MSI 9600GT Hybrid Freezer Page: 1
Introduction

While spending a few extra pounds on a more powerful graphics card might seem perfectly acceptable to you, spending an extra few pounds on a quieter graphics card is often considered a bit of a waste. This is generally because you don't see any visual benefit, and noise reductions are negligible if any. Today MSI have got something rather interesting for us to look at, so we will  be using our ears rather than our eyes for this one.

The cooler used on the 9600GT received is far from stock, and for once it doesn't appear to just be a third party cooler by one of the common culprits such as Thermaltake or Zalman, but seems to be an in-house design by MSI. This is particularly good, as it means the card and cooler will have been tailor made to integrate with each other, which should give much better results. 

The cooler used is different to others in a couple of ways. First off, it is passive while the card is idle, meaning that whilst you are just browsing the web or downloading files the card will emit no noise whatsoever. Here's the good bit though, only when gaming and when the card hits a certain temperature will the fan kick in - drastically reducing the use of the fan and the noise emitted by the card.

We couldn't get any official specs from the MSI website, but here are the basics which were found on the packaging and sourced from GPU-Z:

Core Clock: 700mhz
Mem Clock: 1800mhz
Shader Clock: 1722mhz
1024MB Graphics Ram
All solid capacitors
MSI Live update 3
Two Dual link DVI outputs

The overclock is only marginal, with the core speeds up 50mhz from the 9600GT's 650mhz stock, but it is still a welcome boost. The memory see's the biggest difference from the stock card, with 1024MB compared to 512MB. Today however, we will not be looking too closely at how well the card performs, but will be focusing on the cooler instead.


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Packaging & Appearance

With something as fragile as a graphics card, MSI certainly didn't skimp on packaging. The box was easily big enough to fit two or three of the cards inside, but instead was packed out with a styrofoam slab. Suffice to say, the card came through in perfect condition.

MSI 9600gt Hybrid Cooler Packaging MSI 9600gt Hybrid Cooler Packaging

As you can see, MSI have chosen to use an image of the cooler on the front of the box. On the right hand side we have a few key features, such as 'Complete Silence' and 'Total Performance'. Around the back we have a more in depth specification with a picture of the card itself.
 
MSI 9600gt Hybrid Cooler Packaging MSI Hybrid Cooler Internal Packaging

Unfortunately due the the glossy white finish, coupled with the reflective plastic the 9600gt was incredibly hard to photograph. On the left hand side we have the inner box, with the card contained at the top and all the accessories below. The card itself is nestled into a thick piece of styrofoam (right) which protects it very well.
 
MSI 9600gt Hybrid Cooler MSI 9600gt Hybrid Cooler

The card itself is no longer than a standard card, and is shorter than a standard ATX motherboard, meaning it should fit into most cases. The cooler is fairly large, taking up two pci slots, which shouldn't really be a problem unless you run SLI. The card only needs a 6-pin power connector, suggesting it's not particularly power hungry and it should also be compatible with older PSU's.
 
MSI Hybrid Cooler Front MSI Hybrid Cooler Side

At the back we have the usual array of outputs, with two dual link DVI and an S-Video/composite out. The insides of the dual link DVI's have also been coloured blue, which is a nice effect but it would have been nicer if they were the same colour as the PCB. The cooler has four snaking heat pipes which conduct heat away from the core to various places along the cooler. 
 
MSI 9600gt Hybrid Cooler Bundle

MSI included a fairly rounded bundle, which included: 6-pin PCI-e Adapter, DVI to D-Sub adaptor, Component adaptor lead, S-PDIF connector, Manual, Quick start guide, HDMI dongle and S-video lead. Now that that's out of the way, how does the cooler perform..




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The Cooler

The cooler itself features a fan that is approximately 7cm in diameter and should provide enough cooling power to keep the card cool, even under the toughest of conditions. It fixes onto the card using four sprung screws, making sure there is an even weight distribution and that it's held nice and tight.

MSI Hybrid Cooler removed MSI 9600gt w/o Hybrid Cooler
 
Once the cooler was removed, we could give it a close inspection. The TIM used was better than expected, but it was still a long way from Arctic Silver quality. It was very thick and almost crumbled when we tried to remove it;. To our surprise, the memory wasn't cooled at all, despite the size of the cooler. This would've been nice to see, but you can't have everything.


Noise & The Cooler in Action

Although no professional DB reading equipment was at hand, we can still use our professionally tuned, wolf-like hearing to give out judgement on the noise output. in 2D applications, there is no noise whatsoever from the card - it acts totally passively. Browsing the internet and performing general tasks with Everest Ultimate open to watch the temperatures showed how well it copes with heat passively. The cooler does a pretty good job; whilst it wasn't super cool- it averaged around 45 degrees- it was far from hot in computer speak.

