MSI has impressive credentials when it comes to GPU overclocking; its MSI Afterburner overclocking application has made extracting extra speed from your card a doddle, and it’s been showing off some zany graphics card designs recently too. The latest of these is the N460GTX Hawk, an overclocked, custom-cooled GeForce GTX 460 1GB. This is no normal graphics card though, as MSI has also fitted the Hawk with an array of advanced overclocking features to allow you to extract the maximum performance from the card. The box even boasts of potential GPU core frequency of 1GHz, a frankly insane overclock considering the GPU core frequency of a GTX 460 1GB is just 675MHz.
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Before we delve into the Hawk’s overclocking goodies, let’s look at what you get straight out of the box. The factory overclock, as we’ve come to expect from GTX 460s, is fairly meaty, upping the GPU core clock to 780MHz; a 15 per cent increase. The memory clock, however, is disappointingly untouched and remains at 900MHz (3.6GHz effective). This is a surprise, especially considering that we’ve found even stock GTX 460 1GBs to run quite happily with 1GHz (4GHz effective) memory speeds.
While the GF104 GPU is a cool customer, MSI’s onus on overclocking this card has led to it fitting an impressive looking custom cooler. While the Hawk retains its dual-slot dimensions, beneath the card’s shroud sits a huge array of tightly packed aluminium cooling fins running the length of the card. Feeding heat into the heatsink is an array of nickel plated copper heatpipes - two 6mm thick and two 8mm thick - that run through a moulded aluminium GPU contact plate. Recessed into the fin stack are two low profile 80mm fans, blowing air through the heatsink and onto the card’s PCB. However, the cooler itself doesn’t make contact with the card’s memory or power circuitry, so all these components are cooled by second-hand airflow alone.
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While the VRMs and power phases aren’t actively cooled, MSI has looked to significantly improve the card’s power circuitry. This is due to the Hawk boasting triple-overvolting, allowing you to increase the GPU, memory and PLL voltages to crank your overclock ever higher. The original GTX 460 1GB had 4+1 power phases, but the Hawk packs 7+1-phase power circuitry into the same PCB space. This lets the card deliver significantly more power to the GPU, allowing for more aggressive overvolting and higher overclocks. To match the extensive overvolting features, the Hawk also has voltage readout headers on the back of the card, allowing you to manually check the card’s GPU, PLL and memory voltages with a multimeter, although we doubt the vast majority of owners will ever bother doing so.