Summary: With quad-copper heatpipes, a powerful, yet quiet dual-slot cooler, and factory OC'ed speeds, MSI's 1GB N250GTS-2D1G GeForce GTS 250 card is designed to deliver high performance while also battling heat. In this review we paired the card against three other contenders in our traditional benchmarks as well as Relic's latest RTS, Dawn of War 2!
As a result, it just isn’t economical for NVIDIA to produce cheaper mainstream derivatives based off of GT200 until NVIDIA hits smaller manufacturing process. Rumor has it that NVIDIA’s first 40-nm GPUs will be shipping later this year,
Until then, the more cost effective route for NVIDIA is to utilize their battle-tested G9x architecture. While G92 and G96 have been on the market for over a year now, these chips are still more than capable of handling most of today’s latest games and are pretty competitive with comparably-priced offerings from ATI. The G96-based GeForce 9600 GT starts just under $90, while G92 cards start just under $120.
Where things get a little controversial is when it comes to branding.
You see, NVIDIA has renamed cards based on these chips on more than one occasion. The GeForce 8800 GT was renamed to the 9800 GT back in August, while the 55-nm derivative of the GeForce 9800 GTX was named the 9800 GTX+. The latter case wasn’t as egregious as the former, as NVIDIA actually bumped up the clocks slightly on the 9800 GTX+, while the 9800 GT was literally a replica of the GeForce 8800 GT. This really irked quite a few 8800 GT owners, as the 9800 GT cards weren’t SLI compatible with the GeForce 8800 GT.
Now NVIDIA’s doing the same thing again in many ways. Their latest desktop graphics card, the GeForce GTS 250, is based off the same 55-nm G92b GPU already used in the GeForce 9800 GTX+. NVIDIA’s made a few changes to the board design of the GeForce GTS 250, but technically the chip at the heart of the card is being carried over unchanged.
So what’s new with the GeForce GTS 250’s reference board design? It turns out quite a bit…
Whereas the original GeForce 9800 GTX board design (and later, the 9800 GTX+) was focused on performance first and foremost, the emphasis of the new GTS 250 design is lower production cost and power efficiency. The GTS 250 has a shorter 9.0” PCB and reduced power circuitry; in fact the GTS 250 is able to get by with just one 6-pin PCIe power connector.
Fortunately the new GeForce GTS 250 retains the 9800 GTX’s second SLI connector, so the card will continue to support 3-Way SLI despite its lower price tag. NVIDIA and their board partners will be offering two GeForce GTS 250 SKUs: one board outfitted with 512MB of memory priced at $129.99, and a second card with 1GB of GDDR3 that sells for an MSRP of $149.99. Both cards ship at the same clocks, with the graphics core operating at 738MHz while the stream processors are clocked at 1836MHz. The GPU is then paired with 1100MHz GDDR3 memory.
These are the exact same speeds as the GeForce 9800 GTX+.
NVIDIA says the GeForce GTS 250 will run in SLI with the 9800 GTX+, but the two cards must have the same amount of memory in order for SLI to function: you won’t be able to pair a 1GB GeForce GTS 250 with a 512MB GeForce 9800 GTX+.
For their N250GTS-2D1G GeForce GTS 250 card, MSI has adoped an all-copper cooler with quad heatpipes and a dual-slot heatsink/fan unit. But that’s not all, the card is also OC’ed for added performance. Let’s take a closer look at the card.
As you can see in the pictures, MSI outfits their GeForce GTS 250 card with a custom cooling solution designed in-house by MSI. In fact we’ve seen it previously on their Radeon 4850 cards and GeForce 9800 GT cards.
The cooler uses quad copper heatpipes to pull heat off the G92b GPU. Each heatpipe is over 8” in length, and 6mm thick. By using such large heatpipes the cooler is able to dissipate heat more effectively: MSI claims their use of thicker heatpipes improves cooling effectiveness by 20% in comparison to typical 5mm heatpipes. These heatpipes are then soldered to a copper base, which rests directly over the G92b GPU.
Thanks to their copper design, the heatpipes are capable pulling quite a bit of heat off the GPU. This heat must then be dispersed in order to prevent the heatpipes themselves from becoming a hotspot on the graphics card. To accomplish this, MSI employs a dual-slot aluminum heatsink. Heat from the heatpipes is transferred to this heatsink, which is composed of 33 fins. MSI actually welds the heatpipes to the dual-slot heatsink: it isn’t a pass-through design where the heatpipes merely go through the heatsink. This welded design improves heat dissipation. Each fin is slightly over 7” long, and ½” thick. Heat from the heatpipes is dispersed along the entire length of these fins. Employing such a large heatsink increases its surface area, and thus increases the effectiveness of the cooler.
Finally, supplying the heatpipes and heatsink with fresh cool air is an 80mm fan. By using such a large fan (most case fans measure 80mm), the cooler is able to supply a large amount of air without having to resort to spinning up to high RPMs. The fan spins up to 3500RPMs at its highest setting.
This helps to keep noise output down to a minimum. Even under extended 3D load, you can barely hear the fan. MSI claims the fan generates up to 32dB of noise; in our testing we got a reading of 46.7dB for the entire system – not bad.
Because the duct used on MSI’s N250GTS-2D1G GeForce GTS 250 card isn’t completely enclosed, air from the GPU cooling isn’t forced out the back of your case. Instead the air is pushed out the sides of the cooler. MSI does this in order for the air to cool down the power circuitry and the board’s memory modules. Here we should note that the memory modules aren’t cooled by the dual-slot heatsink or RAMsinks, but the Hynix memory modules MSI uses are technically rated for speeds up to 1.2GHz anyway, so cooling isn’t technically needed in order for the modules to operate properly.
To finish off the cooling system, MSI adds a massive gold-colored aluminum heatsink to cool the board’s MOSFETs. The heatsink sports curved fins and is designed to fit seamlessly underneath the dual-slot GPU heatsink.
Supercharged clock speeds
To improve performance, MSI overclocks their GeForce GTS 250 board from the factory. The card’s graphics core is clocked at 760MHz, an improvement of 22MHz over the stock GeForce GTS 250 reference speeds, while the stream processors operate at the stock GTS 250 speed of 1836MHz. Finally, the board’s memory is OC’ed 50MHz to 1150MHz (2300MHz effective).
Moving around to the backplate of MSI’s GeForce GTS 250, we see that the card ships with two dual-link DVI adapters. No TV-output connector is present on the card.
In addition to the standard driver CD and manual, MSI ships the card with one DVI-to-VGA adapter, a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, and 6-pin PCIe power connector.
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
ASUS P5E3 Premium
4GB OCZ Platinum DDR3-1333
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+ 512MB
MSI N250GTS-2D1G 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty 4
Fallout 3 – DirectX 9
Call of Duty 4 – DirectX 9
Crysis – DirectX 10
Far Cry 2 – DirectX 10
STALKER – DirectX 9
G92b core: For those of you who like to use the table of contents to skip around through the review, we’re going to provide a brief refresher on the GPU behind MSI’s GeForce GTS 250: the G92b graphics core.
DVI/HDMI only: Because the N250GTS-2D1G doesn’t ship with a traditional TV-out connector, component video output and S-Vide output isn’t supported by the card. Instead you’ll have to rely on the DVI outputs to drive your TV display.