What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

MSI GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
NVIDIA’s GTX 980Ti certainly isn’t a stranger to these pages but after reviewing nearly a half dozen examples we were secretly hoping for something more. Granted, Zotac’s AMP! Extreme posted some absolutely mind-bending performance numbers and ASUS’ STRIX OC ended up being one of the best graphics cards we’ve reviewed all year but after a while, all of the air-cooled cards ended up feeling eerily similar. This is why MSI’s GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk is like a breath of fresh air so-to-speak since it boasts an integrated water cooler.

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/7DLEf-NllWg?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Adding an All in One, pre-installed liquid cooler to a GPU may not be unique since AMD, EVGA and PowerColor have done it with great success in the past. However, the Sea Hawk represents the first time MSI has waded into this territory and they’ve teamed up with Corsair to accomplish their goals.

The Corsair / MSI partnership is an interesting yet logical one. On one hand MSI has been building high-end graphics cards since before many of us built our first PC while Corsair brings to the table an insane amount of experience in the liquid cooling field. Indeed, their HG10 N980 was evidently used as a foundation for the GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk, a card Corsair is co-marketing as the Hydro GFX.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-83.jpg

While it may have a high performance water cooler attached to it, the GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk’s frequencies haven’t been pushed to unheard-of levels. On paper at least it isn’t all that much faster than MSI’s own Gaming 6G while it also seems to take a back seat to cards like the aforementioned STRIX OC and AMP! Extreme. With that being said, NVIDIA’s GeForce Boost algorithm may allow this card to take advantage of its enhanced cooling solution and deliver even higher core clocks.

As you might expect, a card like the Sea Hawk doesn’t come cheap. At $750USD and an eye-watering $999 here in Canada, it is a good $100 more than a reference GTX 980 Ti. That may be a bitter pill to swallow when you take into account MSI used a reference GTX 980 Ti without any of the upgraded components which are included with the Gaming 6G. However, we have yet to see a case where those so-called enhanced features measurably add to overclocking headroom or longevity. That water cooler also has to be taken into account since it costs $60 on its own and considerably more when paired with the HG10 N980.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-1.jpg

The design MSI has used for their Sea Hawk is relatively basic and one that we’ve seen before from EVGA’s Hybrid series. The card itself is covered by a full-length plastic shroud which is reminiscent of NVIDIA’s reference design and includes a window that allows a glimpse of the water cooler’s pump / block combo. Meanwhile, the radiator is treated as a secondary unit and attached with about 12” of tubing.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-2.jpg

Since the Sea Hawk isn’t billed as an extreme overclocker, MSI has retained the reference version’s 8+6 pin power input layout. This side of the card also features a small cutout for the AIO’s two tubes and a glowing MSI logo which can be controlled from within NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience software.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-3.jpg

Speaking of those water cooling tubes, they are sleeved in a tight-fitting bonded and braided finish which keeps them wonderfully flexible and kink-free.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-4.jpg

Around back there’s a full coverage backplate with MSI’s OC designation on display. More importantly and unlike this card’s air-cooled competition, the Sea Hawk rings in at just 10.5” in length. This may not be quite as compact as AMD’s diminutive Fury X but it won’t have any issues fitting into the vast majority of today’s smallest enclosures.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-5.jpg

The main radiator assembly is a single bay affair that boasts a single a single low noise 120mm 1700RPM Corsair-branded fan with white LEDs. It gets attached to your motherboard via a three-bin header so there’s no integrated fan speed controller but BIOS or software control is certainly possible.

There isn’t anything particularly unique about the radiator’s design but it has been purpose-built with airflow in mind so a high static pressure fan wasn’t needed. For those wondering, the included mounting hardware (four small screws) will attach it to any case’s 120mm fan mounts.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-7.jpg

The water cooler really is a blast from the past since we’ve already reviewed it. In this case, Corsair has chosen their H55 AIO (which is OEM’d by Asetek) alongside the secondary heatsink from the HG10 N980 to insure the HDDR5 modules receive adequate cooling.

