Naming a piece of tech after a bird of prey generally doesn't go so well for most companies. The link between fowl and foul-performing tech notwithstanding, MSI has dared to dabble in the dark art of custom-designed PCBs and aftermarket heatsinks - but can its best engineering voodoo give it a boost worthy of the additional $50 expense?
Engineers started from the ground and moved their way upwards with this new card, starting at the very lowest of levels, the PCB. The reference design for the 5770 card is pretty good; packing in an RV870 core with a 128-bit memory bus and 1GB of GDDR5; but the power delivery system can leave a little to be desired on the overclocking front. To that end, engineers put some effort in and have thrown more solid capacitors on the board than there are fish in the sea, matching that with software-tweakable voltage regulation and even hard voltage measurement points for pros.
To deal with the 108W heat load, MSI's Twin Frozr II heatsink was thrown on, and we're still yet to understand why it's called that. Frozr? Regardless of how cool (geddit?!) the name is the heatsink seems to not do so well, idling at 44 degrees and rocketing up to 76 under load. This is pretty strange considering that the heatsink boasts two fans and plenty of surface area due to the fins, but we think that they've spaced the fins too closely - those open-frame fans simply don't have the pressure to push cool air through them fast enough. Thankfully it's pretty quiet, going from 48.7dBA to 54.1dBA at idle and load respectively.
While the HAWK does have a vented expansion bracket hardly any air actually moved through it, and was rather unceremoniously dumped wherever it felt like going. Not a huge problem in a high-airflow case, but something to be mindful of. That said, this card doesn't suffer from heat-related restrictions when overclocking - we managed to bump up the core clock by a further 15 per cent to 1010MHz (+135). This was already factory overclocked by 25MHz, so an extra 160MHz over reference speeds on air cooling - reaching over a gigahertz in frequency - is very impressive. We even bumped up memory speeds by six per cent to 1275MHz (+75), giving a little boost to bandwidth.
Performance at stock clocks was nice in GRID, though Crysis settings will need to be messed with to achieve something actually playable. Vantage and Unigine scores were pretty nice, actually, and especially under a heavily tessellated load the card performed almost as fast as a 5830 - only 11 points off. When overclocked the card gave Vantage scores of P12557; not quite reaching the 5830, but only a thousand-odd points away.
At the end of the day, the extra money you'll spend on the HAWK will reward you with nice performance in games, and plenty of overclocking headroom that'll give you hours of fun. We approve.
Cloxx0rs that roxx0rs
While we managed to clock the HAWK pretty far at auto fan speed and stock voltages, MSI include its Afterburner software with the card - unlocking voltage control and giving a very nice way of messing with clocks. Bumping the fan up to 100 per cent, adding a 120mm fan against the card and increasing core voltage to 1.337v from 1.2v, core clocks increased a further seven per cent to 1066MHz! While this isn't something you'd run 24/7, it's still a bunch of fun to mess around with. Check out a screengrab of the clocks on our Facebook page.