Ride it: MSI N580GTX Lightning review


Sometimes the naming conventions of the VGA options from NVIDIA and AMD combined with the naming conventions of the OEMs like MSI ASUS and GIGABYTE create some truly mind-bending names. Thankfully MSI has created a series of cards so excellent you no longer need to remember the names of all the others. Just Lightning.

The Lightning series is MSI’s flagship brand and includes all the tweaks additions and aftermarket goodies of the rest of its card models all rolled in to one. The biggest and most obvious is the MSI Frozr III cooler. The Frozr coolers are some of the best in show and this model is no exception.

MSI has redesigned the cooler to use bigger fans (92mm) which provide more than 20% more airflow than the last generation. There’s two on the Frozr III and they’re blissfully quiet. The cooler uses a copper base and high-density aluminium fins. It’s not silent but we just pulled a stock GTX 580 out of the test bench and the difference is noticable.

MSI have rejigged the GTX 580 with all solid capacitors an additional Lightning copper layer in the PCB for better conductivity and a best-in-class 16-phase PWM power design for the GPU.

All of this adds up to one hell of a graphics card. In perspective the card is shipped and warranted at 832MHz core clock speed up from the stock 772MHz. Shader clock speed is at 1664MHz from 1544MHz stock and the memory is at 1050MHz to the stock 1000MHz. Of course this card isn’t about how fast it is out of the box it’s about how fast you make it go!

The big tie-in there is of course MSI’s Afterburner software an invaluable tool for graphics overclockers. Keep in mind that people who don’t have MSI cards can use it as well. The Afterburner software allows you to adjust the clocks of your card core shaders & memory as well as voltages to squeeze that extra headroom. Unlike some other graphics card overclocking software it’s not aimed at the set and forget crowd or even automatic overclocking; you can really get in there and adjust anything that can be fiddled with.

We sent the GTX 580 Lightning through the Afterburner ringer over a couple of hours. The card we had for testing made it to a stable 898MHz from the factory-overclocked 832MHz. We had limited success at 902MHz but couldn’t guarantee stability at that speed.

We threw it at some benchmarks at stock speeds and it made short work of the usual lineup. Dawn of War II Chaos Rising at maximum earned 80fps Stalker Call of Pripyat Free Benchmark clocked it at 161fps Heaven 2.5 at 57fps while the now pretty dated H.A.W.X. Scored 239fps and the newer (but not infallible) Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.2 clocked it at 54fps. 3DMark Vantage performance earned it a tasty 28309 on our Extreme test bench.

For the RRP of this card you could take a holiday to Bali for a few nights. But when the money is on the table this card’s street price is going to be half the RRP of the GTX 590 and it’s only around 10% slower out of the box. You can then wind it up even further if you so desire. That is what we call value for money.

Available from MSI retailing for $729.
APC rating: 9/10 (Editor’s Choice)