Sunday, December 7, 2014

Returned the MSI GTX 970 Gaming card(s) and switched to?

MSI GTX 970 Gaming bad

The two MSI GTX 970 Gaming cards that I have in my possession are both defective. So, I have to send them back to Amazon. That means, I need a new graphics card. I can ask Amazon to send back another MSI GTX 970 Gaming card, or I can return what I have for a full refund and settle for another card.

Which route should I choose?

If I am going for SLI, I now know that the non-blower type cards are not the way to go in my small case. (Read this post for more details.) So I can use this as the opportunity to switch to cards with blower style coolers. Unfortunately, still there aren't anything with the NVTTM reference cooler and the blower style ones available are pathetic in terms of both noise and cooling. On the other hand, I can go for a couple of reference GTX 980s, as they have the NVTTM cooler, instead. The only issue is the price, which is substantially higher (50% plus) than that of a pair of GTX 970s for just 10-15% more performance gains.

But there is good news.

The gaming experience I observed with SLI was really bad (read this post to read all about it), and I might not go SLI after all. Well, it is not really a good news because SLI is the most economical approach to upgrade down the road. (Read this post to learn how I came to that conclusion.) But it makes my decision an easier one to make. If I am not going for SLI, I don't have to get blowers, therefore I don't have to spend a fortune on GTX 980s. However, since I am going with just one card, I should go for the fastest single GPU card (overclocked, that is) that I can possibly find, which is a non-reference GTX 980 card. Contradicting requirements!

An overclocked GTX 970 cannot match an overclocked GTX 980, even when the GTX 970 is a great clocker and a GTX 980 is a much poorer one.

However, the GTX 980 is just too expensive and I cannot make up my mind to buy that over the GTX 970. So it is still going to be a GTX 970.

Which GTX 970 then?

It has to be the fastest GTX 970...when overclocked...with a reasonable price tag.

The wicked thing about overclocking is that, you never know how far your particular card is going to overclock. There aren't any guarantees. However, there is one manufacturer that gave somewhat of a guarantee.

That's Gigabyte, with there Gaming G1 graphics cards, hence automatically got promoted to the top of my priority list.

  • They say that the GPUs that go in these cards are binned, and would overclock higher than their regular Windforce OC cards. In spite of that statement, there were claims by some people that their Windforce OC cards overclocked better than their friends' Gaming G1 cards. Like I mentioned earlier, binned or not, you cannot give a guaranty on how far you would be able to overclock. YMMV! For example, there are Core i7 4770K CPUs that would overclock higher than the Core i7 4790K despite the latter being binned from the factory. However, generally the latter would give better results.
  • Furthermore, the Gaming G1 card seems to have the best cooler as well. As per reviews floating around the Web, it consistently outperforms the MSI and the Asus which have very good coolers as well. Reviews are reviews; what matters to me is how it would perform inside the SG09 case.
  • Talking of cooling, it's not just the GPU itself that needs cooling. The VRMs should be cooled properly to make them operate optimally. The review published by Guru3D shows that the Gigabyte's VRMs were running 20C cooler than the MSI's. This might or might not affect overclocking and overall lifespan of the card but given the choice, I would go with the one that's running cooler.
  • Plus, the Gigabyte card comes with a 250W TDP limiter out of the box and it can be raised to 280W (or +12%) using Afterburner. 280W is more than adequate for air cooled GTX 970 that is overclocked to the limits. This is brilliant because you won't have to modify the bios to override those limits. Modifying and flashing bios can be dangerous, but with the Gigabyte card you are at least somewhat safe as it has got dual bioses. Unfortunately, you cannot switch between the two manually and the second bios will automatically be used if the first bios gets corrupted. It's a better than nothing.
  • Finally, it's got a back plate as well. I've never owned a card with a back plate. While it would give an aesthetically pleasing look to the card, which I don't care as there is no window on the side to show off the internals, the real advantage of having one is that it would hold back the card from sagging. I observed sagging with the MSI card so I'd rather have it than not. Additionally, it might also act as a heat-spreader for the components on the back of the card. I'm not 100% certain if they are using it for that purpose but if I ever think of going SLI, the presence of it might block the heat from the back of the card directly entering the card on the top and stop it from thermally throttling.

There are a couple of issues with the Gigabyte 970 Gaming G1 though.

  • Firstly, it does not have any rear exhaust vents. It has NONE. This is the first card I have come across that are like that. This is because the card has loads of ports on the back and there isn't room to have vents. While all these custom cards exhaust the hot air right back into the case, it doesn't mean that some of that air gets expelled out the back of there were vents. At least that's been the case with the MSI Gaming and even my old Palit GTX 670 Jetstream. So I'm a bit worried about how it would perform thermally in my case. Unfortunately, there is no way to check this beforehand. I would definitely have to make the top fan exhaust and the side fans intake. Like someone else recommended on OCN, I might have to remove the expansion slot covers on the case right below the card to allow warm air release through the gap.
  • Secondly, it is a very long card, but according to the specifications, it should fit in my case just fine. So it's really a non-issue.
  • Thirdly, it is known to be noisier than the MSI and Asus variants, both at idle and at load. It does not have a zero RPM fan in the first place, and it has three 80mm fans instead of the 2 90mm as the Asus Strix or 2 100mm fans as the MSI Gaming, so it should technically run noisier than those two. How much noisier, is the question. But luckily I managed to find a video demonstrating the fan noise of the GTX 970 coolers from different brands and the Gigabyte card had an impressive noise footprint.
  • Finally, the price. This card is slightly more expensive than what I originally paid for the MSI card. To make things even worse, the price of the MSI cards have actually dropped by a couple of thousands so if I bought a MSI card instead of the Gigabyte card, I would have saved like JPY3,000. But I didn't want to risk getting another lemon.

So paying JPY47,777 (which is quite a lot!), I ordered the card, hoping to get a card that would overclock to crazy high levels while maintaining super low operating temps.

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