Sometimes a product arrives at our offices that we can't imagine not liking. Every box is ticked. Of course that doesn't mean that we'll be as pleased by the end of our time with it, but initial impressions are good. So what makes this something that had our root fizzing?
For a start it's a GTX780, easily the best graphics card around right now. Sure a GTX Titan might just have the edge in particular scenarios, but in terms of mind-blowing performance at a reasonable price the GTX780 is our recommendation for anyone looking to upgrade from anything below a GTX690. It's that good.
Secondly it's equipped with the MSI Twin Frozr cooler. One of our favourite coolers, it's been found on everything from GTX460's to HD7970s, and always does the job while looking cool. Speaking of looking cool, as part of the MSI Gaming range is has the Dragon logo and accoutrements. It also should combine with a Gaming range motherboard, to enable one click overclocking for the whole system. It also, if the mood strikes, allows for one click silent mode. Handy if you're watching a film and want to detune your entire system for silence. At the time of review the software to enable this is still being tweaked by MSI and so isn't part of our test today, but it's worth noting if you want a simple holistic adjustment free from the faff of adjusting your whole system separately.
As we'd expect from a factory overclocked graphics card, the MSI Gaming has a serious boost to both the regular core speed and the Boost speed. Hopefully there is some performance left for us to extract.
The MSI Gaming has two huge PWM fans as part of the Twin Frozr cooler, a nice change from some of the triple-slot or three fan designs. It keeps the card as compact as possible, whilst hopefully retaining good cooling performance. The Gaming Edition Dragon logo is front and centre, although the card is more black than red and black.
As well as the fans there are two heat-pipes, called SuperPipes by MSI, to help keep the Kepler GPU cool. There is also a metal plate to help disperse the heat from the GDDR5 and Hi-C CAPs.
Finally the business ends of the GTX780 Gaming are the same as on the rest of the GTX780s. Considering how overclocked this is it's nice to see that a 6 and 8 pin PCIe power connection is all that is required. Two DVIs, an HDMI and a DisplayPort provide the monitor connectivity.
MSI GTX780 Gaming
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.6GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Corsair Dominator Platinum
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
MSI have applied an already swift overclock to the GTX780 Gaming, and yet we found it had plenty more to give. The GPU clock hit a sturdy 1067MHz, but the boost clock was the real star at 1119MHz. It isn't only the GK110 that accepted a good overclock either, as we obtained another 1GHz effective from the GDDR5. This should provide a big boost in stern gaming tests.
In case anyone wondered whether the 3GB would be enough, the maximum usage we managed to obtain using Metro Last Light with maximum settings on our 2560x1440 monitor was 2GB. So there is plenty of overhead for multi-monitor setups.
The Twin Frozr cooler is good at keeping the temperatures down, although the Gigabyte Windforce, with its three fans, just edges it. The real benefit is that this is, to all intents and purposes, silent. Manually increasing the fan until it was audible saw us hit 70% fan speed before we could hear them, and that was when we were listening intently with no sound playing. So it's fair to say that when gaming on auto fans you'll never hear it.
3D Mark Vantage
The stock performance is decent but the real star is the overclocked performance. So readily obtained and so productive. Just a shade over 30000 X Marks is a new single GPU record, better even than the GTX Titan. So much for the extra GDDR5 in that then.
3D Mark 11
As a single GPU the MSI Gaming is a beast. The difference the overclock makes is enormous and really seems to free the potential. 500 points in the P score and 300 points in the Extreme preset are the difference between the MSI and the Gigabyte Windforce. Given that a Titan got 14000 and 5000, the 14679 and 5431 of the MSI Gaming really shine.
The Ice Storm test is so gentle that it's almost meaningless on such a powerful card. The gaps between the MSI and the next best card are stunning. 1000, 300 and 100 points respectively. This is also the first card we've tested that broke the 10000 barrier in Fire Strike, and the 5000 point barrier in Fire Strike Extreme. Hugely impressive by any yardstick.
Whilst you'll never have a stuttery performance in Alien vs Predator regardless of your graphics card, it at least demonstrates how much extra performance can be had by overclocking the MSI. It's the highest average FPS of any single GPU card we've tested.
Batman Arkham City
Batman Arkham Origins can't come soon enough, and we can only hope that it's not as limited as Arkham City as a benchmark tool.
We fear we're going to be reaching for the thesaurus soon if this keeps up. The MSI GTX780 Gaming is consistently heading our graphs despite the different stresses we've put upon it so far. CatZilla in 1440P is a very different test to 3D Mark Vantage in Performance mode, yet the MSI keeps on trucking.
The world of Columbia is still a sight to behold, and the fight to rid the world of Zachary Comstock is as breathtaking as ever. On the MSI we have a good and relatively bad result, with the card capable of pumping 60FPS average even at 2560x1440. It doesn't reward the overclock as well as the Gigabyte did, but that result was so good it's almost an aberration.
