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MSI N560GTX-Ti HAWK Graphic Card Review

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Manufacturer: MSI Computers
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HAWK Through the Ages

Have I mentioned that MSI is putting out some pretty nice video cards as of late?  Last year I was able to take a look at their R5770 HAWK, and this year so far I have taken a look at their HD 6950 OC Twin Frozr II and the superb R6970 Lightning.  All of these cards have impressed me to a great degree.  MSI has really excelled in their pursuit of designing unique cards which often stand out from the crowd, without breaking the budget.  Or even being all that more expensive than their reference design brothers.

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MSI now has two ranges of enthusiast cards that are not based on reference designs.  At the high end we have the Lightning products which cater to the high performance/LN2 crowd.  These currently include the R6970 Lightning, the N580 GTX Lightning, and the newly introduced N580 GTX Lightning Extreme (3 GB of frame buffer!).  The second tier of custom designed enthusiast parts is the HAWK series.  These are often much more affordable than the Lightning, but they carry over a lot of the design philosophies of the higher end parts.  These are aimed at the sweet spot, but will carry a slightly higher price tag than the reference products.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as for the extra money a user will get extra features and performance.

As mentioned before, the HAWK series of cards originated with the AMD HD 5770 chip.  This was a great card at the time, and it allowed people to dive into DX11 functionality at a price well below $200.  It offered performance akin to the earlier HD 4870 series, but with the addition of aggressive overclocking hardware and the above mentioned DX11 functionality.  These cards could routinely go above 1 GHz, and even when overclocked the cards were very quiet.  Twin Frozr technology, voltage measuring points, and robust overclocking abilities made this card a bargain when it was only around $15 to $20 more expensive than the reference HD 5770s out at the time.

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Flipping up the cover of the box reveals all the pertinent information on the N560GTX-Ti HAWK.

Now it is over a year later, and we have seen two more HAWK branded boards come to market.  The GTX 460 based N460GTX HAWK gathered quite a few awards and brought the brand above the $200 price point.  This was again a highly touted product that brought all of the HAWK features to a more performance oriented offering.  Earlier this year we saw the R6870 HAWK which introduced us to the Twin Frozr III series.  Today we will be looking at the third HAWK iteration, based on the highly competitive GTX 560 Ti GPU from NVIDIA.

Quick GTX 560 Ti Overview

Last year NVIDIA released the GTX 460 series of parts, and they became an instant success.  While NVIDIA had struggled with the Fermi architecture and the GF100 chip powering the GTX 480 series of cards, they continued to revise the overall architecture to better adapt it to TSMC’s 40 nm process.  The first overwhelmingly successful product based on the revised design rules was the GTX 460.  This chip took the industry by storm, and quickly became the go-to card for new DX11 builds.  The chip gave performance above that of the HD 5770, and even exceeded that of the older and more expensive GTX 285 from the previous generation.

The chip was somewhat crippled though.  NVIDIA was still working out the kinks in the 40 nm process, and a portion of each GTX 460 chip was disabled.  Even though the GTX 460 die had eight Streaming Multiprocessor (SM) blocks, each composed of 48 CUDA cores, one of those was always disabled.  The reasons behind this had mainly to do with TDP as well as recovering a decent amount of potentially flawed cores.  By reducing stream count by one SM block, NVIDIA was able to improve yields and bins.  This allowed the GTX 460 to be the success that it was.  Even a year after its release, the GTX 460 is a top selling product and still being offered by every major manufacturer who supports NVIDIA cards.

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The card is nicely packed and protected by copious amounts of foam.

The release of the GTX 560 changed things up a bit.  This new card is based on a redesigned GTX 460 core, which is internally badged as the GF114.  These new chips did not have a processing block disabled, so overall stream count rose from 336 CUDA cores to 384.  This redesign also improved the thermals and power draw of the chip, so they can be offered at higher speeds without significant detriments to the TDP of the card.  Due to the extra processor block, texture counts rise from 56 to 64.  ROPS and memory controllers remain the same.  The only real downside to this particular architecture was the decision to make the memory controller as simple as possible, yet still support GDDR-5 memory.  Apparently it takes a lot of work and an inflated transistor count to run GDDR-5 memory at 5 GTPS and above.  While AMD has invested the work and budget to run their top end controllers at 5.2 GTPS, NVIDIA thought that their time would be better spent addressing other parts of the GPU.  As such NVIDIA sits around 4.0 to 4.2 GTPS with their controller, even when paired with the highest rated GDDR-5 memory.  This is an improvement from the GTX 460’s 3.6 GTPS specification.

