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MSI N280GTX-T2D1GOC, GeForce GTX 280 Redux
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Date: Aug 13, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications



NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 200 series of graphics cards, that launched about 60 days prior to the publishing of this article, have undergone a significant price reduction since they first debuted.  At the time, NVIDIA flexed its GPU muscle with a high-end, single GPU graphics design that their primary competition (AMD) could only compete with by throwing two GPUs at the problem.  As such, NVIDIA initially priced their flagship GeForce GTX 280 at a significant premium; $649 upon its introduction on launch day.  Would you believe us, if we told you back then, that these cards would be selling for $200 dollars less in only about two months time?  You can believe it today, however, as many etailers have cards on the shelf right now at $449 and even less, with rebates etc.

Since then, we've seen the launch of AMD's
latest ATI dual GPU-based flagship, the Radeon HD 4870 X2.  There's no question, in all of the numbers we've shown you, it's faster than any standard retail GeForce GTX 280.  On the other the hand, AMD's Radeon HD 4870 X2 also costs $100 - $150 more currently, generates a lot more heat, consumes more power and in general has a more prominent acoustical signature, versus a GeForce GTX 280.  So with that stage set, we'll take you through the ins and outs of another retail version GeForce GTX 280 from MSI, as well as compare and contrast it versus other cards above and below its price range.  Journey on for our view of the GeForce GTX 280 redux and see how MSI's N280GTX-T2D1GOC shapes up in the current high-end 3D graphics landscape.

MSI's N280GTX-T2D1G GeForce GTX 280
Specifications and Features

 MSI N280GTX-T2D1G Features
  • 650MHz Core clock
  • 2300MHz Memory clock
    2nd Generation NVIDIA® Unified Architecture
  • PhysX™ Ready
  • 3-way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology
  • Microsoft® DirectX 10 Support
  • NVIDIA® CUDA™ Technology
  • PCI Express 2.0 Support
  • GigaThread™  Technology
  • NVIDIA® Lumenex™ Engine
  • 16x Anti-aliasing Technology
  • 128-bit floating point High Dynamic-Range (HDR) Lighting
  • OpenGL® 2.1 Optimization and Support
  • Dual-link DVI Support
  • NVIDIA® PureVideo™ HD Technology
  • Discrete, Programmable Video Processor
  • Dual-stream Hardware Acceleration
  • Dynamic Contrast Enhancement & Color Stretch
  • HDCP Capable
  • Integrated SD and HD TV Output

Video Output Function

  • TV-Out (via S-Video to Composite)
  • HDTV-out
  • Dual-link DVI x 2 
  • VGA (via DVI to D-Sub adaptor)
  • HDMI (DVI to HDMI adaptor)

 

Bundle MSI developed driver and utilities

  • MSI Live Update Series (Live Graphics Card BIOS & Live Graphics Card Driver)
    Automatically online download & update Graphics Card BIOS & Drivers, reduce the risk of getting the wrong files, and never have the trouble on web site searching.
  • MSI Graphics Card Driver
  • MSI StarOSD
    StarOSD can monitor system information, adjust monitor figuration, and overclock system.
  • MSI Dual Core Center
  • MSI GoodMem
    Automatically release the system memory space, reduce the risk of system hang-up.
  • MSI LockBox
    Instantly enter the data lock mode when you must leave your system for a while.
  • MSI WMIinfo
    Automatically list the detail system configuration, it helpful for engineering service people.
  • MSI VIVID
    Vivid brings the easiest way to optimize graphic quality. Colorize your vision when browsing digital photos!!! Sharpen characters edge!!! Enhance contrast when playing game!!!
  • MSI Live
    including all real time life information you need, such as Live MSI Product News, Live Daily Information, Live Personal Schedule Manager, Live Search and more.
  • E-Color
  • MediaRing
  • ShowShift
  • ThinSoft Be Twin
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • 1 year limited warranty

MSI's bundle is fairly standard issue with respect to the current lineup of flagship cards from NVIDIA.  There is no included game bundle with the N280GTX series but the card does come with a driver CD that offers a bunch of MSI-built utilities, like Live Update, which will actually upgrade your graphics card BIOS, if an update is released by MSI.  MSI also includes the standard GeForce GTX 280 bundle of cables and converters that we've seen in other bundles, including S-Video and Component output cables, a thermal sense cable for ESA compliant cases, as well as a DVI to SVGA d-sub converter and a DVI to HDMI converter.

This standard assortment of add-ons, in addition to MSI's quick start guide, comprises the bundle for the MSI N280GTX-T2D1GOC.  MSI's warranty is a little on the light side for our preference, offering only 1 year of coverage while many competitive offerings come with 3 year or even lifetime warranties.
 

