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MSI N280GTX OC HydroGen (1,024 MB)

Best Of The Best: High-End Graphics Card Roundup

To see all pictures, please click on the photo of the test card below to access our photo gallery.

Our second water-cooled graphics card comes from MSI (which also provided us with its HydroGen liquid-cooling system as well). As with the EVGA card, the liquid-cooling hardware itself is not included with the graphics card. But this GeForce GTX 280 model does come equipped with a big, handsome, and expensive solid-copper cooler.

Liquid cooling allows MSI to push performance further than reference models employing air do. Standard clock rates for the GeForce GTX 280 are as follows: the GPU operates at 602 MHz, the shaders run at 1,296 MHz, and the graphics memory is clocked at 2 x 1,150 MHz. Here's what you get from the HydroGen variant: 700 MHz (GPU), 1,400 MHz (shaders), and 2 x 1,242 MHz (graphics RAM). These frequencies enable this GTX 280 to keep up with overclocked GeForce GTX 285 models in our benchmark suite, while still running cool and quiet.

As with the EVGA GTX 295, the only noise you'll hear while using this board comes from the two 120 mm fans on the radiator and the water pump. MSI's HydorGen water cooling kit helps us keep thermals well under what we'd see from air cooling. At idle, for example, this card runs at 34 degrees Celsius. And during a heavy 3D graphic load, GPU core temps climb to 51 degrees Celsius. The fluid system circulates 500 cc of liquid, and at seven volts, the fans spin fairly slowly. For this test, only the graphics card was attached to the cooling system (temperatures would be higher with a CPU and other devices also in the circulation path).

The card supports DirectX 10, PhysX, and CUDA, and its circuit board is 10.5" (26.5 cm) long. In 2D mode, the card clocks down to 300/100 MHz (GPU/graphics RAM). It uses both a six-pin and an eight-pin PCIe power connector, both of which attach to the rear edge of the card. Thanks to its compact design, this card only monopolizes one expansion slot, even though the rear bracket is two slots wide (the same one used on MSI's air-cooled model). The retail packaging includes six- and eight-pin power adapters, an HDMI adapter, and S/PDIF, S-Video, and component video cables. The card also includes a status LED, plus two DVI ports and one video output on the back plate.

The MSI HydroGen HT Fusion Dual water cooling kit used to test these water-cooled cards includes the following items: a CPU cooler, just over eight feet (250 cm) of hose, connectors, and a circuit card with a power connector. The radiator, pump, and two 120mm fans are all contained within a single housing (at left). For extended use, MSI recommends using distilled water with additives to prevent corrosion and to inhibit algae. The 120 mm fans work directly with five, seven, or 12 volt power connectors. The pump includes a status LED, which lights up or blinks through the fluid reservoir.

The unit's specifications are as follows: 13.93" x 7.09" x  3.35" (345 x 180 x 85mm), 3.3 lbs. (1,500 g), 12 volt internal power supply via the PSU, and a 12 volt Eheim 600 pump.

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