Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
Custom Cooled Video Card Shootout: ASUS & MSI
Transparent
Date: Oct 16, 2009
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Michael Lin
Transparent
Introduction & Specifications


One of the sub-categories cropping up amongst OEMs are videos cards which feature highly customized cooling along with special controller chips or other functionality that help facilitate tweaking the card's performance. These cards all have a few things in common. First, they all mount beefy and often very radical cooling designs which are a distinct departure from the ATI / NVIDIA approved reference cooler designs. They also offer some form of advanced tweaking features either in software, firmware or hardware (or perhaps all 3), that a stock reference design wouldn't possess, such as fan and voltage control.

The tweaker-friendly video card segment seems to be getting more popular as more OEMs are producing custom cards that fit the mold. We're going to give you a peak into what makes these cards special by giving you the run-down on three available options which are excellent representatives of what the segment currently has to offer.


Our three contestants (click to enlarge)



 


  ASUS ROG ENGTX260 Matrix
  55nm GT200b
  896MB DDR3
  576MHz core clock
1.242GHz shader clock
  2GHz mem clock
  Dual-slot active cooler
  2 x DVI output
  1 x S-Video/Composite
 
 


  ASUS ROG Matrix GTX285
  55nm GT200b
  1024MB DDR3
  662MHz core clock
1.476GHz shader clock
  2.484GHz mem clock
  Dual-slot active cooler
  2 x DVI output
  1 x S-Video/Composite
 
 
  MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC
  55nm RV790 XT
  1024MB GDDR5
  1000MHz core clock
  4.0GHz mem clock
  Dual-slot active cooler
  1 x DVI output
1 x VGA output
  1 x HDMI output
 

All three of the cards are equipped with non-reference cooling designs. In addition, they all pack some special goodies under the hood which will please most tweakers, modders and overclockers. Lastly, each of these video cards takes a slightly different approach and offers a different angle on the tweaker-friendly video card package. The ASUS ENGTX260 Matrix takes a hands-off approach. All of the tools are included to support your tweaking and overclocking endeavors, but no factory overclock is included. The MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC takes the exact opposite approach, offering one of the highest factory overclocks available for a Radeon 4890. The ASUS Matrix GTX285 falls somewhere in between. And all three cards offer special features not available in stock reference design cards. As you might imagine, this means all three cards also command a slight price premium over reference design copies.

Are the fancy coolers and extra features worth the higher cost? That's what we're here to find out...
 
Transparent
ASUS ROG ENGTX260 Matrix

The ASUS Matrix series of video cards will be familiar to regular HotHardware readers. We have reviewed several members if the Matrix line-up in the past year such as the EAH4850, EAH4870 and EN9800GT. Like most previously reviewed ASUS Matrix cards, the ENGTX260 doesn't offer a factory overclock, however it does have quite a few goodies to help you overclock on your own.


   
 click to enlarge
 click to enlarge

At first glance, the ENGTX260 appears to be using the same cooling setup as the previously reviewed ASUS ROG EAH4870 Matrix. Closer inspection reveals the two cooling systems aren't exactly identical. Most noticeably, the ENGTX260 has a longer PCB and as a result the cooler is also longer than that found on the EAH4870. The cooler is separated into four pieces, covered by a black plastic shroud. Each piece is a substantial heatsink and each heatsink is connected to the base plate which makes direct contact with the GPU via a dedicated copper heatpipe. This is the same arrangement found on the EAH4870. However, the heatsink section closest to the I/O outputs is nearly three times as large as the one found on the EAH4870 thanks to the card's extended length. This means the ENGTX260's cooling system had quite a bit more surface area which usually translates into better cooling performance.



