Summary: With its massive 5-heatpipe cooler, MSI's N285GTX SuperPipe OC addresses the GTX 285's biggest flaw: its cooling in comparison to GTX 280. The card is also OC'ed slightly for greater performance. See how it compares to the stock GTX 285 and four other GPUs in today's review!
Launched back in January, the GeForce GTX 285 is NVIDIA’s lower power, higher performance replacement for the GTX 280. Its 55-nm manufacturing process allows the chip to consume just 183W of peak power (versus 236W in GTX 280) despite its higher clock speeds. NVIDIA cranks the GPU up 46MHz to 648MHz, while the stream processors are clocked at 1,476MHz, an improvement of 180MHz. Finally, the board’s memory also gets a speed boost, running 135MHz higher than the GTX 280, with a final clock frequency of 1,242MHz (2,484MHz effective).
But as powerful a performer as the GeForce GTX 285 is, it isn’t quite perfect. One concession NVIDIA has made to the GTX 285 reference board design was removing one of the cooler’s copper heatpipes.
On one hand NVIDIA could argue that the heatpipe is no longer needed, as the 55-nm GT200b GPU runs cooler than its 65-nm predecessor, but on the other hand you could argue that it’s a cost-cutting move on NVIDIA’s part. Obviously NVIDIA’s been forced to sell GT200-class GPUs at prices substantially lower than they’d originally expected a year ago, and as a result this has affected their profit margins. By cutting down on the board’s cooling components, this does reduce the production cost of a board ever so slightly.
Bottom line: enthusiasts expecting 55-nm GTX 285 GPUs to run cooler will be disappointed, as 55-nm GTX 260 and GTX 285 cards with reference cooling we’ve tested have run even with, or 1-2 degrees hotter under load than comparable GTX 260 and GTX 280 boards.
However, all isn’t lost for gamers and hardware enthusiasts who would like the best attributes of both the GTX 280 (its beefier cooling) and the GTX 285 (its higher clocks). Some of NVIDIA’s board partners are beginning to step in with GeForce GTX 285 cards that deliver better than reference cooling solutions. The first graphics board manufacturer to introduce a GTX 285 with better cooling is MSI. In fact, their N285 GTX SuperPipe OC board ships with a very impressive cooling solution. We’re here today to see how it compares with the stock GeForce GTX 285 reference board. Let’s get started shall we?
The first aspect you’ll no doubt notice about MSI’s N285 GTX SuperPipe OC is its dual fan cooling. The stock GTX 285 reference cooler ships with one blower-style fan.
It doesn’t take a seasoned hardware enthusiast to spot the second major aspect of the N285 GTX SuperPipe OC: its heatpipes. MSI outfits the card with two ridiculously thick heatpipes that are literally thicker than any heatpipe we’ve ever seen applied to a graphics card. This is where the card gets its “SuperPipe” name.
More specifically, the heatpipes MSI uses are 8mm thick. In comparison, most conventional heatpipes are generally 5mm thick, so MSI’s heatpipes are nearly twice as thick as your typical heatpipe. MSI claims these heatpipes can transfer 90% more heat than the reference GTX 285 design; we’re not exactly sure we’re they’re getting this metric from, but their cooler is without a doubt more powerful than the NVIDIA reference design: MSI’s cooler not only has more heatpipes than the reference GTX 285, but they’re also thicker and quite long as well.
Running alongside the two SuperPipes are three additional heatpipes, providing a grand total of five heatpipes for card cooling.
While they’re not made from copper like the NVIDIA reference design, the heatpipes MSI employs do an excellent job of drawing heat off the GT200b GPU. Heat is then dispersed by an aluminum heatsink. To cool the memory modules, MOSFETs, and other power circuitry, two aluminum plates are used, one on each side of the GTX 285 board. These plates are then equipped with fins to further increase their surface area.
To finish the cooler off, MSI tops the heatsink/heatpipe apparatus with a brushed aluminum lid adorned with MSI branding.
