MSI N285GTX Superpipe 2G PCIe Graphics card Page: 1
Introduction
 
MSI LogoAnyone else bored of seeing NVidia reference cooling? I know I am. Over the past year we have seen very little innovation from graphics card manufacturers who have seemed content to stick with the tried and tested reference coolers. Not that that's a bad thing of course as the stock cooler on the GTX285 is very good, it's just there is little, bar the price, to separate one product from another. So then, it's great to see that MSI (Micro Star International) have Incorporated a new cooler design to compliment their latest NVidiaGTX285 graphics card.
 
The Twin Frozr thermal design features intelligent dual-PWM fans which change speed depending on the GPU's temperature and load conditions. While this in itself is nothing original as most, if not all GPU coolers have this PWM feature, few cards on the market feature two fans which will give the end user peace of mind should one fan fail. The most intriguing part of the design is the industry leading 5-heatpipe design. Other GPU heatpipe solutions feature up to four heatpipes but by adding a fifth, MSI claim this increases the heat flow from the core to the finned heatsink much more efficiently. This heat, which is spread across the over sized heatsink, is then dispelled by the dual fan design.
 
New cooling designs are no guarantee to increase performance though and for this reason MSI have also incorporated an extra gigabyte of GDDR3 making 2GB in total. In the past, such a huge increase in memory has done little for a GPU. Today however, with the added realism of DX10 and ever bigger and cheaper displays becoming very popular among gamers, large rafts of memory on a GPU are needed if one wishes to run games at the highest possible quality settings.
 
The fun doesn't stop there either as MSI, being an enthusiasts favourite, have also overclocked the GTX285 to take advantage of this new cooler. Let's take a look at the full specification:
 
Graphics Engine: GeForce GTX 285
Bus Standard: PCI Express x16 2.0
Memory Type: GDDR3
Memory Size(MB): 2048
Memory Interface: 512
Core Clock Speed(MHz): 680
Memory Clock Speed(MHz): 2500
Memory Bandwidth(GB/sec): 160
Texture Fill Rate(billion/sec): 54.4
DVI Output: 2
D-SUB Output: 2(via DVI to D-Sub adaptor
TV-Output: 1(via S-Video to Composite)
HDMI-Output: 2(via DVI to HDMI adaptor)
HDTV Support: Y
HDCP Support: Y
HDMI Support: Y
Dual-link DVI: Y
Display Ouput: (Max Resolution) 2560x1600
RAMDACs: 400
DirectX Version Support: 10.0
OpenGL Version Support: 2.1
SLI Support Y
3-way SLI Y
 
As you can see, the MSI GTX285 2G OC edition is overclocked from a stock speed of 648MHz on the core to 680MHz and a slight overclock on the memory from 1242 to 1250MHz. These clock speeds appear very conservative considering the adding cooling this card has so it remains to be seen if the card will overclock any further. Something I will be putting to the test later in the review. For now though let's take a look at the packaging and appearance of the card...


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Packaging and Appearance
 
Starting from the exterior, the N285GTX Superpipe 2G is a break from the norm in that there are no Goblins, no scantly clad, sword wielding elves nor Spacecraft docking at space stations. Instead what we find is a gloss black box with a picture of the card, specifically the cards cooler, dominating the front of the package. Along with the obligatory Nvidia logos are MSI's own superpipe, OC and 'gaming series' emblems. Flipping the box over to the rear, more information can be found on the main design feature of the N285GTX - Superpipe technology.
 
box front box rear
 
Removing the outer sleeve we find that the product is extremely well protected with a front plastic frame covering a Styrofoam and cardboard unit which holds a combination of the accessories and GPU in place. The GPU itself is again, securely packed with not one but two anti static bags, one of which doubles as bubble wrap to further protect the damage not only from physical shock but electrical too. The accessory list is complete with 2x Molex to 6 pin adaptors, video out, DVI and HDMI adaptors, S/PDiff cable, 2 manuals and a driver CD. I would have liked to have seen a flexible SLI bridge included and perhaps a game but these, especially the game would no doubt increase the already high price of this product further.
 
