When it comes to graphics cards for the home user market, the 2 top companies are currently NVIDIA and ATi. Both of these companies usual follow a 6 month product cycle in an effort to out perform each others latest hardware. For the top of the line, we currently have the 9800XT from ATi and in the NVIDIA corner we have the FX5950 Ultra. Both of these graphics chipsets are updates to the previous generation rather than new architecture. current top of the line NVIDIA card is the GeForce FX5950 Ultra which is an update to the GeForce FX5900 Ultra and should net us some extra performance. Our test sample is the FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 (Red PCB) so let's check it out.
If you're looking for the specifications then you can check out what is probably the biggest list I've seen for a graphics card . Speaking of big, the box for this thing is [censored] huge; it puts most motherboard boxes to shame with only perhaps the DFI LANParty series motherboard boxes coming close.
The Box front has a foil finished Gladiatorial image which is sure to grab people's attention. You'll also find emblems for all the important features such as 256MB etc. The box has a flip top lid and inside you can see a window that shows off the top cooling solution of the card. It also goes to show you just how BIG this box is. Inside everything is nicely laid out and in its own compartment, with the card itself protected by foam lining. Did I mention that this box is BIG?
You get a lot of included goodies with this card, from games to applications to cables and MSI's 4 port Vivo dongle. The games are whilst decent enough are getting old now, and are certainly not going to show off your performance but enough of the extras, let's get a good look at the main hardware.
Like most top of the line NVIDIA cards of the past few years, the FX5950 is BIG and very busy. MSI's versions features a 2 part BIG (getting to say BIG a lot in this review) copper HSF in a very stylish fan or flower arrangement that splays out to cover the GPU with secondary half moon surrounding it to cover the ram. Central to this is a clear fan with a centre holographic sticker displaying the MSI star logo. Watercoolers are instantly going to notice that with the Ram and GPU 'sinks so close together that this will restrict your choice of blocks and the other consideration here is …
Turn the card over and it's almost a mirror image of the front side. MSI has gone all out with the cooling and cooling the backside of the card is a good idea; the GPU area can get very hot indeed. As an addition to the cooling fan on the rear, with 128mb of Ram mounted on this side, this is too cooled by a copper-sink in a half moon shape that curls around the fan. Fingers crossed that all this cooling will bode well for overclocking.
With both of these fan being clear bladed and a small area around the mounting pins being free, these two fans are begging for some 3mm LED's to light things up. Some nice bright red 'glowage' would go rather nicely I think.
Back to the front side and the furthest end past the power regulating capacitors we find a 4 pin Molex header. Unlike my Radeon card, we have a standard 4 pin Molex arrangement which I personally prefer over the Radeon floppy style connector. Yes it's bigger (it's that word again) but it's also in my situation easier to do my case wiring. As I don't use a floppy drive, I can therefore hide any PSU cables with the floppy connectors on them. The other aspect is that PSU's come with more 4 pin Molex than floppy connectors so chances are higher that you have a spare Molex.
Moving to the opposite end we can check out the I/O panel. Like the majority of NVIDIA based cards these days we have 3 outputs of which 2 can be used at once. The MSI FX5950 has 1 DVI, 1 VGA and 1 DIN style in/out connector. The DVI connector can be used in conjunction with the supplied DVI to VGA adaptor for use with regular VGA cabling. The DIN port is for use with the supplied Vivo Dongle which provides an S-Vid and Composite; 1 of each for in and 1 of each for out totalling 4 ports.