MSI and EVGA GeForce Cards
Although we’ll be testing NVIDIA’s reference GeForce GTX 980 cards, we got a couple of retail-ready GeForce GTX 970s in from EVGA and MSI.
As you’ll see in the images below, the EVGA GeForce GTX 970 with ACX cooling’s main differentiator is its custom heatsink and fan assembly. The dual-fan Active Cooling Extreme, or ACX, cooler features a large heatsink array, with additional fin volume over reference designs. If you look close, you’ll notice that unlike earlier model ACX coolers which had two heatsinks underneath the shroud, one that sat right atop the GPU and another just to the side, this card has just one massive heatsink. The heatsink is linked to the baseplate by multiple thick heatpipes and there is an additional heatplate mounted to the card’s VRM as well.
The fans used on the ACX cooler also got some special treatment. According to EVGA the fan blade design offers superior strength to standard fans and the dual-ball bearings offer increased longevity over more common sleeve bearings. All told, EVGA claims the ACX cooler outperforms reference coolers, while also reducing weight and thickness.
As for the card itself, we think it looks great. The EVGA GeForce GTX 970 with ACX cooling is a dual-slot card, but it is slightly thinner than reference models. Although EVGA has factory-overclocked models on the way, this particular version is clocked at NVIDIA’s reference specs (1050MHz base / 1178MHz boost) and includes 4GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at an effective 7000MHz. As evidenced by the pair of SLI edge connectors at the top of the card, the EVGA GeForce GTX 970 with ACX supports up to 3-Way SLI, and because the TDP of the card is only 145 watts, dual 6-pin supplemental PCI Express power feeds are all that are required to power it (in addition to its slot, of course).
Outputs consist of a pair of dual-link DVI outputs, a full-sized DisplayPort output, and an HDMI connector. The EVGA GeForce GTX 970 with ACX has more than enough muscle to push multiple displays simultaneously, and as such, it supports NVIDIA's 3D Vision Surround technology, as well other proprietary NVIDA technologies like 3DVision, PhyX, and the like.
Here we have the MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G. This card is all custom and features an elaborate cooling solution, dubbed Twin Frozr V, that not only performs well, but is very quiet and user controllable (though not available on the MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G, MSI's GTX 980 will allow fan controls on a per-fan basis). The dual-slot Twin Frozr V cooler sports high-density heatsinks, with dual 10mm cooling fans, and thick copper heatpipes that run from the cooler’s base up through the heatsink fins. We should also point out that the cooler’s base is made of copper and the entire assembly is nickel-plated.
The Twin Frozr cooler has also been outfitted with proprietary “Torx blade” fans that reportedly push 19% more air than previous “Propeller blade” designs MSI employed on the Twin Froze IV, while also directing the air-flow in a more downward direction. The assembly also reportedly improves the structural integrity of the card by 75%. In conjunction with Maxwell's relatively low-power characteristics, MSI's Twin Frozr V can even operate in a completely silent mode. When the card is operating at below 60'C, the fans will stop completely (the fans on MSI's GTX 980 will stop when the card is operating below 50'C), and hence produce no noise at all.
The customizations on the MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4 don’t stop at the cooler though. The MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4 also has a custom, all digital 8+2-phase PWM that can handle more current than 4-phase reference designs and it’s outfitted with MSI’s “Military Class” components, which is to say it has solid caps and super ferrite chokes installed, and there is a lighted dragon on the top edge, which can be disabled by simply unplugging it.
Unlike reference designs, supplemental power is handled by 8-pin plus and 6-pin PCIe connectors (as opposed to the dual 6-pins) and the outputs on the card consist of a pair of DVI outputs and single DP and HDMI outputs.