Summary: ABIT and Sapphire Technology are two companies that have solved the cooling dilemma by implementing heat pipe technology on their high-end graphics cards. While their solutions are certainly effective, they both take up an additional PCI slot to keep the graphics core cool. MSI has come up with a different solution on their G4Ti 4200-VTD8X that blends a quiet noise level with cooling that is extremely efficient, and it doesn’t take up a PCI slot. See how this card performs in today’s review!
NV28:Carrying the load until GeForce FXDo you remember all the hoopla and fanfare that surrounded NVIDIA’s NV28 launch earlier this fall? We didn’t think so. Unlike previous graphics launches, NV28 was intended to be incredibly low-key. There would be no fancy technology demos, press releases, or even a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for the press to adhere too.
You see NVIDIA was shooting for the OEM market with NV28. These guys are already quite familiar with the architecture and didn’t need the buzz that surrounds a typical launch to jump onboard. NVIDIA’s big play this fall was intended to be NV30, which we now know as GeForce FX. NVIDIA had planned to sneak NV28 under the radar while NV30 drew all the attention -- the graphics cores were literally scheduled to launch within a few weeks of each other.
By now we all know how that plan played out. NV28 launched on time in September, while GeForce FX wasn’t announced until November, the product still hasn’t officially launched.
This has left graphics card manufacturers like MSI in a quandary, as a product that was once intended for OEMs now also has to compete in the retail sector, two markets with very different needs. OEMs tend to focus on price first and foremost, when you’re purchasing graphics cards in tens of thousands of units (even more for some OEMs) every dollar saved counts. The retail sector on the other hand isn’t quite as price sensitive, features and performance are also important.
Fortunately, the graphics card manufacturers are doing a good job of rising to the challenge, and they’re not just making reference cards anymore. These guys are looking to prove that they can make a better Ti 4200 card than NVIDIA can.
MSI for instance is making multiple lines of NV28 cards; each one is designed to appeal to a particular market. The graphics card we’re reviewing today, the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X (MS-8894), is designed to appeal to the hardcore enthusiast on a budget. MSI knows that this type of consumer craves one thing first and foremost: efficient, powerful cooling. After all, if you can keep the graphics core and its accompanying memory cool, it bodes well for your overclocking potential. Fortunately, we’re glad to say that MSI’s unique T.O.P. Tech cooling solution accomplishes this in spades. MSI has also thrown in a few extra goodies to round out the package even more. Lets take a look at the specs…
SIDEBAR: MSI G4Ti 4200-VTD8X Product Webpage
By now you should probably be pretty familiar with the specifications for the GeForce4 Ti 4200, but we’ll provide a quick refresher just in case. The GeForce4 core that the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X is based on is NVIDIA’s second-generation GeForce4 graphics core, internally codenamed as NV28. NVIDIA prefers us media types to call it the GeForce4 Ti 4200 with AGP 8X, but NV28 is oh so much simpler to type.
NV28 versus NV25
NV28 is largely built off the original NV25 GeForce4 Ti 4200 core; for instance, the chip is still built on a 0.15-micron manufacturing process with a 250MHz core clock frequency, however, the 128MB variants of NV28 now sport the same 500MHz memory clock frequency as the 64MB variants, previous 128MB cards shipped with the memory clocked at 444MHz. Actually, all of the NV28 cards we’ve received (that follow NVIDIA’s guidelines) ship with the memory clock at 513MHz, but the spec officially calls for 500MHz. This 250/500MHz configuration yields a fill rate of 1.0 Gigapixel/second (4 billion anti-aliased samples/sec) with up to 8.0GB/sec of memory bandwidth being fed to the NV28 graphics core.
NVIDIA’s 4th Generation GPU GeForce4 Ti-8X series
MSI offers two versions of the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X series, one sporting 64MB of DDR memory like the unit we’re reviewing today, and a 128MB variant of the card. As you can see, the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X ships with a pretty impressive software bundle. Normally we frown on such things, but when your titles are one of the most popular RPG’s for this year in Morrowind and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, we certainly can’t complain. MSI really scored points with us with their attention to detail in general. The accessories and software bundle is very complete in comparison to the competition and the manual included with the card is one of the best we’ve seen. It’s no surprise to see why MSI ships more graphics cards than any other NVIDIA-based card manufacturer.
SIDEBAR: AGP 8X cards like the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X are still compatible with AGP 4X motherboards.
As an MSI video card, the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X sports a red printed circuit board. All of MSI’s high-end motherboards and video cards are built with this, as MSI wants us to associate the color red with their products. This is a bit surprising as their company color is officially blue, but with Gigabyte already using that color with their products for years, MSI probably felt a better opportunity existed with red. Enough about the color of the card though, lets talk about the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X’s most unique feature: T.O.P Tech Cooling.
