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MSI GEFORCE GTX 660 HAWK 2GB Video Card Review

We have a look at the latest HAWK video card from MSI which is driven by the NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 660 GPU.

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Tue, Nov 13 2012 9:54 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 93%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Package

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VIEW GALLERY - 32 IMAGES

As the year comes to an end we're going to see the video card market quiet down as companies have released almost everything they want over the last few months. Unlike motherboards, we don't see video card companies offer these refreshes. Instead once they've kind of done their initial push, that's very much the end of it.

Over the last few weeks we saw NVIDIA release the mid-range GTX 600 series cards and in reliable fashion we saw MSI get into the model straight away by releasing models under its popular Power Edition Series. Today we're looking at another mid-range GTX 600 series based card and this one falls under the slightly higher end HAWK series.

Today will be our first video card review which follows our new benchmark lineup that you first saw in our Catalyst 12.11 article late last month. As always, though, there are a number of things that we need to do before we get into the performance side of things.

The first thing we're going to do is take a closer look at the package and once we've done that we'll move onto the card itself. Moving on we'll check out the specification side of things and being a HAWK card we'll also be looking at the overclocking side. While normally we'd skip the reference testing, because we've had to completely restart our video card benchmarking, we'll be including it today alongside the overclocked results.

Once we've gone over the specifications and the overclocking we'll quickly cover our testbed, talk a little about the cards that are going to be in our graphs today and get into the performance side of things. As mentioned earlier, though, the first thing we need to do is look at what MSI is doing with the bundle of the GTX 660 HAWK today.

Package

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Looking at the front of the box it's very typical with the HAWK design that we've grown to expect. You can see some of the main features including the fact we're dealing with an OC Edition card. Opening up the box you can see we get a wealth of information with the top half of the box focusing on all the features that the HAWK series gives us. Some of the main included the Military Class III components, Unlocked Digital Power, and the 3x3 OC Kit which brings V-Check Points, Triple Over Voltage and Triple Temp Monitor.

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Moving to the bottom of the box we get a look at the card for the first time and the focus here is more on the cooling side of things and the Twin Frozr IV cooler. Turning over we can see the back of the box mainly focuses on the GTXX 660 GPU itself.

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As we move inside the box and check out the bundle there are no major surprises. Alongside the normal line up of paperwork and Military Class II certification, we've got two dual Molex to 6-pin PCIe power connectors, DVI to VGA connector and three cables that are used to check the voltage of the card.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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Moving onto the card you can see that the overall design isn't anything too new thanks to the fact we've seen the Twin Frozr IV cooler for a while now on a number of cards. It's a cooler that has served extremely well since introduction and should do well on the more mid-range focused GTX 660.

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Taking a quick look around the card you can see power comes in the form of two 6-pin PCIe power connectors. Staying across the top but moving closer to the front you can see we've got a single SLI connector present.

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Finally moving onto the I/O side we've got two Dual Link DVI connectors in the form of a DVI-D and DVI-I. Along with that you can see we've also got a HDMI connector and a DisplayPort connector to round off the connectivity on the MSI GTX 660 HAWK.

Specifications

Out of the box a reference clocked GTX 660 carries a core clock of 980MHz while the 2GB of GDDR5 carries a 6008MHz QDR clock. Looking below you can see the default clocks on the MSI GTX 660 HAWK have been bumped to 1085MHz on the core while in typical MSI fashion MSI have chosen to leave the memory clock alone at 6008MHz QDR.

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Looking above, though, you can see we've overclocked our card bumping the core clock up to 1124MHz. As for the 2GB of GDDR5 you can see we've boosted that a decent chunk to 6836MHz QDR. Why didn't MSI bump up the memory core? That's a bit disappointing.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS and Corsair.

Looking above you can see our testbed which as usual has gone through no changes since the move over to the X79 platform.

What has changed a lot is our benchmark line up. We won't go into much detail on that since you'll be able to see it for yourself over the next several pages and instead we'll just quickly cover the cards that will be in our graphs here today.

Due to the fact we've got a new benchmark line up it means that everything has to be tested from scratch again as all our results get thrown out the window. For that reason, alongside the MSI GTX 660 HAWK which will be running at stock and overclocked, we've got the Sapphire HD 7870 OC Edition and AMD HD 7970 GHz Edition running the latest 12.11 drivers.

Let's get started!

