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MSI GeForce GTX 580 Lightning Review

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SKYMTL

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The GTX 580 may be priced beyond most people’s budgets, but for all intents and purposes it has been selling quite well due to a resurgent interest in current and future DX11 titles. NVIDIA’s partners have also recently jumped on the bandwagon by introducing their own versions with custom designs and higher than reference clock speeds. ASUS is currently selling the DirectCu edition while their Matrix branded card will soon be available and Gigabyte’s Super Overclock is slowly becoming available at more retailers. The subject of this review however is MSI’s eagerly anticipated Lightning-branded GTX 580 that packs an absolute ton of features.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-64.jpg

Back when the original GF100 cards were released, board partners had some serious issues when it came to introducing pre-overclocked versions. Power consumption and heat output was just too high to even contemplate increasing clock speeds past a certain point but the revised GF110 cores have been able to somewhat overcome both of these limitations.

MSI’s GTX 580 Lightning sports a core speed which was almost unthinkable on the previous generation alongside memory speeds that have been increased by a not so insignificant amount. While MSI seems to have introduced a GTX 580 that will offer a good out of the box performance increase, the real selling points lie with its overclocking abilities.

MSI-GD65-9.jpg

At the heart of this highly overclockable card beats MSI’s Military Class II components. In short, the high end component choices MSI has made should allow for increased life expectancy and the capability to push additional current towards the GPU and memory. Think of this as an overbuilt power distribution fire hose in place of the reference version’s water pistol approach. We’ll get into all of the components a bit later in this review but for the time being let’s just say that some serious engineering has gone into the Lightning.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-24.jpg

These components alongside MSI’s legendary Twin Frozr III heatsink should make this one hell of a card; one which certain looks to have the ability to be pushed even further with a bit of voltage and clock speed massaging. MSI’s 3 year warranty (which also happens to cover overclocking) is also a major selling point though with a price of over $500, we’d expect nothing less than perfection.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the MSI GTX 580 Lightning

A Closer Look at the MSI GTX 580 Lightning



Prepare to cough up some serious money for shipping this card to yourself since it comes in a massive and relatively heavy box. Large it may be but it is also well stocked with protection for its precious cargo as well as a good number of accessories.

Headlining the list of accessories is a pair of very, very long SLI cables which can be used to link up to three GTX 580s together. There is also a pair of 6-pin to 8-pin PCI-E power adaptors and three pin-outs for the Lightning’s voltage read points. Just be aware that these power adaptors just add two additional ground pins to the normal 6-pin connectors and most good PSUs should have cabling that is rated for at least 150W of current.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-5.jpg

The GTX 580 Lightning is an impressive looking card but it is also amazingly adaptable to a wide variety of situations since the distinctive Twin Frozr III heatsink doesn’t take up a trio of expansion slots like some of the competition’s designs. All in all, the simple approach to the exterior design of the Lightning belies the technology that hides below its heatsink.


The main focal point of this card will of course be its new high-end Twin Frozr III heatsink. When compared to the previous Twin Frozr II design, this one uses the new Propeller Blade Technology which effectively increases airflow by approximately 40% without having to increase the overall rotational speed of the fans. This additional airflow allows for more PCB components to be actively cooled. Speaking of the fans, the Twin Frozr III is equipped with two 92mm units for pushing cool air down onto the aluminum heatsink array and massive 8mm heatpipes.

Under the shroud is an extensive forged aluminum heatsink that runs almost the entire length of the PCB and touches the memory modules and MOSFETs.


Along the edge of the GTX 580 Lightning’s PCB we see a trio of connector ports. Remember those adaptors we mentioned before? They can be installed here in order to get real-time readings of GPU, memory and PLL voltages via a digital multimeter. To further aid overclockers, MSI has equipped this card with two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors; an addition that can in theory allow for up to 300W to be drawn in addition to the 75/150W from the motherboard’s PCI-E slot.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-18.jpg

The Lightning is both longer and wider than the reference GTX 580 but it should still have no issue fitting into the vast majority of ATX cases on the market.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-17.jpg

The backplate connectors on the Lightning are a departure from the reference design as MSI added a DisplayPort connector to the usual dual DVIs and single HDMI. All of the connectors are also plated in gold but contrary to popular belief, gold plating doesn’t improve signal transmission on digital connections.
 
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SKYMTL

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Flipping the Lightning…DIP Switches Aplenty

Flipping the Lightning…DIP Switches Aplenty


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-12.jpg

Turning the Lightning over reveals a PCB that is far from the reference design in every way possible. Instead of lengthening the PCB to incorporate their high end components, MSI has added extra width by incorporating a small ½” lip on the card’s leading edge.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-14.jpg

MSI has gone the same route as Gigbayte does with their Super Overclock series by equipping the Lightning with a quartet of NEC / Tokin Proadlizer. Laid out in a 3+1 GPU to memory configuration, these chips provide high capacitance and low ESR to ensure the cleanest power possible gets to each section of the graphics card while providing 1000 uF of capacitance.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-13.jpg
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Along the PCB’s edge are three DIP switches with a fourth being located near the PCI-E slot connector. The main grouping of three includes an OPC Unlocker that allows the core to ignore any power limiter that has been placed upon it, a V-Switch for quick voltage tuning and a PWM Clock Tuner which essentially overclocks the PWM clock to 310Mhz from the reference 260Mhz. The fourth switch is dubbed XtremeCool for working around the GTX 580’s “cold bug” and should be used when overclocking with LN2.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-16.jpg

Next to the three main DIP switches is a toggle used for quick BIOS switching. The Lightning holds two BIOSes onboard; one of which houses the standard overclocked file and another which is tailor-made for high end cooling solutions since it implements aggressive voltage presets. When used in conjunction with the XtremeCool toggle, this should allow extreme overclockers to completely bypass the dreaded GF110 cold bug.