Our results return to 'normal' with Crysis 3. At standard resolutions it copes admirably, although the stock card struggles a little when we move on to the 1440P test. The overclock though continues to be the star of the show, easily bettering anything else we've tested. Even the GTX Titan.
Far Cry 3
A beautiful demonstration in how the faster memory and clock speed can reap big rewards at high resolutions, the overclocked giving a 40% improvement over its stock performance, 46 FPS compared to 33. Against the Gigabyte it's almost inseparable.
If the two big GTX780s were close in Far Cry 3 it's nothing to how tightly they're matched in Hitman. When overclocked and at 1080P the MSI is a couple of frames ahead, but otherwise they are neck and neck.
Finalising, thank goodness, our use of Metro 2033 the MSI performs exactly how you'd expect a GTX780 to perform, and that's largely due to the poor optimisation of the game engine. Anyone hoping for a vastly improved engine in Metro Last Light will be sorely disappointed as it's as shoddy as 2033 was. Halving the frame rate for only 75% more pixels isn't good, and if the Soviet shooter is your game of choice then you'll definitely have a better experience sticking with 1920x1080.
Metro Last Light
The adventures of Lara Croft run beautifully on any GTX780, and if you're after a high-performance variant then the MSI Gaming proves itself capable of running with the best. Even in the higher resolution we see over 50FPS average, right on a par with the Windforce card.
Resident Evil 6
At stock the Gigabyte Windforce just shades the MSI Gaming, although they're inseparable when overclocked and both are a long way ahead of the reference model.
Wei Shen responds well to having his adventures played out on the MSI GTX 780 Gaming. The stock card is nearly as good as the overclocked Gigabyte, and with our overclock applied the MSI is comfortably the best of the bunch and the first card to break through the 70FPS average marker.
As you would expect with such a demanding and perfectly replicable benchmark, the GTX780s are all tightly grouped, with none of them particularly standing out, although a factory overclock will always be preferable to the stock card.
Finally Unigine Heaven. We think we've got that pirate ship and dragon embedded in our conscious by now. There is a clear difference between the MSI and the Gigabyte, with the Gigabyte proving the better card out of the box and the MSI Gaming giving higher scores when overclocked. It might only be 2 or 3 FPS in total, but in the world of Unigine Heaven those are big differences.
When you're at the high end of hardware the differences between each model or choice become a case of knowing exactly the features that are important to you and making your decision based upon which satisfies those demands the best.
As you can see from our testing, the MSI GTX780 Gaming has a hell of a lot going for it and was, more often than not, the ultimate performer when it comes to single GPU overclocked benchmarks. So what are the pros and cons then?
Looks are, of course, subjective. One persons hideous abomination is another's aesthetic triumph. How else do we explain those couples we see where it's clear who is slumming it and who has risen above their own level of beauty. We have to say that we very much like the MSI Gaming. It isn't solely a slave to function, and has just enough design touches to make it a pleasant thing to gaze upon. Of course the design is, to some degree, reliant upon the design of the Gaming Motherboards from MSI, but taking its design cue from the best looking 'board on the market isn't a bad thing.
Out of the box performance is very good. It's worth noting that the Gigabyte Windforce did just edge the MSI by a couple of frames in those tests in which a difference could be seen, so if you're very much a plug and forget type gamer then you might, just, be better off with the Gigabyte. Although of course either of them will provide an exceptional experience. Overclocking definitely favours the MSI. Quite often it gave us the highest result we've ever seen from a single GPU solution. The effort required to make the most of the MSI GTX780 Gaming is small, but you unquestionably reap the rewards. The 3D Mark scores were particularly responsive to our overclock and broke new ground in places.
Cooling is very good. By using just two fans, compared to the three of the Windforce, it's not a surprise to see a couple of degrees difference under extreme loading. However, nearly any choice of third party cooler will be better than the reference model and the Twin Frozr is as good as it's ever been here. The most stunning part is the silence. Using auto fans we never saw it spin above 56%, and you'd need to pass 70% before you could hear it, even with no other noise. So it's safe to say that the MSI Gaming will satisfy even the most noise-phobic user.
There is one feature that we couldn't test and that was the software which, when combining the GTX780 Gaming with a MSI Gaming motherboard should enable you to overclock, or power save, your entire system in a single click. We can't recommend the card based upon this because we haven't been able to test it, but if it proves as good as it should be then it might be the edge that tips the balance.
In summary the MSI GTX780 Gaming is an exceptional card, brutally fast, easy to overclock, quiet, looks great and the results back up the paper performance. It would be impossible not to recommend it as it's the best GTX780 around at the moment. For that reason alone it wins the OC3D Gold Award.
Thanks to MSI for supplying the GTX780 Gaming for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.