MSI NX6600GT TD128E PCIe

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Product: MSI NX6600GT TD128E PCIe 128MB
Provided By: Dallmann Computers
Price: ~ $215 CDN Pricegrabber.ca

Introduction:

A couple of months back, thanks to the generosity of some sponsors, we put together a test rig for reviewing products here at BCCHardware.  This test rig is formatted and has a fresh install of Windows before every review.  This helps ensure fairness and compares products on an identical test-bed every time.  When we were assembling the machine, we had everything except video.  Video is a big ticket item and one that sponsors aren't too eager to give away.  Thankfully, the local computer retailer,
Dallmann Computers came to the rescue.  They set me up with an MSI NX6600GT TD128E PCI-express GPU.  This graphics card is obviously based on the GeForce 6600GT core, and features 128MB of GDDR3.  What is not so obvious is that it features both DVI and VGA output as well as component video output.  Read along as we run this unit through a battery of tests on a Windows XP x64 Professional system.

Box & Bundle:



The box is very flashy and should draw the attention of most gamers.  Of course the hardcore gamer will pass this by in favor of a 6800 series or 7800 series GPU, nevertheless it still grabs your attention.  On the box, MSI has slapped on a bunch of feature stickers.  One of their biggest claims is 14 CD's.  There is a tonne of software included with this card.  Other features listed are their D.O.T. (Dynamic Overclocking Technology), 128MB DDR3, TV-Out, DVI-I, HDTV and the fact that it's SLI ready.  Don't be fooled by the Doom3 sticker - it doesn't come with the card, it can just play it.

Enough of the outside of the box, inside the box is where the sweetness lies.  The hardware included in the box should get you going if you are gaming, running two monitors and want to output video to your HDTV.  MSI included a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a case badge, an HDTV dongle, and an S-Video cable.  Everything you need to get started.


Hardware Bundle


Software Bundle

On the software side of things, MSI goes a little overboard, but the huge software pack is not really reflected in the price, as MSI is one of the cheaper 6600GT's around.  Odd.  The card includes three older games, two good, one lame in my opinion.  It comes with Prince of Persia - The Sands of Time, XIII, and Uru.  PoP and XIII are fun, but I'm not a fan of Uru.  The other software is what is remarkable.

MSI includes a 14-in-1 demo DVD, and a veritable plethora of other software.  MSI Media Deluxe Center II, Virtual Drive 7 Professional, Restore It 3 Professional, MSI 5.1 Channel DVD Player, Foreign Language Learning Machine, Photoshop Album SE, 3D Album SE, MSI 3D Desktop, Goodmem, LockBox, WMInfo, and a bunch of other utilities.  While most of these won't be installed by many people, they still include a whackload, and fortunately they don't seem to add a bunch of extra cost to the card.

Before we take a look at the card itself, let's run down a few specs as listed from MSI.



GeForce 6600GT Chipset Features (
From MSI's Site):

 

  • NVIDIA® CineFXâ„¢ 3.0 engine
  • 64-bit texture filtering support delivers full-speed, high dynamic-range (HDR) lighting effects
  • Unmatched image quality delivered through new 16x anisotropic filtering and rotated grid antialiasing
  • 4x shadow processing power with NVIDIA® UltraShadowâ„¢ II for next generation games
  • Infinite program length allows for a new class of special effects
  • Hardware-accelerated MPEG and WMV9 decode delivers smooth, artifact-free video
  • Dedicated video hardware reduces CPU utilization and improves overall system performance
  • On-chip video encoder and motion estimation engine provides fast, high-quality encoding from TV tuner
  • Programmable video engine ensures compatibility with future video codecs
  • High-quality video scaling and filtering improves playback quality at any window size
  • PCI Express support accelerates video editing by speeding up data transfer rates
  • Integrated HDTV-output brings content from your desktop to your high-definition TV
  • NVIDIA® ForceWareâ„¢ software delivers unmatched features and rock-solid stability
  • High dynamic-range (HDR) rendering
  • NVIDIA® UltraShadowâ„¢ technology
  • NVIDIA® Intellisampleâ„¢ high-resolution compression technology (HCT)
  • NVIDIA® ForceWareâ„¢ Unified Driver Architecture(UDA)
  • NVIDIA® nViewâ„¢ multi-display technology
  • NVIDIA® Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0
  • On-chip video processor
  • 64-bit floating point texture filtering and blending
  • Microsoft® DirectXâ„¢ 9.0 Shader Model 3.0 support
  • OpenGL® 1.5 support
  • NVIDIA® SLIâ„¢ multi-GPU ready
  • Superscalar GPU architecture
  • 128-bit memory interface with advanced memory control
  • Innovative 0.13 micron process technology
  • Operating Systems Support Windows® XP / 2000
  • Power supply of 350 (and up) watt is highly recommended for system stability
  • Memory Interface: 128-bit
  • Fill Rate (billion texels/sec.): 4.0
  • Vertices/sec. (Million): 225
  • Pixels per clock (peak): 8
  • RAMDACs (MHz): 400


