Custom Cooled Video Card Shootout: ASUS & MSI

Article Index

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

Related content