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|26th November 2008, 14:45||#1|
Join Date: May 2002
Watercooled GeForce GTX 280 Showdown
Judging the value of the these cards is something that’s generated a fair amount of discussion here in the office, not least because for just a tenner more than the MSI GeForce GTX 280 HydroGen and a good £40 less than the BFG GeForce GTX 280 H₂OC you can pick up ATI’s dual GPU monster, the 4870 X2 – unquestionably a better performing card in the majority of circumstances.
However, if all you’re after is pure performance out of the box, then these cards were never going to be for you in the first place. Watercooling is all about combining high performance with whisper quiet, much improved cooling and furious overclocking, and this is where both these cards have excelled. Even when heavily overclocked, both were extremely cool even with our basic watercooling setup, and the noise difference between a pair of decent 120mm fans and the GTX 280’s stock cooler when things get cooking is staggering – if you’re looking for real high performance graphics without the wind tunnel background noise then either of these cards are a great choice.
Things get a little more complicated when trying to decide between the two though and despite our initial surprise at the £50 price difference between them, we soon realised they both cater for different needs. While the cheaper of the two, the MSI GeForce GTX 280 HydroGen OC comes with a much reduced hardware bundle, and crucially lacks any fittings, while the BFG GeForce GTX 280 H₂OC likely costs more simply because its hardware bundle is so well featured, with both 3/8” and 1/2” barbs, SLI connectors and a ton of media connectivity options.
Despite our billing of this as a watercooled graphics duel, we really feel that, rather than there only being room in the market for one watercooled GTX 280, both cards have merits and are worthy of consideration. While the BFG is unquestionably the better option for those looking to build an SLI setup or who don’t want the hassle of buying fittings elsewhere (as well as more balanced overclocking results), the MSI offers a cheaper entry point for those not fussed with bundles, or who want to use their own custom barbs.
As we’ve seen throughout our testing, the real world performance differences between the two are in most cases, very slim, and even where there is an advantage (admittedly usually in the BFG GeForce GTX 280 H₂OC’s favour thanks to the superior stock memory and shader clock speeds), the MSI can comfortably match the BFG’s stock clocks when overclocked. However, as we’ve seen, there’s plenty of room for improvement above and beyond that from both cards.
The real clincher here though is the value and peace of mind both cards offer in comparison to just buying a stock aircooled GeForce GTX 280 and fitting your own waterblock to it, which many might argue is the better route to watercooled graphics. Even if you bought a bargain GTX 280 and waterblock (which neither of the two used here are), you’ll still end up paying upwards of £370, and you’ll have the worry of uncertain overclocking performance and a voided warranty into the bargain too. For the peace of mind of a secure, and in the BFG’s case exceptionally long warranty, if you're considering dipping your toes into the world of watercooled graphics (and we realise it's not going to be to everyone's tastes) we feel it that both cards really are worth that extra cash.
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