Back in October, we took a look at the MSI GTX 770 Lightning, which was a bit like a hot rod that had been given a little too much go-go juice. It was fast, and provided a plethora of performance options for horsepower junkies, but it was simply unstable, even at stock clocks. Undaunted, MSI followed it up by sending us an even bigger, badder board in the same series, the GTX 780 Lightning. Like the other Lightning cards, this is the cream of the crop from MSI in terms of board design, cooling, features, and clock speeds. In other words, if you are looking for the fastest non-Titan board MSI offers, this is it. Unfortunately for MSI, though this board was quite stable overall, we didn’t see enough of a performance advantage over other GTX 780 cards to justify its outrageous $750 sticker price.
MSI includes a separate utility just for the card’s fans, letting you control the outer ones separate from the inner fan.
To its credit, MSI has made this card pretty damned awesome and worthy of the Lightning moniker by infusing it with all kinds of badassery. For starters, it has a color-sensitive Lightning logo that changes shade (green, yellow, or red) depending on GPU load. Twin rows of blue LEDs flicker on the top of the backplate, showing GPU activity, and there’s also a GPU Reactor PCB on top of the card with blue LEDs, and it supposedly helps overclocking by allowing up to 300 percent more power to surge into the card. The reactor is easily removable though, in case it causes clearance issues. The card also uses twin BIOS chips for overclockers, and a redonk three-fin setup dubbed Tri-Frozr with PWM and its own separate fan-control software. Of course, it has “military-class” everything, including a custom PCB with 16 phase power, and hardware leads for directly monitoring voltages straight off the card.
To test the card, we spent about a week overclocking it so we could take it to the maximum level of performance. We ended up with a power-target setting of 109 percent, GPU offset of 135MHz, and a small memory overclock of 220MHz. This gave us a boost clock that cycled between 1,254MHz and 1,267MHz, which was stable. Whenever it ran at 1,280MHz for any period of time, it would hard lock, so this is as high as we could take it. Overall, that’s an excellent result, but not any better than what we achieved with the less expensive Asus and EVGA boards. Under load, the 780 Lightning ran at 76 C, which is also excellent and very quiet, but nothing unusual for these high-end boards.
Looking at the benchmark chart, you can see why we’re puzzled by this card’s price tag. It performed exactly the same in our testing as the other top-tier GTX 780 boards, yet costs $90 more than the EVGA card and $40 more than the Asus board. Now, if you’re looking to do competition-level overclocking, we imagine the Lightning is the board you want, but for people who just want an air-cooled GPU that is quiet and overclocks well, it’s tough to recommend this board given its exorbitant price tag.
Highly overclockable; quiet and cool; looks badass.
Way too expensive; same performance as other 780s.
MSI GTX 780 Lightning
Asus GTX 780 DirectCU II
EVGA GTX 780 SC w/ACX
GTX 780 (Reference)
3DMark Fire Strike
Unigine Heaven 4.0 (fps)
Crysis 3 (fps)
Shogun 2 (fps)
Far Cry 3 (fps)
Tomb Raider (fps)
Metro: Last Light (fps)
Battlefield 3 (fps)
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 8. All tests are run at 2560x1600 with 4X AA except for the 3DMark tests.