Custom Cooled Video Card Shootout: ASUS & MSI

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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.

   
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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.

   
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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.

 
 


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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.

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