Naturally, these are only the most visible features which hint at the Lightning’s overclocking prowess. Below the heatsink, there is a long list of upgraded components that will allow overclockers to really push this card to its absolute limits.
 

SKYMTL

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Power4; Components for Absolute Stability

Power4; Components for Absolute Stability


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-23.jpg

In addition to the previously discussed Military Class II component choices, MSI has implemented what they call the Power4 architecture. This is supposed to bring an enhanced PWM design, independent memory power, a copper MOS design and Proadlizer solid state super capacitors onto this particular GTX 580.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-20.jpg

The starting point of any high end GPU design lies with the strength of its PWM layout and MSI has truly gone all out for the Lightning. They have instituted a 12-phase GPU PWM layout along with three phases for the GDDR5 memory and a final dedicated phase for the PLL/VDDCI PWM. In total, that brings the Lightning to an impressive 16 phases for the PWM.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-21.jpg

One other interesting thing that the Lightning brings to the GPU overclocking world is a dedicated memory power input path. In layman’s terms, this is achieved through power distribution via one of the 8-pin PCI-E connectors in tandem of a 3-phase PWM instead of drawing the GDDR5’s current through the PCI-E slot connector on to a single phase PWM. Naturally, there are benefits like lower ripple and slightly more current stability but the vast majority of users likely won’t notice a difference other than increase component life.

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-22.jpg

In order to provide higher current to the GPU core, copper-based MOSFETs were used. Naturally, a cooler component can cope with higher loads so MSI implemented two copper layers (one above and one below the die) which allow quick dispersion of heat from the FET’s die package. The result is actually quite impressive: a 20% temperature reduction and a doubling of current capacity from 20A to 40A.
 

SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller (Off for Power Consumption tests)
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD / / 3x Acer GD235HZ 23.5" 1080P LCDs
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Testing Platform:

Processor: Intel Core i5 750(ES)
Memory: OCZ Platinum 2x2GB PC3-12800
Motherboard: Intel DP55WG (Warrensburg)
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE w/Noctua NF-P12
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200



Graphics Cards:

MSI GTX 580 Lightning
NVIDIA GTX 590 3GB (Ref.)
NVIDIA GTX 580 (Ref)

AMD HD 6990 4GB
AMD HD 5970 2GB
AMD HD 6970 2GB(Ref)

Drivers:

NVIDIA 270.61 WHQL
ATI 11.4 + CAP 11.2 R4

Note: Even though AMD claims the “AMD Optimized Tessellation” feature in the 11.1a drivers has not yet been implemented, we have changed the setting to “Off” in order to ensure additional, untested optimizations are not enabled.

Applications Used:

3DMark 11
Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
F1 2010
Just Cause 2
Lost Planet
Metro 2033
Unigine: Heaven


*Notes:

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR BENCHMARKING PROCESS PLEASE SEE THIS ARTICLE

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Location
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3DMark 11 (DX11)

3DMark 11 (DX11)


3DMark 11 is the latest in a long line of synthetic benchmarking programs from the Futuremark Corporation. This is their first foray into the DX11 rendering field and the result is a program that incorporates all of the latest techniques into a stunning display of imagery. Tessellation, depth of field, HDR, OpenCL physics and many others are on display here. In the benchmarks below we have included the results (at default settings) for both the Performance and Extreme presets.


Performance Preset

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-30.jpg


Extreme Preset

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-31.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)

Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)


When benchmarking Aliens Versus Predator, we played through the whole game in order to find a section which represents a “worst case” scenario. We finally decided to include “The Refinery” level which includes a large open space and several visual features that really tax a GPU. For this run-through, we start from within the first tunnel, make our way over the bridge on the right (blowing up several propane tanks in the process), head back over the bridge and finally climb the tower until the first run-in with an Alien. In total, the time spent is about four minutes per run. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1920 x 1200

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-32.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-33.jpg


2560 x 1600

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-34.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-35.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)


To benchmark BF: BC2 we used a five minute stretch of gameplay starting from the second checkpoint (after the helicopter takes off) of the second single player mission up until your battle with the tank commences. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1920 x 1200

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-36.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-37.jpg


2560 x 1600

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-38.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-39.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
DiRT 2 (DX11)

DiRT 2 (DX11)


Being one of the newest games on the market, DiRT 2 cuts an imposing figure in terms of image quality and effects fidelity. We find that to benchmark this game the in-game tool is by far the best option. However, due to small variances from one race to another, three benchmark runs are done instead of the normal two. It should also be mentioned that the demo version of the game was NOT used since after careful testing, the performance of the demo is not representative of the final product. DX11 was forced through the game’s config file. In addition, you will see that these scores do not line up with our older benchmarks at all. This is due to the fact that a patch was recently rolled out for the game which included performance optimizations in addition to new graphics options.


1920 x 1200

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-42.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-43.jpg


2560 x 1600

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-44.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-45.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
F1 2010 (DX11)

F1 2010 (DX11)



1920 x 1200

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-65.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-66.jpg


2560 x 1600

GTX-580-LIGHTNING-67.jpg


GTX-580-LIGHTNING-68.jpg
 
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