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MSI GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II Review

Date: May 18, 2011
Author(s): Rob Williams

To help fill a model gap that no one told us about, NVIDIA has released its GeForce GTX 560, a slight step down from the Ti variant. Featuring a cut of 48 cores and the potential for wildly varying clock speeds, this card is a strange beast. But, we look to pit MSI’s ‘Twin Frozr II’ against our usual fleet of cards to see where it stacks up in the end.



Introduction

Didn’t think that it was possible to push another model into NVIDIA’s mid-range line-up? Well, the company has proven you wrong, with the help of its GeForce GTX 560 (non-Ti). As it appears, the GTX 560 card, like its older brother (GTX 460), is set to see multiple releases, to help fine-tune the choices as well as can be to help precisely match your budget.

With its GeForce GTX 460, we saw NVIDIA target the different variants at the same kind of gamer, but tweaked them here and there to make sure that people got just the card they wanted, and for the price they wanted to pay. If there had to be a rhyme or reason to the GTX 560 non-Ti’s existence, that would be it. It’s similar to the Ti version in many ways, but costs a bit less.

Of all the cards in NVIDIA’s current line-up, the GTX 560 is special in that there doesn’t exist a specific set of specifications for it. Rather, the company provides a general guideline of officially-supported clocks, so it’s up to vendors to tweak their respective cards as they need to, in order to cards are at more than one price-point. At the end of the day, however, it’d be unlikely to see these clocks affect the price more than ~$15 from top to bottom.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560

Let’s take a quick look at the major differences between all of NVIDIA’s current line-up:

Model
Core MHz
Shader MHz
Mem MHz
Memory
Bus Width
Cores
GeForce GTX 580
772
1544
4008
1536MB
384-bit
512
GeForce GTX 570
732
1464
3800
1280MB
320-bit
480
GeForce GTX 560 Ti
822
1645
4008
1024MB
256-bit
384
GeForce GTX 560
810 – 950
1620 – 1900
4004 – 4400
1024MB
256-bit
336
GeForce GTX 460
675
675
1350
1350
3600
3600
768MB
1024MB
192-bit
256-bit
336
336
GeForce GTX 550 Ti
900
1800
4104
1024MB
192-bit
192
GeForce GTS 450
783
1566
3608
1024MB
128-bit
192

There might be dual GTX 560s in NVIDIA’s line-up, but the aging GTX 460 is still considered to be “current” by the company’s standards. While this does give gamers a lot of selection, it’s never been more difficult to figure out which GPU is the best match for your hard-earned cash.

The non-Ti GTX 560 is 1:1 architecturally with the Ti version, with the differences being the chopping off of 48 CUDA cores and also the varying clocks. While “reference” could be considered 810MHz Core, 1620 Shader and 4004MHz Memory, it’s hard to settle on. In our first glance of available GTX 560 cards at e-tail, few shared those clocks, while the rest were all over the map.

The MSI “Twin Frozr II” variant that we’re looking at here today is one of the highest-clocked offerings on the market, with a 870MHz core. The only competitor to top that is ASUS with its DirectCU II TOP edition, offering a staggering 925MHz Core. As always, there are price premiums for these “overclocked” cards, and because prices on any of them can vary from day-to-day, patience is a virtue when it comes to hopping on your favorite e-tailer to order one.

Price-wise, the leading competitor to the GTX 560 is the $190~$200 Radeon HD 6870 1GB from AMD. Across our games and synthetics we’re testing with today, we hope to gain an idea of which would be the best match for most gamers.

While MSI offers a GTX 560 with rock-bottom reference clocks, the card we were sent is of its “Twin Frozr II” variety. It features a very beefy cooler for optimum cooling power and a sharp design. It’s not as “blingy” as some of the other GPUs on the market, but we’re sure this was a consciousness decision on MSI’s part, as it’s one thing to set it apart from the crowd.

