Marketing is always full of semantics. Companies love to proclaim their card as the 'Fastest in the World'. Sometimes that's true only because there is more than one GPU on the board. So the HD6990 is the Fastest Graphics Card in the World, but not the fastest single GPU.
For those of us in the know, we always respect being able to do the most with the least, which is why the GTX580, the "Fastest Single GPU in the World" always makes us smile and drool, in equal quantities. Anyone can be super-fast with a multi-card setup. To have crushing performance from a single chip, that's something special.
In case the standard GTX580 isn't quite enough for you though you might look to a pre-overclocked model. If you've been around OC3D for a little bit you know how highly we rate the Twin Frozr cooling solution from MSI and here we have a Twin Frozr equipped, pre-overclocked model in the form of the MSI GTX580 Lightning.
Seems like a perfect combination. Is it?
Out of the box the Lightning is overclocked on the Core all the way up to 832MHz which should provide more than a handy boost. The GDDR5 Memory is pushed from 4000MHz up to 4200MHz to ensure that it's not left behind that monster core.
|Graphics Engine||GeForce GTX 580|
|Bus Standard||PCI Express x16 2.0|
|Memory Interface||384 bits|
|Core Clock Speed(MHz)||832|
|Memory Clock Speed(MHz)||4200|
|Texture Fill Rate(billion/sec)||N/A|
|D-SUB Output||2(optional, via DVI to D-Sub adaptor)|
|HDMI-Output||2(Optional, via Mini HDMI to HDMI dongle)|
|Display Ouput(Max Resolution)||2560x1600|
|DirectX Version Support||11|
|OpenGL Version Support||4.0|
Let's take a closer look.
The Lightning package is definitely an eye-grabber. The F22 bathed in green lightning wont be easily ignored. The reverse manages to keep all the relevant information clearly available without becoming busy.
Alongside the standard SLI bridges and power adaptors if you happen to be running a PSU without a PCI-e 8pin adaptor, (if you aren't, why?), we have some probes for the various monitoring positions on the Lightning.
Here it is in all its Twin Frozr III glory. As pretty as it always is, the brushed metal finish offset by the two large black PWM fans.
The back of the card is a plethora of bits and bobs. There are so many little dip-switches it took some familiarisation with the manual and the card to stop us referring to certain switches as "the thingemy doofer". You certainly don't want for options and tweakability with MSI's finest.
In keeping with the extreme overclocking market that the Lightning is aimed for it even comes complete with a LN2 switch for those cold starts.
Naturally as a heavily overclockable GF110 the Lightning sucks power in from twin 8-pin PCI-e connectors.
Speaking of connectability, the MSI GTX580 Lightning has a DisplayPort, a HDMI and two DVIs. All gold plated of course.
Beneath the Skin
Once the Twin Frozr III is removed we can see the extra shielding that MSI employs to spread the heat as evenly as possible. This ensures that your card wont warp under extreme conditions and helps keep everything cool.
The heat-sink itself is as gorgeous as ever with large heat-pipes and plenty of fins to give maximum surface area.
Naked and unadorned the Lightning demonstrates its complexity well. The power-phases dominate the right hand side of the circuit board, covering the card from top to bottom.
When you get a look at so many components in such a tight area you can really appreciate the finesse with which the manufacturing process is handled these days. Impossible to do by hand.
The Lightning is on our standard GPU testbed. You all know what to expect by now.
MSI GTX580 Lightning
Forceware 266.58 drivers.
Intel Core-i7 950 @ 4GHz
ASUS Rampage III Extreme
Muskin Joule 1200w
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Wow. If the overclock wasn't impressive enough already we pushed it all the way up to 960MHz and it was rock solid. It's worth mentioning at this point that we could easily go beyond 960MHz but past this point the scores seemed to drop off on our particular model. It's definitely thing with the silicon lottery as we know one of our members has a card that benches consistently way past the 1GHz point.
As manufacturers have managed to supply chips with immense power but keep them cool at the same time it's becoming more common to find processors, central or graphics, that drop off past a certain point even if they can continue to be overclocked further.
Regardless the Lightning is insanely impressive at hitting 960 MHz with ease. As it's unlikely anyone will lay down such wedge on a card without overclocking it we will only be running at this speed today.
