Liquid-cooled video cards have carved-out a niche in the performance market, granting greater power efficiency through mitigation of power leakage, substantially reduced thermals, and improved overclocking headroom. We've previously talked about the EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid and AMD R9 Fury X, both of which exhibited substantially bolstered performance over previous top-of-line models. More manufacturers have seen the potential for liquid-cooled graphics, with MSI and Corsair now joining forces to produce their own 980 Ti + CLC combination.
This joint venture by MSI and Corsair sees the creation of a liquid-cooled GTX 980 Ti, using the existing Corsair H55 CLC ($60), an Asetek-supplied CLC. Depending on which company you're asking, the graphics card is named either the “MSI Sea Hawk GTX 980 Ti” ($750) or “Corsair Hydro HFX 980 Ti.” Both will have independent listings on retail websites. The cards are identical aside from the branding initiatives. The MSI & Corsair solution sees employment of what is typically a CPU liquid cooler, bracketing the H55 CLC to the GPU using a Corsair HG10 GPU CLC mount. EVGA's solution, meanwhile, uses a CLC with an extruded coldplate for GPU-specific package sizes, which could impact cooling. We'll look into that below.
For purposes of this review, we'll refer to the card interchangeably between the Hydro GFX and Sea Hawk. Our MSI Sea Hawk GTX 980 Ti review benchmarks gaming (FPS) performance vs. the EVGA 980 Ti Hybrid, temperatures, overclocking, power consumption, and value. The liquid-cooled 980 Ti cards are in a class of their own, exceeding base 980 Ti price by a minimum of $50 across all manufacturers. We're pitting the EVGA 980 Ti Hybrid against the MSI Sea Hawk in a head-to-head comparison within this benchmark.
A large part of gaming is audio. Audio serves to better immerse players within the world or aid competitive gamers in footstep and shot reactions. A decent set of speakers or headphones is critical for deeper gaming experiences.
MSI today announced its latest headset lineup addition, the dragon-emblazoned DS502.
Challenging EVGA's $750 GTX 980 Ti Hybrid is a tough fight right now. The card, in our eyes, is one of the best graphics solutions on the market, and it's largely because of the liquid cooling integration. We've recently seen a surge of liquid in GPU products, like the Fury X, and the thermal envelope is mitigated massively as a result. MSI seeks to join that fight with Corsair's assistance.
Every year at PAX, the hardware vendors compete with one another to become the center of attendee attention. There's an inherent challenge to running a hardware booth at a consumer-oriented gaming show: Everyone's there to see the games, so there's got to be something free (or tremendously cool) at the hardware booths.
The market stability of nVidia’s GTX 980 Ti has given way to the usual suite of ultra high-end overclocking cards. We’ve already looked at the liquid-cooled GTX 980 Ti Hybrid, which won two of our awards and tops our charts, but soon it’ll be time to explore MSI’s new GTX 980 Ti Lightning. PAX saw the first public showcase of the card – concealed behind heavy glass – and allowed for some hands-on.
The Lightning is MSI’s long-running OC line of ultra high-end cards, priced at $800 for the GTX 980 Ti version. A pre-overclock of ~200MHz puts the 980 Ti Lightning in close proximity to EVGA’s liquid-cooled GTX 980 Ti Hybrid, a difference between 1203MHz and 1228MHz (respectively).
AIO computers are a strange thing to us. As system builders, they often feel like artifacts from a distant, alien world. But they've improved in their gaming efficacy of late, and for that, it's worth a thorough review of one of the specs-leading gaming AIOs.
MSI's AG270 AIO computer is equipped with an nVidia GTX 980M and i7-4870HQ CPU, both high-end laptop components, and offers a 27” touchscreen with built-in speakers. The unit is a true all-in-one in this regard, but it does include more standard keyboard / mouse input options in the box. Most importantly, the AG270 is a $2700 gaming computer, making it somewhat intimidatingly priced.
Before jumping into the MSI AG270 all-in-one review and benchmarks, let's look over the system's core specs and features.
NVidia and AMD both define the ~$200 price-range as a zone of serious contention among graphics cards. The launch of the 960 held the card to high standards for 1080 gaming, a point nVidia drove home with data showing the prevalence of 1920x1080 as the standard desktop resolution for most gamers.
Our GTX 960 review employed ASUS' Strix 960, a 2GB card with a heavy focus on silence and cooling efficiency, but we've since received several other GTX 960 devices. In this round-up, we'll review the ASUS Strix, EVGA SuperSC 4GB, MSI Gaming 4GB, and PNY XLR8 Elite GTX 960 video cards. The benchmark tests each device for heatsink efficacy, framerate output (FPS) in games, and memory capacity advantages.
Save CPUs, all components manufacturing in the PC hardware industry is centered upon the same core philosophy: Design a PCB, design the aesthetics and/or heatsink, and then purchase the semiconductor or Flash supply and build a product. In the case of video cards, board partners are responsible for designing aftermarket coolers (and PCBs, if straying from reference), but purchase the GPU itself from AMD or nVidia. The “hard work” is done by the GPU engineers and fabrication plants, but that's not to trivialize the thermal engineering that board partners invest into coolers.
When our readers ask us which version of a particular video card is “best,” we have to take into account several use-case factors and objective design factors. Fully passive cooling solutions may be best for gaming HTPCs like this one, but can't be deployed for higher-TDP graphics hardware. That's where various aftermarket designs come into play, each prioritizing noise, dissipation, and flair to varying degrees.
Among the final pieces of our coverage from MSI, the GS30 Shadow laptop and its accompanying docking system remind us of a SilverStone/ASUS creation from last year: The XG02 external video card enclosure for laptops.
MSI's GS30 Shadow 13.3" gaming laptop includes a PCI-e enabled dock for external graphics card hardware, supporting AMD & nVidia devices. The GS30 can fit everything up to a Titan Black, hosts a 3.5" HDD bay for games storage, and pushes all video content to an external display once docked. This means that the external video card does not re-pipe the graphics back into the 13.3" screen, instead requiring a peripheral monitor. It's a normal docking station in this fashion, it just includes external GPU support for high-end gaming at home.
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