What you don't see listed in the specs from MSI, is the cards clock speeds.  MSI clocks the card core at two separate speeds, one for 2D (Desktop) applications and the other for 3D applications.  By default the card runs at 300MHz core and 500MHz (1000MHz DDR) when running 2D applications and 500MHz core and 500MHz (1000MHz DDR) when running 3D applications.  MSI also includes a Dynamic Overclocking Tool that is supposed to automatically overclock your card to various levels that you choose.  Unfortunately this tool doesn't seem to work on Windows x64.

On the next page, we'll take a look at the card up close.



The Card:

When I first saw this card, I immediately thought back to the days of the Radeon 9700.  Back in those days, only ATi cards were red, and it still takes some getting used to companies making their own color of PCB's.


NX6600GT - Front View


NX6600GT - Back View



The back-plate is almost full.  It has one DVI, one standard VGA, and a multi-pin connector for the S-Video and component outputs.  It's nice to see component video supported on this mainstream card.  Also below is a picture of the heatsink removed from the card.  MSI uses a white thermal paste and does a pretty good job applying it evenly.  As you can see in the picture on the right, the HSF made contact with all of the BGA RAM chips, but not by much.  Before I took this picture, I looked to see what kind of contact the HSF was making and I did notice that it was a little high on the one chip.  After I applied Arctic Silver Ceramique, I reseated the HSF and noticed that it made better contact.  I pulled it off to look at the thermal paste and it was more even distributed for sure.

NX6600GT - DVI, D-Sub & More
 NX6600GT - DVI, D-Sub & More

NX6600GT - Stripped
 NX6600GT - Stripped

It's at this point that I'd like to comment about the HSF that MSI uses on their cards.  It appears to be copper, but doesn't have a very smooth finish.  You can see this by clicking on the thumbnail above.  Click the picture that pops up to view an even larger picture.  I know that the HSF is metallic as it is quite cool to the touch, when tapped with a screwdriver it sounds more like an aluminum/polymer alloy.  It does keep the GPU core running at a smooth 39°C when idle and just under 50°C when full load.

Below are a couple pictures of the core components up close - the GPU core and the DDR3.  I appologize for the fuzzy pics, but I had to take these free-hand in poor light as Nicao still hasn't returned my tripod. . . that's right, and I really want it back.  The Samsung GDDR3 from is clocked at 500MHz so I was interested to see what it was rated at and find out how much overclocking headroom we might have.

There are 4 - 32MB chips on this card.  The chips are marked as K4J55323QF-GC20 chips and are rated at 2ns.  Doing a quick bit of math, this equates to 500MHz or 1000MHz DDR which these chips are already clocked at.  So much for the massive RAM overclocks.

NX6600GT - A2 Core
 NX6600GT - A2 Core

NX6600GT - Samsung 1GHz DDR3
 NX6600GT - Samsung 1GHz DDR3

Now before we head on to the benchmarks we'll take a look at the test setup and some testing information on the next page.


Test Setup:

Thanks to the generosity of our many sponsors we've got a test rig that we can tear apart for testing hardware.  Below are the specs.


To test this card and maintain some sort of comparison, we used some popular synthetic benchmarks but mostly focus on gaming tests.  We ran the old standby of 3DMark 2003 and 2005, as well as some of todays more popular games - Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and Battlefield 2.  Benchmarks were ran multiple times to ensure accuracy and in the case of Battlefield 2, benchmarks were obtained through the use of the Battlefield 2 Benchmark program available over here.  At the conclusion of the Battlefield 2 benchmark the results are logged to a CSV file. 

Unfortunately, the load screens are also included in the CSV file.  The results therefore cannot be used in their raw state as the 400fps load screen averages a much higher benchmark score.  In order to fix this, we loaded the file into an OpenOffice Spreadsheet and averaged the frames after the loadscreen had finished.  Because of this extra measure of accuracy, the scores may seem lower than at other sites, but we believe that this is the most accurate and fair way to get results.  It's certainly more of a pain, but worth the extra effort in order to publish accurate results.

