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Written by Bruce Normann   
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Table of Contents: Page Index
MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Video Card
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 GPU Features
MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Features
Closer Look: MSI N460GTX Cyclone
MSI N460GTX Cyclone Detailed Features
Video Card Testing Methodology
DX10: 3DMark Vantage
DX10: Crysis
DX10: Devel May Cry 4
DX10: Far Cry 2
DX10: Resident Evil 5
DX11: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DX11: Unigine Heaven
DX11: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
DX11: Aliens Vs. Predator
MSI N460GTX Cyclone Temps
VGA Power Consumption
GTX 460 Final Thoughts
MSI N460GTX Cyclone Conclusion

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.

MSI_N460GTX_Cyclone_1GD5_OC_Bottom_Tilt_01.jpg

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.

MSI_N460GTX_Cyclone_1GD5_OC_HSF_Closeup_02.jpg

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.

MSI_N460GTX_Cyclone_1GD5_OC_Power_Section_02.jpg

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.

MSI_N460GTX_Cyclone_1GD5_OC_Power_Choke_Closeup_01.jpg

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.

MSI_N460GTX_Cyclone_1GD5_OC_Solder_Quality_Closeup_01.jpg

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.

MSI_N460GTX_Cyclone_1GD5_OC_Front_Bare_01.jpg

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...



 

Comments 

 
# Has anyone else noticed?Stefan 2010-08-10 22:54
The fins at the base of the heat-sink spiral in the opposite direction to the fan rotation?

Whoops.
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# RE: Has anyone else noticed?Olin Coles 2010-08-11 06:56
That removes laminar air flow through air friction, and delivers better cooling performance.
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# Good Heat TransferBruceBruce 2010-08-11 07:07
For good heat transfer, you basically want the air banging into the surface of the heatsink. Turbulence is good, impingement is even better.
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# I stand corrected!Stefan 2010-08-12 23:35
Well, I guess I should have taken an engineering class :)

I consider myself now a little more educated from your remarks, thanks ;)
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# :DFederico La Morgia 2010-08-11 02:12
same question as always: D this video card and RAM chips mounted?
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# RE: :DServando Silva 2010-08-11 04:49
You really want to read the "Detailed Features" section before asking.
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# RE: RE: :DFederico La Morgia 2010-08-11 06:06
the code :)
Olin know what I mean to ask
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# Yeah, but...BruceBruce 2010-08-11 07:22
All the information is right there, beautiful pictures of the RAM chips and everything.... Just click on the "Detailed Features" page in the table above.
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# RE: Yeah, but...Servando Silva 2010-08-11 08:29
Thanks Bruce... Unless Federico and Olin are talking different things, I think you did a great job about the ICs in the detailed section. Great review!
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# RE: MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Video Cardmascotzel 2010-08-11 02:16
Mini-HDMI is there on the board because of space constraints. You can't put anything else next to 2 DVI's on a single slot bracket.
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# RE: MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Video CardAdam 2010-08-11 08:10
Favourite benchmarks so far! Uses an almost identical system to me and includes the GTX260 (my current card), great stuff for working out if I want to upgrade yet or not.
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# RE: MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Video CardDavid Ramsey 2010-08-11 16:42
FWIW, the Porsche 911 has been water cooled for more than a decade, and the tighter temperature regulation afforded by water cooling led to major increases in power and efficiency (parts could be machined to tighter tolerances since the narrower temperature envelope limited expansion of the parts). Still, for the time, the air cooled 911 was pretty good.
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# ImagineBruceBruce 2010-08-12 19:38
Just think what the engineers could have done with heatpipes...LOL

Seriously, you don't want to get into a discussion of air cooled vs. watercooled Porsches, do you? That's just begging for an invasion of the body-snatchers! Don't you think the comment section has suffered enough lately?
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# MSI N460GTXWayne Manor 2010-08-14 00:29
Thanks for the review, very informative! I currently have 2 of these puppies in SLI. I'm curious how the Gainward 2GB version compares with the 1GB versions
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# Excellent reviewDr_b_ 2010-08-18 18:53
excellent review. glad you added the older 200 series in for comparison, there doesn't seem to be a reason to keep using the old 285 that i have now. going to SLI two of these.
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# It was a great card in its day...BruceBruce 2010-08-18 19:05
I'm sure you got lots of good use out of it, but time and progress marches on. One of the things I like about the GTX 460 cards is that there is a variety of implementations. The ASUS that was reviewd here is another example of a solid non-reference design (4 phase PWM, etc...).
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# Question for a purchaseKaelin 2010-08-23 03:58
Thank you for your very interesting article. I must change my graphics card but i hesitate between the MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC and the Asus ENGTX460 DirectCU TOP/2DI/1GD5... I don't know which one to choose =( Which one do you advise ?

(Sorry for my english level)
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# Tough Choice...Bruce Bruce 2010-08-23 07:44
They each have larger fans and bigger HSF assemblies that both improve cooling and reduce noise levels. ASUS rolled their own PC board design, and it looks like they increased the PWM from 3-phase to 4-phase. MSI stuck with the reference design. I can't tell where you are located, but you may want to consider the support services that are available in your location, as well as local warranty provisions.
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# Asus or MSI...Kaelin 2010-08-23 10:03
Thank you for your reply
I am French so the support service is not a problem (usually)
to help me to decide I would like to know wich graphic card has the cooling system more efficient and wich one has the best resistance to a higher overclocking. And to finish wich one do you prefer ^^

Thanks in advance
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# RE: Asus or MSI...sportwarrior 2010-08-24 16:56
I'm also interested in the questions above... it seems that the two cards are quite similar in performance capability, though, so ultimately I'm guessing it doesn't really matter which I would select (I live in SoCal, for what it's worth). I will say I like the look of the ASUS quite a but more than the MSI, but Amazon is making me wait a ridiculously long time to get my card and I NEED to build my new rig very very soon.
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# RE: RE: Asus or MSI...Olin Coles 2010-08-24 17:00
Research the warranty support for each, and go from there.
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# French Pricing?BruceBruce 2010-08-24 18:47
What are the prices for each, locally? I don't want to say that the two cards are the same, because they are not. But.....they both do an admirable job supporting the GF104 chip, in slightly different ways. I like MSI Afterburner better than ASUS Smart Doctor, so that's how I would go... If the ASUS card supported the ASUS iTracker2 software, it might be a different story.
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# The choice is madeKaelin 2010-08-24 23:39
In France, the price difference is about 1 euro for the Asus graphics card. Moreover the Asus ENGTX460 DirectCU TOP/2DI/1GD5 is guaranteed 3 years against 2 for the MSI, that's the reason for why I chose the Asus.

thank you for your help =)
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# RE: The choice is madeWayne Manor 2010-08-25 00:58
I would have gone with the Asus version too if it had come out earlier as it is $35 cheaper here than the MSI cyclone, both with 3 yr warranty.
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# RE: RE: The choice is madeWayne Manor 2010-08-25 01:00
Here in Australia that is :p
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# Wacky PricesBruceBruce 2010-08-25 17:45
That's a major difference Wayne. This is exactly why I asked Kaelin about the pricing in France. You just never know.....
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# RE: MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Video Cardnax 2010-08-25 23:07
i like asus look kool and my mb is asus also i will go wit asus
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# RE: MSI N460GTX Cyclone 1GD5/OC Video Carddon 2011-01-03 21:27
agree

Oh, and I like your writing (style).
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