MSI GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II

MSI states that the dual-fan design employed here improves airflow by 50% over the reference design (pictured near the top of this page), and that its robust 4-pipe “SuperPipe” heatsink with copper base will help deliver unparalleled heat dissipation. By looks alone, we’d say that the card has a good chance of living up to its claims, as it offers both a beefy yet modestly-sized cooler, and is open on three edges for reduced airflow impedance.

As with most of MSI’s GPU and motherboard line-up, this Twin Frozr II card has received the “Military Class II” touch, which results in it featuring Super Ferrite chokes, Hi-C capacitors and a 6+1 power phase design. What’s this all mean? Improved power efficiency, and of course, improved overclocking.

MSI GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II

The cooler design as mentioned earlier features a total of four heatpipes and a long surface area covered with fins for efficient heat dissipation. Thanks to the numerous slightly-angled fins on the fans, lots of air will be pushed straight down through the fins and out the back, with some air potentially also leaving out towards the opposite end, thanks to it being open.

A growing trend across all manufacturers has been to keep protective covers on the PCI Express connection pins, and also covers over the video outputs. MSI is no exception here, but whether or not this fulfills a need that doesn’t exist, I’m not sure. I am doubtful many GPUs shipped in years past that have arrived dead where protectors like these would have saved them – but I could be wrong. EIther way, they are a nice touch.

MSI GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II

Before moving onto our test results, there are a couple of things I need to mention. First, we’ve benchmarked this card only using the specs that it came equipped with. We did this because NVIDIA doesn’t have real reference clocks, and all of the cards we’ve seen up to this point have been all over the place clock-wise.

This was not a card I was looking forward to benchmarking and writing about, because if we don’t have true reference clocks to, ahem, reference, then it makes coming up with conclusions a lot more difficult. Of course, NVIDIA knows this, and I’m sure it’s some of the reason the GTX 560 includes wildly varying “official” specs.

If weeks or a month passes and we can get a greater understanding of what most gamers will be picking up off the shelf – as in, which clocks receive the majority vote, then we will return to re-benchmark the card at those clocks.

Our benchmarking the card as-is will result in one anomaly: it’s super-comparable to the GTX 560 Ti. This is a well-known fact and one that NVIDIA is fine with. After all, the multitude of options is a good thing for gamers, right? Who’s to complain about something like that?

Aside from that, we were also forced to drop StarCraft II from our testing, due to it being unable to update itself. This was a repeatable problem (after a complete system reimaging), and though the game gave us an option to do a complete reinstall, I wasn’t about to go that far. We’re soon to upgrade our entire suite and will be adopting another RTS in its place. For the most part, StarCraft II hasn’t proven to be a great benchmark to begin with, so as far as we’re concerned, a replacement was inevitable. We do apologize nonetheless for having benchmarks from only four games, as it looks a little paltry at this point.

With that all said, let’s peruse our testing methodologies, and then tackle our results.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

Test Machine

The below table lists our testing machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all GPU testing, minus the graphics card. Each card used for comparison is also listed here, along with the driver version used. Each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective category on our site for that product.

Component
Model
Processor
Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition – Quad-Core @ 4.05GHz – 1.40v
Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-EX58-EXTREME – F13j BIOS (08/02/2010)
Memory
Corsair DOMINATOR – 12GB DDR3-1333 7-7-7-24-1T, 1.60v
AMD Graphics Radeon HD 6990 4GB (Reference) – Catalyst 11.4 Beta

Radeon HD 6970 2GB CrossFireX (Reference) – Catalyst 10,12 Beta

Radeon HD 6950 2GB CrossFireX (Reference) – Catalyst 10.12 Beta

Radeon HD 6970 2GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.12 Beta

Radeon HD 6950 2GB (Reference) – Catalyst 11.1

Radeon HD 6950 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst 11.1

Radeon HD 6870 1GB CrossFireX (Reference) – Catalyst 10.10

Radeon HD 6850 1GB CrossFireX (Reference) – Catalyst 10.10

Radeon HD 6870 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst October 5, 2010 Beta