box open accessories
 
Here we see the card itself or more appropriately, the gigantic cooler which dominates the visual appeal of the graphics card. The two 80mm fans are smoked acrylic in appearance but sadly do not light up when powered. Both of these fans run off one header which is spliced together so the fans will not run independently of one another either. Perhaps most bizarrely, the PCB MSI have chosen to use is red, which we all know is synonymous with Nvidia's nemesis, ATI. A strange choice indeed and one which might upset stout Nvidia fanboys.
 
card front card rear
 
Despite the aftermarket cooler, MSI could not manage to cram all that cooling into a single slot design. While the top of the cooler is a very attractive Gun metal grey/brushed aluminium effect, the heatpipes are what I would describe as dark chrome in appearance. The heatpipes look fantastic but sadly are positioned such that they are, in my humble opinion, on the wrong side of the card as all that beauty will be hidden away once the card is installed. This is a missed opportunity as the visible side of the card is nothing spectacular and quite dull in comparison.
 
card side 1 side 2
 
A nice little touch was the inclusion of a modified back plate which has the MSI logo's cut from the steel panel. Again, this panel would have looked better in the same gun metal colour which the rest of the coolers theme is based upon. As you can see from the pic below right, the cooler appears to come in two parts, the finned heatpiped cooler and a separate cooler which on initial inspection appears to cool the memory and power regulators.
 
backplate power
 
Amazingly, despite having 2GB of GDDR3, the MSI N285GTX still manages to keep the PCIe power cables down to two 6 pin cables. Despite the card being one of those special editions which are as rare as hens teeth, MSI have still included 2xSLI tabs for triple SLI use should you be lucky enough to obtain three of these cards. 6GB of GPU power anyone?
 
pcie sli
 
Here at OC3D we like to review video cards to the maximum. It's no use reviewing a card and then not taking a look at what's hidden underneath. That would be like taking Megan Fox (Google her) for dinner and declining to go back to hers for erm...coffee! Stripping the card of it's outer clothing, we come to the almost naked card with just the lingerie remaining in the form an aluminium cooling plate. This plate is attached to the card and cools the SLI chip, VRM's and the whole 2GB of GDDR3. Getting this girl totally naked, we see all of her beautiful body in the flesh.
 
ramplate ram
 
The full rack of 128MB integrated memory chips made by Hynix surround the main G200 Nvidia core, which like it's brethren is shielded by a huge nickel plated copper integrated heat spreader. The gunk MSI used is the typical paste which most manufacturers seem to use these days which has the viscosity of a crushed banana for want of a better description. That said, the coverage was very good and didn't appear to be too much nor too little paste applied.
 
 naked cooler
 
Here we see the base of the heatspreader which appeared to be very flat and had a dull shine to it. The 5 heatpipes (3x6mm and 2x8mm) are welded to the top of the baseplate which should give good heat convection and cool the card down enough to allow some good overclocks over and above what the card is already clocked at. Below right we see the 12 Mosfets and 6 chokes are spaced evenly across the PCB all of which are cooled by the aluminium baseplate and transfer heat by means of thermal tape. The card also features full solid capacitors which will serve to lengthen the lifespan of the graphics card.
 
cooler finish power
 
All in all a very good looking card. I'm still not sold on the red PCB, I feel a black PCB would have worked better here matching  the gun metal grey and dark chrome heatpipes better, however the red PCB will certainly distinguish the N285GTX Superpipe 2G from other cards around, even if the massive heatpiped cooler doesn't do that already!
 
Let's now take a look at todays test setup which we will be using to put the graphics card through its paces...