In practice, MSI’s cooling system does an excellent job in action. Not only does it run cooler than the stock GTX 285 cooling unit, it does so while running at higher clock speeds and barely running louder.
The final ingredient MSI adds to their N285 GTX SuperPipe OC is factory overclocking. Out-of-the-box the card runs at 680MHz, an improvement of 32MHz over the stock GeForce GTX 285 reference clock speed. Unfortunately however the board’s stream processors run at the stock GTX 285 clock speed of 1476MHz.
Bundle and accessories
Inside the card’s packaging MSI includes one DVI-to-VGA adapter, a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, a 6-pin PCIe power adapter, S-Video cable, audio passthrough cable, and component video cable for hooking the card up to an HDTV.
Intel Core i7-920
6GB OCZ Reaper HPC DDR3-1600
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 216 core
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
ATI Radeon HD 4890 1GB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty 4
SuperPipe Cooling: With their SuperPipe cooling, MSI addresses one of the only criticisms enthusiasts have had with NVIDIA’s new 55-nm GPUs: their weaker cooling systems in comparison to 65-nm.
Don’t get us wrong, the 55-nm chips don’t run excessively hot, but users expecting the cards to run significantly cooler than their 65-nm predecessors have been left disappointed to find that because of the changes NVIDIA has incorporated into the new reference cooler, GT200b cards run at temps that are within 1-2 degrees Celsius above or below GT200.
Thanks to the SuperPipes, the MSI card definitely runs significantly cooler than older 65-nm cards.
MSI’s SuperPipe system consists of a dual-slot heatsink/fan unit built with 5 heatpipes. Two of the five heatpipes are simply massive in size. As we said before, these are the largest heatpipes we’ve ever seen applied to a consumer graphics card. What’s really beneficial about these heatpipes is they’re not only huge in size (8mm thick), they’re also the two longest heatpipes on the MSI card. So MSI’s integrated two heatpipes that are not only thicker than average, they’re also quite long.
This further increases the effectiveness of the SuperPipe heatpipes.
Running alongside the SuperPipes are three additional heatpipes. In comparison to the SuperPipes they look tiny, but believe us, they’re standard size. These heatpipes provide additional cooling for the GPU.
To keep the heatpipes cool, MSI uses a dual-slot aluminum heatsink and dual fans. The heatsink isn’t the largest we’ve seen, but it’s still large enough to get the job done well. Its size is honestly reduced in part because MSI provides an additional metal plate (with fins) for cooling the memory modules and other components located on the PCB of the board itself. This plate is bonded to these components with thermal pads, so if you look closely you’ll see individual thermal pads for everything. This is a really nice touch in our opinion that shows MSI’s attention to detail – over the years we’ve seen our fair share of cards that on the surface attempt to cool these components, but if you look closely you’ll see that they don’t actually come into contact with them. The dual fans do run slightly louder than the stock NVIDIA reference cooler, but at 1dB, it’s a manageable increase in noise output.
So how effective is MSI’s cooler? In our testing the board ran five degrees cooler than the reference NVIDIA cooler at idle, and a whopping 13 degrees cooler at load.
Performance: Thanks to its GeForce GTX 285 graphics core, the MSI N285 GTX SuperPipe OC delivered excellent performance. As we said at the outset of this article, this is currently the world’s fastest GPU. If you want speed, this is as fast as it gets unless you opt for a dual GPU card like the 4870 X2 or GeForce GTX 295.
Price: Right now the MSI N285 GTX SuperPipe OC sells for $359.99. A $30 mail-in rebate then knocks that price down to $329.99. This is just $20 more than the cheapest GeForce GTX 285 listing after rebate.
At first glance, this may not seem like a significant pro, but look at the numbers a little deeper. A good aftermarket GPU cooler for the GeForce GTX 285 that performs comparably to the SuperPipe is probably going to cost you at least $40, if not more.
Tame OC: The MSI N285 GTX SuperPipe OC is clocked at 680MHz core/1250MHz memory/1476MHz shaders. Respectively, these speeds are 32MHz/8MHz/0MHz higher than the stock GTX 285 reference specifications.
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