What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

MSI GTX 680 Lightning Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
MSI’s Lightning series is well known and highly respected among enthusiast circles and it didn’t takelong to port this design philosophy into GTX 680 form. The resulting GTX 680 Lightning is one of the market’s premier single GPU graphics cards and follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by promising extremely high overclocking limits.

While the race to produce the fastest Kepler-based card may be just starting to heat up, MSI is betting the GTX 680 Lightning will stand the test of time against the competition. It features exclusive technologies like Triple Overvoltage, a Military Class component selection and one of the quietest high performance gaming experiences available. As you may expect, this kind of technology doesn’t come cheap and the Lightning edition just so happens to be one of the most expensive GTX 680s on the market at a staggering $599. MSI has recently softened the financial blow by adding a download code for NBA 2K12 but we doubt a $29.99 game will make anyone feel better about putting $600 towards any product.


With a price that tacks an $80 premium onto EVGA’s SC+ and costs some $60 more than the excellent DirectCu II TOP, one would expect the Lightning to boast some of the highest clocks speeds round. That just isn’t the case. Instead, it has a base clock of 1111MHz while the Boost speeds regularly hit over 1200MHz so performance will be spectacular but MSI hasn’t been able to match ASUS’ achievements nor did they add to the reference memory clocks like EVGA did. This leaves us wondering if MSI is focusing on overclocking skills alone as reasoning enough to justify the Lightning’s high price tag.

The pricing for MSI’s latest Lightning may be extreme and its feature list is nearly endless but that’s not to say there haven’t been any teething pains along the way. Indeed, when we first started this review, the vast majority of Lightning-specific overclocking features were stillborn and just didn’t work as advertised. We’ll tell the whole story within this article’s overclocking section but for the time being, let’s just say that MSI’s AfterBurner software didn’t bypass the GTX 680-specific limitations it promised to overcome.

While we can rag on the Lightning’s price all day, there are some tangible benefits here as well. It comes with a three year warranty (which is longer than most people will keep a single card) and for us Canadians it also includes MSI’s exclusive Canada-based RMA service which has received accolades from our members.

Regardless of clock speeds and price, we have some high hopes for the newest member of MSI’s Lightning family. In the past, these cards have proven to be some of the best around and this one should continue that tradition.

 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the MSI GTX 680 Lightning

A Closer Look at the MSI GTX 680 Lightning



MSI’s Lightning uses the same Twin Frozr IV heatsink we’ve seen in other Lightning branded products and measures about 12” long so pay special attention to your case’s interior dimensions before taking the plunge. More importantly, in order to accommodate an impressive component layout, MSI has maximized this card’s width at 5”. Words just don’t do it justice.

From the outside, there really isn’t any way to distinguish this card from the HD 7970 Lightning and to us, this is a missed opportunity. No one wants to spend $600 on an ultra high performance custom graphics card only to realize it looks exactly like one that costs nearly $100 less. Even a small splash of NVIDIA green across the heatsink shroud in place of the Tonka truck yellow would have gone a long way towards some differentiation.


The most visible feature on the GTX 680 Lightning is its massive Twin Frozr IV heatsink. This cooler uses a nickel plated copper base, five 8mm “SuperPipe” heatpipes and a significant number of aluminum fins to ensure adequate thermal distribution. It is topped with a pair of 100mm fans for a quiet cooling solution that shouldn’t have any issues handling the heat output from an overclocked GK104 core.

Interestingly enough, MSI hasn’t needed to go ASUS’ route of expanding the heatsink’s height for optimal thermal performance. Instead of using a triple slot design similar to the DirectCu II’s, the Twin Frozr IV should allow for lower temperatures by using a combination of larger fans and a wider surface area.

MSI has also equipped this card with two so-called “Form in One” secondary heatsinks. These make direct contact with the various components on the Lightning’s PCB, thus reducing the temperature of memory modules, VRMs and other mission critical items.