Radeon HD 6850 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst October 5, 2010 Beta

Radeon HD 6790 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst March 23, 2011 Beta

Radeon HD 6670 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst March 23, 2011 Beta

Radeon HD 6570 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst March 23, 2011 Beta

Radeon HD 6450 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst March 23, 2011 Beta

Radeon HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 10.8

Radeon HD 5850 1GB (ASUS) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5830 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.8

Radeon HD 5770 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.8

Radeon HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 10.8
NVIDIA Graphics GeForce GTX 580 1536MB (Reference) – GeForce 262.99

GeForce GTX 570 1280MB (Reference) – GeForce 263.09

GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1024MB (Reference) – GeForce 266.56
GeForce GTX 560 1024MB (MSI) – GeForce 275.20

GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1024MB (MSI) – GeForce 267.59

GeForce GTX 480 1536MB (Reference) – GeForce 260.63
GeForce GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA) – GeForce 260.63

GeForce GTX 460 1GB (EVGA) – GeForce 260.63

GeForce GTX 450 1GB (ASUS) – GeForce 260.63
Audio
ASUS Xonar D2X
Storage
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
Cooler Master HAF X Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Corsair H50 Self-Contained Liquid Cooler
Et cetera
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing inaccurate test results. For example, disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

The most important services we disable are:

The full list of Windows services we assure are disabled is large, but for those interested in perusing it, please look here. Most of the services we disable are mild, but we go to such an extent to have the PC as highly optimized as possible.

Game Titles

At this time, we benchmark with three resolutions that represent three popular monitor sizes available today, 20″ (1680×1050), 24″ (1920×1080) and 30″ (2560×1600). Each of these resolutions offers enough of a variance in raw pixel output to warrant testing with it, and each properly represent a different market segment: mainstream, mid-range and high-end.

Because we value results generated by real-world testing, we don’t utilize timedemos. The possible exceptions might be Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage and Unigine’s Heaven 2.1. Though neither of these are games, both act as robust timedemos. We choose to use them as they’re a standard where GPU reviews are concerned.

All of our results are captured with the help of Beepa’s FRAPS 3.2.3, while stress-testing and temperature-monitoring is handled by OCCT 3.1.0 and GPU-Z, respectively.

For those interested in the exact settings we use for each game, direct screenshots can be seen below:

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

Colin McRae: Dirt 2 - Settings

Colin McRae: Dirt 2 - Settings

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 - Settings

Mafia II

Mafia II - Settings

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 - Settings

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

It’s not that often that faithful PC gamers get a proper racing game for their platform of choice, but Dirt 2 is one of those. While it is a “console port”, there’s virtually nothing in the game that will make that point stand out. The game as a whole takes good advantage of our PC’s hardware, and it’s as challenging as it is good-looking.

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

Manual Run-through: The race we chose to use in Dirt 2 is the first one available in the game, as it’s easily accessible and features a lot of GPU-pounding effects that the game has become known for, such as realistic dust and water effects, a large on-looking crowd of people and fine details on and off the track. Each run-through lasts the entire two laps, which comes out to about 2.5 minutes.

Even with a large “overclock”, the GTX 560 Ti doesn’t have too much to stress over. MSI’s card fell just behind it, and a smidgen ahead of AMD’s Radeon HD 6870. Overall, rather expected results so far.

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 might not belong to a well-established series of games, but with its launch, it looks like that might not be the case for long. The game offers not only superb graphics, but an enormous world to explore, and for people like me, a countless number of hidden items to find around it. During the game, you’ll be scaling skyscrapers, racing through jungles and fighting atop snow-drenched mountains. What’s not to like?

Just Cause 2

Manual Run-through: The level chosen here is part of the second mission in the game, “Casino Bust”. Our runthrough begins at the second-half of the level, which requires us to situate ourselves on top of a car and have our driver, Karl Blaine, speed us through part of the island to safety. This is a great mission for benchmarking as we get to see a lot of the landmass, even if some of it is at a distance.