In terms of features, the ENGTX260 is identical to the EAH4870. The PCB is endowed with a dedicated controller chip ASUS calls the "Super Hybrid Engine" which handles a number of duties like monitoring and regulating how the card behaves, as well as controlling adjustments to the card and cooling system's function. The Super Hybrid Engine is controlled using the iTracker utility program from which the user can set up performance profiles, adjust any number of performance parameters including overclocking options for the core clock, shader and memory.

   
 click to enlarge
 click to enlarge

The performance profiles also include settings for the cooling system, which are quite advanced. Not only can you set up the usual controls like fan speed and temperature triggers, but the cooling systems also has several automated features which can be enabled. Most notably, the iTracker utility can distinguish whether the card is currently operating in 2D or 3D mode and different profiles can be setup for each circumstance.

This makes it possible to set up a low-noise, low-power cooling and performance profile that turns down the fans and even downclocks the GPU while in 2D mode, such as during casual web surfing. Then for 3D applications, a more performance oriented profile can be used. The two fans can also be controlled individually and 1-fan operation is possible. The cooling system can also operate passively in 2D mode, although this feature resulted in very high GPU temperatures. Overall, the controls available are fairly robust and certainly far beyond anything that can be done using NVIDIA's stock tweaking utilities.

     
 click to enlarge click to enlarge
click to enlarge

In many ways it is a GeForce GTX 260 version of the EAH4870 we reviewed previously. Unfortunately this means it also has the same flaws, the most annoying of which is probably the poor default performance profile. Out-of-the-box and without and tweaking, the ROG ENGTX260 Matrix has a fairly aggressive performance profile that ramps the fans up more than we believe is necessary, making it noticeably louder than a stock reference cooler. However, this can be easily remedied with a few quick tweaks in iTracker. We were able to set up a profile very quickly that allowed for very quiet operation without overheating the card.

The ROG ENGTX260 Matrix comes with a fairly typical bundle. Included in the box is a DVI to D-sub adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter, HDTV-out cable, molex to PCI-E power cable and S/PDIF cable. This pretty much covers all the bases and should be enough to get you started.
 

Update: The ENGTX260 Matrix can now use the second generation iTracker utility; iTracker2.

Transparent
ASUS ROG Matrix GTX285
Next up is the ASUS ROG Matrix GTX285. This is the first product in the second generation ASUS Matrix line-up. While the Matrix line-up has always technically been part of ASUS' Republic of Gamers sub-brand, the association has been pretty loose until now. The Matrix GTX285 is the first Matrix product to display a ROG badge.

Unlike the ENGTX260, the Matrix GTX285 receives a healthy factory overclock to its core clock from the stock frequency of 648MHz to 662MHz. However, the shader and memory clocks are left untouched. This is hardly a max overclock and ASUS has left that to the user, as with previous Matrix series cards. This is just as well, considering the plethora of tweaking options offered.

   
 click to enlarge
  click to enlarge

The update to 2nd gen certainly doesn't stop at the addition of a badge. The entire cooling design has been changed. While currently available 1st gen Matrix products like the ENGTX260 we just looked at feature an open-air heatsink design, the Matrix GTX285 features a heavily shrouded design like that used on NVDIA reference designs. This means the Matrix GTX285's airflow is more wind-tunnel like, and the air is pushed mostly uniformly in a single direction, from the fan near the back out through the vents in the I/O panel. First gen Matrix open-air cooling designs like that seen on the ENGTX260 didn't have extensive shrouding and instead pushed air around in a somewhat circular fashion. This may or may not be an overall improvement depending on the airflow and setup of your particular case.

The internal heatsink design of the Matrix GTX285 cooling system is also quite different. Instead of four conventional copper heatpipes, the Matrix GTX285 sports two massive, extra wide, flat heatpipes which distribute the heat around the massive heatsink in the center of the unit.



Under the hood, the electronics stay mostly the same as in first gen Matrix products. The Matrix GTX285 still uses the same Super Hybrid Engine chip seen in other Matrix products. However the GTX285 does sport a few extra, largely cosmetic goodies. The most noticeable of which is a cool new visual loading display along the top edge of the card.

