PC graphics cards live and die on the strength of their benchmark performance, and the smallest advantage in those tests can sway customers to choose one brand over another. That’s why every manufacturer is desperate to present its wares in the best and fastest possible light, which in turn might be why MSI has been shipping review graphics cards clocked higher than its retail ones.
The discovery was made by TechPowerUp, who noticed that the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Gaming X card they were sent for review was running at faster GPU and memory clock speeds than the retail version. This was because the review card was set to operate in the OC (overclocking) mode out of the box, whereas the retail card runs in the more regular Gaming mode out of the box. The result? An unobservant reviewer might accidentally misrepresent the OC performance numbers as the stock results from the card, lending MSI’s product an unearned helping hand.
The only goal of such actions is to deceive
Looking back on its history of review products, the site found this was a recurring pattern with MSI stretching back for years. Fellow Taiwanese manufacturer Asus, in spite of having better global name recognition and reputation, has also shown itself guilty of preprogramming review cards with an extra overclocking boost. Needless to say, the only goal of such actions is to deceive — both the consumer and the reviewer — though perhaps some companies have felt compelled to follow suit after the trend was identified among competitors.
American rival EVGA has seized the opportunity for some positive press off the back of the MSI and Asus news by reiterating its commitment for What You See Is What You Get gaming. The company promises that it only ever ships review units identical to the ones it puts on retail shelves, so any boosts or overclocking you see in reviews will also be present in the product you buy.
TechPowerUp revealed its findings on Thursday of last week, but as of writing today, there has not been any official response from either MSI or Asus.
Update: It turns out that MSI had already addressed the matter, in a comment provided to HardOCP Editor-in-Chief Kyle Bennett, back in 2014:
"We recently were made aware that some of you who purchased a MSI graphic card with the clock speed being lower than what the media reviewed. We can assure you that this is not some sort of shenanigans or a marketing ploy. We did send the media review samples with the OC Mode speed selected which is included in the program called the Gaming App. This setting is different than what the retail video cards are being shipped with. All consumers who purchase our GAMING VGA cards should have the default Gaming Mode clock speed selected, but by installing the Gaming App you can increase the clock speed of what was represented in most reviews by pressing the OC Mode button. This does NOT void the warranty. We simply wanted to promote our software called the Gaming App which is only included in our GAMING branded video card products. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience for not explaining it clearly to some of the media that published reviews and to the gamers and enthusiasts that purchased one of our GAMING products."
Unfortunately, it appears that MSI continues to fail at communicating clearly the difference between review and retail cards and the reasoning behind that decision.