Physical Examination

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Packaging and Contents
Something, which I didn’t examine thoroughly in my last review, was the packaging. Not many people give mcuh thought, but for those standing in your local “Mega-Comp Outlet” store staring at shelves full of different products, it’s important to get a good understanding of what’s listed on the box compared to what is actually inside.

The MSI FX5600-VTDR128 box.
The MSI FX5600-VTDR128 package.

The only discrepancy I see from reading the back of the box and what is actually included are the requirements to actually use the remote control that is included. Nowhere on the box does it say that the remote only works in Windows XP. Instead the box lists all Windows versions as being supported.

Since manufacturers often use the same box for different variations of the same base product, it may be hard figuring out what you’re getting since the box lists all possible features (including optional ones). The safest way to ensure you know what you’re getting is to check the sticker on the sides of the box. That sticker will tell you exactly what model the video card is and what is included.

Cooling, GPU and RAM
The heatsink included with the MSI FX5600-VTDR128 is identical to that found on the MSI Ti4800SE-VTD8x previously reviewed. The cooler is large and covers both the GPU and the RAM, which is very good as the same fan can cool both. There is also a heat spreader on the back of the card to help dissipate the heat on the back RAM modules and the back of the GPU core. Unlike my previous experience with this cooler, this time the power wire for the fan does not dangle into the fan blades. MSI did a better job of securing it in place.

The MSI FX5600-VTDR128 cooler.
The heatsink on the MSI FX5600-VTDR128 covers both RAM and the GPU.

Once again, we take the cooling mechanism apart (this was all done after all the benchmarking in the case I mess something up 😉 and take a closer look.

Paste impressions on cooler.
Thermal paste impressions on the cooler.

Paste impressions on heat spreader.
Thermal paste impressions on the heat spreader.

Though there is ample silicone based thermal paste spread across the GPU, the RAM modules obviously do not have enough paste. I doubt this will affect the effectiveness of stock cooling, but it will affect how well you can overclock if that is what you’re planning on doing. Judging the impressions left by the paste, we can see that there are no problems with the cooler being flush to the GPU core as seen previously with the MSI Ti4800SE-VTD8x.

Factory paste on the GPU and RAM on front. Factory paste on the RAM on back.
Factory paste on the GPU and RAM on front and back of the card.

After cleaning off the paste, I examined the GPU and RAM modules. The GPU is clearly marked as a “5600” core and the RAM is manufactured by Samsung. The RAM is specified as K4D261638E-TC36 parts that run at 275MHz (or 3.6ns). Just a quick note, the RAM is specified at 275MHz, but the card comes with memory clocked at 270MHz.

The FX5600 GPU. K4D261638E-TC36 Samsung modules.
The FX5600 GPU and K4D261638E-TC36 Samsung RAM modules.

Closer Look at Cooling and Replacing Factory Paste
Now let’s take a closer look at the cooler. Taking some sandpaper to the base of the cooler and the heat spreader, we can see that it is aluminum underneath the exterior.

Scratches reveal aluminum on cooler. Scratches reveal aluminum on heat spreader.
Scratches reveal that the cooler and heat spreader are made of aluminum.

After my last article, a reader tipped me off on the fins. He told me that the fins are actually copper and sure enough they are! You can see from the picture that even after scoring the fin, it retains its copper color. This is excellent as copper helps dissipate heat more quickly. Even though the rest of the cooler isn’t copper, at least the fins are.

Scratches reveal copper fins.
Unlike the rest, the fins are made of copper.

I decided to replace the factory paste with some quality Artic Silver II. After putting a good amount of material to account for the concavity of the RAM and GPU ceramic package, I put the whole cooler back together. After letting the paste cure for 1 day, I tested the effectiveness of the modification with 1-hour worth of Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmarks while recording results with the MSI 3D Experience utility.

Before Modification After Modification
Idle 37C / 98.6F 38C / 100.4F
Load 41C / 105.8F 43C / 109.4F
*Ambient Temperature: 20C / 68F

This result surprises me. I was expecting results lower than with the factory-installed paste since we are using better quality materials as a replacement. Looking for an explanation, I took the card out for a closer look. Upon examination, I noticed that the cooler and heat spreader were not flush with the RAM or GPU. In fact, there is very little pressure keeping the cooler and the spreader properly in place — I could even make the parts wiggle in place using my finger!

Weak pushpins.
The weak pushpins do not exert enough pressure.

The culprits were the plastic pushpins holding the cooler and spreader in place. They simply do not exert enough pressure to keep proper contact with the RAM and GPU. As a result, you’re only getting partial contact. So if you’re looking to replace the paste with better materials, best to either use more paste than you think you need (even after accounting for concavity of the chips) or replace the pins using a pair of bolts and nuts.

The Rear Connections
Now let’s take a look at the connections at the rear of the card. This card has a VGA connector, a DVI connector, and a connector for the special I/O dongle. The I/O dongle is a special connector that allows for component video in and out, S-video in and out, and remote receiver.

Rear of MSI FX5600-VTDR128.
The rear of the card. DVI, dongle, and VGA sockets.

The I/O dongle is a bit short. It will be challenging for those who need to wire devices far away. The remote receiver is on a wire about 38″ long which is not long and since the remote is infrared (i.e. needs “line of sight”), you may find it difficult finding good positions.

The dongle with remote receiver. The DVI adapter.
The receiver wire may be too short (Left). The DVI adapter (Right).

The package also comes with a DVI connector so you can connect a standard CRT monitor to the DVI socket. But be aware that doing this may cause a problem. What problem you ask? Read on! 🙂

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