MSI GeForce GTX N770 Lightning review: A bit too extreme, as it turns out
Last month, we reviewed two GeForce GTX 770 cards from Asus and Gigabyte that cost just $10 more than the reference design, but were well-cooled and only slightly overclocked. That’s too boring for MSI, which decided to take its flagship GeForce GTX N770 Lightning to an extreme not previously seen.
The Lightning is the highest-clocked GTX 770 available.
This bad mutha costs $50 more than a stock card, and with its massive cooler, is designed for hardcore overclocking straight out of the box. This ain’t no 20MHz overclock neither, but 104MHz on the base clock, and 117MHz on the Boost clock. You could theoretically take it even further, given the card’s prodigious cooler, but in testing we were unable to push it much beyond its highly overclocked stock settings. We also experienced some stability issues, leading us to wonder if this extreme card was pushed a bit too hard at the factory for general consumption.
As a flagship GPU, you’d expect this card to be ballin’ and it is that. Not only does it use a Twin Frozr cooler larger than the land mass of Asia, but it’s also built with “military class” components throughout, and includes hardcore extras such as three headers for taking voltage measurements along with the appropriate cables, an extra-long SLI cable in case you want dual Lightnings, and an absolutely massive heatsink/fan assembly. Additionally, the back of the card features an extra PCB directly underneath the GPU core dubbed GPU Reactor, which helps provide additional power filtering. It’s removable for situations where it won’t clear a CPU cooler, but we left it on for testing as we had the room for it. When the card has power, it glows blue and is a great ice-breaker at LAN parties. The card also features a dual-BIOS switch with both normal BIOS and an LN2 BIOS for serious overclocking. Suffice to say, this is a premium card designed for crazy overclocks even beyond the default overclocked state.
As expected, the card was indeed the fastest GTX 770 we’ve tested thus far, but not by as large a margin as one would expect given its price point. This card costs $40 more than the Asus and Gigabyte boards we tested last month, and the extra money is not justified, at least not for regular desktop users.
An even bigger issue is that both cards we received for testing were not stable. The first card committed GPU suicide; the second card would hard lock the system running Heaven 4.0 at stock clocks. We tried underclocking 100MHz and saw improved stability, but that shouldn’t be necessary. Finally, just to make sure it was the card and not our test bench, we ran a stock GTX 770 card overclocked in the same test bench and had zero issues. We also ran the afflicted N770 on a second test bench, and it froze that system, too. MSI told us it had never seen a card with these issues, but our experience indicates that buyers should proceed with caution.
Fastest GTX 770 you can buy; quiet and cool; premium package.
Too expensive; stability issues.
MSI GTX N770 Lightning
Asus GeForce GTX 770 DirectCU II OC
Gigabyte GTX 770 WindForce
GTX 770 (Reference)
XFX Radeon HD 7950
3DMark Fire Strike
Catzilla (Tiger) Beta
Unigine Heaven 4.0 (fps)
Crysis 3 (fps)
Shogun 2 (fps)
Far Cry 3 (fps)
Metro: Last Light (fps)
Tomb Raider (fps)
Battlefield 3 (fps)
Core/Memory Clock (MHz)
Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition in an Asus P9X79 motherboard with 16GB of DDR3/1600 and a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050W PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate. All tests, except for the 3DMark tests, are run at 2560x1600 with 4X AA.