Just Cause 2 favors AMD’s cards for some reason (despite it being an NVIDIA-promoted title back at its release), so the HD 6870 soars ahead here. In the non-Ti vs. Ti battle, both cards are so close in performance thanks to MSI’s clocks, that they might as well be declared equal.

Mafia II

For fans of the original Mafia game, having to wait an incredible eight years for a sequel must’ve been tough. But as we found out in our review, the wait might be forgotten as the game is quite good. It doesn’t feature near as much depth as say, Grand Theft Auto IV, but it does a masterful job of bringing you back to the 1940’s and letting you experience the Mafia lifestyle.

Mafia II

Manual Run-through: Because this game doesn’t allow us to save a game in the middle of a level, we chose to use chapter 7, “In Loving Memory…”, to do our runthrough. That chapter begins us on a street corner with many people around, and from there, we run to our garage, get in our car, and speed out to the street. Our path ultimately leads us to the park, and takes close to two minutes to accomplish.

Where Just Cause 2 favors AMD cards, the vice versa can be said about Mafia II. There’s been an interesting turn-of-events, however. While the non-Ti MSI card has had a hard time to surpass the reference Ti model in most cases, it soars past it here. It seems that for whatever reason, the higher clocks mean a lot more to this game than the number of CUDA cores. At 2560×1600, it even manages to match the GTX 570!

Metro 2033

One of the more popular Internet memes for the past couple of years has been, “Can it run Crysis?”, but as soon as Metro 2033 launched, that’s a meme that should have died. Metro 2033 is without question one of the beefiest games on the market, and though it supports DirectX 11, it’s almost a feature worth ignoring, because the extent you’ll need to go to in order to see playable framerates isn’t likely going to be worth it.

Metro 2033

Manual Run-through: The level we use for testing is part of chapter 4, called “Child”, where we must follow a linear path through multiple corridors until we reach our end point, which takes a total of about 90 seconds. Please note that due to the reason mentioned above, we test this game in DX10 mode, as DX11 simply isn’t that realistic from a performance standpoint.

We’ve returned to our original state in the non-Ti vs. Ti battle, but for the most part, both cards, and also the HD 6870, perform very similarly across all three resolutions.

Futuremark 3DMark 11

Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.

Futuremark 3DMark 11

Similar to a real game, 3DMark 11 offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test. The benchmark doesn’t natively support 2560×1600, so to benchmark with that, we choose the Extreme profile and simply change the resolution.

At the intended resolution of 1080p, MSI’s Twin Frozr II GTX 560 sits at just about the same spot as the reference Ti model. What this tells us is that in some games, such as what we saw with Mafia II, both of the cards can flip-flop positions, depending on how the game engine uses the card. In the end though, the Ti reference version, with its extra cores, would have the advantage overall.

Unigine Heaven 2.1

While Futuremark is a well-established name where PC benchmarking is concerned, Unigine is just beginning to become exposed to people. The company’s main focus isn’t benchmarks, but rather its cross-platform game engine which it licenses out to other developers, and also its own games, such as a gorgeous post-apocalytic oil strategy game. The company’s benchmarks are simply a by-product of its game engine.

Unigine Heaven 2.1

The biggest reason that the company’s “Heaven” benchmark grew in popularity rather quickly is that both AMD and NVIDIA promoted it for its heavy use of tessellation, a key DirectX 11 feature. Like 3DMark Vantage, the benchmark here is overkill by design, so results here aren’t going to directly correlate with real gameplay. Rather, they showcase which card models can better handle both DX11 and its GPU-bogging features.

The results here are quite expected, with the Ti version of the GTX 560 coming out on top, and MSI’s non-Ti coming close. Both cards outperform the HD 6870 where tessellation performance is concerned, giving us one of the more substantial comparative differences we’ve seen.