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A Closer Look


To look closely at the MSI N280GTX is to look at any standard NVIDIA reference design layout of the GeForce GTX 280.  There are no other distinguishing features of this card versus other off-the-shelf designs, save for its custom MSI decal with what appears to be a rather angry cyber-Ogre of some sort emblazoned on it. 

 

 

Again, like all stock GeForce GTX 280 cards (and we've yet to see any non-standard cards), the N280GTX from MSI is 10.5 inches long, which means it will extend about an inch over the width of an average full-sized ATX motherboard.  It also employs a two slot cooler design but will plug into any standard PCI Express X16 slot, preferably one that is PCIe 2.0 enabled.  This is not a hard requirement, however, since these cards are PCI Express gen 1 backwards compatible as well.  In terms of the GPU cooler itself, NVIDIA's reference design squirrel-cage fansink assembly does a nice job of managing heat while not proving offensive to the ear, even under heavy loads.

In terms of power requirements, as with all GTX 280 cards, you'll need both 6-pin and 8-pin PCIe power cables to run this card, in addition to a robust power supply capable of pushing at least 235 watts accross its 12V rail(s) for graphics alone.  Finally, the MSI N280GTX-T2D-1GOC is also overclocked to a 650MHz core clock, as shipped from the factory, which is about 48MHz over NVIDIA's reference design spec of 602MHz.  This should offer a bit more performance in GPU-intensive situations but will also increase power consumption just a hair as well.  The card's 1GB of frame buffer memory, however, is clocked at 1150MHz (2300MHz effective), just like NVIDIA's reference design.

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Our Test System and 3DMark Vantage

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on an Asus nForce 790i SLI Ultra based Striker II Extreme motherboard powered by a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 quad-core processor and 2GB of low-latency Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring these test systems was enter their respective BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS, and installed the latest DX10 redist and various hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and applications.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel and NVIDIA Powered

Hardware Used:
Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (3GHz)

Asus Striker II Extreme
(nForce 790i SLI Ultra chipset)

Reference GeForce 9800 GX2
Reference GeForce GTX 260
Asus ENGTX280 TOP
EVGA GeForce GTX 280
HIS Radeon HD 4870 X2
MSI N280GTX-T2D1G

2048MB Corsair DDR3-1333 C7
(2 X 1GB)

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Western Digital "Raptor" 74GB
(10,000RPM - SATA)

Relevant Software:
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
DirectX June 2008 Redist

NVIDIA Forceware v177.39
ATI Catalyst v8.8b

Benchmarks Used:
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
Unreal Tournament 3 v1.2**
Crysis v1.2*
Half Life 2: Episode 2*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars*

* - Custom Demo
** - FRAPS, Custom Demo


Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark Vantage

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which y isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1,920 x 1,200, with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering.






In our 3DMark Vantage testing, the MSI N280GTX offered up exactly the kind of performance we expected, clocking in right next to our other GeForce GTX 280 cards from EVGA and Asus.  MSI's card is clocked slightly slower than both the EVGA and Asus cards, with a 650MHz core speed versus 670MHz for the others.  In addition, its memory clock is set slightly slower as well, at 2300MHz (1.150GHzx2 - GDDR3) versus the others at 2420MHz (1.21GHzx2 - GDDR3).  As you can see, this doesn't equate to much of a deficit though, at least as far as 3DMark Vantage is concerned.  Finally, you can see that the Radeon HD 4870 X2 dual GPU card has a bit more performance headroom here, but again, it also commands a significant price premium.

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Half Life 2: Episode 2

Half Life 2's game engine isn't exactly what we would call "GPU-intensive" but it is also one of the most popular with the likes of Valve's Counter Strike Source being powered by it as well.

Half Life 2: Episode 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


Half Life 2:
Episode 2

Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life was one of the most successful first person shooters of all time. And courtesy of an updated game engine, gorgeous visuals, and intelligent weapon and level designs, Half Life 2 became just as popular.  Episode 2 - the most recent addition to the franchise - offers a number of visual enhancements including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.  Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well.  We used a custom recorded timedemo to benchmark all cards for these tests.




Once again, there are no suprises here, especially since we're more CPU-bound than anything else in this test.  MSI's GeForce GTX 280 drops in tight with the other GTX 280 offerings from Asus and EVGA.  The Radeon HD 4870 X2 proves itself to be 18% or so faster than any of the GTX 280 cards in this test but also retails currently for about 25% premium.

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Unreal Tournament 3 Performance


One of our "emotional favorites" for benchmarking, as well as letting off a bit of steam, due to its short learning curve and big fun coefficient, would have to be Unreal Tournament 3.  This game engine also doesn't tax ultra high-end cards like the GeForce GTX 280 but its rendering engine certainly makes it one of the best looking first person shooters on the market currently.
 