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

Benchmarks - 3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/

Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Starting off with 3DMark 11 we can see that under the Performance preset the GTX 660 HAWK lags a little. When we move to the higher resolution Extreme preset we see the HAWK jump ahead and the overclock boosts performance slightly more.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3

Developer Homepage: http://www.unigine.com

Product Homepage: http://unigine.com/press-releases/091022-heaven_benchmark//

New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Moving into Heaven we can see that the GTX 660 falls back a little in this case. As for the overclock you can see performance gets slightly boosted, but not by a major amount.

Benchmarks - Phantasy Star Online 2

Phantasy Star Online 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.sega.com/?t=EnglishUSA

Product Homepage: http://www.pso2.com/us/html/index.html

Play Phantasy Star Online 2 and experience revolutionary combat in an action-driven, free-to-play multiplayer online RPG from SEGA. Take a journey into an immersive sci-fi fantasy narrative and explore mysterious worlds to unravel their secrets. Join fellow adventurers and fight against the legions of darkness to banish them from the galaxy.

Score explanation: Less than 2000: Please adjust your game settings because the processing load is quite heavy.

2000 through 5000: The game runs fine at the setting, if you have room, you can adjust some settings.

5001+: The game works wonderfully at this setting.

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Looking at Phantasy Star Online 2 performance we can see that the overclock boosts us over that 5000+ number which means the game is going to run extremely smooth.

Out of the box we can see performance between the GTX 660 HAWK and HD 7870 OC Edition is pretty close.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1

Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.lostplanet2game.com/

Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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Lost Planet 2 numbers across the board aren't bad for the GTX 660 HAWK.

We can see that the overclock brings 2560 x 1600 performance in throwing distance of the 60 FSP number we're looking for to provide a solid gaming experience.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

Developer Homepage: http://www.eidos.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.justcause.com/

Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

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Just Cause 2 numbers are similar to Lost Planet 2 where we see this MSI video card just fall shy of the 60 FPS number at the highest resolution. Looking above you can see it's not an issue the HD 7870 OC is having as it manages to sneak past it.

Benchmarks - F1 2012

F1 2012

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com/uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com

In F1 2012 players will feel the unparalleled thrill of becoming a FORMULA ONE driver with a host of new features, wide-ranging technical and gameplay advancements and extensive competitive and co-operative multiplayer components. F1 2012 will feature all of the official teams, drivers and circuits from the 2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, including the debut of the 2012 FORMULA 1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX at Austin, Texas and the return of Germany's famous Hockenheim circuit to the calendar.

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F1 2012 performance is strong across the board with some impressive numbers being seen at all resolutions.

When it comes to overclocking you can see a slight bump in performance, but nothing too major.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.4a-games.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.thqnordic.com/

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360.[3] In March 2006, 4A Games announced a partnership with Glukhovsky to collaborate on the game.[4] The game was announced at the 2009 Games Convention in Leipzig;[5] a first trailer came along with the announcement.[6] A sequel was announced, currently titled Metro: Last Light.

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Checking out Metro 2033 performance you can see we've got playable numbers at 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050.

You can see when moving to 2560 x 1600 that performance is just too low with mid 40 FPS numbers.

Benchmarks - Dirt Showdown

Dirt Showdown

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com/uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com/uk/dirtshowdown/360/

DiRT Showdown is the new arcade racing game from the team that brought you the award-winning DiRT series, uncaged in 2012. Pick up and play controls combine with electrifying events, frenzied crowds and stunning graphics to deliver high octane, dive in and drive thrills from event one.

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Looking at Dirt Showdown you can see at 1680 x 1050 we manage to break the 60 FPS number just, but moving north in the resolution table you can see we really struggle to pull in decent FPS.

Benchmarks - Nexuiz

Nexuiz

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.alientrap.org/

Product Homepage: http://www.nexuiz.com/

Nexuiz is an Arena First Person shooter coming soon to consoles. Nexuiz is fast paced with extremely competitive game play. IllFonic brings Alientrap Software's Nexuiz to next-gen gaming consoles around the world while staying true to the game play refined over the years through development. IllFonic introduces a new Victorian influenced art style that is simultaneously futuristic and sophisticated. Nexuiz for consoles is powered by CryENGINE 3.

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Looking at Nexuiz performance you can see apart from the higher end HD 7970 GHz Edition the other cards struggle to hit the 60 FPS number at every resolution - even when overclocking comes into the mix.

