MSI GeForce GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK Video Card Review

Our second installment with the MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK focuses in on gameplay at 4K and how viable it is with the fastest overclocked GTX 980 Ti we have seen yet. We will be using a reference GeForce GTX 980 Ti to show the full spectrum of the 980 Ti’s performance capabilities and emphasize the MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK’s value.

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," believes 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.

On our test bench today is the MSI GeForce GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK video card.

The MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK is the fifth custom video card we have evaluated based on the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti GPU. Our first custom video card we evaluated based on the GTX 980 Ti GPU was GIGABYTE GTX 980 Ti G1 GAMING.The second model we looked at was the ASUS GTX 980 Ti STRIX DCIII OC. The third model was the water cooled [URL]ASUS ROG Poseidon Platinum GTX 980 Ti[/URL]. The fourth custom model was also from MSI, the MSI GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING.

You can also take a look at our preview from launch day, which was followed-up with a full evaluation of the GTX 980 Ti on June 15th of 2015.

According to PC Hound, the GTX 980 Ti is priced around ~$649 while the NVIDIA flagship TITAN X card costs $999.

The MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK is currently selling between $749 and $760. Newegg has a combination offer with this video card to receive either Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege or Assasin's Creed Syndicate free, valued at $60.

We should mention that this video card has a $100 premium over the MSRP of a GeForce GTX 980 Ti. The MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK is highly customized, with several features we will explore with greater detail. The MSI GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING we evaluated is also similarly priced between $729 and $759, or about $100 more expensive than a normal model. The MSI GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING is equipped for LN2 cooling provided you have the setup, however it also ships to perform sufficiently on air cooling. The big feature that sets the MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK apart is that it uses closed loop liquid cooling with no configuring needed out-of-box.

Since the MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK and the MSI GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING are so equally priced and the same GPU, they are well matched opponents that can help shed some light on which high-end GTX 980 Ti provides the best gaming experience and overall value considering the premium over the standard models. We will use the highest overclock achieved on the MSI LIGHTNING video card, and compare it with the MSI SEA HAWK at out-of-box clock speed and with the maximum manual overclock applied.


MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK

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One of the first features that MSI has included with the MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK is to provide a factory overclock, which pushes this video card to achieve the highest frequency possible right out of the box. This video cards base GPU frequency is 1190MHz with boost to 1291MHz. When we load into game, this actual in-game frequency operates at 1380MHz. The GPU boost frequency is 216MHz faster than a reference GTX 980 Ti model. The memory also holds a slight overclock of 7.1 GHz compared to 7GHz on the reference model.

Generally MSI has been extremely well known for its TwinFrozr cooling system which was featured on the MSI GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING video card. The MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK is different, and features a collaboration between MSI and Corsair. This video card uses the Corsair Hydro series liquid-cooling module. It is a closed loop liquid cooling setup, that requires no additional maintenance or assembly. You simply plug it in and it works.

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Directly contacting the GPU is a micro-fin copper base that is designed for the most efficient heat transfer to the high-speed circulation pump. It will heat the liquid, and immediately move the liquid for heat exhaustion. The liquid flows through the aluminum heat radiator which helps spread the heat out for efficient dispersion by the silent 120mm fan that is mounted on the radiator.

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MSI also uses top of the line Military Class 4 components, including the DRMOS, Hi-C CAPs, Super Ferrite Chokes, and DARK Caps. These components will drastically improve the video cards lifespan, while ensuring optimal energy distribution on the board.

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The MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK video card also has a color changing LED along the top edge. The MSI logo can light up to different colors which are customized through Mystic Light software. This is a third party software you will have to seek out, but you can select from many different colors and even different light up effects.

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The accessory package that comes with this video card includes a driver installation CD and installation guide and one 6-pin to 8-pin PCIe power cable. The video card is printed on a black PCB which is mounted on a black aluminum backplate. The backplate is there to ensure the video card does not bend over time, and keeps all of the rear-mounted components safe. The backplate has the OC Series logo printed on it. The front of the video card is rather plain, compared to the aesthetics of the LIGHTNING video card.

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MSI recommends a minimum 600W power supply or greater for this video card to work properly. The MSI GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk requires an 8-pin PCIe power connector and a 6-pin PCIe power connector, all located at the rear of the video card along the top edge. The I/O panel adds support for a dual-link DVI-I connector, three Display Port connectors and one HDMI port. The MSI GTX 980 Ti SEA HAWK measures 10 and 5/8th inches in length, 4.5 inches in height and 1.5 inches in width. It is fairly light without the massive heatsink spanning the length of the board, but the attached radiator does have some weight to it.