Watercooled GeForce GTX 280 Showdown

Written by Harry Butler

November 25, 2008 | 08:30

Tags: #coolant #gt200 #gtx-280 #overclocked #overclocking #radiator #review #water #watercooled

Companies: #bfg-and-msi #nvidia

MSI GeForce GTX 280 OC HydroGen

Manufacturer: MSI
UK Price (as reviewed): £394.22 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): N/A

Core Clock: 700MHz
Shader Clock: 1,400MHz
Memory Clock: 1,150MHz (2,300MHz effective)
Memory: 1GB GDDR3
Warranty: Two year limited warranty

MSI is a Tier-one motherboard manufacturer and is almost as well known for its graphics arm, thanks to its support for both ATI and Nvidia graphics cards. The company loves to introduce third party cooling solutions onto its cards, but this is the first time we've seen MSI step out into the watercooling arena.

As with the BFG, the basis is still a stock GTX 280 with a custom waterblock cooler, with MSI choosing German cooling specialists Heatkiller to supply its waterblock - the Heatkiller is the weapon of choice in this case. And while Heatkiller isn't a name we’re too familiar with here in the English speaking world, the waterblock is certainly very interesting and we’d argue it is much better looking than BFG’s more aggressively styled card – the shiny treated copper, inlayed aluminium plates and engraved branding look very classy indeed.

Watercooled GeForce GTX 280 Showdown MSI Geforce GTX 280 HydroGen Watercooled GeForce GTX 280 Showdown MSI Geforce GTX 280 HydroGen
Click to enlarge

While the cooler has been designed to support single slot operation for the GTX 280, MSI has bizarrely fitted the card with the standard dual slot PCI-E bracket of the stock card. While this means you still get the status LED that’s been removed from the BFG card, it means it really isn’t a true single slot card, so a little bit of a disappointment there.

The waterblock itself is built from two 3mm copper plates and a copper water channel enclosure, with a precision cut lower plate designed to make contact with the eight memory modules on the front side of the card, a central copper plate to make contact with that monster GT200 GPU, and then the copper enclosure mounted on top of both. Although using multiple copper plates to provide full card coverage is likely a cheaper solution than Danger Den’s single large milled copper plate, it does leave a lot of mounting fittings covering the underside of the card while also bringing multiple thermal transfers into the cooling process.

Watercooled GeForce GTX 280 Showdown MSI Geforce GTX 280 HydroGen Watercooled GeForce GTX 280 Showdown MSI Geforce GTX 280 HydroGen
Click to enlarge

The biggest difference between the Heatkiller and the Danger Den waterblocks is the coverage area; the Heatkiller GPU-X² G200’s water channel is much narrower, focussing on cooling the GTX 280’s massive GPU core rather than the surrounding memory modules, and this is reflected in the card’s more conservative memory clock of 1,150MHz (2,300MHz effective).

However, the more focussed flow over the core and the use of a more constrictive, higher surface area micro channel system in the water channel means that the HydroGen OC should be capable of reaching much higher core clocks. This is indicated by the card’s enormous factory overclocked 700MHz core clock, a full 16.5 percent higher than a stock GTX 280! Elsewhere though the shader clock has been set a little lower than on the BFG card to compensate, overclocked from 1,296MHz to 1,400MHz.

This sets both the watercooled cards on test rather nicely against each other, with the BFG equipped with a higher memory and shader clock and the MSI card with a higher core clock.
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