Power & Temperatures

To test our graphics cards for both temperatures and power consumption, we utilize OCCT for the stress-testing, GPU-Z for the temperature monitoring, and a Kill-a-Watt for power monitoring. The Kill-a-Watt is plugged into its own socket, with only the PC connect to it.

As per our guidelines when benchmarking with Windows, when the room temperature is stable (and reasonable), the test machine is boot up and left to sit at the desktop until things are completely idle. Because we are running such a highly optimized PC, this normally takes one or two minutes. Once things are good to go, the idle wattage is noted, GPU-Z is started up to begin monitoring card temperatures, and OCCT is set up to begin stress-testing.

To push the cards we test to their absolute limit, we use OCCT in full-screen 2560×1600 mode, and allow it to run for 15 minutes, which includes a one minute lull at the start, and a four minute lull at the end. After about 5 minutes, we begin to monitor our Kill-a-Watt to record the max wattage.

In the case of dual-GPU configurations, we measure the temperature of the top graphics card, as in our tests, it’s usually the one to get the hottest. This could depend on GPU cooler design, however.

Note: Due to changes AMD and NVIDIA made to the power schemes of their respective current-gen cards, we were unable to run OCCT on them. Rather, we had to use a less-strenuous run of 3DMark Vantage. We will be retesting all of our cards using this updated method the next time we overhaul our suite.

Compared to the reference GTX 560 Ti design, MSI’s Twin Frozer non-Ti shines. Despite being tested in a room with a temp 3°C higher, the card ran 13°C cooler at full load, though sat a bit warmer at idle with +4°C tacked on. The fact that the room temperature was just a bit warmer could have had something to do with it.

Power-wise, MSI’s card draws a bit more juice, with +15W at load and +12W at idle. This is no doubt due to its “overclocked” state, and while it does prove to be mighty fast, the reference Ti does remain faster with a lower power consumption.

Final Thoughts

Here I am again, needing to come up with something interesting to say about a graphics card that as a whole isn’t inherently too interesting. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti upon its release filled a gap that needed to be filled in the current-generation of cards, but the non-Ti version feels like a card that plugs no holes, or stands out of the crowd.

Compared to the Ti version released this past January, the non-Ti GTX 560 features 48 less cores, while easily being able to be clocked the same. If the card was released as such, we might have seen greater differences with our benchmarks, but with even a modest “overclock”, the card will come so close to the Ti version that NVIDIA’s bringing it out at all is interesting..

But of course, I just described a $200 card that, when equipped with a minor clock boost, compares nicely to a card that at its minimum can be had for $230. And that’s after a ~$20 mail-in rebate. As always, this seems to be a launch that seeks out to win gamer hearts in the pricing department. With the likes of an ASUS card at 925MHz, there’s no question that this card could easily surpass the performance of the reference Ti, so for avid overclockers, the GTX 560 looks to be a great $200 choice.

MSI GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II

The problem with out-right recommending the GTX 560, though, once again boils down to competition. At <$200, the HD 6870 compares nicely to the GTX 560, making it difficult for us to reach a clear-cut conclusion. This is no surprise… which launch article have we been able to publish in recent memory where we could give a no-brainer conclusion?

The situation is made worse with the fact that GPU prices can vary from day to day, so prior to purchasing, it’s always important to be on the lookout for cards that might be on the next-tier up but might be selling at a better price. In terms of overall performance, a stock GTX 560 will come a fair bit behind an HD 6870, while a GTX 560 Ti will flip-flop strengths with that card.

Other considerations include multi-monitor support, which AMD better supports at this point in time. With a Radeon card, you can easily configure three displays at a single time, while an NVIDIA solution will always require a second card due to its design. To NVIDIA’s benefit though, it offers things such as CUDA and PhysX, so between AMD and NVIDIA, one strength may outweigh the other.

While a slightly odd release, the GTX 560 does hold its ground in some regards, and MSI’s variant makes things even better with a great cooler and design, and out-of-the-gate clocks that put it on par in some cases with its bigger brother that costs about $50 more.

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