The loading display consists of a set of clear plastic letters spelling the Matrix logo which are backlit by multi-color LEDs, which convey the current level of loading the GPU is experiencing using a color code. When the logo is lit in green, this indicates minimum loading, while cyan represents light loading. As the loading gets progressively heavier, the color will change to blue, then to purple and finally red for extreme loading.

The loading display is oriented in such a way that when installed in a typical windowed chassis, the display will be clearly visible and easy to read. Overall, we thought this was a nice touch that really adds some great eye candy that modders will certainly appreciate.

   
  click to enlarge   click to enlarge

In terms of functionality and tweaking options, the major change is the upgrade to second generation iTracker software. iTracker2 offers an all-new interface which is a bit easier to use. The Matrix GTX285 also benefits from two new features, the ability to adjust memory timings, as well as the ability to flash the VBIOS. While memory timing adjustment is fairly self explanatory, and not much different than changing the memory timings on system RAM, the VBIOS flashing requires some explanation.

With previous Matrix cards, your performance profiles and settings would load once the system fully booted into the OS and iTracker was loaded. This means that not only must you keep iTracker on your system, but your settings would only work in a Windows environment as the iTracker utility doesn't support Linux or OSX. However with the Matrix GTX285, you can flash your performance profile right into the card's VBIOS. This means the settings stick and you don't need the iTracker2 software to maintain your profile once you've set it up. It also allows a certain level of cross platform compatibility, although you still need Windows to set up the profile in the first place.

 
 


 click to enlarge click to enlarge
 click to enlarge

Of course, flashing the BIOS is always a somewhat risky proposition since a bad flash might brick your device, be it a motherboard or in this case a video card. However ASUS has thought ahead and added a "safe mode" feature that lets you recover from bad flashes and restores the factory default settings. Best of all, the recovery process only requires the press of a button, specifically the "safe-mode" button located conveniently on the I/O plate right above the HDTV-out port.

Overall the Matrix GTX285 offers a pretty solid package. You get all the features of first gen Matrix products like the ENGTX260 with the addition of memory timing adjustment, VBIOS burn-in and recovery and a very cool GPU loading indicator display. The Matrix GTX285 also comes with the same bundle as the ENGTX260. Best of all, the Matrix GTX285 comes with a much better default performance profile than the ENGTX260, that was noticeably quieter than NVIDIA's reference cooler and temperatures were stable. Of course, with some tweaking, we could get the card to be even quieter.

Transparent
MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC
Last up we have the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC. This is quite an interesting take on the Radeon 4890 with several unique features and plenty of goodies under the hood. The first thing you're likely to notice is the very elaborate, non-reference cooler. As the name suggests, this card is equipped with MSI's Cyclone cooler.

The Cyclone cooler consists of a circular base heatsink which makes direct contact with the GPU. A large 10cm fan is mounted on top of the base heatsink and two large semi-circular heatsinks are located to either side, connected directly to the base via four extra-thick heatpipes. The heatpipes used on the R4890 Cyclone are of MSI's SuperPipe design which are very thick, measuring 8mm across. This cooler doesn't mess around.

   
  click to enlarge   click to enlarge

The second thing you might notice is the length of the card. The R4890 Cyclone SOC is about 1.5 inches shorter than ATI's 4890 reference design. This also makes it shorter than the 4870, putting it near the 4850 in size. This means you can cram this bad boy into cases that won't fit the standard length reference design 4890, such as some mATX and ITX cases. MSI also upgraded the components used on the PCB. The R4890 Cyclone SOC is equipped with a full set of quality solid capacitors and solid state chokes. Solid capacitors means longer life and better stability, while solid chokes means you won't ever experience the annoying 'squealing/buzzing video card' problem where the power circuitry emits an annoying high-pitched tone during operation, especially while under stress.



