Custom Cooled Video Card Shootout: ASUS & MSI

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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