MSI RTX 4090 Suprim Liquid X Review: Super Soaker

AIO liquid cooling and a 240mm radiator versus large air coolers

MSI RTX 4090 Suprim Liquid X
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The liquid cooling on MSI’s RTX 4090 Suprim Liquid X works fine, but fails to improve over what a large air cooler can manage. This card would primarily interest those who have room for a 240mm radiator and want a dual-slot graphics card, or who like the liquid cooling aesthetic.

Pros

  • +

    Still excellent performance

  • +

    Only a 2-slot card, plus the radiator

Cons

  • -

    Not faster than 4090 Founders Edition

  • -

    Requires a case with room for the 240mm radiator

  • -

    AIO liquid cooling doesn't trump large air coolers

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The Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 takes the pole position in our GPU benchmarks hierarchy and ranks as the fastest of the best graphics cards. It's also expensive, and the initial supply sold out quickly. But assuming you can find 4090 cards in stock and can afford one, which should you buy? The MSI RTX 4090 Suprim Liquid X takes a slightly different approach from traditional cards, pairing a reasonably large 240mm radiator and all-in-one (AIO) cooling solution with Nvidia's current reigning monarch. We have other 4090 cards on the way, but let's see how the MSI RTX 4090 Suprim Liquid X stacks up to the competition.

Considering the fact that the latest CPUs 'only' use about 250W but recommend at least 240mm liquid cooling, you might be wondering how the MSI card can manage 450W. It does quite fine, because it's not just about cooling capacity, it's about thermal density. AMD's Zen 4 chips can use 170W (more with boost), but that's concentrated primarily in the compute chiplet that only measures 70mm^2. Intel's Core i9-12900K pulls 125W and peaks at 250W, in a 215mm^2 chip. The AD102 GPU, by contrast, measures 608mm^2, so while the wattage is higher, the thermal density is quite a bit lower than either of those CPUs.

In general, it's not too difficult to cool silicon that uses roughly 1 W/mm^2. AMD's Zen 4 gets closer to 2 W/mm^2, while under load Intel's CPUs are around 1W/mm^2. AD102 at 450W ends up around 0.75 W/mm^2. Of course, there are hot spots in the chips — cache doesn't use nearly as much power as the various ALUs — but we're not terribly worried about the cooling potential of the MSI Suprim Liquid X.

The real question? Is cooling with a 240mm radiator better than straight air-cooling solutions, though, like those found in the Asus RTX 4090 ROG Strix or even the reference RTX 4090 Founders Edition? Well, based on our testing results, the answer has to be no. Performance ends up basically tied with the Founders Edition, a card that theoretically costs $150 less.

That’s not to say the MSI card is bad. Getting a dual-slot card, albeit with the need to accommodate a 240mm radiator, is a nice change of pace from all the 3- to 4-slot models we're seeing. It might just fit into a smaller case thanks to splitting off the cooling from the main card body. Plus, some people think liquid cooling just looks cooler, and depending on the street price, it might be worth the extra expense.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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GeForce RTX 4090 Model Comparison
Graphics CardMSI RTX 4090 Suprim Liquid XAsus RTX 4090 ROG Strix OCRTX 4090 Founders Edition
ArchitectureAD102AD102AD102
SMs128128128
GPU Shaders163841638416384
Boost Clock (MHz)26252610 (Gaming mode)2520
  2640 (OC mode) 
VRAM Speed (Gbps)212121
VRAM (GB)242424
TFLOPS FP32 (Boost)8685.582.6
TFLOPS FP16 (FP8)688 (1376)684 (1368)661 (1321)
Bandwidth (GBps)100810081008
TDP (watts)480450450
DimensionsCard: 280x139x42mm358x149x70mm304x137x61mm
 Radiator: 275x117x54mm  
Weight2336g2508g2186g
Official MSRP$1,749 $1,999 $1,599

We've completed testing on three RTX 4090 cards now, shown in the above table, but more are on the way. As we finish testing and reviewing those, we'll put the performance results in our main Nvidia RTX 4090 review (on page 9). So if you're stopping by to read this article a few weeks or months in the future, head over there if you want to see results from all the 4090 cards we've tested.

As is usually the case, the only differences on the specs sheet for the various cards are in the clock speeds, TBP (total board power) ratings, and the resulting impact on compute performance. The MSI card has the highest default clocks so far at 2625 MHz, a 4.2% increase over the reference card's 2520 MHz boost clock. In practice, however, we should note that we typically saw clock speeds of 2750–2790 MHz while gaming on all three of the above cards.

If you want more information on what makes the RTX 4090 tick, check out our Nvidia Ada Lovelace Architectural deep dive. We also ran quite a few additional tests on the RTX 4090 Founders Edition, including professional content creation workloads and DLSS 3 testing. For our AIB card reviews, given the relatively limited differences we see in performance, we'll focus more on the card design and aesthetics, as well as any other extras. 

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • PiranhaTech
    I'm surprised this isn't the default configuration.
    Reply
  • Ltsmba
    $150 extra for essentially 0 performance gain over the FE 4090. So it takes up a little less space in the case, and looks a little more sleek. I'd probably pay $50 extra for that, but definitely not $150 (more actually for some people who bought it when MSI raised the price even higher temporarily).