Things only get better when you peek under the hood at the GPU and memory. A stock Radeon 4890 operates at a core clock frequency of 850MHz and an effective memory clock of 3900MHz (975MHz x 4). The MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC, on the other hand, is factory overclocked with a 1000MHz core clock and 4000MHz (1000MHz x 4) memory clock. That's a full 150MHz over the stock reference core clock of the original 4890. With an overclock that large, the R4890 Cyclone will be able to tango with the likes of NVIDIA's GTX 280 and even the 285 in certain applications, where a stock Radeon 4890 is better matched up against a GTX 275.

If the big overclock hasn't hooked you yet, there's still yet more features left to sort through. Another area where the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC has taken a departure from the reference design is in its complement of outputs. Whereas the reference 4890 has the standard setup of dual-DVI and a HDTV-out, the R4890 Cyclone is equipped with only one DVI-out, but it gets an HDMI-out and a VGA-out. In our opinion this lends the card quite a bit more output flexibility. While the lack of a HDTV-out might be inconvenient for people who need component-out, the HDMI port more than makes up for it.

   
  click to enlarge   click to enlarge

In terms of software, the R4890 Cyclone SOC gets the benefit of MSI's Afterburner performance utility, which is also compatible with most MSI video cards. This tweaking and overclocking utility was co-developed by MSI and Rivatuner. It offers a full suite of performance and monitoring options, from fan control to overclocking. The software also supports up to 5 profiles to be created, each with individual sets of settings. The software can also detect if the video card is currently processing 2D or 3D content and use a different profile for each scenario. Overall, Afterburner looks to be highly competitive with ASUS' iTracker software, offering many of the same features.

     
 click to enlarge  click to enlarge click to enlarge

The default out-of-the-box performance profile for the R4890 Cyclone SOC is decent. It wasn't overly loud like the ASUS ENGTX260 but it wasn't noticeably better than reference like the ASUS Matrix GTX285 was. Overall, in terms of noise output, the default profile was fairly similar to a stock 4890 reference cooler. While this doesn't sound very impressive, consider that the cooler is dealing with a massive overclock while maintaining the same noise profile. Of course, with the Afterburner utility, you can easily set up your own fan profiles if you think the fan noise is too high.

Overall the R4890 Cyclone SOC is a very impressive card, however the bundle in on the light side. The only thing included, other than the driver discs, was a pair of molex to PCI-E adapter cables. No output adapters were included so those intending on using dual-DVI will need to supply their own HDMI-to-DVI adapter.
Transparent
Test Setup & 3DMark06
HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on an Asus P5K3 Deluxe motherboard powered by a Core 2 Duo E8400 processor and 2GB of RAM. The first thing we did when configuring these test system was enter the system 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 SP2 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 Duo E8400 (3.0GHz)

Asus P5K3 Deluxe
(Intel P35 Express chipset)

ASUS ROG ENGTX260 Matrix
ASUS ROG Matrix GTX285
MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC

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

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Western Digital "Raptor" 150GB
(10,000RPM - SATA)

Relevant Software:
Windows Vista Ultimate SP2 (32-bit)

NVIDIA Forceware v191.07
ATI Catalyst v9.9

Benchmarks Used:
3DMark Vantage

3DMark06

Dawn of War 2
Crysis*
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
FarCry 2

Company of Heroes
Half-Life 2: Episode 2


Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark06

3DMark06 is the tried and tested veteran member of the 3DMark franchise. Although it has been superceded by 3DMark Vantage, it still provides relevent benchmark results. 3DMark06 ups the number of shaders to 512 and also employs lighting and there is extensive use of soft shadows. Note that in this version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.



In our first benchmark, 3DMark06, we get our first taste of how these cards perform. The MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC take a large lead, beating out both ASUS Matrix cards. This is a somewhat surprising result as the GTX 285 is generally a faster chip than the Radeon 4890, until you consider the Cyclone SOC's massive overclock and the Matrix GTX285's modest factory OC.





