MSI GTX780 Lightning Review
The GTX780 is a stunning card. This is nothing new. You can purchase almost any of them and know that you're getting a card guaranteed to put a smile on your face. In fact the performance of them is so good that those small differences end up being magnified. So what does the MSI Lightning offer to tempt your wallet?
Looks are one. The TwinFrozr on the MSI Gaming is gorgeous and the TriFrozr on the Lightning has shown that MSI have lost none of their eye for detail or ability to create an aesthetically pleasing card that combines form and function. There is a wealth of little touches from the individually controllable fans, through the 'sandwich' heat-spreaders, and to the yellow fan and stripe that marks this out as one of the premium MSI products. If anything we don't think it's yellow enough. Most people have tower cases, and in them we tend to only see the bottom of our graphics cards. It could do with a smattering of yellow there, and more across the side, because when it's installed that yellow fan is out of your eye line. It obviously is aimed at those people who purchased the MPOWER MAX, and goes together beautifully with that particular motherboard. Whoever decided to include the colour changing light on the side needs a talking to though. It's always either off or red, and if the colour is able to be changed we want the ability to set it ourselves. At the very least it should be yellow. Equally the back-lighting is the same blue that we've seen on previous Lightning cards, when at this price we'd expect that to be yellow too.
It's not only the design that is nice, as the cooler performance is excellent too. We've often commented about how nVidia's GPU Boost 2.0 really shines when there is a lot of thermal headroom, and the TriFrozr provides bags of it. So much so that we saw the highest clocks we've seen on a Kepler GPU so far. It's not all about cold at the expense of silence either, with the card no louder than any tri-fan design and barely more than the TwinFrozr on the Gaming.
With a shed load of power available from the 16+3+1 design it's not surprising that we were able to manually overclock the Lightning to new heights either. Of course with more tweaking options available to the user you have to do more than just slide a couple of bars and hit apply, and so to some degree you get out what you put in as with many things in life. We did try using the LN2 switch to see if it would allow us to push a little further than the standard mode, but not only does that lose the factory overclock but even with this cooler you're running up to the thermal limit of the GPU. Better to leave it alone unless you're actually going sub-zero, or perhaps a dedicated water loop.
Performance generally rewarded our efforts too with new OC3D high-scores in many of the benchmarks that are the measure of any overclock worth its salt. There were a couple of odd results where the overclock didn't seem to perform much better than the stock card, but more often than not the Lightning was able to give us eye-poppingly large scores. However it's worth noting that our final test overclock was completely 3D Mark Vantage stable so if you're testing a different benchmarking utility you should be able to easily go further than we did.
It's positioned in the MSI range as for the extreme overclockers and enthusiasts, whereas the Gaming model is, oddly enough, for the gamers. So there is some price premium to be had, and the Gaming is excellent enough that if you're not looking to overclock then maybe you should just buy that one. Except because of the excellent cooler and even bigger factory overclock it is the best performing GTX780 in 'out of the box' trim. So that presents a slight catch 22. You can't justify the extra expense of the Lightning when compared to other GTX780s for features you wont use, but even if you don't it'll still be the best performer.
Manufacturers sometimes advertise their cards as for enthusiasts without ever really providing the features that niché audience require. The MSI GTX780 Lightning is everything to all people, having outstanding stock performance, equally brilliant overclocked performance, and tons of potential left in the tank for more exotic cooling solutions. Despite the price premium you're paying, we think that it has enough to justify the cost and as the GTX780 is the best graphics card and this is the best of those GTX780s we have to award it our OC3D Gold Award.