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Feature Evaluation and Installation
The feature set of the MSI FX5600-VTDR128 is very comprehensive. You get pretty much all the bells and whistles with this package:
- Remote control
- Hardware monitoring
- Dual monitor support
Of all these features however, I would say that VIVO and dual monitor support are the most useful for the general user. The remote control, though very cool to play with, has limited use since the remote only controls the MSI Media Center software and you’re limited to the functionality of that application. Also the remote itself is a bit quirky and the rather short IR receiver means you may have to be creative with your remote and/or receiver position. Hardware monitoring is a good feature for those hardware tweakers and enthusiasts since it gives you a central location for your voltages, RPMs, and frequencies. Video playback, video input, and video output is a bit dark. You will probably have to play around with the video overlay controls to get your videos properly exposed.
The only serious deficiency I found with the features was the ghosting issue when you connect a CRT monitor to the DVI port using an adapter. I found that the effect is much more pronounced on certain monitors than on others, so it will largely depend on what you have as a display.
As for installation, I had no issues. The drivers included with the package worked perfectly with no issues.
Warranty and Support
MSI’s warranty covers first 2 years of parts & labor and a third year of just parts. 2 years full-coverage is pretty good if you are a person who upgrades fairly regularly. However, there are video card manufacturers out there who offer 3 years parts and labor.
An interesting point is that MSI does not have any of this warranty information posted on their website or in any of their documentation. The retail box doesn’t even mention warranty! So how is a customer supposed to find out what they’re covered for? You will have to contact MSI to get that information like I did. Honestly, I can’t think of any good reason not to publish warranty information on their website (at minimum). If a company has a good warranty policy, it should be proudly displayed on their materials, as warranty is a major reason why people buy retail boxes.
The software package is pretty impressive. Applications like RestoreIt and PC-Cillin are pretty useful for those people who don’t already have similar software. The rest of the software is a mixed bag. Applications like 3D Desktop and most of the utilities on the MSI driver CD are pretty useless. The bundled games are a redeeming factor however. MSI has managed to bundle games that are actually worth playing, particularly Ghost Recon, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, and IL-2 Sturmovik.
Game Performance and Benchmarking
Game performance of the MSI FX5600-VTDR128 is respectable. It performs optimally at resolutions between 1024×768 and 1280×1024. At these settings you can even consider turning on some anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. 1600×1200 gaming is somewhat limited. You can try to enable some anisotropic filtering, but I suspect you will probably want to decrease some details in your games to improve frame rates. Anti-aliasing at 1600×1200 is not recommended since all the games we benchmarked yielded poor results.
Anti-aliasing Performance and Quality
It appears that there are really two viable options for anti-aliasing: 2xAA, 4xAA and 4XS. 2xAA performs faster than Quincunx anti-aliasing and maintains the same image quality. 4xAA anti-aliasing quality is not as good as 4XS, but has better performance. This may be a good option for those of you looking to reduce those jaggies while maintaining playable frame rates.
4XS anti-aliasing has superior performance and better quality than both 6XS and 8xAA, which is really surprising. However, the downside of 4XS anti-aliasing is that there is a large performance hit when compared to regular 4xAA and has poorer foreground texturing when compared to 6XS and 8xAA.
Basically if you want to play with some anti-aliasing, try 2xAA, 4xAA, and 4XS, and adjust your details appropriately in your game. Quincunx, 6XS and 8xAA are not worth trying due to poor performance and quality.
Cooling & Overclocking
Overclocking ability is pretty good. I was able to get 22% more out of the GPU and 18% more from the RAM for a 331/652 overclock (increase from 270/550). Though this is a good overclock for stock cooling methods, it does not translate into much noticeable gain in real-world games as seen with the overclocked UT2K3 results.
If you are replacing the factory thermal past, the cooler may not make proper contact with the GPU and memory because of the weak pushpins. Therefore be sure to use more material than necessary or using better mounting methods (i.e. bolts and nuts instead of push-pins). So if you’re going to overclock or mod your card, be sure to keep this in mind.
I did encounter some stability issues with the MSI FX5600. It was most noticeable during Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmarks as that seemed to stress the video card the most. I would let the tests run while I went off to do something else (i.e. sleep :), and when I return I would either see a blue screen or a Unreal Tournament 2003 error dialog and the tests only 50% complete. I ran into this problem a few times in both Windows XP Pro and Windows 2000 and only occurred on this card (I have another FX card being tested and it had no problems). Hopefully it is something fixable on my system or by an updated driver.