Since the water block doesn’t actually come into contact with any of Sea Hawk’s secondary VRM components or memory modules, there’s a secondary fan that draws in cool air and directs it over critical areas. MSI has also added a higher aluminum heatsink in the fan’s intake position in an effort to offer even more cooling capacity.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-6.jpg

The I/O plate is pretty straightforward and based off of NVIDIA’s reference design. There’s a trio of DisplayPort outputs, a single HDMI and a DVI.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


With a water cooler riding on its back, we didn’t really have any concerns over cooling performance of this card but there are still some interesting aspects of its implementations that need to be explored. For example, since the radiator’s fan is plugged into a motherboard fan header, its speeds can be independently controlled and aren’t tied at the hip to liquid temperatures. This means the Sea Hawk can be as loud or quiet as you want based on your expected performance.

For this test we use a standard 3-pin fan header on our ASUS motherboard and utilized three different fan presets of 1600RPM, 1000RPM and 600RPM. These are roughly equal to ASUS’ Turbo, Standard and Silent modes respectively. We also found that using some motherboards’ Adaptive mode (which fluctuates fan speeds based on internal case temperatures) results in fan RPM pulsing, overly high acoustics and terrible GPU temperature results.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-80.jpg

As we can see, increase the fan’s RPMs does yield lower temperatures as the radiator’s fins are able to dissipate heat all that much faster. However, even at the lowest rotational speed the fan is able to adequately cool off the highly overclocked card without a problem. That just goes to show how efficient this setup really is.

One thing we need to mention is these results are highly dependent upon your internal case cooling situation. We use an open test bench since it grants a controllable environment and all enclosures will have a different set of thermal dissipation characteristics.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-79.jpg

Regardless of the core temperatures, clock speeds remain exactly the same and top out around the 1400MHz mark. This isn’t all that bad considering MSI’s specifications had this thing performing within a few MHz of their Gaming 6G. All in all though, this is exactly what we have come to expect from a premium GTX 980 Ti.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-78.jpg

Truth be told there really isn’t all that much of differentiate one custom GTX 980 Ti from the next in terms of relative performance.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging


GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-86.jpg
GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-87.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-88.jpg

The thermal camera didn’t pick up anything worrying with MSI’s design. All of the component seem to be adequately cooled and the additional shroud-mounted intake fan provides some additional cooling for the hot-running VRMs.


Acoustical Testing


What you see below are the baseline idle dB(A) results attained for a relatively quiet open-case system (specs are in the Methodology section) sans GPU along with the attained results for each individual card in idle and load scenarios. The meter we use has been calibrated and is placed at seated ear-level exactly 12” away from the GPU’s fan. For the load scenarios, Hitman Absolution is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-81.jpg

Acoustics on MSI’s GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk is highly variable since primary fan speeds rely on the motherboard’s (and user’s) direct input. At its highest level of somewhere between 1600RPM and 1700RPM, the included 120mm radiator fan does make some noticeable noise but it can be likened to a muted “hum”. This does show up in our chart but it still remains one of the quieter solutions we have come across.

Pushing fan speeds downwards results in lower noise profiles but anything under 1000RPMs begins showing diminishing returns based on associated temperatures. This can certainly become the quietest GPU on the block but the acoustical difference between 1000RPMs and 600RPMs is virtually nil to the human ear.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we used 15 minutes of Unigine Valley running on a loop while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 15 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-82.jpg

With pump and additional fan, there’s some additional power consumption going on behind the scenes but the Sea Hawk still delivers an excellent performance per watt ratio.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup



Processor: Intel i7 4930K @ 4.7GHz
Memory: G.Skill Trident 16GB @ 2133MHz 10-10-12-29-1T
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79-E WS
Cooling: NH-U14S
SSD: 2x Kingston HyperX 3K 480GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Dell U2713HM (1440P) / ASUS PQ321Q (4K)
OS: Windows 8.1 Professional


