MSI N580GTX Lightning XE 3GB Video Card Review

We put MSI's new N580GTX Lightning XE 3GB video card to the test and find out what kind of gameplay experience can be delivered from a 3GB 580GTX beast. Will we be limited by our resolution and games, or will the Lightning XE push through and prevail, we will find out against a GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 6970.

Introduction

On May 31st, 2011 MSI released the ultimate GeForce GTX 580 GPU based video card. OK, it isn't actually called the "ultimate" anything, but it does scream "Xtreme Edition," in fact its written all over it. MSI has launched the N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition (XE from here on out) video card. There is no shortage of features and customizations on this new Lightning series video cards, MSI has outdone even the previous high-end champ offered, the N580GTX Lightning plain-Jane (our moniker) edition that we just recently evaluated.

MSI has taken everything that made the N580GTX Lightning unique and special, and decided to add on even more. Think of the MSI N580GTX Lightning XE as icing on an already chocolaty and exotic cake. The main feature that is going to set this video card apart from its sibling, is that MSI has doubled the video RAM on this video card to 3GB versus 1.5GB on a regular GeForce GTX 580 video card. As you can imagine, this is not going to come cheap.

MSI states that MSRP will be around $589.99-629.99. This is no cheap single-GPU video card. At $600 it is just over $100 more expensive than a regular standard GeForce GTX 580 with 1.5GB of VRAM. It is also about $75 more expensive than the N580GTX Lightning. That price also puts it a whopping $250+ more than a Radeon HD 6970 with 2GB of VRAM.

The entire PDF of information is posted below for your reading enjoyment.

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MSI N580GTX Lightning XE 3GB

The MSI N580GTX Lightning XE utilizes the same PWM and board design as the N580GTX Lightning, so it is identical in that regard. The Lightning XE has simply added some new things. Instead of talking about all the customizations and PWM and board layout MSI has in the Lightning series, please read our N580GTX Lightning evaluation to learn about those custom features. We will talk about the new features the XE has added over the original version in this evaluation.

First and foremost, there is double the amount of video RAM on this video card, 3GB versus 1.5GB on the regular N580GTX Lightning video card and any other GTX 580 based video card. This doubling of RAM can help depending on your games and configurations. This RAM will help most in 2-way or 3-way SLI where you can run NV Surround resolutions in a multi-display configuration. Unfortunately, we only have one N580GTX Lightning XE to look at right now, so we are limited to 2560x1600 on a 30" display. We will see if the added RAM helps us or not on this single-display gaming.

Second, MSI has added a dust removal technology to the Twin Frozr III cooling device. This is unique, and I have to say I've never seen anything like it before. When the computer boots up, the fans actually rotate in the opposite direction they normally do for 30 seconds, pulling air out of the heatsink instead of pushing air into it. This should, in theory, push the dust particles out of the heatsink every time you boot your computer. The only little quirk I see with this is that most people keep their computers on 24/7, so it won't get utilized much. Perhaps it gives us a reason to restart more often?

Third, MSI has added a smart temp sensor technology. This one is very interesting, the propeller blade fans will actually change color from blue to white around 45c ambient temperatures. This is simply a passive way for you to look at your video card and see by eyeballing it if your video card is operating in a hot environment. If it is, it might be an indication to you that you need better case cooling.

Beyond that, everything about the XE is the same as the N580GTX Lightning. The clock speeds are the same with the core running at 832MHz, shaders at 1644MHz and memory at 4.2GHz. Performance wise, the XE should perform the same as the regular Lightning, except in situations where there is a VRAM bottleneck, then the XE should shine.

MSI N580GTX Lightning XE 3GB in Pictures

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The box layout actually looks the same as the N580GTX Lightning, with the same logo up front. The addition on the box indicates the dust removal technology and smart temp sensor technology. You will also note the 3GB GDDR5 memory logo on the box. A flap opens up revealing more information about the video card plus a window to see what you are purchasing. Inside the box you will find your voltage check point connectors, 8-pin power adapters, DVI to VGA adapter and SLI connectors.

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The video card is long, and measures a full 11.5" to the edge of the fan shroud. This video card does require two 8-pin power connectors and does support SLI.


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