As mentioned previously, installation requires removing two riser plates to accommodate the vented piece on this card. The cooler does overhang adjacent PCI slots, effectively negating the use of two of them. Fortunately most motherboards today come with the majority of accessory functions built onboard, limiting the need for extra add-in cards. Depending on the layout of your board, there may be issues with chipset coolers, however most manufacturers have taken different-sized cards into account when it comes to designing their boards. Where you will more likely have a problem is when using aftermarket coolers like the Blue Ice Pro. The mounting bracket actually comes in contact with the corner of the 8600GTS, which was not a problem before with the slightly-shorter 6600.
There were no such problems when installing the 8600GTS OC on my new 570 SLI board. The stock chipset cooler is positioned neatly between the dual PCIe slots and sits low enough that it doesn't interfere with the cooler overhang on the card. With the physical installation complete, all there is left to do is install the software. Since I was upgrading from the 6600 I had removed the Forceware 91.31 drivers before I shut down, and when Windows restarted it detected the new card as just a standard VGA display adapter. The software CD comes with MSI-specific Forceware drivers on it, which must be used in order to take advantage of MSI's built-in overclocking and tweaking features. The rest of the CD contains a myriad of other utilities MSI decided to include with their video card. These include the MSI DualCore Center, MSI Live!, MSI Live Update 3, MSI SecureDoc, MSI GoodMem, MSI Lockbox, and MSI WMI Info. There are also other 3rd party utilites provided such as trialware and internet security software.
After a reboot for the driver/software install I opened my display properties and noticed immediately that the MSI driver had implemented a few more tabs than what are usually there. From the VGA Information tab we can see that MSI has used the 162.18 Forceware drivers. These are based off an official nVidia release however due to the modifications made by MSI they are no longer recognized as WHQL-approved.
On the VGA Clock tab there are sliders to manually adjust core and memory clock frequencies. Users may opt to instead enable the Dynamic Overclocking Technology and select one of six available levels of overclock. These presets will overclock the card as follows (remember the card is already overclocked at stock speeds).
The Dual Core Center and OSD are supposed to offer hardware monitoring, video tweaking and overclocking from a convenient desktop panel, and requires .NET 2.0 to run which is installed as part of the application. However I could not get either to launch. I'm not sure what the problem might have been, this was installed on a fresh Windows XP load. Anyway, the overclocking and tweaking can still be done from the Display Properties window.
MSI Live! is not very useful in my opinion. After a reboot the first thing it did was change my wallpaper to some goofy-looking warrior similar to the one imprinted on the video card cooler. It also added a desktop toolbar with icons that seemed to have little to do with graphics settings but had pop-up titles like News, Maps and Search. I don't like programs that make changes without my say-so and I don't want a bunch of useless apps running in the background, so I uninstalled this one.
Next up I tried the Live Update 3, which connected to MSI's website and scanned for updates that may be available. The only update it reported however was an update for the update utility, which I downloaded and installed, and then it reported no more updates.
The rest of the apps seem to be 3rd party that were adopted by MSI. The SecureDoc utility appears to offer password-protection for your documents, however I didn't try it out. The GoodMem app puts an icon on your taskbar that displays the amount of free memory available. Right-clicking on the icon gives you the option to free automatically, free one time, an about (the program) and an exit. When I clicked on the automatic the number changed from 13xx to 15xx but I have no idea what 200Mb of processes it removed from memory. With no other way to specify options or preferences I decided not to keep it running and uninstalled it.
The MSI LockBox claims to secure your desktop from unwanted use when you are away from the console. Since this is my home PC this feature wasn't very useful for me. I could see this being useful if you were gaming at work or had roommates that liked to snoop in your files. MSI WMI Info was able to provide good detailed information about system hardware, such as revision numbers, BIOS and firmware versions, dates, identification of make/model, etc. This actually seemed like it could be a handy application to have around if you ever needed to retrieve any of that info, I just didn't need it at the moment.
Somehow amidst installing these utilities there was another program that got onto my PC, a monitor-tweaking utility called 3Deep. It launched a wizard that walked me through several selections having to do with color and contrast, like adjusting contrast until one of a series of lighter bars just disappears from view, moving a slider until alternating bars of color appear to blend with each other, etc. I've used these types of monitor tweaks before with little success, and sure enough when the wizard was done I thought my display looked much too washed out and light. Luckily it didn't save the settings and after a reboot my screen returned to normal and I uninstalled that application.
Some users may not care for MSI's utilities and would rather stick to using the official nVidia software. The latest WHQL Forceware driver available from their website (at the time of review) is 163.71 which is quite a few revisions newer than the MSI supplied driver. To complement the newer driver you will also want to download the latest nTune, currently 5.05.47, which opens up performance-enhancing overclock and tweaking functions from the nVidia Control Panel. Typically newer drivers will yield better benchmark scores and game performance so I will be using this setup to compare to the MSI supplied software to see which is better.
Continue to overclocking and benchmarks.