The Lightning’s fans are programmed to counter rotate at high speeds for about 30 seconds at system startup in order to remove any dust that’s been accumulating on the heatsink fins. This “dust removal technology” is supposed to keep the Twin Frozr IV heatsink operating at peak thermal efficiency so temperatures don’t deviate over the Lightning’s lifetime.


The Lightning’s side houses a switch that eerily resembles the one found on most HD 7970 cards and it serves almost the same purpose. In its default position, the standard BIOS is enabled which contains reference-spec limitations. Moving the switch over selects the Unlocked BIOS which allows for a 150% increase in Over Current Protection and 200% higher power limits. This is particularly important for GTX 680 overclocking since both items can been combined for a higher TDP limit which will lead to a greatly enhanced Boost range. Just remember that when this switch is moved, you will need to reinstall the GPU drivers.


MSI has designed their power distribution so the Lightning gets all of its current from the dual 8-pon connectors. This means there’s a single 8-pin connector for the GPU core while the memory gets its own dedicated power input through the second 8-pin connector. Not only does this effectively separate critical current circuitry, ensuring clean power is delivered to the primary components but it also cuts out the PCI-E interface from the equation, thus leaving the motherboard’s power supply untouched. However, if additional power is needed, the card can still draw upon the interface.

We’re sure that some of you remember the HD 7970 Lightning’s backplate connector layout. Simply put, it was a dog’s breakfast since an adaptor needed to be purchased separately if your high end monitor supported DVI instead of DisplayPort. This time around MSI decided to be a bit more sensible and stuck with NVIDIA’s reference layout. As such, you get lone HDMI and DisplayPort outputs alongside a pair of Dual Link DVI connectors, resulting in native support for 3+1 Surround.


MSI’s Lightning also includes pin-outs for (from left to right) GPU, Memory and PLL voltage reading via a multimeter. The location may be slightly inconvenient if this long card barely fits within your case but the included leads will allow for some directional control.


The underside of this card is awash with interesting items like MSI’s removable GPU Reactor which sits directly over the GPU core. There’s also a secondary Form in One heatsink that runs along the PCB’s entire length and is supposed to help disperse any built up heat.


While its name may elicit some snicker from certain enthusiast circles, the GPU Reactor does have its uses. According to MSI, attaching this add-on PCB to the area directly behind the GPU core is supposed to provide additional power capacity in order to ensure maximum stability when overclocking. To achieve this, the Reactor leverages the Lightning’s advanced VRM grid in order to selectively boost current to the core when need while virtually eliminating voltage fluctuations. This is certainly an interesting concept and judging by the impressive clock speeds these cards have been achieving when placed into the right hands, the GPU Reactor seems to be doing its job. However, if you plan on overclocking within the limits of air cooling, we highly doubt you will see any benefits from this inclusion.

Previous versions of the Lightning had a small (and inconvenient) wire powering the integrated GPU Reactor’s LED’s which attached the Reactor to the card. MSI has redesigned this area so the LED’s power is fed directly through the pin-outs instead.


When compared against a reference GTX 680, the Lightning is a monster and will take up a relatively large footprint within your case. It is long and wider but most modern ATX-sized cases will be compatible without too many issues.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Under the Heatsink

Under the Heatsink



Once the Twin Frozr IV cooler is removed, the Form in One heatsink’s full size can be seen. This piece of anodized black aluminum stretches over the card’s full length and covers the memory modules and MOSFETs within the primary and secondary power phases. The solid state chokes and solid capacitors don’t get additional treatment as both are rated for extremely high operating temperatures.


Completely taking off the Form in One heatsink reveals this card’s custom layout in all its glory. Unlike the reference version which has a 4+2+1 GPU/Memory/PLL layout, the Lightning uses a full 12-phase PWM arranged in an 8+3+1 design, ensuring every section of the card receives stable power distribution. You can clearly see the 8+3 separation while the single PLL phase is pushed off to the lower left side of the GPU core.


With the Lightning fully unveiled, a small CHiL-branded chip is in evidence next to the fan header. This Digital PWM controller supports active phase switching which allows for tighter voltage control and faster VRM response times. It has also given MSI the chance to incorporate full ASIC power and voltage tweaking abilities directly into their AfterBurner software.


