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MSI GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk Review


Author: SKYMTL
Date: October 15, 2015
Product Name: GTX 980 TI SEA HAWK
Part Number: GTX 980 TI SEA HAWK
Warranty: 3 Years


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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