Firing up ATI Tool and setting an artifact scan was the chosen test to see how well the cooler coped with heat. As you can expect, things began to get warm, and the GPU temperature went up a degree every 10 seconds or so. As you can imagine, after around 5 minutes the card was approaching 80 degrees, and I was beginning to get a bit cautious. However, when the temperature rolled over to 85 degrees, the fan whirred into life and saved the day. Unfortunately, something rather unpleasant also happened at that moment: the noise started. The fan itself is pretty loud, louder than the average case fan and the rest of the test system.

The plus side to this though is the cooling power. The temperature came absolutely crashing down, and after a few minutes the fan turned off again. When we say a few minutes, we really do mean it; the temperatures came down shockingly fast. The test was repeated a couple of times, and every time the fan came on at the 85 degrees C mark, but determining when it turned off was far more tricky. Whether it turns off after a certain amount of time after hitting a certain temperature or only comes on for a certain amount of minutes, we couldn't quite work out. Sometimes it would cut out at 45 degrees and others nearer 35 degrees. Either way, it seems to work quite well.
 

Overclocking

Having seen how well the cooler coped with the load, we had high hopes for overclocking. MSI were thoughtful enough to provide overclocking configuration for the core, memory and shaders within the display properties console. All you have to do is right-click your desktop, go to properties and it's all in there.

With ATI Tool primed and a few hours to spare, the scene was set. To our disappointment, finding the card's limit didn't take long at all.  Because the cooler lets the core get to 85 degrees before the fan kicks in, the overclocks were constantly creating driver crashes (which crashed ATI Tool) whenever the core ventured towards this magic number. Once the fan had kicked in though, it is quite easy to pump more out of the card without artifacts - until the fan cuts out again that is. This meant  faster clocks were only stable for around 120 seconds, which isn't exactly 24/7 stable. This vicious cycle left us rather frustrated, with only an extra 35MHz on the core and 42MHz on the shaders achievable. The memory was another annoyance. Due to the absence of any cooling whatsoever, even the slightest increment killed our system, so that is best left alone.

9600gt Stock/overclocked

As you can see, the miserably small overclock we were able to obtain had only a small effect on the 3DMark 06 results. These were obtained using 2GB Ram, an E6600 and an Asus Maximus Formula. With that relatively unimpressive result out of the way, let's head over to the conclusion page where gaming performance is examined and a conclusion made.


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Gaming Performance

With the biggest difference between this card and standard 9600GT's being the 1GB of ram, we were keen to see how well the 9600gt handled larger resolutions. The 1GB should mean there is less of a memory bottleneck when using higher resolutions. Testing was run at 1280x1024 (a fairly standard resolution) and 1920x1080 (HD TV) as this would give a good indication as to how well the card handles resolution scaling. 1920x1080 was chosen as it is the resolution used by most high end HD TV's, and as this card appears to be aimed at media centre users, it makes sense to test that resolution.


 

 
As you can see, the card handled the higher resolution fairly well, and maintained a playable average frame rate in both test games. We tested Crysis with most settings on medium and COD4 with most settings on high and 4xAA. It is fairly clear that the 9600gt provides enough gaming grunt to game at an HD TV's native resolution without sacrificing too much on visuals. So, how does the card stack up?


Conclusion

We've got mixed feelings with the MSI review, and we feel a little unsure of who the cooler is aimed toward. At first we thought it was aimed at performance junkies looking for lower temperatures and big overclocks without the noise of a fan all the time. However, once we began to test for higher clocks, it was obvious this was not the case.

Therefore the best use for the Hybrid cooler would be in Media Centre PC's and computers that are primarily for 2D applications. For HTPC's, it seems a great idea; you can enjoy silence whilst watching films, surfing the web and watching digital TV, but still have enough horsepower for the occasional frag fest.

Overall, the Hybrid Freeze is rather dissapointing. If you are part of a minority that finds all graphics cards apart from passive ones too loud, but also enjoy gaming, then this may be for you. If however, you're not part of this minority, then we'd struggle to recommend this product to you. Searching on the web, we could only find the card available from Lambatek, for a fairly ridiculous £145.22. Even if the pricing is bad on Lambateks part, £150 for such a card is totally ridiculous. Considering you can pick up a standard 9600GT for around £65, even if the MSI was around £100 it would be too much. 

The Good
+ Kept the card cool once the fan kicked in
+ Cooler looks fairly nice

The Mediocre
* Cooler doesn't allow for overclocking as it lets the core get rather hot
* With a bit of tweaking, it could work rather well

The Bad
- Fan is noisy
- High Price
- Did we mention the high price?



Overclock3D would like to thank MSI for supplying todays review sample. Discuss in our forums here.