A Thing of Beauty

MSI has given the NVIDIA GTX 580 the Lighting treatment, and added a few surprises as well.

Tired of hearing about MSI’s latest video cards?  Me neither!  It seems we have been on a roll lately with the latest and greatest from MSI, but happily that will soon change.  In the meantime, we do have another MSI card to go over.  This one is probably the most interesting of the group so far.  It also is very, very expensive for a single GPU product.  This card is obviously not for everyone, but there is a market for such high end parts still.

The N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition is the latest entry to the high end, single GPU market.  This is an area that MSI has been really leading the way in terms of features and performance.  Their Lightning series, since the NVIDIA GTX 2×0 days, has been redefining that particular market with unique designs that offer tangible benefits over reference based cards.  MSI initially released the N580GTX Lightning to high accolades, but with this card they have added a few significant features.

Continuing reading our review of the MSI N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition!!

Lightning to the Core

MSI’s philosophy on the Lightning design centers around the concepts of quality components, more stable power that can provide more amps, PCB design that is not limited to conventional ATX standards, and a high performance cooling system.  The resulting package is typically larger than the average video card, and sometimes approaching (and exceeding) the size of the current crop of dual-GPU cards such as the GTX 590 and HD 6990.  It is also generally heavy.

Flipping the cover reveals all the pertinent details of the card.  And a window.

The N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition features 16 power phases for the card.  This is split up to give the GPU 12 phases, the memory 3 phases, and the PLL circuitry 1 dedicated phase.  Power is primarily provided by the 2 x 8 pin PCI-E connector, with the PCI-E slot providing up to 75 watts.  Theoretically this particular card can handle up to 375 watts of power, but the card will rarely, if ever, actually consume that type of power (unless LN2 is being used).

In terms of components, this card uses the same “Military Class II” chips as the other Lightning products.  The CopperMOS chips replace more traditional MosFETs, but supposedly keep cooler and deliver up to twice the current.  The Proadlizer chips provide power to the GPU (3 chips) and the main memory (1 chip).  These particular chips offer double the capacitance along with 9x lower ESR as compared to standard caps.  Rounding out the components are Hi-C Tantalum based caps, solid/polymer caps, and super ferrite chokes.  These components should deliver greater amounts of power with fewer power pulses/fluctuations than the standard 8 phase setup on the reference design.

The PCB design does not conform to the ATX standards for add-in graphics cards.  But who cares about that?  We want power, we want surface area to mount as many phases and components as possible, and we don’t want the man sticking it to us.  The PCB features the “LPL” design from MSI, which stands for “Lightning Power Layer”.  It is essentially a way to sandwich in some extra layers that provide power to certain components.  This divvying up of the power layer should again lead to more stable current going to the different components.  Power drops, ripple, and ringing should be minimized with the major components drawing power from different layers and phases.  The extra layers of copper “should” help to cool the PCB more thoroughly, but that is one factor that has a minimal effect on the performance of this card.

The card is again well protected in foam and a tough plastic covering.

On the back of the cards are the manual dip switches that are aimed primarily at the extreme overclocking.  The BIOS switch changes between the standard BIOS, and then the BIOS which unlocks a higher voltage ceiling, as well as disabling the on-chip temperature probe which causes problems when doing LN2 cooling.  The other dip switches manually adjust for the “cold bug”, PWM clock tuner (adjusts ripple for higher clock speeds), OCP unlock, and manually increasing voltage for the GPU/memory/PLL.  Other than the cold bug and PWM clock tuner, the other dipswitches can be left alone due to BIOS support for MSI’s Afterburner software.

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