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Closer Look at MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC

PCB Design

The Taiwan-based MSI was the first company to offer us their version of the new card. It’s called N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC.

The product comes in a very eye-catching box. You just can’t miss it on a shop shelf.

We’d even call it indiscreetly gaudy for an affordable product. The numerous logotypes and captions tell the customer that this graphics card features a nonstandard cooling system Cyclone II as well as highly reliable military-grade electronic components. It supports Nvidia’s PhysX and even 3DMark11. Such a flashy design isn't MSI's invention, though. We've seen something like that with Gigabyte’s products.

Despite the remarkable packaging, the accessories are far from gorgeous. We found the following inside, besides the actual graphics card:

  • DVI-I → D-Sub adapter;
  • Mini DisplayPort → DisplayPort adapter;
  • 2x4-pin PATA → 1x6-pin PCIe adapter;
  • Brief installation guide;
  • Brief user manual;
  • CD disk with drivers and utilities.

There is even tougher competition among graphics card vendors than between the two GPU developers, so MSI engineers had to work hard to make this product special and, consequently, desirable.

The first and rather expected decision was to pre-overclock the card. Instead of the reference sample’s 900 and 4100 MHz for the GPU and memory, the N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC has clock rates of 950 and 4300 MHz, respectively, and MSI offers a warranty for that. Perhaps not as much overclocking as some enthusiasts would ask for, this is quite a nice bonus to performance which you can enjoy right out of the box.

A large black fan of the cooling system is a prominent feature in the card’s appearance. As a matter of fact, the standard cooler of the reference GeForce GTX 550 Ti is good and does not really call for a replacement, but MSI decided to use a custom cooler to make this card even more attractive.

Indeed, it is not often that a mainstream graphics card gets to be cooled by a 90mm fan. Combining a large heatsink with an effective fan, the custom cooler not only lowers the GPU temperature by 20% (MSI’s number) but also helps cool the rest of the PCB components. The single downside of this cooling system is its size. The heat pipes and the decorative details stick out beyond the PCB dimensions by as much as 2.5 centimeters, so you should make sure your system case can accommodate the card before purchasing it.

The cooler’s heatsink is a rather sophisticated thing that consists of four parts. There is a nickel-plated copper base to which a couple of heat pipes are attached. Two sets of aluminum fins are glued to the pipes. There is also an additional heatsink that serves as a fan seat. We have no doubts this cooler can easily dissipate those 116 watts of heat that the GeForce GTX 550 Ti is declared to generate.

The cooler is fastened to the PCB with four spring-loaded screws. Taking it off, we can see a GF116-400-A1 graphics core and six memory chips. Our sample of the card has Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR memory with a rated frequency of 1250 (5000) MHz.

The PCB is quite densely populated. Although the card is positioned as an affordable product, the manufacturer does not seem to have saved on its components.

As we mentioned above, there are military-grade electronic components in the card’s power circuit, which is yet another advantage besides the large box, efficient cooler and factory overclocking. The manufacturer claims that they help lower the level of EMI, protect against voltage surges, and may also improve the card's overclocking potential.

The MSI N550GTX-Ti Cyclone OC supports SLI technology and has an appropriate connector.

The card’s connectivity options are rather limited by today's standards. There are three connectors on its mounting bracket: two DVI-I ports and one mini-HDMI. This selection of interfaces can hardly be called insufficient but MSI engineers have ignored the next generation of multimedia interfaces such as DisplayPort.

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