MSI N560GTX-Ti Hawk Video Card Review

Microstar's latest Hawk video card is here, packing a highly overclocked NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti. Can its enhanced PCB and cooler fend off the Radeon HD 6950's falling prices? Does it actually offer anything over a standard GeForce GTX 560 Ti? The end results are incredible and price drops have completely changed the landscape.

Introduction

Microstar International (MSI) is a Taiwan-based computer hardware manufacturer founded in 1986. Primarily a designer and manufacturer of PC motherboards, MSI has expanded its business into barebones PCs, servers and workstations, communications devices, consumer electronics, Notebooks, Netbooks, graphics cards, and other various electronic products. Its company motto, "Quality Products Create Faithful Customer," belies its underlying corporate strategy of designing and manufacturing quality devices for various markets and letting its high-quality reputation earn it the trust and respect of electronics consumers worldwide.

Today, we’re taking a close look at MSI’s N560GTX-Ti Hawk video card. It features a highly overclocked NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti GPU fitted with a custom aftermarket cooling device and 1GB of GDDR5 memory.

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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti

NVIDIA launched the GeForce GTX 560 Ti video card on January 25th, 2011. The "Ti" stands for "titanium," a strong and light metal often used in the aerospace industry. The GTX 560 Ti lands in NVIDIA's "sweet spot," which it say is the ~$250 USD video card market. The GPU features 384 CUDA cores clocked at 1644MHz divided into eight streaming multiprocessors, 64 texture units and 32 ROPs clocked at 822MHz configured as two graphics processing clusters. It has a 256-bit memory bus and comes equipped with 1024MB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 4008MHz. It boasts a maximum theoretical memory bandwidth of 128.3GB per second and a bilinear texture filter rate of 52.6 billion texels per second.

It was built on a 40nm process and features 1.95 billion transistors. This dual-slot video card requires the use of two 6-pin power connectors. It is designed to pull a maximum of 170 Watts of power for a thermal threshold of 100 degrees Celsius. It has two dual-link DVI-I connectors and one Mini-HDMI port standard.


MSI R560GTX-Ti Hawk

The MSI N560GTX-Ti Hawk is not a reference-design NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti video card. It uses the same Fermi silicon, but sports a custom PCB and a custom cooling device. MSI tells us that the MSRP on this video card will be $259.99 to $264.99 USD. That pricing places it slightly past the middle of the field for GeForce GTX 560 Ti video cards.

The N560GTX-Ti Hawk has a Fermi GTX 560 Ti GPU on-board, along with the usual 1GB of GDDR5. The GPU's graphics core is clocked at 950MHz, which is 128MHz faster than NVIDIA's reference clock rate. That puts the CUDA shader core at 1.9GHz, which is a 256MHz overclock. The memory on the N560GTX-Ti Hawk is also clocked beyond NVIDIA's reference specification, up from 4.0GHz to 4.2GHz.

To explain what makes this video card special beyond its overclock, we're going to show you some of MSI's marketing material.

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The N560GTX-Ti Hawk has an 8+1 phase PWM power supply, providing 8 PWM modules for the GPU and one for the memory. It allows tweaking of GPU, memory, and bus voltages. It features MSI's "Military Class II Component" selection and a unique fan mode switch. There are also three V-Check points for verifying voltage changes.

The fan on the Twin Frozr III uses MSI's exclusive "Propeller Blade" design. MSI claims it delivers 20% more airflow in terms of cubic feet per minute. It also appears to have a wider airflow distribution pattern, resulting in better airflow for PCB components.

The Twin Frozr III has two 8cm "Propeller Blade" fans. It also has a large nickel-plated copper base, allegedly for improved heat dissipation from the GPU to the heat-sink. There is a second large heat-sink covering the memory chips and power modules. It features four heat-pipes which draw heat from the copper base and transport it to the very thin heat-sink fins so that it can be dissipated by the fans.

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The MSI N560GTX-Ti Hawk features a large black aluminum plate to brace the PCB, so that the weight of the cooling device does not warp and damage the video card.

MSI claims that the R560GTX-Ti Hawk can reach up to 1080MHz on the GPU core by overclocking, which of course is higher than its competitors.

