It is easy to get caught up in the frenetic battle for the top video card slot. AMD and NVIDIA are constantly slugging it out to see who reigns supreme in the graphics arms race. The media side of this battle is fought with the Enthusiast-class or "Halo"
cards. These cards often come to the ring wearing a price tag of $500+ and represent each companies’ no-holds-barred attempt at graphic domination. While this battle makes for great headlines and tag lines for the PR guys, the reality is that neither company really sells that many of these cards and truth be told, they never intend to. For your information, $500 boards account for three million cards sold each year, while the overall market is just shy of 80 million board mark
The battle for supremacy in the $200 range of video cards is somewhat akin to a Cold War, its constantly brewing but not always in the forefront of everyone’s mind, that space is instead reserved for the Enthusiast-class cards with their $500+ price tags. The truth of the matter is that the $200 price range holds a little something for everyone. AMD and NVIDIA focus on it because the price is low enough to ensure significant volumes of cards are sold, yet high enough to guarantee a solid profit. The benefit for consumers is that we get a card with solid performance and many of the features of their larger siblings, but at a fraction of the price.
The two rivals in the $200 space have been out for some time now and as such the numerous add-in board partners have had a chance to apply their own secret sauce to the reference design in an effort to develop the perfect card. Today we will be looking at two very competitive cards from MSI, the NVIDIA-based N460GTX HAWK and the AMD-driven R6850 Cyclone. These two cards represent AMD and NVIDIA’s primary weapons in the mainstream graphics battle and as both cards are an obvious departure from the standard reference-design offerings they should provide for an interesting comparison.
MSI is quick to tout the overclocking ability of both cards and has built up certain features of these cards with that purpose in mind. Aside from custom cooling solutions, both cards feature what MSI calls Military Class Components. MSI’s own description of the Military Class standard is as follows:
"MSI graphics cards adopt the high quality components that meet the Military Class standard, ensuring the best stability, longest life span and no buzz noise under full load."
There are three main components that are featured as Military Class, these include Highly-conductive Capacitors, Solid Capacitors and Super Ferrite Choke. It’s quick to see that the core of this military class standard basically relates to power and more specifically power stability and efficiency. The Highly-conductive capacitors tout a Tantalum
core (what, no Adamantium
? Seriously disappointed, Ed.) and 15% less leakage, while the Solid Capacitors boast a 10 year lifetime and no explosions of which I would have to say the 'no explosions' appears to the better feature.
What is interesting to note is that the packaging for the N460 GTX Hawk lists the card as having Military Class Components while the packaging for the R6850 Cyclone specifies the card as having Military Class II Components, however their does not seem to be a difference in the actual components listed. I have never heard of a Military Class standard when it comes to video cards but if you are heading to a war zone then evidently these are the cards you should take with you. Initial Thoughts
The first thing you notice about any graphics card is the packaging and these MSI cards are no different. Flashy graphics and bold performance claims abound, not to mention the fact that there are enough logo stickers on the front to make any 4 year giddy with excitement. Both offerings feature the now-common front flat box with plastic window that allows you see that there is indeed an actual video card inside the box, should there have been any worry that you were buying an empty box.
The interior of the box is similar for both cards. The cards themselves are protected inside an anti-static bag and nestled securely inside a custom foam cutout. Additional adapters are placed in separate compartment next to the card while all documentation, software CD and the like are located beneath the foam tray surrounding the graphics card.Software Bundle
The software bundle included with our retail review samples was similar for both cards and can be described as modest at best. A single disc is included with each card, the contents of which include the requisite drivers as well as MSI’s Afterbuner utility, no bundled games to be found here. A recent check of Newegg.com does show that there is a current promo offering a coupon for a free copy of Just Cause 2 with the N460GTX
or a $10 gift card with the R6850
This is not to detract from the cards themselves as I know when it comes to purchasing a new graphics card, the included software bundle does not even rank in the top five of my deciding factors. The included MSI Afterburner utility is actually a great bonus. This handy utility allows you to track all of your cards vital signs, from fan speed to Memory load to GPU temperature and more. When it comes to overclocking, Afterburner is easily the go-to app. Everything is laid out in a visually appealing GUI interface and adjusting speeds and voltages is simply a matter of dragging a slider bar, with all values taking affect in real time once the Apply button is clicked. The utility also offers the ability to save overclock profiles which is an incredibly handy feature as it allows you to quickly switch between different performance scenarios at the click of a button.
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