The shader 2.0 and 3.0/HDR test results give us a better breakdown of how performance differed between the cards. We can see that all three cards have similar shader 2.0 performance, but differ greatly in shader 3.0/HDR performance.

Transparent
3DMark Vantage

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 1,920x1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing an 16x anisotropic filtering.



The 3DMark Vantage Extreme test tells a very different story than 3DMark06. Here we see the Matrix GTX285 taking a lead over the other two cards. However the R4890 Cyclone SOC still performs very well. The Matrix GTX260, which lacks any factory overclocking, naturally comes in last. It's worth noting that modern NVIDIA chips have a natural advantage in 3DMark vantage thanks to their ability to help accelerate the second CPU test. This means most modern NVIDIA chips can achieve a score of ~100 on the second CPU test while all other chips will get less than 10. Since the overall score includes the CPU test results, ATI chips are at a slight disadvantage.

 

If we tunnel deeper into the 3DMark Vantage results, the performance trend doesn't change too much but we gain some extra insight into the performance numbers. While the GTX285 still takes the top spot, the gap between it and the R4890 Cyclone SOC is much closer now that the CPU test scores are out of the equation.

Transparent
Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Company of Heroes

Relic Entertainment's World War II era real-time strategy game Company of Heroes was originally released as a DirectX 9 title for Windows.  But recent upates to the game have incorporated support for new DirectX 10 features that improve image quality and enhance the game's finer graphical details.  The game features a built-in performance test which which we used to attain the results below. Our Company of Heroes tests were run at resolutions of 1280 x 1024, 1680 x 1050, 1920x1200 with no anti-aliasing and all of the game's image-quality related options set to their maximum values.


 

Company of Heroes displays some interesting results. The performance results at 1280x1024 are completely different than expected. The slowest card of the bunch, the GTX260, takes the top spot due to the CPU bound circumstances. The results for the other two higher resolutions are much more in line with expectations. We can see that overall, all three cards perform about the same, with the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC coming out on top.
 

Transparent
Crysis

Crysis
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 v1.21 with all of its visual options set to 'Very High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested 



All three of the video cards were able to handle Crysis on the High image quality setting with AA and AF disabled quite well. All three cards produced playable results, with the GTX285 coming out on top, though not by much. The MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC actually performs very well here, staying right on the heels of the GTX285, a feat the stock Radeon 4890 can't do.
 

Transparent
Dawn of War 2

Dawn of War 2
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Dawn of War 2

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is a real-time strategy/tactical role-playing video game developed by Relic Entertainment based on the fictional Warhammer 40,000 universe. It is the sequel to the popular Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War video game series. Dawn of War II uses an updated version of the Essence Engine, Essence Engine 2.0, which allows for more detailed models and textures, as well as more advanced lighting and shading effects. We used the in-game performance test with the graphical settings set to their highest settings and anti-aliasing turned on.



Dawn of War II uses a newer, updated version of the graphics engine used by Company of Heroes and it's much more taxing. The two GeForce GTX based cards performed about the same while the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC takes a large lead here. However all three cards produced playable results with the game's image quality maxed out.
 

Transparent
Far Cry 2

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with no AA and no anisotropic enabled.



Far Cry 2 tells a different story than Dawn of War II. This time the Matrix GTX285 is the one with the big lead. However, once again, all three cards produced very playable results despite maxing out the image quality with Ultra settings, although AA wasn't turned on.
 

Transparent
Half-Life 2: Episode 2

Half Life 2: Episode 2
DirectX9 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 1280 x 1024, 1680 x 1050, 1920x1200 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.



All three cards produced phenomenal results in Half-Life 2, which isn't surprising considering it is the oldest game out of all of our benchmarks. However the Source engine is very much still relevant. The Matrix GTX285 takes the overall performance lead at 1280x1024 and 1920x1200, but the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC takes the lead at 1680x1050. Once again, the Matrix GTX260 comes in last, partially because of its lack of any factory overclocking.

