MSI N285 GTX SuperPipe OC GeForce GTX 285 Review
While the introduction of the Radeon 4890 and GeForce GTX 275 may have stole the headlines for a few days last month, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 285 still holds the title of the world’s fastest overall GPU.
Launched back in January, the GeForce GTX 285 is NVIDIA’s lower power, higher performance replacement for the GTX 280. Its 55-nm manufacturing process allows the chip to consume just 183W of peak power (versus 236W in GTX 280) despite its higher clock speeds. NVIDIA cranks the GPU up 46MHz to 648MHz, while the stream processors are clocked at 1,476MHz, an improvement of 180MHz. Finally, the board’s memory also gets a speed boost, running 135MHz higher than the GTX 280, with a final clock frequency of 1,242MHz (2,484MHz effective).
But as powerful a performer as the GeForce GTX 285 is, it isn’t quite perfect. One concession NVIDIA has made to the GTX 285 reference board design was removing one of the cooler’s copper heatpipes.
On one hand NVIDIA could argue that the heatpipe is no longer needed, as the 55-nm GT200b GPU runs cooler than its 65-nm predecessor, but on the other hand you could argue that it’s a cost-cutting move on NVIDIA’s part. Obviously NVIDIA’s been forced to sell GT200-class GPUs at prices substantially lower than they’d originally expected a year ago, and as a result this has affected their profit margins. By cutting down on the board’s cooling components, this does reduce the production cost of a board ever so slightly.
Bottom line: enthusiasts expecting 55-nm GTX 285 GPUs to run cooler will be disappointed, as 55-nm GTX 260 and GTX 285 cards with reference cooling we’ve tested have run even with, or 1-2 degrees hotter under load than comparable GTX 260 and GTX 280 boards.
However, all isn’t lost for gamers and hardware enthusiasts who would like the best attributes of both the GTX 280 (its beefier cooling) and the GTX 285 (its higher clocks). Some of NVIDIA’s board partners are beginning to step in with GeForce GTX 285 cards that deliver better than reference cooling solutions. The first graphics board manufacturer to introduce a GTX 285 with better cooling is MSI. In fact, their N285 GTX SuperPipe OC board ships with a very impressive cooling solution. We’re here today to see how it compares with the stock GeForce GTX 285 reference board. Let’s get started shall we?
The first aspect you’ll no doubt notice about MSI’s N285 GTX SuperPipe OC is its dual fan cooling. The stock GTX 285 reference cooler ships with one blower-style fan.
With dual fans, excess noise is likely your first concern. Here we can report that while the card did generate slightly more noise at idle than the stock GTX 285 in our testing, overall our testbed PC still registered in at a quiet 46.5 decibels (this includes the stock Core i7 CPU cooler), a figure which is still a respectable number. At load the noise level only climbed two decibels. As you’ll see further on in our benchmarks, these noise figures are quite competitive with the stock GTX 285 cooler.
Thanks to the dual fan design MSI uses, air is spread more evenly across the board, with all the board-level components (memory modules, resistors, capacitors, etc) benefiting from the air supplied by the cooler. The key downside to this design however is that it doesn’t exhaust the hot air from the GPU outside your case. Some hot air will exhaust out the back vent located on the card’s backplate, but the majority of the air from the GPU is spread out the sides of the card’s dual-slot cooler, leaving most of the air inside your case. Fortunately, this is the only real weakness of the MSI card.
It doesn’t take a seasoned hardware enthusiast to spot the second major aspect of the N285 GTX SuperPipe OC: its heatpipes. MSI outfits the card with two ridiculously thick heatpipes that are literally thicker than any heatpipe we’ve ever seen applied to a graphics card. This is where the card gets its “SuperPipe” name.
More specifically, the heatpipes MSI uses are 8mm thick. In comparison, most conventional heatpipes are generally 5mm thick, so MSI’s heatpipes are nearly twice as thick as your typical heatpipe. MSI claims these heatpipes can transfer 90% more heat than the reference GTX 285 design; we’re not exactly sure we’re they’re getting this metric from, but their cooler is without a doubt more powerful than the NVIDIA reference design: MSI’s cooler not only has more heatpipes than the reference GTX 285, but they’re also thicker and quite long as well.
Running alongside the two SuperPipes are three additional heatpipes, providing a grand total of five heatpipes for card cooling.
While they’re not made from copper like the NVIDIA reference design, the heatpipes MSI employs do an excellent job of drawing heat off the GT200b GPU. Heat is then dispersed by an aluminum heatsink. To cool the memory modules, MOSFETs, and other power circuitry, two aluminum plates are used, one on each side of the GTX 285 board. These plates are then equipped with fins to further increase their surface area.
To finish the cooler off, MSI tops the heatsink/heatpipe apparatus with a brushed aluminum lid adorned with MSI branding.
In practice, MSI’s cooling system does an excellent job in action. Not only does it run cooler than the stock GTX 285 cooling unit, it does so while running at higher clock speeds and barely running louder.
The final ingredient MSI adds to their N285 GTX SuperPipe OC is factory overclocking. Out-of-the-box the card runs at 680MHz, an improvement of 32MHz over the stock GeForce GTX 285 reference clock speed. Unfortunately however the board’s stream processors run at the stock GTX 285 clock speed of 1476MHz.
The board’s memory does receive a slight bump in speed though. MSI dials in 1250MHz for the N285 GTX SuperPipe OC. This is 8MHz faster than the stock GTX 285 specifications call for.
Bundle and accessories
Inside the card’s packaging MSI includes one DVI-to-VGA adapter, a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, a 6-pin PCIe power adapter, S-Video cable, audio passthrough cable, and component video cable for hooking the card up to an HDTV.