    I thought the point of a water cooled card was to push the limits of what the GPU could do, but it seems its more of a limitation of how much power you can put into the 4090, not how hot its getting.

    Water cooling on these things kinda seems completely overkill, unless i'm missing something, which I might be.
    Even if I am missing something, I feel bad for anyone who paid a premium for this card and is getting no boost over the FE 4090...
    Reply
  • Phaaze88
    It's technically still a 4-slotter, just split in half, with the 2 halves connected by 470mm long tubes. Depending on how you look at it, it's actually larger than some air cooled models...
    Msi seems to have slipped up on the contact pressure, because both Kitguru and Paul's HW show the memory being rather warm...

    Ltsmba said:
    Water cooling on these things kinda seems completely overkill, unless i'm missing something, which I might be.
    The cards are hard voltage limited by Nvidia. Previously, they were power limited.
    Without DIY voltage modding, there isn't much on the table. So AIB models don't offer much more than aesthetics compared to the FE.
    Reply
  • Ltsmba
    That's good to know that it's a voltage limit rather than a power limit.
    I guess even so, it ends up being the same result, no benefit to buying a more expensive AIB model.
    It's looking more and more clear why EVGA bailed
    Reply
  • A Stoner
    While performance wise it might not be a gain, if it reduces actual temperatures, then you will be bleeding less heat into your computer room. Not sure if that is the case here, but I am currently running the same watts on my old newer computer than my older old computer and the newer one causes far less heat buildup in the room. The reason is that the CPU and GPU run at much lower top temperatures than the older ones. I think my CPU tops out at 75 water cooled and the GPU at 92. The older one is 100 CPU water cooled or air cooled and 105 GPU.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    Phaaze88 said:
    It's technically still a 4-slotter, just split in half, with the 2 halves connected by 470mm long tubes. Depending on how you look at it, it's actually larger than some air cooled models...
    MSI seems to have slipped up on the contact pressure, because both Kitguru and Paul's HW show the memory being rather warm.
    I thought I included this, but perhaps not. Across the gaming test suite while manually overclocked, I got a maximum GDDR6X temperature of 82C on the MSI card, I think 78C on the Founders Edition, and 72C on the Asus card. Considering how hot 3090, 3080 Ti, and 3080 cards could get on the memory (100-110C), I find 82C temperatures quite nice and am not particularly worried about them. GPU temps do favor the MSI card over the Founders Edition (57.8C MSI compared to 66.9C on the FE), so by that metric MSI "wins." It's just not a particularly important metric IMO, provided the card runs well under 80C GPU and 90C VRAM.
    Reply
  • Phaaze88
    JarredWaltonGPU said:
    I thought I included this, but perhaps not. Across the gaming test suite while manually overclocked, I got a maximum GDDR6X temperature of 82C on the MSI card, I think 78C on the Founders Edition, and 72C on the Asus card. Considering how hot 3090, 3080 Ti, and 3080 cards could get on the memory (100-110C), I find 82C temperatures quite nice and am not particularly worried about them. GPU temps do favor the MSI card over the Founders Edition (57.8C MSI compared to 66.9C on the FE), so by that metric MSI "wins." It's just not a particularly important metric IMO, provided the card runs well under 80C GPU and 90C VRAM.
    I'm aware that it's well within spec and not something I'd be worried about either.
    It's just, for a liquid cooled model, one would expect improvements across the board compared to air models, but the Suprim Liquid X fails to accomplish this.

    I look at this thing and I'm like, "What's the selling points of this thing? What kind of excuses can I come up with to make this a welcome addition to my PC?"
    "That's a clean looking gpu shroud." That's it.
    I'd personally just get the FE and customize that.
    Reply
  • PlaneInTheSky
    AIO liquid cooling doesn't trump large air coolers

    Why would it, air coolers today are liquid coolers. There is liquid in those heat pipes.

    Air coolers offer liquid cooling in a perfectly optimized closed heatpipe loop that can't leak, there is nothing that can compete with that.
    Reply
  • pixelpusher220
    PlaneInTheSky said:


    Why would it, air coolers today are liquid coolers. There is liquid in those heat pipes.

    Air coolers offer liquid cooling in a perfectly optimized closed heatpipe loop that can't leak, there is nothing that can compete with that.

    It's not active flow though is it? It's heat driven, and sure there's a lot of it, but that's still not the same as actively pushing a larger volume of liquid through the same surface area.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    PlaneInTheSky said:
    Why would it, air coolers today are liquid coolers. There is liquid in those heat pipes.

    Air coolers offer liquid cooling in a perfectly optimized closed heatpipe loop that can't leak, there is nothing that can compete with that.
    The reason that's a con is because if liquid cooling isn't better, why should you pay extra for it? It's not a question, it's a statement: AIO liquid cooling generally isn't better than a large air cooler, but it does cost more and it involves a lot more moving parts (in the pump). Also, AIO loops can still lose liquid over time, which means that in 5-10 years these AIO cards may not even work properly. I still have an R9 Fury X kicking around and let me tell you, powering that thing up sounds like the pump is going to kick the bucket and that there's a lot of air in the loop now. Air coolers from the same generation don't have that problem. So yes, the fact that an AIO can't clearly beat air cooling is a many pronged problem that I condensed into a simple statement.
    Reply