|MSI N460GTX HAWK GeForce GTX 460|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Friday, 24 September 2010|
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MSI N460GTX HAWK(V238) Detailed Features
With high-end video cards, the cooling system is an integral part of the performance envelope for the card. Make it run cooler, and you can make it run faster has been the byword for achieving gaming-class performance with all the latest and greatest GPUs. The MSI N460GTX HAWK has a massive cooler device, compared to the reference design, complete with twice the number of heatpipes. The two additional heatpipes are also larger, at 8mm diameter, compared to the standard 6mm pipes on a lot of coolers. You can see here that the fin assembly is nearly the same size as the board itself.
Two 6mm and two 8mm diameter heatpipes are clamped between the thick nickel-plated copper mounting plate and the aluminum fin assembly, passing directly over the wider dimension of the GPU heat spreader. Once they exit from there, they spread to the outer reaches of the long aluminum fin assemblies. The airflow from the two fans impinges directly on the two 6mm heatpipes, while the 8mm pipes pump their heat load into the fins, at the far ends. Considering the power density of modern GPU devices, it makes sense to contact every square millimeter of the top surface with the heatsink if you can. The GF104 chip, like most NVIDIA GPU packages has a very large heat spreader mounted to it, and the copper mounting plate covers it completely.
The layout of the various elements of the cooler design is a little easier to see in this straightforward view from the GPU's perspective. The lighting in this photo also highlights some of the small surface scratches on the mounting plate. They are exaggerated here, as the next image shows, and they were probably not a factor in the performance of the cooler, as the test results will prove.
All GPUs produce a fair amount of heat, so make sure your chassis has plenty of airflow, in the right direction, in order to move hot air out of the case. This cooler design is not particularly suited to multi-card SLI applications, but as the MSI Cyclone version have shown, getting the heat out of the GPU and transferring it to the air is really the most important part of the job. Where that heat goes is something you definitely need to look at, as some PC gaming cases are much better at moving air through the VGA Zone than others.
The GPU makes direct contact with a nickel-plated copper plate that is soldered to the heatpipes passing directly over the top of the GPU. The threaded standoffs are indirectly mounted to the plate, via brackets on each side, and they seemed very solid. The thermal interface material (TIM) was very evenly distributed by the factory, but was applied slightly thicker than necessary. One day, anxious manufacturing engineers are going to figure out that too little TIM is better than too much. For the rest of us who pay attention to these things, a thorough discussion of best practices for applying TIM is available here.
The main power supply controller chip used on the MSI N460GTX HAWK is a uP6213A chip from UPI Semiconductor. It is a 3/4 Phase PWM control IC that does not support I2C software voltage control, however the BIOS provides its own software control that interfaces with the controller at the hardware level. The VRM section uses 3 of the phases from this controller, and then splits each phase in two, to get a total of six phases for powering the GPU alone. Most of the boards on the market are getting by with the three phases provided by the reference design, and they seem to work well, even with some fairly serious overclocking. All else being equal, doubling up on the phases does give cleaner power to the GPU, and MSI was intent on getting all the performance they could from this little GF104 powerhouse.
The N460GTX HAWK uses standard discrete packaging for the N-Channel MOSFET power transistors in the VRM section. This discrete implementation gives up the opportunity to save a little space, but it does give the designer a broader choice in component selection, compared to a DrMOS design. MSI put the driver ICs on the back side of the board to free up some additional space here. The 4935N devices driving the GPU can each source a whopping 93A at an ambient temp of 25C, and are downgraded to 59A at 85C. We all know how hot video cards get, so it's a good idea to have plenty of reserve current capacity for these power devices.
The memory choice for the MSI N460GTX HAWK is consistent with the NVIDIA reference designs. The basic GTX 460 specs only require 900 MHz chips for the memory, but most cards have been using these Samsung K4G10325FE-HC05 GDDR5 parts, which are designed for up to 1000 MHz. The MSI Afterburner software supplied with this Triple Over Voltage version has the capability to increase memory voltage, so there's a chance to get a little more than the rated memory speed. The GTX460 cards have shown some gains in gaming performance with increases in memory speed, much more so that the ATI HD 5xxx series has. The 1250 MHz versions of this chip have also been mediocre overclockers on the Radeon platform; we'll have to see if the lower specified parts are a little more willing to exceed their ratings.
Now that we've had the grand tour of the MSI HAWK, inside and out, it's time to put it to the test. Well, Benchmark is our first name, so don't worry. There are a wide variety of tests waiting for you in the next several sections. Let's start off with a complete description of the Video Card Testing Methodology.