Benchmarks - Sniper Elite V2

Sniper Elite V2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/

Product Homepage: http://sniperelitev2.com/us/age.html

Sniper Elite V2 features detailed sniping simulation with advanced ballistics, taking into account gravity, wind, velocity, bullet penetration, aim stability and more. Guaranteed to provide players with the most realistic simulation of military sharpshooting yet available.

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Looking at Sniper Elite V2 numbers we can see that 1680 x 1050 is fine while moving to 1920 x 1200 and 2560 x 1600 moves the performance below the 60 FPS number we want.

Overclocking gives us a slight boost, but nothing where we see ourselves move from below 60 FPS to over it.

Benchmarks - Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://eu.square-enix.com/en

Product Homepage: http://www.sleepingdogs.net/

The core gameplay of Sleeping Dogs consists of giving the player an open world environment in which to move around freely. Sleeping Dogs is played as an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective action-adventure game with role-playing elements. The player controls Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer, as he goes undercover to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad organization. On foot, the player character has the ability to walk, run, jump, climb over obstacles and swim, as well as use weapons and martial arts in combat. Players also drive a variety of vehicles including cars, boats, and motorcycles.

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Sleeping Dogs numbers for the GTX 660 HAWK look good at 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050. Moving to 2560 x 1600 you can see we fall to the 50 FPS mark and the overclock isn't strong enough to bring those numbers up to where we need them to be.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01

Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long

Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/

Buy It Here

The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montréal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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While a little behind the HD 7870 OC at the higher resolutions we can overall still see very strong performance, as you'd expect.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

While we test all our games with maximum in-game settings, turning on Anti-Aliasing (AA) and Antistrophic Filtering (AF) helps take the intensity of our testing to another level.

Here we see video cards go from playable FPS to an unplayable FPS and the real power houses continue to help break that 60 FPS mark we always aim for to provide a smooth gaming experience.

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While we manage to get playable numbers at 1920 x 1200 and overclocked sees us so close to that 30 FPS minimum at 2560 x 1600, we can again see that the HD 7870 OC does manage to come out ahead, though, at both resolutions and at 2560 x 1600 it's able to sneak past that 30 FPS minimum.

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As we get into something a bit more intensive you can see that these mid-range cards just can't give us the numbers we need for a solid gaming experience.

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Looking at Just Cause 2 you can see we're able to get some playable numbers at 1920 x 1200, but moving to 2560 x 1600 just isn't an option.

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Moving to one of our most recent benchmarks you're not going to do a whole lot with 25 and 13 FPS as an average.

Temperature Test

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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Checking out the heat numbers we can see that the Twin Frozr IV cooler does a good job of giving us very reasonable numbers.

Sound Test

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Noise levels sit in the bottom half of the graph coming in around the 60dB mark which is a very reasonable number.

Power Consumption Test

Using our PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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Finishing up with power draw you can see at load we're floating a little under 400 watt. Just about any quality power supply is going to be capable of powering this kind of system.

Final Thoughts

As you'd expect MSI has done a good job with the GTX 660 here and bringing into the HAWK family which has been a series that stood out in the mid-range segment. Out of the box performance is strong as you'd expect, but when it comes to the overclocking side of things, performance isn't quite as strong, since the overclock wasn't as strong as we expected it would be.

This of course could be due to the fact that maybe the GTX 660 isn't quite as strong an overclocker in general. Going through the benchmarks, though, you can see that performance on a whole is pretty strong for the price. You have to remember that while the overclock might not be as strong when compared to the out of the box numbers, the MSI GTX 660 HAWK also comes out of the box overclocked, which means that against those clocks, our overclock doesn't look quite as impressive. 1124MHz against the default 980MHz, though, is more impressive.

Coming in at the mid $200 price mark the GTX 660 HAWK indeed manages to hit at the right price point. There's no denying that when it comes to value the GTX 660 series cards do what the GTX x60 series have always done - offer fantastic bang for buck. Outside of the stronger overclocking ability the HAWK series brings with it, we also see stronger overall performance thanks to a number of improvements. Along with that the Twin Frozr cooler as always does a good job of keeping the video card running at a reasonable temperature and noise level.

Overall the GTX 660 HAWK is exactly what you'd expect when it comes to an MSI video card. We've got strong out of the box performance and better overclocking abilities thanks to the improved components and triple over voltage feature. Price is strong and if you're looking at spending around the mid $200 mark then this is more than likely a video card you should be looking at.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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