The MSI N460GTX Hawk is a variant of the Nvidia (codename 'Fermi') GeForce GTX 460 graphics card. As it is a non-reference design card, it manages to bring an improved cooler and a slight core speed overclock to the table. Since it is priced higher than the stock GTX460, at a level very close to that of the Radeon 5850, our expectations from this card were fairly high. Did it deliver?
The answer turned out to be, that it is a mixed bag. The MSI N460GTX Hawk supports DirectX 11 and runs cooler, but it is still a mid-range card that cannot punch above its weight.
MSI's customized variant of the Nvidia GeForce GTX460 in effect needs slightly more space within the PC cabinet, similar to the stock Radeon 5850. This is because the length of its cooler covers the full width of a full-ATX motherboard, and that does not even include the power connectors. The N460GTX Hawk has two 6-pin power inputs, as with any card in its class today. The average power rating of a GeForce GTX 460 is about 200W, so any true 450W PC power supply (or higher) will do.
The dual-slot TwinFrozr II cooler has a metallic exterior, plenty of fins on the heat-sink, and two fans. This cooler is the part that lets MSI sell this card as a variant of the stock card. As mentioned earlier, this is a dual-slot cooler so it will occupy two slots at the rear brackets of a PC cabinet.
At the rear of the card are the display outputs - two dual-DVI, and one mini-HDMI port. All these are aligned in a single line, allowing for a fair amount of space to act as a heat vent. This card has 1GB of video memory clocked at 900 MHz - the stock/reference design of Nvidia calls only for 768MB at 900 MHz, so this is a good thing. The MSI N460GTX Hawk manages to make for a different offering with its core clock speed of 780 MHz (the stock cards run a core speed of only 675MHz).
It has a 256-bit memory interface, 336 unified shaders and supports DirectX 11. The package we received had no extras - simply a CD (which contained the manuals and documentation) and two molex-to-6-pin power connecters. As it is an MSI graphics card, the MSI AfterBurner software tool is provided for GPU monitoring and tweaking.
As seen earlier, Nvidia's GeForce GTX460 is in a pitched battle with the AMD/ATi Radeon 5850. But for this review's purpose, we will compare the MSI N460GTX Hawk to the stock GeForce GTX460, both with 1GB of RAM, but with differing core clock speeds. On the whole, the tests showed barely 5 per cent of difference in performance between the GTX 460 at reference speeds, and MSI's over-clocked variant.
To prevent bottle-necks as much as possible, the test-bed consisted of an Intel Core i7 965 processor, Intel DX58SO motherboard, Intel X25-M 80GB SSD, 3GB of Kingston DDR3-2000MHz RAM, Tagan BZ-1300W PSU and Windows 7 Ultimate. We used the latest stable driver as of the time of writing, v258.96 of Nvidia ForceWare. Numbers mentioned below are only a selection of the wider set of tests conducted.
In a synthetic benchmark like 3D Mark 06, the Hawk posted 20,085 marks as against 19,462 marks of the normal GTX460. In the High preset of 3D Mark Vantage, the GTX 460 got 11,418 marks against 9,991 marks of the stock card.
In game benchmarks, the Hawk did not give quite such an improvement. First up in Crysis at 1920x1080, 8xAA and Very High settings, it posted 22 fps as against 21 fps. In Far Cry 2 at 1920x1080, 8xAA and Ultra High settings, it posted 70 fps against 67 fps. In Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., it posted 68 fps as against 66 fps by the stock card.
In temperature tests, the Hawk showed an idle temperature of 35 °C which jumped to 62 °C at full load. At full load, the fan still did not sound noisy. That, and the fact that both, idle and load temps were around 10 °C lesser than the Zotac GTX 460 (stock cooler) are the real winning points of the MSI N460GTX Hawk. Also, the improved cooler and ability to adjust the voltage are good for over-clocking it.
This card wipes out the noise/temperature advantage enjoyed by the Radeon 5850. On the performance front, although the synthetic benchmarks make it seem like a large improvement over the stock GTX460, the game benchmarks sober that down. Overall, this Hawk and the stock Radeon 5850 are neck and neck with regard to performance. The Radeon 5850 still comes ahead at higher AA or resolutions, besides the performance improvements it received with driver releases since the time we had reviewed it.
If you have a monitor with Full-HD or lower resolution, the battle between the Radeon 5850 and the MSI N460GTX Hawk is close, with current pricing of the two only making it more so. The decisive factor will simply be the prevailing price at the time of purchase - buy the one that is priced lower.