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Test Setup

To ensure that all reviews on Overclock3D are fair, consistent and unbiased, a standard set of hardware and software is used whenever possible during the comparative testing of two or more products. The configurations used in this review can be seen below:
 
i7 Rig

CPU: Intel Nehalem i7 920 Skt1366 2.66GHz (@3.8 Ghz)
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Memory: 3x2GB Corsair DDR3 1600mhz @ 8-8-8-24
HD : Hitachi Deskstar 7k160 7200rpm 80GB
GPU: MSI N285GTX Superpipe 2G
Graphics Drivers: Supplied by MSI
PSU: Gigabyte ODIN 1200w

 
During the testing of the setups above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations. For the 3DMark and gaming tests a single card configuration was used.

To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
 
3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage

3D Games
• Crysis
• Far Cry 2
• Oblivion

• Race drive: GRID
• Call of Duty IV
• Unreal Tournament III
 

Power Consumption

Power consumption was measured at the socket using a plug-in mains power and energy monitor. Because of this, the readings below are of the total system, not just the GPU. Idle readings were taken after 5 minutes in Windows. Load readings were taken during a run of Furmark.
 
 
Despite only needing 2x6pin PCIe cables, the GTX285 is certainly a hungry beast. While not the most power consuming card on test it was only second to the dual GPU cards.
 
 
Temperatures

Temperatures were taken at the factory clocked speed during idle in Windows and after 10 minutes of running Furmark with settings maxed out (2560x1600 8xMSAA). Ambient temperatures were taken with a household thermometer. As we use an open test bench setup consideration should be given to the fact that the temperatures would likely increase further in a closed case environment.
 
 
 
Idle temps were quite good on the 285 but load temps rocketted. Unusually, the fans didn't spin up much past there idle speeds. I did increase the fan speed manually which brought the temps down to a much more reasonable 68c on load but as all the cards above were tested with the fan set in automatic I can only go on the readings obtained in this configuration. I would like to say that the 2GB of ram would have added to the GPU temps but as we saw previously, the cooler is not attached to the memory cooling plate so the fact that the card is a 2GB model is pretty much irrelevant.
 
 
Overclocking
 
For our overclocking tests I used the RivaTuner utility which worked perfectly with our setup. To test stability I ran 3D Mark 06 and a few runs of Call of Duty 4.
 
stock
 
Overclocking the GTX285 with Rivatuner was a relatively simple affair. I first clocked the card to the rather hopeful overclock I managed with a watercooled 285 I reviewed previously. At this speed the card performed flawlessly so I was intrigued to see just how much further I could take the card. I settled on a fine overclock of 755/1639/1285 (core/shader/memory) which is the best speed I have managed out of any GTX285 I have reviewed thus far. This is even more amazing when you consider that this card is carrying an extra GB of memory which will usually hinder overclocks, not add to them!
 
The results of this overclock can be seen below:
 
 
Not a bad increase at all. The increase at high res, while at first glance appears small is pretty significant in that at this resolution, every frame counts and a good 10% increase in FPS is nothing to be scoffed at.
 
After returning the card back to it's stock speed I ran our standard set of GPU benchmarks...


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3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis

After a shaky start in 3DMark 05, the GTX285 began to dominate the single GPU field with only the dual GPU cards causing the 285 any difficulties. Perhaps most significantly was the advantage the 2GB 285 has over it's 1GB card from the same stable. I was very surprised at the difference as I only expected the extra GB of memory to only really come into play when the resolutions were increased but this is plainly not the case here.

Let's see if this transfers over to our real world gaming benchmarks.


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Unreal Tournament 3 is the highly anticipated game from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest Unreal engine, which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using UTbench with a fly-by of the DM-BioHazard map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
GRID
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs for each graphics card, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results.
 
 
 
 
 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast game play. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
The differences between the two GTX285's were much less than we previously saw in all of the games. The GTX285 2G could not overturn the deficit in GRID either where the ATI cards still appear to dominate proceedings. Call of Duty IV however saw the GTX285 2G return to it's previous dominating stance by beating all competition bar the two dual GPU cards one test.
 
Let's move on..


