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MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC reviewed

by on22 September 2009




Review: 1GHz of goodness with Cyclone cooling


Today we bring you MSI’s R4890 Cyclone SOC graphics card, which runs at an impressive 1GHz. Apart from the higher clocks, MSI’s card is pretty famous for its large Cyclone cooling, which is one of the largest coolers we’ve seen on graphics cards so far. As usual you can view pictures in higher resolution by clicking them. 

Before we move on to discuss MSI’s top model, let us recap what the reference HD 4890 is about. The ticker found in Radeon HD 4890 cards is the RV790 core, which is actually an improved version of the RV770 core. The basic specs have stayed the same, but the clocks have gotten a significant boost. Radeon HD 4890’s reference clocks are at 850MHz core, which was a pretty tough to reach on the HD 4870, even with the water-cooled cards. The new GPU is thankfully much more flexible and allows for overclocking beyond the magical 1GHz threshold. This is at the same time the reason why AMD allowed for overclocked HD4890 cards from day one, and although initial OC cards were running at 900MHz, it didn’t take long for the 1GHz versions to catch up.

The reference HD 4890 card comes with 1GB of GDDR5 memory, DirectX 10.1 support, 800 stream processing units, Unified Video Decoder 2 (second generation), HDMI support with 7.1 surround, PCI-Express 2.0, dynamic GPU power management, and the list goes on. The DirectX 10.1 support can be put to use in certain games such as HAWX, so if you use Vista or Windows 7 you can easily get more frames if you turn the DX10.1 on.


MSI R4890 Cyclone SOC packs all the good things that grace the reference HD 4890, whereas the not-so-good ones, such as the cooling, have been replaced. The R4890 Cyclone SOC comes with a large 10cm PWM fan and MSI claims using this cooler will result in up to 60% more airflow than with the reference cooling. Due to the size of the cooling, it’s possible to decrease the fan RPM, thus lowering noise levels as well, while still keeping the cooling efficiency. The fan is located in the center, in order to maximize efficiency.


In order to transfer heat from the base to the cooling fins, MSI used two large SuperPipe heatpipes and two smaller, standard-sized heatpipes . MSI uses the term SuperPipe for the 8mm diameter heatpipes, which do a lot to improve heat-transfer and cooling efficiency.


The Cyclone cooling’s heatpipes start at the large base, which leans on the GPU, and travel in a semicircle around the fan, and thus they’re cooled at every point. Since there are two heatpipes on each side of the GPU, MSI handled this by elevating the SuperPipe and placing it at about 2cm above the PCB. Such moves resulted in a card that is about 13cm high.


MSI made sure that the card is made with quality Hi-C CaP capacitors with tantalum core, which are currently the top of the offer. For some reason though, MSI is calling them Military Class components, together with the Solid State Chokes and Solid CAP used on the R4890 Cyclone card.

In order for the Cyclone's core to run stable at 1000MHz, it naturally needs more power in comparison to the reference card's 850MHz. Unfortunately for R4890 Cyclone SOC, the consumption is not just a bit higher, as we're talking about up to 50W more compared to the reference card, and up to 10W more in idle mode. 


MSI made good use of the RV790 overclocking potential and made the R4890 Cyclone SOC – one of the better HD4890 around. The fact that it’s not using a bit too loud reference cooling is just one of the good things about this card.

With the Cyclone cooler, MSI managed to hit the sweet spot between good cooling and silence. While running, the cooling keeps the core at about 81°C, while at the same time staying well below the noise levels on the reference card, which easily goes over 90°C in the same scenarios. Still, Cyclone isn’t inaudible either, as you’ll hear it while the GPU is in 3D mode, but it’s still not too loud and definitely a progress compared to the reference design.

MSI uses Qimonda's IDGV1G-05A1F1C-40X GDDR5 memory rated at 1000MHz (4000MHz GDDR5 effectively)

MSI’s Cyclone series features three cards – the R4890 Cyclone (850 MHz core, 975 MHz memory),the R4890 Cyclone OC (880 MHz core, 975 MHz memory) and our today’s tested R4890 Cyclone SOC (1000 MHz core, 1000 MHz memory). Apart from the cooling solution, the common feature on all three of these cards is the native HDMI out.

Besides the HDMI out, our R4890 Cyclone SOC card features dual-link DVI and D-Sub outs.


The card will draw power from two 6-pin power connectors. The following picture shows the Cyclone cooling’s proximity to the power components, but they are cooled only by the air pushed from the fan. Since we’re talking Military Class components, this means the power regulation circuitry will run fine at higher temperatures that might occur during using an HD 4890.

The packaging is tough and comes with a handle, but this time it’s much prettier than we’re used to see from MSI. There are no ugly monsters we’ve almost grown used to seeing on MSI’s graphics card, but rather a large picture of Cyclone cooling. This is a wise choice as this is the main thing that makes it special compared to other Radeon HD 4890 cards. The color scheme is black and white, and the box puts a large emphasis on Cyclone cooling. Of course, MSI didn’t forget to highlight the fact that the card is overclocked and that only top Military Class components have been used in the manufacturing process.


The packaging contains the basics – the driver CD and two PCI-E power cables.

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Last modified on 22 September 2009
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