections. On my LCD screen, this image is magnified 20X, compared to what the naked eye sees. The small SMD resistors located side-by-side in this view are placed on 1mm centers. This is also one of the most critical sections of the PCB for build quality, as variations in stray capacitance here could impact the performance of the GPU, and certainly its overclocking ability.
This board was also much cleaner than several samples I've looked at recently. There was still some residue in a few places, but the comparison was like night and day. Once you start looking at macro photographs like this, there's no place for any manufacturing shortcuts to hide. All manufacturers are under intense pressure to minimize the environmental impact of their operations, and cleaning processes have historically produced some of the most toxic industrial waste streams. The combination of eco-friendly solvents, lead-free solder, and smaller SMD components have made cleaning of electronic assemblies much more difficult than it used to be.
The layout on the front and back of the printed circuit board is identical to the NVIDIA reference card. It's a fairly simple design, and there are fewer components mounted on the back side than on a full-bore high end card. The only interesting things mounted on the rear of the board are several Hi-c Tantalum capacitors near the GPU, and the main PWM controller IC. The GPU cooler is mounted with four spring-loaded screws, without the aid of any type of back plate. There are no additional cooling considerations for any of the power supply components or the GDDR5 RAM chips. However, all of them benefit somewhat from the downdraft airflow of the 90mm cooling fan.
What I like about this card is how it does so much with so little. It's a simple card, without a lot of excess, whiz-bang components, yet it dares to compete with some pretty sophisticated Cypress and Fermi-based designs. It's relatively compact, runs cool and doesn't use as much power as its competitors. It's all down to the design of the GF104 GPU really, which is actually a relief. After the nuclear powered GF100-based cards came out, I was wondering if NVIDIA had completely lost the bubble. Now I know they haven't.
Let's take a more detailed look at some of the components on the board. I did a full tear-down, so we could see everything there is to see...