There really isn’t all that much to see on the PCB’s underside but as we saw on the previous page, MSI has installed another Form in One heat spreader to cover it. Upon first glance it may have looked like it didn’t serve any functional but it does line up perfectly with the additional MOSFETs installed here.


Much like some other manufacturer’s MSI has instituted a PCB design which effectively eliminates electrical noise. Called the Lightning Power Layer, it isolates the circuits for various card components in order to increase stability and enhance cooling through the use of copper.





All of the components listed above have similar goals: increase card longevity, optimize overclocking results and lower heat production. Unfortunately, we can’t conclusively test any of these claims here and now but the Lightning has proven itself again and again in the extreme overclocking arena, which does say something about its capabilities and also its component selection.


MSI has been talking about Military Class III components for some time now and most of their high end graphics cards ship with a certificate proclaiming this status. Military Class III is simply a marketing term that means MSI chooses the highest quality components, all of which are MIL-STD-810G certified. While this may not mean all that much for your run of the mill layman, it should (hopefully) lead to increase ASIC longevity.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup / Benchmark Sequences

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P8Z68-V PRO Gen3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 304.48 Beta
AMD 12.7 Beta

Application Benchmark Information:
Note: In all instances, in-game sequences were used. The videos of the benchmark sequences have been uploaded below.


Batman: Arkham City

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Oia84huCvLI?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Oia84huCvLI?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Battlefield 3

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/i6ncTGlBoAw?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/i6ncTGlBoAw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Crysis 2

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Bc7_IAKmAsQ?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Bc7_IAKmAsQ?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Deus Ex Human Revolution

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/GixMX3nK9l8?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/GixMX3nK9l8?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Dirt 3

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/g5FaVwmLzUw?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/g5FaVwmLzUw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Metro 2033

<object width="480" height="360"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/8aZA5f8l-9E?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/8aZA5f8l-9E?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Shogun 2: Total War

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/oDp29bJPCBQ?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/oDp29bJPCBQ?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Skyrim

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/HQGfH5sjDEk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/HQGfH5sjDEk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Wargame: European Escalation

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/ztXmjZnWdmk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/ztXmjZnWdmk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Witcher 2 v2.0

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

*Notes:

- 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 IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
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



Extreme Preset

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Batman: Arkham City (DX11)

Batman: Arkham City (DX11)


Batman: Arkham City is a great looking game when all of its detail levels are maxed out but it also takes a fearsome toll on your system. In this benchmark we use a simple walkthrough that displays several in game elements. The built-in benchmark was avoided like the plague simply because the results it generates do not accurately reflect in-game performance.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Battlefield 3 (DX11)

Battlefield 3 (DX11)


For this benchmark, we used a sequence from the Rock and Hard Place mission. The results may seem lower than normal and this is due to the fact that after playing through the game multiple times, this one are was found to be the most demanding on the GPU. As with all of the tests, we try to find a worst case scenario in order to ensure a given card can properly play through the whole game instead of just a “typical” section.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Crysis 2 (DX11)

Crysis 2 (DX11)


Crysis 2 with the DX11 and Texture Package installed not only looks great but it is a strain on any GPU. For this benchmark, we used a classic runthrough which includes far views, explosions, combat and close-in knifing; basically every hallmark of gameplay.

1920 x 1200



2560 x 1600

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX11)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX11)


Deus Ex: Human Revolution may not be the hardest game for today’s high end gaming rigs to render. While the game mostly takes place indoors, it is the few outdoor areas that put additional strain on graphics cards. So for this test, we use one of the more involved outdoor sections: the Sharif Manufacturing Loading Docks.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Dirt 3 (DX11)

Dirt 3 (DX11)


Dirt 3 isn’t all that much different from its predecessor but the developers have added a few more visual touches but boost image quality. In this case, we used the Michigan Rally track since it features some of the hardest to render features of the game: expansive vistas, water, dirt effects, trees and many other items.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 
Top