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MSI nBox N5900 Ultra-VTD256: We take a look at MSI's flagship FX card. Dubbed the nBox, it packs in the goodies, and is backed up by the killer FX5900 GPU.

Date: October 8, 2003
Written By:

    Video cards have come a long way in the past few years.  With new improvements the ability to push more and better looking polygons and textures to us the consumers.  On of the leaders over the past few years has been nVidia, especially since the release of its GeForce line of GPU's.  Of course the industry is moving at a very fast pace, with nVidia introducing a 6 month product cycle early on in its rise to industry leader for graphics cards.  However for the past year or so ATi has returned and taken the technology lead away from nVidia, with its Radeon 9XXX series of video cards.

    During this time nVidia has not really been sitting around doing nothing.  Rather they were trying to get their new line of cards out but ended up having major delays in their use of the 0.13 process for their video cards.  This delay let ATi continue to build on their lead so that by the time the FX 5800 series of video cards was released they had cards that were faster already out.  nVidia learned from this mistake and released the 5900 series which corrected some of the mistakes found in the 5800 series, such as moving to 256bit memory pathways and not using a blow-dryer as a heatsink/cooler.

    MSI has been a company that has continued to excel in their releasing of products that pack plenty of extras into a video card or motherboard box.  They have also been at the forefront of technology both in motherboard chipsets, and now in the way of video cards.  As a nVidia "Authorized Solution Provider" MSI has been able to release the latest in nVidia chipsets as soon as thy come out.  Today we will look at one of the fastest cards out, and see if this card helps nVidia and MSI dethrone ATi as the frame rate leader today.

nBox N5900 Ultra-VTD256 (V-Video In, T-TV Out, D-DVI Out, 256 - 256MB RAM)

   The nBox is MSI's high end packaging for their video cards.  But what does the nBox packaging offer over the standard package that MSI provides with their video cards?  We will look at some pictures to find out.  If you want to take a specific look at MSI's specifications of this video card, please take a .

    So what do you get with the nBox?  A lot, but lets put it in an itemized list.

  • The nBox itself
  • The 5900Ultra-VTD256
  • Manual/warranty card
  • MSI standard software 
  • WinDVD Creator Plus
  • Unreal II
  • Battlefield 1942
  • Command & Conquer Generals
  • Aluminum optical mouse
  • TV In/Out connector
  • DVI-VGA converter
  • SVHS cable
  • MSI case sticker

        First impressions are lasting ones, and since they are the nBox leaves you with the thought that there is a high quality piece of hardware lying inside that box.  As you take the outer piece off you are faced with a black box with the nBox symbol in a nice glossy black/green color.  When you first open the inside box you get to see the card without a antistatic bag covering it.  Underneath that section is another compartment that holds all the rest of the pieces that come with the card.

        Looking at the extras quickly we can see that MSI has decided to one up its standard collection of extra pieces.  They added newer games that are more widely played than the older games included with their previous bundles.  For some reason they also decided to include an aluminum mouse with this card.  The manual they included is fairly standard fair, covering a maximum number of FX series cards while at least providing a fair bit of data.  The DVI connector is nice to see as it allows you to use both your output connectors to drive at least two monitors.  The mouse that was included in the package was pretty nice, as it is all aluminum and is a high quality optical mouse.  The only downsides to the mouse is that it is very small, and is only a standard 2 button/wheel mouse, as you can see from the image below.

        Moving on to the card itself we see that it is not short by any means.  It is much like the size of the large Ti4600 or even Voodoo 5500, which isn't a good thing.  


        What outputs are there on the card?  As well can see from the picture that the top part of the image there is the DVI port, then we have the video-in/out connector via a s-video port, and then the standard VGA port.  This is run via the internal dual 400MHz RAMDAC's, with the DVI port going through the controller.  The TV-In/out port  is run through both the for the input and the FX 5900 for the output of the video.  We will look at the quality of both the TV input and output, as well as the 2D quality later on.

        Now lets look at the heatsink of the card.  It is a three piece design, that is held together by seven push pins.  The front of the card is all of one piece that has both the GPU heatsink/fan and the fins for the memory.  On the back of the card the memory heatsink is a separate piece that is identical to that of the front memory heatsink.  The heatsink/fan on the back of the card is much like many other cards standard heatsinks, but in this case is on the back of the card connected via a large thermal pad.  The rest of the heatsinks are thermally connected via thermal paste, and MSI did a pretty good job of it, as the memory and GPU are well covered.  The GPU does not have a over abundance of thermal paste on it, and the memory has a simple blob of thermal paste on it.  Of course how well this cooling solution does when overclocking will be looked at later.  But lets take a quick listen, using a Radio Shack digital sound meter, from about 3' away from the card, with no other fans on.

    Video Card

    MSI FX5900U-VTD (Front Fan) MSI FX5900U-VTD (Both Fans) Matrox Parhelia ATi Radeon AiW 9000 Pro

    Sound Level (dBA):

    51/56 (L/H) 55/63 (L/H) 61 54

        Here we can see that the MSI card is very quiet.  It is only "loud" when you are at high speed with both fans, and only slightly louder than the Parhelia's fan.  When in quiet (2D) mode the MSI card  is even more silent, lower in sound level than the quiet Radeon 9000 Pro.  Hat's off to MSI for providing a very quiet, yet effective cooling system.

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