Transparent
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
DirectX Gaming Performance


Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye. We used the built-in performance test at three resolutions with all quality settings set to their highest values, using the DX10 code path for the GeForce cards, and DX10.1 path for the Radeons.



Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is one of the few games currently available that makes use of DirectX 10.1. Since NVIDIA chips don't support DirectX 10.1, ATI has the natural advantage here. The MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC takes the overall lead though the Matrix GTX285 is right on its heels.
 

Transparent
Performance Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: All three video cards evaluated in this article performed well. Except for a few anomalies, the cards generally performed much better than their stock reference counterparts. The ASUS ENGTX260 Matrix does not receive a factory overclock so it didn't perform any differently than a stock reference model in our tests. Both the ASUS Matrix GTX285 and the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC sport ample factory overclocks and this showed in the benchmarks. The most surprising result in our benchmarks is the performance of the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC, which far exceeded the performance of a stock reference Radeon HD 4890.


 


ASUS ROG ENGTX260 Matrix: The ROG ENGTX260 Matrix is a familiar ASUS Matrix product. It not only resembles other gen1 ASUS Matrix cards like the ROG 4870 Matrix in appearance, it also shares the same philosophy. The idea is to provide the user with all the tools they need to overclock and tweak their card but offer no real factory overclock. The card basically comes configured stock, and you're left to tweak it as you like.

To help you tweak and overclock, the ENGTX260 is equipped with ASUS' Super Hybrid Engine, a dedicated onboard chip which handles hardware monitoring and performance tweaking. The Super Hybrid Engine chip works in conjunction with the iTracker utility to allow for real-time monitoring of the video card's variables like temperatures, fan speeds, voltages and clock frequencies. The iTracker also lets you set up your own performance profiles and lets you tweak nearly every variable it can monitor. The iTracker utility can also detect the type of load currently being pushed to the video card and adjust appropriately. It can distinguish from 2D and 3D loads, and allows the user to set up different performance characteristics for each scenario. This means you can configure the card to downclock and operate in a low-power, low-noise mode while in 2D mode, then overclock and boost performance when in 3D mode. Overall, it's a very good system and the iTracker interface is easy to use.

The ROG ENGTX260 Matrix also gets the advantage of a fairly beefy custom cooler. During testing, the cooler both performed well and is relatively quiet. However, it's worth noting that the out-of-box performance profile makes the cooler louder then it has to be. With some tweaking in iTracker, we quickly arrived at a very quiet setting that maintained decent temperatures.

As you'd expect, the fancy features offered on the ASUS ROG ENGTX260 Matrix commands a price premium. The ENGTX260 can currently be found for around $240, though availability is very sparse. That's a significant premium over the cheapest GeForce GTX 260 cards available which can run as low as $160. While the ASUS ROG ENGTX260 Matrix undoubtedly offers a very compelling feature set, it simply isn't worth a $80 mark-up. If you'd like the same feature set but without the hefty premium, check out the ASUS ROG EAH4870 Matrix instead.


     
  • Good Performer
  • Quality Cooler
  • Powerful iTracker Software
  • Excellent Hardware Monitoring
  • Advanced Overclocking Options
  • Voltage Adjustments
  • Premium Price!
  • No Factory Overclock
  • Low Availability



ASUS ROG Matrix GTX285
: The ROG Matrix GTX285 is the first second generation ASUS Matrix product and it offers the same monitoring and tweaking features as first gen products like the ENGTX260, and then some. All of the things we liked from previous ASUS Matrix products can still be found here, but now ASUS has added the addition of memory timing adjustments and a new VBIOS flashing feature which allows you to save your performance profile settings right to the card's VBIOS.

The Matrix GTX285 also features a new cooler design which is quite efficient and noticeably quieter than the NVIDIA reference cooler. ASUS also included some eye candy in the form of a real-time loading display located at the top edge of the card. The display uses an LED backlit logo to show in real-time how hard your GPU is working based on the color of the LEDs. This feature is very cool looking and would be a great addition to any windowed computer case. 