Drivers:
AMD 15.201.1102 (R9 Nano)
AMD 15.7.1
NVIDIA 352.90


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 2 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FCAT on the other hand has the capability to log onscreen average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing and where the Frame Time Analysis Tool gets factored into this equation.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render and display each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

We are now using FCAT for ALL benchmark results, other than 4K.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: AC:Unity / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed: Unity


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8V96SFIvFKg?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

While it may not be the newest game around and it had its fair share of embarrassing hiccups at launch, Assassin's Creed: Unity is still one heck of a good looking DX11 title. In this benchmark we run through a typical gameplay sequence outside in Paris.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-54.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-30.jpg


Battlefield 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/y9nwvLwltqk?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

In this sequence, we use the Singapore level which combines three of the game’s major elements: a decayed urban environment, a water-inundated city and finally a forested area. We chose not to include multiplayer results simply due to their randomness injecting results that make apples to apples comparisons impossible.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-55.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-31.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z7wRSmle-DY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most popular games around due to its engaging gameplay and open-world style. In our benchmark sequence we run through two typical areas: a busy town and through an outdoor environment.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-56.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-32.jpg



Dying Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MHc6Vq-1ins" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dying Light is a relatively late addition to our benchmarking process but with good reason: it required multiple patches to optimize performance. While one of the patches handicapped viewing distance, this is still one of the most demanding games available.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-57.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-33.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Far Cry 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

Far Cry 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sC7-_Q1cSro" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest game in Ubisoft’s Far Cry series takes up where the others left off by boasting some of the most impressive visuals we’ve seen. In order to emulate typical gameplay we run through the game’s main village, head out through an open area and then transition to the lower areas via a zipline.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-58.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-34.jpg


Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-59.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-35.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Hitman Absolution / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Hitman Absolution


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/8UXx0gbkUl0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Hitman is arguably one of the most popular FPS (first person “sneaking”) franchises around and this time around Agent 47 goes rogue so mayhem soon follows. Our benchmark sequence is taken from the beginning of the Terminus level which is one of the most graphically-intensive areas of the entire game. It features an environment virtually bathed in rain and puddles making for numerous reflections and complicated lighting effects.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-60.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-36.jpg


Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1MHjhIxTGE?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-61.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-37.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/p-a-8mr00rY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

When it was released, Thief was arguably one of the most anticipated games around. From a graphics standpoint, it is something of a tour de force. Not only does it look great but the engine combines several advanced lighting and shading techniques that are among the best we’ve seen. One of the most demanding sections is actually within the first level where you must scale rooftops amidst a thunder storm. The rain and lightning flashes add to the graphics load, though the lightning flashes occur randomly so you will likely see interspersed dips in the charts below due to this.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-62.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-38.jpg


Tomb Raider


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/okFRgtsbPWE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Tomb Raider is one of the most iconic brands in PC gaming and this iteration brings Lara Croft back in DX11 glory. This happens to not only be one of the most popular games around but it is also one of the best looking by using the entire bag of DX11 tricks to properly deliver an atmospheric gaming experience.

In this run-through we use a section of the Shanty Town level. While it may not represent the caves, tunnels and tombs of many other levels, it is one of the most demanding sequences in Tomb Raider.


GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-63.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-39.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Total War: Attila / Witcher 3

Total War: Attila


Total War: Attila is the only strategy title in our benchmarking suite simply because it is one of the most resource-hungry. It gobbles resources with good reason too: this game happens to be one the best looking of the series thus far. Our benchmark sequence uses the in-game tool since, after hours of gameplay, it seems to show a perfect blend of in-game elements.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-64.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-40.jpg


Witcher 3


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EBSQMEqpqro?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Other than being one of 2015’s most highly regarded games, The Witcher 3 also happens to be one of the most visually stunning as well. This benchmark sequence has us riding through a town and running through the woods; two elements that will likely take up the vast majority of in-game time.

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-65.jpg

GTX-980-TI-SEA-HAWK-41.jpg
 

Latest posts

Twitter

Top