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Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 

Oblivion from Bethseda is now an 'old' game by today's standards, but is still one of the most visually taxing games out there. The benchmark was run in the wilderness with all settings set to the maximum possible. Bloom was used in preference to HDR. The test was run five times with the average FPS then being deduced.
 
 
 


Ubisoft has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2, called Dunia, meaning "world", "earth" or "living" in Parsi. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark tool the test was run 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being omitted and the average calculated from the remaining 3.
 

 
 
Results Analysis
 
While the card could not pull any significant punches in Far Cry 2, both Crysis and Oblivion showed the GTX285 Superpipe 2G to be the single GPU of choice. The card increased it's lead as the resolutions were increased, proving the extra GB of GDDR3 does come in handy when gaming at high resolutions with extra filtering added. Crysis usually cripples single GPU's at 2560x1600 with 4xAA with frames dropping to single figures however, the GTX285 2G just about managed to produce some playable frame rates.
 
Let's move on to the conclusion...


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Conclusion
 
When I first heard about this card I scoffed at the idea of a single GPU needing 2GB of memory. I did not think the games on sale today would make use of the extra GDDR3 and that this was just a gimmick to yield yet more cream from the milk that is the Nvidia G200 core. At the low resolution of 1680x1050 there are some good gains to be had yet I feel that the benefits of the extra 2GB excesses itself when the resolution is increased and the filters are added. This is where a lot of cards begin to falter and the GTX285 Superpipe 2G comes into its own. It simply gobbled up everything I threw at it today and then asked for more. Even Crysis, renown to be bring a GPU to it's knees managed to be playable with the resolution maxed out and 4xAA added.
 
The packaging is very good, almost perfect with my only criticisms being no SLI bridge, no game and a red PCB. Red and Nvidia should simply not be put in the same room let alone on the same GPU together. However, colour choice is always going to be a personal thing. What I did find baffling was the decision to hide the heat pipes away. One of the best features of the card, both in terms of performance and aesthetics is hidden away. This is akin to buying a shiny new V8 engine, opening up the hood and all you get to look at is the oil sump or taking a girl back to your apartment, undressing her and you find.....well I best not go there. Simply put this is an opportunity missed because as an overall package, it's great, it has everything you need to get going, packaged extremely well and there are some very nice artistic touches on the GPU itself.
 
My biggest concern with a card such as this is that while the performance is very good, it is simply too expensive. Compare the £350+ you will have to stump up to buy one of these limited edition cards and you are easily into ATI4870x2 and GTX295 territory. A Middleweight jumping into the ring with a heavyweight is never a good idea and likely to end in tears...or worse. The 285 Superpipe 2G is a great card, no doubts there but as good as the dual GPU cards? Not in this life I'm afraid. Some people however don't like dual GPU cards, they can be tricky to setup and sometimes are plagued with driver issues, sadly that is no longer true with dual GPU cards and no matter how much those folk stick there fingers in there ears, dual GPU cards are king I'm afraid.
 
So, while the card cannot really hold a flame to the performance of flagship dual GPU cards out there, The MSI N285GTX Superpipe 2G is still an extremely well built card that does exactly what it says on the tin - it cools well, it has blistering performance (especially at high resolutions) and overclocks like a dream. It is the highest performing single GPU available at present and with that huge 2GB of GDDR3 and excellent overclocking potential, it should last the test of time and maybe offset some of that initial dismay for paying such a high price. So if you are intent on sticking with a single GPU based graphics card, the MSI N285GTX Superpipe 2G is, price aside, the best there is.
 
The Good
- 2GB of GDDR3
- Excellent packaging
- Great overclocking
- Fastest single GPU solution on the market today
 
The Mediocre
- Cool, but not as good as expected
- Red PCB may not appeal not some
- The price. It's simply too much to pay for a single GPU when there are better solutions available.
 
The Bad
- Nothing of any significance.
 
 
Thanks to MSI for providing the NGTX285 Superpipe 2G for todays review. Discuss in our forums.