When we tested the GTX580 we were impressed with how well nVidia had solved the heat issues that blighted the GTX480. In comparison to the cooling capacity of the Twin Frozr III though it was hot. This, even with our overclock, quite happily churns through Unigine at 68°C.
It is not just the final result that is the impressive part. After all, two Delta fans will keep something cool but you wouldn't want to be near them at the time. It's the silence with which the Twin Frozr III runs that is the most amazing element. It's just silent. Even running hard you barely hear the card and anyone with more than a couple of 120mm case fans probably wont hear it at all. Staggering.
As the GTX580 is clearly the fastest GPU by some margin we're really going to put it to the test by comparing it to Crossfire and twin-GPU cards.
3D Mark Vantage
Straight away the Lightning flexes its muscles by not only bludgeoning a reference overclocked card, but pushing the Crossfire setups hard too.
3D Mark 11
Understandably once we move away from the PhysX biased Vantage to 3D Mark 11 the Lightning drops away from the Crossfire cards, but still beats the 6870 CF setup. It's a country-mile ahead of its reference brother and that's the main thing.
Unigine really requires a lot of extra performance to gain any increase in result so it's surprising to see the minimum frame-rate of the Lightning so far ahead of the reference GTX580. An extra couple of frames overall are not to be dismissed lightly.
The song remains the same with the anti-aliasing set to 8x. The Lightning dominates its reference brother at minimum frame rate and just edges overall. It's worth noting that the Lightning keeps up with the HD6870 CF setup, which is especially imposing when you consider how suited to Unigine the AMD 6 series is.
Alien vs Predator
The Asura engine has proven to be very stable when testing, giving similar performance across a range of testbeds. So it's pretty awe-inspiring to find the Lightning besting the overclocked reference GTX580 by 12 FPS average.
If the MSI GTX580 Lightning hasn't already proven itself worthy of any accolades we can bestow, with Crysis Warhead at maximum settings it gains an extra 7 frames per second average over the standard card. 43 FPS at this level of detail was unthinkable from a tri-SLI setup a short while ago. How things change.
Far Cry 2
Finally we find a test in which the Lightning doesn't set fire to our trousers, and surprisingly it's the older Far Cry 2. One of the very first DirectX 10 games it can't take advantage of everything the Lightning has to offer. It's still no slouch though, pulling clear of a twin-card HD6870 setup.
If there is one game we test that metaphorically shrugs its shoulders and gets all aloof with a single card it's Metro 2033. Stubborn doesn't begin to cover it. The brutality of the Lightning merely laughs and gets back to punishing polygons, going 8 FPS faster on average than the reference card. It's almost up there with twin card setups which are renowned for being suited to Metro 2033.
Product names are a double-edged sword. Whilst they can be very evocative of previous successes and so come with a level of cachet built-in, that same anticipatory factor that might lean you towards a certain product over another also raises expectations. To use an example from the motoring world the Ferrari F70 better be amazing, and should Carrol Shelby ever release another Cobra we'd hope it was nothing but stunning.
So it is in the PC world too, and just hearing MSI Lightning automatically has us slavering, but expectant.
This doesn't disappoint on any level. In the introduction I asked if the combination of the best GPU and the best non-reference cooler would be a perfect combination and unquestionably is.
The Lightning covers all the bases. It's fast as hell out of the box, but more importantly can overclock like a beast. Should you want to really find out how far it can be pushed then there are swathes of accoutrements to help you do so, from LN2 BIOS switches to unlocked voltage options.
Probably the most astonishing aspect is how you get all this performance without the normal downsides of high-performance products. Even with a hefty overclock the card remains cooler and quieter than the reference design thanks to the incredible Twin Frozr III cooler. We've often said that if MSI sold the Twin Frozr separately they'd make a mint and we stand by it. No matter what GPU it's bolted to it always delivers the goods.
The MSI GTX580 Lightning is a sledgehammer in a Whack-A-Mole world and a no-brainer for the OC3D Gold Award. Such are the gains made and potential to be unlocked we are happy to also award it our OC3D Performance Award.
Thanks to MSI for providing the GTX580 Lightning for review. Discuss in our forums.