In the past couple of months, we've seen numerous changes in the field of graphics hardware resulting in significant and rapid price drops. Geforce 9600 GT is no exception, and you can find vanilla versions at €85. Overclocked and cards with non-reference cooling are common, but there’s only one called N9600 GT Hybrid Freezer. This card is made by MSI and named after an interesting cooler feature – the cooler is hybrid, active-passive, meaning it runs when it’s needed and powers down when not.
Let us clarify – the sensors on the cooler’s base are constantly measuring temperatures, so when they exceed a certain threshold, the fan starts spinning. The fan will keep running until temperatures revert to safe limits and will then power down. In passive operation, Hybrid Freezer cooler is, of course, inaudible.
In order to keep the GPU temperatures in check, Hybrid Freezer packs four heatpipes which transfer the heat from the base to the heatsink. Densely placed thin aluminum fins take care of heat dissipation.
Still, with such small dissipation surface, it’s impossible to make Hybrid Freezer run in passive mode all the time. The graphics processor, just like any processor for that matter, doesn’t like high temperatures, so temperatures are constantly measured. The readings are taken from the base that’s in direct contact with the core. The photo below shows that the measuring probe is an integral part of the cooler and it’s positioned right above the spot where the base and the GPU meet.
Although the fan uses a 4-in cable to connect to the motherboard, the fan is managed by this graphics card’s programmed BIOS. The fan will start spinning when temperatures exceed 80°C, but in our case the threshold was at 78°C. These temperatures are common when running 3D apps, but it’s important to note that the fan is not likely to start when using 2D in normal office work.
Hybrid Freezer is, as you can see, quite a charmer. A black mesh grill covers the fan that performs its task flawlessly before powering down.
The fan is located in the center of the heatsink that’s covered in plastic in order to blow as much air towards the heatsink as possible. Due to the cooler’s design, the card takes up two slots on the motherboard. The cooler doesn’t feature classic design with a turbine and an outlet, so hot air will stay inside the case. Even more so, the cooler doesn’t even reach the end of the card, and you can see that for yourself on the following photo.
MSI went that extra mile and really “pimped their cooler” and a careful choice of the font and writings on the plastic is proof of that. The box, which we’ll show you later on, also features important information on this graphics card. One of the emphasized signs is the one telling users not to panic if their fans stops running, as this is not a defect, but caution is still advised as the heatpipe can get really hot.
In order to keep your card silent as long as possible, i.e. keep the cooler in passive mode; it would be wise to provide adequate airflow within the case.
Now that we know how Hybrid Freezer cooler works, let’s check how long the card stays in active mode.
We installed the card in Cooler Master’s M 690 case packing two fans. The apps we used are everyday Web and office apps, but we also used Adobe Photoshop. In the three days we spent testing the Hybrid Freezer cooler we wrote down many notes and calculated that the fan starts spinning every 20-25 minutes. The time it takes the cooler to lower temperatures below the threshold is about 4 minutes.
Of course, this all depends on the actual workload levels and external factors such as the in-case airflow. The following picture shows the readings taken at the point where the fan cooled the GPU to 39°C and powered down. Right upon the fan going passive, the temperatures keep increasing until they reach 78°C when the fan will start spinning again.
The only downside to this “passive-active” operation is the point when the card switches from complete silence to audible operation. The fan is not too loud and it runs for only a couple of minutes, but the mere fact that it’s there and that there’s no more “golden silence” is somewhat irritating.
MSI N9600 GT Hybrid Freezer runs at 700MHz – 50MHz higher than reference, whereas memory was left unchanged at 900MHz, but the card packs 1GB of it.
The memory doesn’t feature any special cooling and all the modules are located on the same side of the PCB. The following picture clearly shows that the memory doesn’t touch the cooler and that it doesn’t feature any special cooling.
The printed board is red with all solid capacitors, and it’s not very different from the one used by standard MSI’s 9600 GT cards. We’ve taken the cooler off and we can say that it’s not to heavy as it’s mounted using 4 screws.
The memory modules in question are made by Qimonda.
The card, just like the other cards in this generation, features an SLI connector that enables for some nice gaming power provided you include a second card. SPDIF in is located next to the SLI connector, and you’ll need it if you want to route video and audio to your HDTV via one HDMI cable.
MSI made a nice manual that describes in detail the procedure of connecting the SPDIF cable to your graphics card and the motherboard. Although inexperienced users consider this a complicated task, very few manufacturers take the time to replace old manuals and update their aging instructions.
The card is powered via a 6-pin power connector located on the end of the card.
The box features all the needed cables, a driver CD and an installation manual.
The box itself is MSI’s standard design and features a photo of Hybrid Freezer cooler and some technical details. I/O panel features two dual-link DVIs with HDCP and HDMI support. The card features new PCI Express 2.0 interface that is, of course, backwards compatible with older motherboards with PCI Express 1.0 interface.