While there is no denying that the Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB and the Leadtek FX5900Ultra 256MB are both very impressive graphics cards, there is the outside chance that you don't feel inclined to spend Â£370 on your next graphics solution. We sympathise with you, and if we're honest about it we feel the same way.
That was why we were happy to pick up the MSI FX5900-VTD128. It uses the FX5900 GPU and has 128MB of memory, so we knew it would have decent performance, and although it has a list price of Â£335 you can track it down for under Â£300 if you look around. Now that's the sort of price that you can justify without having to hide the receipt for fear of a coronary.
The box of this graphics card is bigger than any MSI motherboard package that we can recall seeing, and although there is plenty inside it is clear that MSI is going for a shock and awe approach.
The heatsink on the FX5900 chip is simply enormous. It has a very shiny copper-coloured finish and radial fins that extend over the memory chips. Under normal lighting it glares painfully. The cooling fan is the same type of clear plastic unit that MSI used on its FX5600 Ultra, and unusually there is a similar fan on the back of the graphics chip. That's right, a fan on each side of the card. When you consider that the back of a graphics chip is often very close to the processor in a PC it does make sense to consider the whole PC environment, rather than the card in isolation. Of course, that's what Leadtek did with its FX5900 Ultra as the card is an environment in its own right.
It came as no surprise that the MSI did well in our tests and matched the Chaintech almost exactly as both cards use the same core and memory speeds. The MSI driver on the CD is version 44.03 and includes tabs for MSI information and MSI clock. We successfully updated our version 45.23 drivers by not over-writing any later files that the drivers found. We found the overclocking utility to be very hit and miss, and despite trying a range of settings the card would lock up under intensive load until we pulled the speeds right back. Eventually we got it to run properly at 425MHz/880MHz, which increased 3DMark03 from 5,192 to 5,389 marks.
Unusually MSI supplies a notepad in that huge box which we suspect is so you can make a note of your latest graphics benchmark results. The rest of the package is identical to the MSI FX5600 Ultra so there's a DVI to VGA adapter, the VIVO breakout box on a very short cable, an S-Video extension cable and the same eleven CD software bundle. To recap that's: Morrowind Elder Scrolls III, TES construction set, Tom Clancy Ghost Recon, MSI Lite collection of seven games, Duke Nukem Manhattan Project, Adobe Photoshop Album, InterVideo WinDVD 5.1, InterVideo WinDVD Creator Plus, MSI Media Center, Farstone RestoreIT Professional and Virtualdrive Professional.
We were deeply impressed by this MSI card (although we found the looks rather gaudy) and thought it incredibly good value despite the high price tag. This is a graphics card that provides a very rounded package that will give a major boost to the performance of your PC.
MSI has combined great performance with a very strong feature set and walked away with the Editorâ€™s Choice award in the process. You may think Â£300 is a lot for a graphics card but trust us on this one, the MSI FX5900 is worth it.