MSI N450GTS Cyclone Video Card Review

NVIDIA is launching its latest mainstream graphics processor today: The GeForce GTS 450, we have a retail factory overclocked MSI N450GTS Cyclone that shows us what GeForce GTS 450 is capable of. Does it have the stuff to compete with AMD's 11-month-old Radeon HD 5770 and HD 5750 now that prices have dropped?


NVIDIA is launching its newest Fermi-based GF106 GPU, squarely aimed at the mainstream video card market. It’s called the GeForce GTS 450, and it will be priced at $129 initially. Using Valve’s Steam hardware survey data from July 2010, NVIDIA determined that 57% of gamers use resolutions between 1280x1024 and 1680x1050. The GeForce GTS 450 is thus designed to give DirectX 11 support to gamers in that bracket, or at least those who don’t already have a Radeon HD 5770 or HD 5750.

NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450

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Continuing with the gamer archetype theme that NVIDIA established with the GeForce GTX 460 in July, NVIDIA has dubbed the GeForce GTS 450 its "Sniper" class video card. It is small and light, and is designed for "LAN Party Pwning." It features 192 CUDA Cores, the same number offered by the first version of the GeForce GTX 260, which launched in June of 2008. It has 4 Polymorph Engines (hardware tessellation engines) and 32 texture units. It sports a single 6-pin power connector and is designed to consume a maximum of 106 Watts.

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The reference design specification for the GeForce GTS 450 calls for the GPU graphics core to be clocked at 783MHz. On this GPU, the shader core (or CUDA Core) clock is bound to the graphics core by a ratio of 2:1, so that when the GPU core is at 783MHz, the shader core is at 1.566GHz. The GTS 450 is designed to be used with 1GB of GDDR5, which NVIDIA runs at 900MHz, which comes out to 3.6GHz when GDDR5 clock ticks are taken into consideration. The GTS 450 supports 2-way SLI only and has only one SLI bridge connector. The reference cooler is very similar to that of the GeForce GTX 460, making this a dual-slot card. Of course, the graphics card itself uses only one PCI-express slot, but it uses two expansion slots on the back of the computer’s chassis, and the fansink completely blocks the use of whatever slot may be next to the slot into which the GTS 450 is plugged. NVIDIA’s design calls for two Dual-Link DVI connectors and a mini-HDMI connector.

According to Valve’s Steam Hardware Survey conducted in July of 2010, 57% of Steam gamers use a display device capable of resolutions between 1280x1024 and 1680x1050. Within that bracket, the three most common resolutions are 1280x1024 (17" and 19" LCDs and CRTs), 1440x900 (17" and 19" Widescreen LCDs) and 1680x1050 (20" to 22" Widescreen LCDs). The GeForce GTS 450 is thus designed to deliver sweet-spot performance for resolutions in that display band.

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Over NVIDIA’s previous generations of budget-level video cards, the GeForce GTS 450 represents a significant upgrade. NVIDIA claims that the GeForce GTS 250 was only a tiny bit faster than the GeForce 9600 GT. The GeForce GTS 450, on the other hand, is up to 2.4x as powerful as the GTS 250 in terms of raw geometry performance (measured in billions of triangles per second, or Gtri/s).

NVIDIA also has high hopes for the GTS 250 to become a budget overclocking enthusiast’s preferred video card. The reference clock may be 783MHz, but they anticipate overclocking results to 860MHz and beyond.

MSI N450GTS Cyclone

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For our launch review of the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450, MSI has provided us with the MSI N450GTS Cyclone which is a factory clocked model that is higher than reference clocks. It features a higher clocked GeForce GTS 450 GPU, 1GB of GDDR5 memory, and a custom cooling device.

The GPU on this video card is overclocked from 783MHz to 850MHz. That graphics core overclock has brought the shader core up from 1.566GHz to 1.7GHz. The memory on the MSI N450GTS Cyclone is also overclocked, going from 3.6GHz to 4.0GHz DDR.

The cooling device is a large open design with a heat-sink on the GPU which is connected to two radial heat-sinks via a pair of heat-sinks. A large 85mm fan supplies the airflow required to keep things cool. MSI tells us that this video card comes with an MSRP of $139.99 USD.

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This video card’s packaging proudly shows the cooling device on the front, boasting a 17 degrees Celsius cooling improvement, though it doesn’t say what it is 17 degrees cooler than. There is also a small graphic indicating that all of the capacitors on this video card are solid, which can mean that a video card is less likely to fail in its lifetime. The back of the box shows an expanded features list, system requirements, and a small basic features list repeated in dozens of languages. It also shows some details of the cooling device and PCB construction.

This video card’s bundle is sparse, containing only a few basic accessories. There is a user’s guide, a software setup guide, an Afterburner utility and driver CD, a DVI to VGA adaptor, a mini-HDMI to HDMI adaptor, and a dual-Molex 4-pin to 6-pin auxiliary power adaptor.

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This video card is 8.25" long, 4.25" tall, and 1.5" deep, including the cooling device. The PCB is a dark brown and black color, and the cooler is silver and black with a black 85mm fan. The fan draws its power from a 4-pin connector, and the twisted wire is wrapped in what looks like black heat-shrink tubing, instead of the typical rubber insulation we are used to seeing. This video card has one 6-pin auxiliary power connector.

On the PCI-Express connector, we noticed that several pins are not present. When we asked NVIDIA why this was the case, they responded that some pins that are assigned to functions that this video card does not use, such as JTAG and RSVD, were removed, along with some unneeded ground (GND) connectors. NVIDIA also stated that the removal of these pins does not impact performance or signal reliability.

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On its business end, this video card sports two dual-link DVI connectors and a single mini-HDMI connector. The back of the video card is typical for a less expensive unit. These days, higher-end video cards usually have some sort of plate covering the back of the PCB, but on cheaper models, this is usually not included. The back of this video card sports the typical stickers and surface-mount electronics components, as well as some GDDR5 chips from Samsung. The memory chips show part number K4G10325FE-HC05. According to Samsung’s website, this is 0.5 nanosecond memory, giving it a maximum theoretical clock rate of 2.0GHz.

The Competition

NVIDIA’s MSRP of $129 and MSI’s MSRP of $139.99 place this video card directly in competition with both the ATI Radeon HD 5770 and the ATI Radeon HD 5750. Thus, for this review, both of those video cards are included in our performance comparisons. Please note that both the ATI Radeon HD 5770 and the Radeon HD 5750 have 1GB of GDDR5, just like the MSI N450GTS Cyclone we are reviewing.