I really became impressed by MSI video cards when the Super-Pipe GTX 285 was released all those years ago. Last year’s batch of Lightning cards impressed me even more. I was waiting to be blown away by this year’s example. Perhaps I was expecting too much? The card is not a bad card by any stretch of the imagination. The stock/normal clock is 1070/1400, which is much higher than the reference design. It is faster still than many of the other overclocked versions out there, most of which only go to 1 GHz. So off of the bat the card is going to be faster than any other air cooled HD 7970 out there.

Note the lack of Proadlizers on the R7970. Not that anyone could see them through the back cover in the first place.

The cooler works exactly as advertised. I did not hear it spool up even once while in normal use. A max temp of 65C is something, especially when dealing with a heavily overclocked board. I would imagine those who actually broke 1200 MHz might hear those fans spool up some, but in my case the temps stayed cool even with the small overclock I attempted. The larger 10 cm fans are again very quiet and they push out a lot of air.

The idea of the GPU Reactor is an interesting one. The idea of a “cap to the back of the GPU” is not a new one, as Asus have done those for years. What is interesting with this idea is the use of a more direct power source and a higher number of tantalum caps than what we usually see. The only issues that could rear their ugly heads would be the potential for increased resistance due to the extra hardware in the way. All those small pins in a socket do not necessarily mean a clean connection with only a small increase in resistance as compared to dedicated wires and traces in the PCB. Still, more power is more power. It may not be the most efficient way to do it, but considering the rest of the design it is not necessarily starving without it. The GPU Reactor, from all the data I have seen from other sources, accounts for another 10 to 15 MHz of overclock when installed. It could be significantly more in LN2 situations.

Two LEDs light up the fans when running.  The card looks good from this angle, especially in a semi-dusty case…

I again must express my disappointment with the lack of a dual link DVI output. This is an oversight by MSI. There are a lot of people with a single 27” or 30” monitor which feature resolutions above 1920×1200. Such a card would seem to be a natural fit for those users, considering the performance at those resolutions. Not being able to provide a standard dual link port, people are then required to buy a powered DP to DVI adapter, which substantially increases the price of the card.

The price of the card at retail is $599. Considering that a bone stock HD 7970 is $549, I do not feel that MSI is abusing their customers with such a price increase. The R7970 features a better cooler, better board design, higher overclock out of the box, and the potential to reach much higher speeds with some skill and luck. The $50 premium is easy to swallow when looking at the card by itself.

The only problem that we run into is the new GTX 680 from NVIDIA. This card has proven to be faster in most applications than the stock HD 7970. The 1 GHz HD 7970 cards are faster than the GTX 680 in pretty much everything, and this is even more so when looking at the R7970 with its 1070 MHz core speed. The problem here is that the GTX 680 has an MSRP of $499. With some tweaking of that card, it can easily match the performance of the overclocked HD 7970 cards, even the R7970. This particular thorn is far less pointed due to the poor availability of the GTX 680 as it stands. I do not expect large numbers of these parts to be available for at least a month, if not more. The MSI R7970 Lightning is available right now, and as of today (March 26) it is in stock.

Feel the glow!

So am I in love with this card as much as the previous Lightnings? No. This is due to the simple experience that I had. It did not initially work as advertised, but it might simply be a less than stellar example of the design. MSI appears to have done a nice job on the design and functionality of the card. The cooling is outstanding, the ability to drive six monitors is a plus, and the idea behind the GPU Reactor is sound. This particular example just gave me fits right off the bat.

If a user is looking for a fast card out of the box, with excellent cooling and a solid bundle, then the MSI R7970 Lightning is a good buy. Considering it is only $50 more than a reference card and that it is the fastest available card on the market, it really is a bit of a steal. I personally would be happy to fit this card into my machine as is.  It is not a stretch to think that MSI will be putting out a N680 Lightning in a few months. While nothing official has been announced, one must ask themselves if the potential advantages to such a card outweigh the potential wait that will be involved.


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