The redesigned chip now performs as well as the older GTX 470, and is being offered at a price point that is significantly higher than what the average GTX 460 has fallen to.  Boards are going anywhere from $230 to $290, depending on instant and mail in rebates.  At the low end it competes with the AMD HD 6870 products, but at the high end it goes against the pretty formidable HD 6950 1GB and 2GB cards.  The base specification has clock speeds at a brisk 822 MHz, but very few manufacturers toe that particular line anymore.  The GF114 has a much higher clock limit without breaking the TDP bank.  As we will see, overclocked editions of those cards really push the spec to the limit.

June 12, 2011 | 06:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

this review lacks substance , compairing only a few cards against the MSI card does not give the reader the ability to make a choice if considering buying this card . Like how does it stack up against a standard 560TI ? Or how does it do against older cards . Thats why I never bother much reading the Reviews at PcPer .

June 12, 2011 | 01:53 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

There are some advantages and disadvantages for having a whole slew of video cards for comparison, unfortunately the disadvantages start to overwhelm the advantages once the amount of cards starts to increase. The primary issues that we face are that of time, DirectX level, and changes in performance due to driver adjustments and patches to individual applications. As a reviewer I already spend about 20 to 40 hours on a single review, depending on what product it is.

Benchmarking the cards we have takes up most that time. You are probably thinking, "Why not just leave your setup the same so the numbers and driver revisions match?" Some publications do this, unfortunately we have seen some significant advances in performance due to software optimizations that have changed the competitive landscape between manufacturers. A good example of this are some of the latest Catalyst driver revisions which made products like the HD 6950, which upon introduction was slower than products like the GTX 480, suddenly wake up and outperform that card.

So as a balance, I try to pick and choose the competition for any one card based on what I have available, what price points we are looking at, and what seems to have a lot of interest from our readership (via email and forum posts). I also try to make sure they share the same level of DX compliance. Sure, it would be interesting to see how a GTX 285 would compare against a 560 Ti, but then we see an increase in workload to make sure we match up the DirectX settings... which in most cases would disable things like tessellation in the games that utilize it, or optimized DX11 pathways such as in BF:BC2. There just is not a good way to go about this in a timely manner, and things get messy quickly. Btw, a GTX 285 is slower than a GTX 460, while a standard GTX 560 Ti is about 20% faster than the 460... and the MSI 560Ti here is about 7% faster than a stock clocked 560Ti.

We try to cover as best we can the majority of bases, but oftentimes things get left out due to time constraints on our part.  Keeping a good balance in reviews is hard, and invariably someone is disappointed in our coverage of a product.

June 14, 2011 | 05:33 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I can understand your point but if Reviews at PcPer are going to compete with other major players on the web then Your going to have to adapt and add more hardware to compair with the hardware your reviewing. Just look at any of the other major players reviews and you will soon see that Your view point needs to change if if Your ever going to compete with these sites and bring PcPer review up to a top notch site.

June 15, 2011 | 10:11 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

As a counterpoint to that, if I offer the same type of review as "the big guys" what do I have that differentiates my writing from theirs? Personally when I go to Tom and Anand's, and am greeted by graphs that span 20 products, a lot gets skipped over. It really seems like a lot of noise to me, and I know I am not the only one who pays attention for the first couple of graphs... but then just skip over most of the rest. Unlike reviews like HardOCP, who only bench a couple of cards... but bench them very thoroughly and have some really tremendous insights into actual performance in realworld situations.

I try to take a middle approach to those, and offer a good selection of competing products, yet not overwhelming the reader with so much data that the true advantages and disadvantages of a card are lost because of the sheer amount of data being thrown at the reader.

October 12, 2011 | 10:54 PM - Posted by Mark Harry (not verified)

Anonymous can always go elsewhere to get his headache, I love Tom's and Anand, but overload comes to mind. You guys answered every question about this product and I think I'm buying it since I only have 10.5 inches of space. By the way I'm watching Ryan's stream crash live on TWIT, love you guys.

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