Best Of The Best: High-End Graphics Card Roundup

MSI N280GTX OC HydroGen (1,024 MB)

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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    Top Comments
  • Anonymous
    Only one ATi card? What happened to all those OC'd 4890s?
    23
  • Anonymous
    Weird test:
    1) Where are the overclocking results?
    2) Bad choice for benchmarks: Too many old DX9 based graphic engines (FEAR 2, Fallout 3, Left4Dead with >100FPS) or Endwar which is limited to 30FPS. Where is Crysis?
    3) 1900x1200 as highest resolution for high-end cards?
    16
  • curnel_D
    Ugh, please tell me that The Last Remnant hasnt been added to the benchmark suite.

    And I'm not exactly sure why the writer decided to bench on Endwar instead of World In Conflict. Why is that exactly?

    And despite Quarz2's apparent fanboism, I think HAWX would have been better benched under 10.1 for the ATI cards, and used the highest stable settings instead of dropping off to DX9.
    10
  • Other Comments
  • Anonymous
    Only one ATi card? What happened to all those OC'd 4890s?
    23
  • Anonymous
    And those HAWX benchmarks look ridiculous. ATi should wipe floor with nvidia with that. Of course you didn't put dx10.1 support on. Bastard...
    8
  • cangelini
    quarzOnly one ATi card? What happened to all those OC'd 4890s?


    These are the same boards that were included in the recent charts update, and are largely contingent on what vendors submit for evaluation. We have a review upcoming comparing Sapphire's new 1 GHz Radeon HD 4890 versus the stock 4890. It'll be up in the next couple of weeks, though.
    1
  • ohim
    Am i the only one that find this article akward since looking at the tests done on Ati cards on The Last Remnant game makes me wonder what went wrong ... i mean it`s UT3 engine ... why so low performance ?
    4
  • curnel_D
    Ugh, please tell me that The Last Remnant hasnt been added to the benchmark suite.

    And I'm not exactly sure why the writer decided to bench on Endwar instead of World In Conflict. Why is that exactly?

    And despite Quarz2's apparent fanboism, I think HAWX would have been better benched under 10.1 for the ATI cards, and used the highest stable settings instead of dropping off to DX9.
    10
  • anamaniac
    The EVGA 295 is the stuff gods game with.

    I would love that card. I would have to replace my whole system to work it properly however.
    I want $1500 now... i7 920 (why get better? They all seem to be godly overclockers) and EVGA 295.

    How about a test suit of the EVGA GTX 295 in crossfire for a quad-gpu configuration? I know there's driver issues, but it would be fun to see what it could do regardless. Along with seeing how far Toms can OC the EVGA GTX 295.
    Actually... Toms just needs to do a new system building recommendation roundup. I find them useful personally, and would have used it myself had my cash source had not lost his job...
    -12
  • Anonymous
    Weird test:
    1) Where are the overclocking results?
    2) Bad choice for benchmarks: Too many old DX9 based graphic engines (FEAR 2, Fallout 3, Left4Dead with >100FPS) or Endwar which is limited to 30FPS. Where is Crysis?
    3) 1900x1200 as highest resolution for high-end cards?
    16
  • EQPlayer
    Seems that the cumulative benchmark graphs are going to be a bit skewed if The Last Remnant results are included in there... it's fairly obvious something odd is going on looking at the numbers for that game.
    4
  • armistitiu
    Worst article in a long time. Why compare how old games perform on NVIDIA's high end graphic cards? Don't get me wrong i like them but where's all the Atomic stuff from Saphire, Asus and XFX had some good stuff from ATI too. So what.. you just took the reference cards from ATI and tested them? :| That is just wrong.
    9
  • pulasky
    WOW what a piece of s********** is this """"""review"""""" Noobidia pay good in this days.
    -7
  • darkpower45
    ok i tried playing The Last Remnant on my comp with my 4870x2 and it failed hardcore >.< the game itself is ridiculously boring too. sooo why is it added to the benching list?? *shakes head* makes me sad...
    -1
  • guusdekler
    I find it a lack this tests do not include the 3DMark Vantage suite.
    Ok, there aren't many games using DX10, but some very good ones do !.

    Thats the reason i've switched to vista.

    And with me enough people to justify a proper DX10 benchmark.
    1
  • Luscious
    No mention of the GTX 285 2GB version? I'm planning on picking up three of these for a tri-SLI Core i7 build, all water-cooled and overclocked.
    -6
  • Ellimist
    well i'm running an factory overclocked gtx285. only because i like solid drivers and DAAMIT doesn't seem to be able to provide these consistently. thats been my biggest problem in picking up an ATI card.

    This review however is terrible. the benchmark selection is dated if nothing else. even toms other reviews of recent have used better benchmarks than this.
    -9
  • sosofm
    This benchmark is not fair for Ati !!!
    10
  • IronRyan21
    Lets see some 3dmarkVantage pls
    3
  • drealar
    Like car review magazine (like the one my friend is working for), I THINK they only have cards that were submitted to them and (not sure if this is the case with Tom's) they're only lended for a limited amount of days.

    Although I'm not very satisfied (coz lack of ATI card in your possession), I thank you for the review with Fallout, Left 4 Dead and Last Remnant with DX9. Yup I'm still using XP coz the bog-down symptom with Vista is too noticeable for my rig.

    1920x1200 as minimum threshold? Cool, as my 23" is limted to 1920x1080 anyway :P
    0
  • JeanLuc
    I think you guys should cut Tino Kreiss some slack this I believe his first publication? Saying things like "this is the worst article I've read in a long time" doesn't actually help. You can blame the choice of benchmarks suites on sites manager/editor not the author as he only does what he is told to write. So with that in mind............Cangelini your fired.

    I am curious though, HAWX is a game sponsored by ATI so why is the HD4890 getting it's backside tanned by the GTX275? It's not just a few FPS behind either the difference is quite remarkable and yes I do realise the BFG GTX275 is overclocked but it's not overclocked by a lot.
    1
  • cangelini
    JeanLucCangelini your fired.


    Perhaps you'll hire me as a copy editor for your posts instead? ;-)

    In all seriousness, Tino has been with Tom's German office for a long time. I've asked the staff responsible for testing there to drop in and provide some feedback on the products and benchmarks used here.

    Best,
    Chris
    0
  • linaaslt
    How lame this article is... i was always wondering why they don't use full potential of gpu, if ATI is capable of using DX10.1 (and game uses that technology), why not use it. it might not be fair for nvidia but ffs, i believe that this kind of review should show all potential of products.
    Shame for TH!
    9