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MSI R6870 Hawk: PCB Design and Specifications

This graphics card comes in a large and almost square box which is painted calm blue colors.

The picture on the box shows an F-117 aircraft which is indeed codenamed Nighthawk. The only problem with this allusion is that the F-117, using stealth technology, has rather poor aerodynamic properties and cannot even stay airborne unless helped by advanced flight computers.

The fragile contents of the box are protected well. The graphics card is fixed in a foam-rubber tray below which there is a compartment with accessories. Here they are:

 

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

The accessories are good but we didn't find among them a flexible CrossFire bridge which is mentioned on the product page at the MSI website. There is also no mini-DisplayPort -> DVI adapter in the box but you can see V-Check adapters that can be plugged to the appropriate connectors on the card to measure its voltages.

We won’t be talking about similarities to AMD's reference card here because the MSI R6870 Hawk is absolutely unique.

The massive cooler is fastened to the card with only four spring-loaded screws. The rest of the screws hold the plate that cools memory chips and power system components.

That plate can be removed as well, so we can have a closer look at the design of the MSI R6870 Hawk.

The first thing to catch our eye is the tremendous power circuit which includes as many as eight phases whereas the power circuit of the more advanced GeForce GTX 580 has only six! The voltage regulators use high-quality Super Ferrite Chokes and tantalum capacitors (Hi-C CAP).

The GPU voltage regulator is based on a uPI Semiconductor uP6218 controller whereas an uPI Semiconductor uP6122 manages the memory voltage regulator. Oddly enough, the card has only 6-pin PCIe 1.0 power connectors although MSI claims that this power system can yield up to 80 amperes more than the reference card’s.

There are three connectors labeled V-PLL, V-MEM and V-CPU in the top part of the card. They are referred to as V-Check Points and allow you to easily measure the card's voltages. As mentioned above, special adapters are included into the box for you to connect your measuring instruments.

Another interesting feature is the SW-DIP2 switch that selects the operation mode of the card's fans: Performance or Silent. We carried out all our tests in the silent mode. MSI should be given credit for offering the user such broad options in terms of controlling and managing the R6870 Hawk.

There are eight GDDR5 chips from Hynix Semiconductor (H5GQ1H24AFR), each with a capacity of 1 gigabit (32 Mb x 32), on the PCB. They make up a total of 1 gigabyte of onboard graphics memory. Their T2C suffix indicates a rated frequency of 1250 (5000) MHz but the card’s memory frequency is only 1050 (4200) MHz in 3D applications, in full compliance with AMD’s official specs.

The Barts chip of our MSI R6870 Hawk was manufactured on the 45th week of 2010. It has a standard configuration with 1120 ALUs (224 VLIW5 cores), 56 texture-mapping units and 32 raster back-ends. The card is pre-overclocked by 30 MHz, so its GPU frequency is 930 MHz in 3D applications as opposed to the reference Radeon HD 6870’s 900 MHz. The manufacturer didn’t push this card to the limit, obviously leaving that to the enthusiasts this product is targeted at.

As for connectivity options, like the standard Radeon HD 6870, MSI’s version has five connectors in its mounting bracket: two DVI-I and two mini-DisplayPort connectors and one HDMI. This should be enough for any configurations of displays, especially as you can use all the five interfaces simultaneously and even connect a sixth monitor via a DisplayPort switch. You can also buy two R6870 Hawks and unite them into a dual-GPU CrossFireX subsystem.

The cooling system of the R6870 Hawk is high quality like the rest of this device. It is called Twin Frozr III and represents a time-tested design: a large heatsink, a nickel-plated base, five heat pipes and two 80mm fans.

The fans have peculiarly shaped impeller blades which, according to MSI, improve the air flow by 20%. We can’t check out this claim but we can test the cooler’s performance and noisiness. You will see the results shortly. Right now let's take a look at the second card.

 
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