The Matrix GTX285 is the first Matrix product to get the new iTracker2 utility. The second gen iTracker offers a completely new interface which is a bit easier to use. The Matrix GTX285 also comes with a slight factory overclock, a core clock frequency boost to 662MHz from the stock of 648MHz.

Perhaps the best part about the ROG Matrix GTX285 is the minimal premium you pay for all these fancy features. The Matrix GTX285 can currently be found for around $360 while the cheapest GeForce GTX 285 cards run for around $330. A $30 mark-up in return for a factory OC and a bucket load of tweaking features is certainly worthwhile.

Overall, the ASUS ROG Matrix GTX285 is a great choice if you're in the market for a GeForce GTX 285 and you're not interested in the usual stock cooler setup.



     
  • Decent Factory Overclock
  • Great Performance
  • Quality Cooler
  • Powerful iTracker2 Software
  • Excellent Hardware Monitoring
  • Advanced Overclocking Options
  • Voltage Adjustments
  • Pricey
  • New DX11 Cards Are Better Values



MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC
: In many ways, MSI's new Cyclone series is very attractive. While they don't offer a dedicated hardware chip to facilitate tweaking and monitoring, the Afterburner utility offers essentially the same feature set as ASUS's iTracker. That means you get a similar level of control over the card and you can adjust the cooling and performance characteristics of the card as well as monitor its variables in real-time.

While the tweaking options are certainly very attractive, the biggest draw for the R4890 Cyclone SOC is the massive factory overclock. The core clock gets a huge 150MHz boost to 1000MHz, up from the stock frequency of 850MHz. The memory is also overclocked to 4000MHz (1000MHz x 4), up from 3900MHz (975MHz). As we saw in our benchmarks, this pushes the R4890 Cyclone SOC to very impressive performance levels. In several tests, it was even able to tango with the ROG Matrix GTX285, which costs nearly twice as much. A stock Radeon 4890 wouldn't have much of a chance against a GTX 285 but the R4890 Cyclone SOC's huge factory overclock gives it the edge it needs to stand toe-to-toe in several of our benchmarks.

The Cyclone cooler is also very impressive. With its massive heatpipes, large surface area and 10cm fan, the cooler provides a lot of performance at a relatively low noise level. Even with the huge overclock, the cooler wasn't any louder than the stock Radeon 4890 reference cooler. Perhaps best of all, the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC can be had for nearly no price premium. It is supposed to be available for around $200. Considering that the cheapest Radeon 4890's can be had for about $185, this is a very good value indeed.

However there is one major problem. The R4890 Cyclone SOC doesn't seem to be available, anywhere. While the card was initially announced months ago, there is still little to no availability. We weren't able to find any US-based stores that carried them. However this isn't too surprising. Considering how much MSI pushed the overclock, it's not surpring that available inventory is extremely low. Whatever the case, it is nearly impossible to get your hands on a R4890 Cyclone SOC, at least for the moment. But it isn't all bad. The R4890 Cyclone actually comes in three versions, the plain Cyclone, the OC and the SOC we reviewed. Both the regular R4890 Cyclone and the Cyclone OC can be found rather easily, although the OC only gets a factory overclock of 880MHz and the plain Cyclone doesn't get any overclock at all. However they can be found for only a few bucks more than the cheapest Radeon HD 4890's.

Overall, the MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC is perhaps the most compelling Radeon HD 4890 currently available, except it's not easy to attain. If you're in the market for a mid-range tweaker card and you can get your hands on a R4890 Cyclone SOC, snatch it up quick because you might not come across another one.



     
  • Excellent Factory Overclock
  • Excellent Cooler
  • Great Performance
  • Powerful Afterburner Software
  • Excellent Hardware Monitoring
  • Low Noise
  • Good Value

 

  • Low/No Availability



Content Property of HotHardware.com