Physical Examination

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The Cooler

The first feature you notice about this videocard is the nice large heatsink attached to the surface. Unlike other GeForce 4 Ti cards, this heatsink covers both the GPU and the memory. For the average user, this is a good feature as the same fan that cools the GPU also cools the RAM. However, for the enthusiast, this may not be a good idea as you may want to add your own heatsinks on the RAM and the cooler just gets in the way.

The heatsink.
The heatsink on the MSI Ti4800SE-VTD8X covers both RAM and the GPU.

The cooler itself looks like it is made of copper, but taking some wet-dry sandpaper to the heatspreader and to the heatsink, you can see that it’s only painted or anodized to mask the aluminum beneath. Some review websites have improperly reported this cooler to be made of copper, but as you can see from the following images, it is clearly aluminum and therefore is a poor thermal conductor compared to genuine copper. However since this card is a “professional” model (and not an “enthusiast” model), you would not expect a copper cooler since that would increase the retail price.

Aluminum cooler revealed (Front cooler). Aluminum cooler revealed (Back heatspreader).
Cooler and heatspreader is aluminum, not copper.

The Core and RAM

Now for a closer look. I removed the heatsink assembly to find out exactly what was underneath. The BGA RAM modules are Hyundai HY5DU283222 F-36 chips which are rated at 275MHz running at 3.6ns and 2.5v.

Hyundai HY5DU283222 RAM on the MSI Ti4800SE-VTD8X. The NVIDIA Ti4800SE core on the MSI Ti4800SE-VTD8X.
Hyundai HY5DU283222 RAM and the Ti4800SE GPU.

The core is not marked to indicate that it is a Ti4800SE. To determine if all GF4 Ti cores are unmarked, I did some searching of images for Ti4200 and Ti4600 8x AGP GPU cores. I found that even though the Ti4800SE core is unmarked, the GPUs for the other models are marked “Ti4200-8x” and “Ti4800”. Otherwise all three cores look identical.

Card Cooling

The only issue I had during installation is with the wiring connected to the card’s fan. If you take a look at the following image, you can see that the wire is a bit loose and can dangle into the blades of the fan. This is what happened to me the first time I powered-on my computer and it made a horrible noise as the fan blades collided with the wire. So be sure to check that the wire is out of the way before installing.

The fan wire may dangle into the fan blades.
The fan wire may dangle into the fan blades.

Another potential problem I found with this card (as with any card running a heatsink of this style) is that the enclosure collects dust. Because of its plastic cover, it is very difficult to clean unless you take the cooler apart or use compressed air. Keep this in mind if you’re planning on running this card for a long time or in an environment that is dusty.

A Closer Look at Cooling Reveals a Potential Timebomb

MSI's thermal paste on front of card. MSI's thermal paste on back of card.
Impressions left by MSI’s thermal paste on the front of the card (left) and on the back (right).

The thermal interface used on the MSI Ti4800SE-VTD8X is generic white thermal paste. By examining the impressions made by the paste on the base of the heatsink and the backside heatspreader, you can see that the paste is covers 2 of 4 RAM modules, and less than 50% of the GPU and the other two RAM chips. If you are not overclocking, then this is probably sufficient. But if you want to tweak this card, then I strongly suggest replacing the white paste with premium material … which is precisely what I did next.

Impressions left by Artic Silver on the heatsink.
Faint impressions left by an even application of Artic Silver.

After applying Artic Silver to the RAM and GPU, I found that I did not put enough paste on to make contact with the heatsink. I found this curious as I followed the typical procedure for applying paste (i.e. thin, even layer of material). So either the heatsink itself is warped, or the surface of the card is uneven. I discovered that a passive component on the front of the card is slightly higher than the GPU itself. As a result, the heatsink rests on the card at a tilted elevation and therefore not making proper contact with the GPU and some of the RAM.

A passive component causes an uneven surface.
This passive component causes an uneven videocard surface.

Diagram of the passive component causing uneven surface.
The uneven surface causes the heatsink to not sit properly/flush on GPU and memory.

This is a problem for those of you looking to push this card as far as it can go as the poor contact with the GPU and 2 of 4 RAM chips means that the card will get too hot. You can solve this problem by either adding more paste to the GPU and RAM (which is not the best solution, but is what I did for this review anyway), or by modifying the cooler itself (by cutting parts of it) to properly accomodate the profile of the card. I sincerely hope MSI looks into this problem and either fixes the current issue or keeps it in mind when manufacturing future cards.

The Connections

When everything is connected to the rear of the videocard, I found that nothing got in the way which is nice for those of us fiddling behind the computer constantly. My only wish is that the cord for the VIVO dongle was longer to make plugging and unplugging devices a lot easier. A longer dongle would also benefit those who want to hook up their computer to a TV since you have more slack to run cables.

The rear of the videocard.
The back of the card.

All cables connected to the back of the card.
All cables connected to the back of the card.
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