T.O.P. Tech Cooling
MSI is certainly not the first manufacturer to implement a copper heatsink on a video card, much less one based on the GeForce4 GPU, however, MSI’s T.O.P Tech Cooling solution is certainly one of the most innovative solutions that we’ve come across. MSI starts with two copper plates, one for cooling the graphics core and memory on the top of the video card, and a second copper plate for covering the memory on the underside of the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X card.
As we mentioned earlier, MSI has implemented a large copper plate to cool the GPU and memory on the top of the card, but then goes one step further by grafting a folded copper sheet to the copper plate. This effectively acts as the fins you see on a traditional heatsink, increasing the surface area of the plate and thus increasing the cooling of the card even further. MSI then mates all this with a plastic duct that blows the hot air off the copper plate and away from the video card. If you place your finger near the duct, you can literally feel the air as it blows across your finger. How effective is all this at keeping the card cool? We never saw a temperature reading of over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on the core, that’s a very cool (no pun intended) figure for a graphics card!
Typically exotic cooling solutions also come with powerful fans. These fans are frequently loud, sometimes to the point of being downright annoying. Surprisingly, this is not the case for the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X, as its fan is the quietest GeForce4 fan we’ve tested, rivaling the output of a mundane chipset fan! Our AFREEY DVD drive was literally louder than the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X card, as was the Intel heatsink/fan used to cool the Pentium 4 2.8GHz processor we used for testing. If you’re looking to build a quiet PC, the MSI G4Ti 4200-VTD8X should definitely be on your list of potential graphics cards.
SIDEBAR: T.O.P. stands for Thermal Obviation Protection
3DMark 2001 SE
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
In 3DMark 2001SE we really don’t see much of a difference between the 64MB and 128MB Ti 4200 cards – even at 1280x1024 the margin is under 1%. The same statement also applies for the Ti 4200/RADEON 9500 PRO comparison as performance is largely the same. We do however see that the RADEON 9500 (non-PRO) isn’t capable of keeping up with any of the aforementioned cards, something you should keep in mind if you’re contemplating purchasing one.
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
Again, memory size doesn’t play much of a role in Serious Sam, the 64MB and 128MB GeForce4 Ti 4200 cards nearly offer identical performance at all resolutions. We do see that Ti 4200 isn’t able to keep up with RADEON 9500 PRO at high resolutions, by 1600x1200 the NVIDIA-based Ti 4200 cards are trailing by 5%. RADEON 9500 on the other hand, trails GeForce4 Ti 4200 by a whopping 26% at the same resolution.
Quake III - High Quality
In Quake 3, even the powerful GeForce4 Ti 4400 is outgunned by RADEON 9500 PRO, but we do see that the RADEON 9500 continues to offer the least performance of the bunch. The MSI card performs as expected, and is able to keep up with the underclocked 128MB ASUS card even though its short 64MB of memory.
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
In Unreal Tournament 2003 we finally see a difference between the 64MB and 128MB cards, at 1600x1200 the margin between them is 7%. We’ve noticed similar results with Novalogic’s Comanche 4 flight simulation, indicating that the more advanced DirectX 8 games definitely take advantage of the added memory 128MB cards provide. ATI’s RADEON 9500 PRO is able to outperform all of the GeForce4 cards we tested while RADEON 9500 continues to offer mild performance.
Jedi Knight II – High Quality
The same trends we noticed in previous games we’ve tested continues in Jedi Knight II. 64MB and 128MB Ti 4200 cards offer indistinguishable performance, while RADEON 9500 PRO outruns all of the NVIDIA-based cards.
Quake III – High Quality
Even under the added strain of 2xAA, the Ti 4200 cards perform within 1% of each other at all resolutions. We’re not saying the 128MB Ti 4200 cards are worthless however, just that with older titles, the performance difference is negligible.
Quake III – High Quality
Performance: While the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X may not be the fastest NV28 card on the market (as there are multiple manufacturers offering overclocked NV28 cards from the factory), it should still offer plenty of performance in today’s games. You should get plenty of performance out of the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X’s for most of 2003’s hottest titles.
RADEON 9500 PRO: While this isn’t the fault of MSI, ATI’s RADEON 9500 PRO offers more performance than the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X, or any other GeForce4 Ti 4200 card on the market. Keep in mind that we’re referring to the RADEON 9500 PRO, and not the RADEON 9500, which definitely falls short of the Ti 4200 in the performance category. Prices on the RADEON 9500 PRO are set at $220, so the G4Ti 4200-VTD8X has it beat on price.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|