Value Meets Performance: HD 4890 Cards from Gigabyte and MSI

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     October 26, 2009

Heat, Acoustics & How to Fix the MSI Cooler

For all temperature testing, the cards were placed on an open test bench with a single 120mm 1200RPM fan placed ~8” away from the heatsink. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped. For this test we use the 3DMark Batch Size test at it highest triangle count with 4xAA and 16xAF enabled and looped it for one hour to determine the peak load temperature as measured by GPU-Z.

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Vista desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.

Before we get into the disaster that is the performance of the MSI card, let’s talk about Gigabyte’s little miracle worker. The Zalman cooler that adorns the HD 4890 Ultra Durable pays for itself in spades with some downright impressive numbers. Its idle temperature is particularly impressive when compared to the reference based-cards’ numbers. The best part about this however is that the fan on this card stayed extremely quiet throughout the test.

MSI, what can we really say? Here we have a massive heatsink that is rendered absolutely useless by a first-rate screw up of an installation. As we mentioned before in this review, due to MSI using the reference backplate, the Cyclone heatsink isn’t able to make proper contact with the GPU core. The result is some stratospheric temperatures which would have actually gone higher if the core wouldn’t have begun throttling its performance in a pointless effort to keep things under control. Remember, when the core on the HD 4890 gets hot enough it will begin throttling and WILL NOT artifact. As such, if your card is exhibiting lower than expected performance, check the temperatures. If you want to see how bad things got, here is the Temperature Log (.txt file).

So what did we do to improve the temperatures and complete the testing regime?

In order to increase the contact pressure we installed a small rubber washer between the backplate and the head of the screw. This is the type of washer that can be found at any hardware store but it should be at least 1/8” high.

As you can see in the chart above, this simple modification brought down the temperatures to where they should be considering the size of the Cyclone cooler.

We have seen a ton of customer reviews (ironically, no professional review picked up on the mounting issue) stating that the fan on this card runs at ultra high levels. Since the heatsink’s fan is directly tied to the core temperature, our mod also allowed the fan to spin at a much more leisurely pace.

All in all, we would call this an absolute failure on MSI’s part. They have an amazing heatsink on their hands but shoddy mounting meant both decreased gaming performance as well as dangerously high temperatures.

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