The "Military Class II Components" on this video card feature Super Ferrite Chokes, Hi-c tantalum core capacitors on the PWM modules, and aluminum core solid capacitors for the rest of the board. The super-ferrite chokes are sealed "super-permeability" chokes. Among other things, these eliminate the squealing that sometimes happens with exposed coil chokes. The high-conductivity tantalum capacitors in the PWM modules reduce impedance in the system, which improves power efficiency. Finally, the aluminum-core capacitors are rated for 10 years, far longer than traditional paper capacitors.

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The cooler features a "P/S Switch," which allows the gamer to select between high-performance mode and silent mode on the fan. Predictably, high-performance mode is cool and loud, while silent mode is less cool but very quiet.

There are three V-check terminals on this video card. They allow overclockers to verify GPU, Memory, and VDDCI voltages with a multi-meter using the included attachment wires. The "APS" system automatically engages and disengages GPU's 8 PWM modules to increase power efficiency, which also tends to reduce overall heat production.

Compared to its existing N560GTX-Ti Twin Frozr II video card, MSI says that the N560GTX-Ti Hawk has more PWM modules, a better fan, a higher clock rate, better components, and achieves greater efficiency in its power supply.

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The MSI N560GTX-Ti Hawk's outer box has a familiar stealth-fighter theme. There are a number of badges on the top right of the box describing the features of the video card. There is a large gold medal indicating that the N560GTX-Ti Hawk has a 3-year warranty, but only in North America. There is also a large rectangular decal on the lower left portion of the box indicating that a free game is included. In this case, it is Lara Croft: Guardian of Light. On the lower right, there is a large ad for the Propeller Blade, boasting 20% greater airflow.

The inside box flap repeats much of the information we covered above in the marketing presentation. There is also a window through which the video card can be seen. The back of the box shows a features list and system requirements, and another very small features list in a few dozen different languages.

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The software bundle with this video card includes a driver and utility CD-ROM, a user's guide, and owner's manual, and a card containing a code good for downloading a free copy of the aforementioned Lara Croft: Guardian of Light.

The accessory bundle includes two 6-pin auxiliary to dual-Molex power adaptors, a DVI to VGA adaptor, a mini-HDMI to HDMI adaptor, and three V-check terminal dongles.

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The MSI N560GTX-Ti Hawk itself is a dual-slot design video card. It prominently features a large brushed aluminum heat-sink shroud with a titanium gray color. There are two black 8cm fans set into the shroud, and cutaways reveal shiny chrome heat-pipes and a black PCB.

The PCI bracket features a stylish MSI logo milled into the steel as part of the exhaust grille. The heat-sink shroud does NOT completely encase the video card. Air can get in and out of the heat-sink all around the edges of the board. Without a doubt, there will be some air that will be pushed through the slots in the back but with open designs like this, proper case ventilation is a must.

On the top edge of the PCB, we can see the aluminum bar that MSI installed to keep the cooler from warping the board when installed. Into a case. Also on the top edge we find (on the left) two 6-pin power connectors, and (on the right) one white V-check terminal, the P/S Fan switch, and a single SLI bridge connector. On the back end of the video card, we find the remaining two V-check terminals.

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On the business end of the R560GTX-Ti Hawk there are two dual-link DVI-I ports and a single mini-HDMI port. The very tiny white P/S Fan switch is located next to the SLI bridge connector. Finally, the back of the video card is not covered, and is home to the typical surface mount components, screws, and stickers that we expect to find.


The Competition and Comparisons

The MSI R560GTX-Ti Hawk is priced high for a GTX 560 Ti based video card, and recent drops in pricing on AMD 6000 GPUs has put it up against some tough competition. Incredible price drops have been happening on AMD 6000 GPUs recently. In the past, we would have compared this MSI N560GTX-Ti Hawk to a Radeon HD 6870, but the Radeon HD 6870 is at prices now that are as low as $179.99 with rebates, which is nowhere near this video card.

The next video card up from that is the Radeon HD 6950. When we started this evaluation the Radeon HD 6950 pricing was right at the same pricing as this MSI Hawk video card. However, during the process of this evaluation, and even here on the night of editing, prices have dropped even further on the Radeon HD 6950. Right now, as of editing on the early morning of Monday April 18th, 2011 you can get a Radeon HD 6950 for as low as $209.99 after MRI, here is the complete range offered. In fact, even without rebates, the price of the Radeon HD 6950 is currently $239, still well below the pricing of this video card.

Therefore, the Radeon HD 6950 is the closest AMD competitor to the MSI N560GTX-Ti Hawk. Just keep in mind as you read this evaluation that the AMD Radeon HD 6950 is actually the cheaper video card in this comparison.


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