Overclocking:

Because the Samsung DDR is rated at 500MHz - the same speed MSI clocks this card, I really didn't have high hopes for overclocking this card.  To get a ballpark idea of where to start, I installed coolbits and let the card autodetect it's safe, stable overclock.

The software detected a safe overclock at a decent 576MHz core and 1.15GHz on the memory.  I ran a few benchmarks and noticed that the card was causing some artifacting and tearing.  I assumed that the RAM was causing the issues and clocked it down to 1.1GHz. Same thing.  I clocked it down to 1.05GHz; again, same thing.  I was feeling fairly let down with the RAM so I dropped it to stock speed and still had the same artifacting.  Surprised, I clocked down the core and popped the RAM back up to 1.15GHz.  No more artifacts.  It seems that the core has issues over 560MHz.  The memory would clock higher than 1.15GHz but performance remained the same.  The bottleneck is not the 128-bit GDDR3 but the 8 pixel pipelines at this point.

All of our overclocked benchmarks were ran at 555MHz core and 1.15GHz memory.  At this speed the card has been stable for weeks.

Autodetected Overclock

Continue on to the next page as we post up some benchmarks.


3DMark 2003 & 2005:

It wasn't so very long ago that I would've killed for a score over 5,000 in 3DMark03.  Now a mid-to-low end card like the MSI NX6600GT can pull over 8,000 points at stock speeds.  When overclocked the card just falls short of 8,900 points as we see roughly a 10% increase in performance do to the ~11% increase in core speed.

3DMark 2005 tells a similar story.  The card does very well for the price and pulls off a respectable 3,634 at stock speeds and climbs over 4,000 when overclocked.  It's remarkable that a 128-bit 8-pipeline card can do so well.  If you put a pair of these together in SLI you would see a tremendous improvement and have a heck'uv a gaming system for around $450CDN for Graphics.

At the higher resolution of 1280x1024, the card does struggle in these synthetic benchmarks, especially when AA and AF are enabled.  However, keep in mind that these are synthetic benchmarks.  Real world gaming can tell a totally different story.

3DMark 2003
 3DMark 2003

3DMark 2005
 3DMark 2005

Doom 3 Benchmarks:

nVidia has a leg up on comparable priced cards from ATi when it comes to OpenGL games such as Doom 3.  According to MSI, the NX6600GT TD128E is made for Doom 3 so it will be interesting to see just how good the card can run with the game.

Doom 3 was installed and the latest patch was applied.  I ran both the standard "demo1" timedemo and VIA's viavga_bench_d3 with the "usecache" switch.  The command(s) that were ran from the console were, 1) "timedemo demo1 usecache" and 2) "timedemo viavga_bench_d3 usecache".  This allows the timedemo to completely load itself to memory and thus prevent stuttering during the demo while it loads more textures.  All detail was set to maximum settings and the quality setting was "Ultra".  This is really pushing the card past it's limits as iD Software recommends a 512MB card and a much faster CPU to run at these settings.

Doom3
 Doom3 "Demo1"

Doom3
 Doom3 "VIAVGA Bench"

In the Demo1 timedemo we don't see much benefit from overclocking when AA & AF are disabled at 800x600.  At this point the system seems to be CPU limited, but when AA & AF are enabled, we see that overclocking boosts the scores about 10% higher at 800x600.  The higher resolutions that are tested show that the card is not up to really high-end gaming.  At 1280x1024 Doom 3 would be virtually unplayable with AA enabled.

The VIAVGA bench tells more of an extreme real-world story.  This timedemo takes place in a custom VIA map and there are a lot of objects, walls, corners and pixel shaders from heat.  In this level, gameplay would be pretty much limited to 800x600 or perhaps 1024x768 without AA or AF.  The card has too many objects to draw and the CPU (Athlon 64 3000+) doesn't seem to have enough power to push the limits of this game and benchmark.

 

Half-Life 2 Benchmarks:

Half-Life 2 seems to be optimized for ATi cards, although we'll soon see that nVidia's 6600GT series does very well itself.  Half-Life 2 is a much better rendered, written and optimized game than Doom3 and can run fine on new as well as old hardware.  Framerates are very acceptable across the board and the graphics quality is very good.  I'm not sure how to explain the results below, but in the Coast benchmark the game runs slightly better at higher resolution than at lower resolution.  I'm unsure exactly as to why.  The posted results are the sumation of several runs and have been averaged to ensure accuracy, but they still puzzle me.