Unreal Tournament 3
DirectX Gaming Performance


Unreal Tournament 3

If you're a long-time PC gamer, the Unreal Tournament franchise should need no introduction.  UT's fast paced action and over the top weapons have been popular for as long as Epic has been making the games.  For these tests, we used the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 3.  The game doesn't have a built-in benchmarking tool, however, so we enlisted the help of FRAPS here.  These tests were run at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with no anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled, but with the UT3's in game graphical options set to their maximum values, with color correction enabled.



Here all the cards we tested, even the more mainstream GeForce GTX 260, show themselves to offer completely playable frame rates right up through our top resolution of 2560x1600.  In addition, the MSI N280GTX card is in a virtual dead heat with the other GeForce GTX 280 cards we tested.
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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Testing


id's Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is definitely a bit more taxing on the GPU, especially since we can enable anti-aliasing cleanly, unlike with UT3's differed rendering engine that doesn't have good support for it.  With 4X AA enabled, along with the game engine's advanced OpenGL shader and lighting effects, it also looks fantastic on top-shelf cards like the MSI N280GTX.  

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance


Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4X anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.




In this benchmark run, again we see the MSI N280GTX-T2D1GOC card follow suit with the other GTX 280 cards we tested.  There were only minuscule variances in frame rates, as you can see, due to the fact that MSI's card is clocked slightly slower.  Though our benchmark runs can illustrate this small variance when we graph out the results, in reality and practice, you simply could not perceive this type of performance delta. 

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Crysis Performance

Of all the games we test against various graphics cards, Crysis is easily the most demanding and also offers some of the most cutting-edge rendering effects seen in 3D game engines currently.  In fact, Crysis is so demanding, industry insiders have coined the phrase "...but can it play Crysis?", when evaluating new 3D graphics gear.  Honestly, we have mixed emotions about the game.  It certainly looks great but we're of the opinion that the lower frame rates we see (along with its occasional instability), don't scale in conjunction with the image quality gains.  In other words, we think Crytek has some work to do with respect to their code base as well. 

Crysis v1.2
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Crysis

If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player, FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine produces some stunning visuals that are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the PC to date.  The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet.  In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is a beast of a game.  We ran the full game patched to v1.2 with all of its visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested  A custom demo recorded on the Island level was used throughout testing.



With Crysis on high image quality and at 1920X1200 resolution, you can see that all of cards we tested, though they are some of the fastest on the market today, all broke a sweat trying to handle the rendering workload of this game engine.  The GTX 280 cards, including MSI's N280GTX all stacked up together right on top of the AMD Radeon HD 4870 X2, partially due to the fact that AMD still has some driver optimization ahead of them for this game and multi-GPU configurations.  As you can see, the GeForce 9800 GX2 dual-GPU card actually offer a bit more headroom but nothing too significant.

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Final Assessment and Rating


Performance Summary: Summarizing the performance of MSI's N280GTX-T2D1GOC GeForce GTX 280 card is relatively painless as there aren't any grand revelations to explain.  In all of the tests we put the MSI card through, we observed highly competitive performance compared to other GeForce GTX 280 cards in our tests and other graphics cards in its weight-class.  Though the N280GTX-T2D1GOC is clocked slightly slower than our competing reference GTX 280 cards from Asus and EVGA, the performance delta was completely negligible and not significant enough to exhibit any perceivable real-world performance variance.  We'd also add that end users could easily overclock the card to identical specifications of other overclocked offerings on the market, if they so choose.




Since the MSI N280GTX-T2D1GOC doesn't offer any real stand-out specifications or features, in the final analysis, price plays an important role in our overall perspective of the product.  Fortunately, this is a strong suit currently for NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 cards in the market, where heavy price cuts have already been levied that offer the consumer a much better value in the product compared to its cost structure back on launch day.

Currently, you can find the MSI N280GTX-T2D1GOC card at 
places like NewEgg for around $418 after $25 mail-in rebate. This places MSI's version of the GeForce GTX 280 right in the middle of the hunt for some of the best values available for NVIDIA's new flagship GPU.  Though we were rather unimpressed by MSI's lack-luster bundle with this graphics card, as well as its modest factory-set overclock, the net-net of this frugal configuration is a competitively priced high-end graphics card that knocks out some of the best frame rates and visuals in 3D graphics that are currently available on the market.

     
  • Top-Shelf Performance
  • PhysX and CUDA Support 
  • Quiet
  • Recent Price Reductions
  • 1 Year Warranty
  • Modest Factory Overclock 
  • Lack-Luster Bundle



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