Half-Life 2 Coast
 Half-Life 2 Coast

Half-Life 2 d13c17
 Half-Life 2 d13c17

In the Coast timedemo the average FPS doesn't drop below 70 until you run at 1280x1024 with 4x AA and 16x AF.  At this detail level, things look amazing and still run very well with no jerking or stuttering.  The d13c17 timedemo shows similar results.  It takes 1280x1024 AA & AF before the performance drops significantly.  It's pretty amazing that a card priced around $200CDN can run at 1024x768 4x AA & 16x AF at just under 60FPS in a new game like Half-Life 2.

Battlefield 2 Benchmarks:

To wrap up our MSI NX6600GT TD128E review under Windows XP Professional x64, we are taking a look at one of the latest FPS games to take the planet by storm.  We're talking about Battlefield 2.  As far as a game goes, this is poorly written and takes massive system resources, while in turn produces mediocre graphics.  That's not to say I don't like the game, it just comes across as a quick slap-together title that EA has released.  Character and vehicle models have improved and tax the GPU, but textures seem a little flat allover.  After that little rant, let's benchmark.

As I mentioned earlier, we used a couple of timedemos to benchmark BF2 and the results are logged to a CSV file.  Unfortunately the CSV file logs the load screens, so to get accurate benchmark results we have to break open a spreadsheet and average the in-game footage, not the load screen.  As a result, the numbers below may be lower than the results you are seeing with the benchmark program.  The scores below are the average framerates from the timedemo gameplay.

BF2 - Guru3D Demo
 BF2 - Guru3D Demo

BF2 - Anandtech Demo
 BF2 - Anandtech Demo

The Guru3D Demo cam follows the player at various angles though a river, in vehicles, shooting and jumping.  There are no other players in the map, just one player.  This demo runs fairly close to the player and draws a lot of the character model.  Realistically, you wouldn't want to run this demo at anything higher than 800x600 with AA & AF or 1024x768 without AA or AF.  At higher details with AA you will notice some stuttering.  You may be able to even run at 1280x1024, and at this resolution AA and AF are not needed as much as at lower resolutions.

The AnandTech demo is a short multi-player demo with tanks, explosions and lots of fast shooting.  The view is a bit more distant, but it draws a lot more objects.  Framerates on this demo are very nice until you hit 1280x1024 with AA.  At 1024x768 with AA and AF, the game performs very well at stock speeds, with overclocking adding about a 10% boost at all resolutions.

Certainly, this card is no killer gaming GPU, but it sure tries hard.  Let's wrap things up with the conclusion on the following page.



Conclusion:

MSI has done a real good job throwing this card and bundle together.  There is a tonne of software that many people won't use, but it's there and doesn't seem to add extra cost to the card as this is one of the cheapest 6600GT's on the block.  As far as gaming goes, this card can hold it's own and dominates in the price range.  For around $200CDN you really can't go wrong if you a casual gamer and you don't want to run 1600x1200 with all eye candy on.  For the most part games are very playable at 1024x768 with AA & AF enabled, with Half-Life 2 being able to run at 1280x1024.  All that on a "budget" card.

That's not to say the card is perfect.  There are a couple of minor issues with this card.  First, the metalish HSF has a pretty bumpy surface.  It's shiny, but not smooth, and could definately use some improvement.  Also HSF related, it has poor contact on some of the memory chips.  Once I reapplied thermal paste and remounted it, it seemed to be better.  Lastly, MSI could've spend $0.50 more on the fan.  Don't get me wrong, it's fairly quiet under normal use and even gaming, but I've only had this card installed for about 2 months and upon startup the fan is starting to growl.  Once everything warms up it quiets down, but it's starting to fail.  If MSI spent a few more cents on a better fan, it would save them money.  If the fan fails, the card will likely overheat, burnup and require warranty.  MSI has to shell out for a whole card instead of a better fan.

Let's break it down to Pros and Cons.

Pros:

  • DVI, VGA, and HDTV outputs.
  • Fast enough for most casual gamers.
  • Software up the wazoo!
  • Excellent value at just over $200CDN.


Cons:

  • Cheap HSF - Fan growling, poor finish, contact.
  • Some software doesn't work with 64-bit Windows.

 

BensCustomCases.com Rating
Quality:
7/10
Performance:
10/10
Software Pack:
10/10
Stability:
9/10
Features:
9/10
Value:
9/10
Total Score 9.0

I'd like to offer a HUGE thanks to Dallmann Computers for dropping this card in our test system.  When manufacturers fail to provide, DC always comes through.  Thanks dude!

 

If you have any questions, comments, or general feedback regarding this review, please feel free to head on over and post them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.  Registration is required to post, but it's fast, easy and free.