MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video Card Review

The MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning comes loaded with high end components, a proven custom cooling system, and the promise of extreme overclocking ability. We will push the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning to its limit and compare it to an AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and an overclocked AMD Radeon HD 7970 to find its value.


Microstar International (MSI) is a Taiwan-based computer hardware manufacturer founded in 1986. Primarily a designer and manufacturer of PC motherboards, MSI has expanded its business into barebones PCs, servers and workstations, communications devices, consumer electronics, Notebooks, Netbooks, graphics cards, and other various electronic products. Its company motto, "Quality Products Create Faithful Customer," believes its underlying corporate strategy of designing and manufacturing quality devices for various markets and letting its high-quality reputation earn it the trust and respect of electronics consumers worldwide.

On our test bench today is the current flagship of the MSI Lightning series, the brand new MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning (N680GTX Lightning) video card.

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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680

NVIDIA released its new GeForce GTX 680, code-named "Kepler" on March 22nd, 2012. The GeForce GTX 680 has 8 SMX clusters which each have 192 CUDA cores inside and a control logic which has a reduced size. The GPU is built using 28nm technology.

The GeForce GTX 680 itself is comprised of 3.54 billion transistors packed into 1536 CUDA cores with a default clock speed of 1006MHz. The GeForce GTX 680 also has a boost clock which it will increase to during graphically demanding applications and guarantees at least 1058MHz. There are a total of 8 geometry units and 128 texture units, along with 32 ROPs. This video card also uses the new PolyMorph 2.0 Engine which NVIDIA claims has 4x the tessellation performance of the Radeon HD 7970.

The GeForce GTX 680 is designed to be paired with 2GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit bus, running at 1502MHz for a 6.0Gbps data rate and a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 192.2GB per second. The typical board power is 195W which will work with the advanced diagnostics to create more efficient and lower overall power consumption, with extra power available when needed. A standard GeForce GTX 680 only requires two 6-pin PCI-E connectors. It can support up to 4 displays on a single video card, with a Dual Link DVI-I connector, a Dual Link DVI-D connector, one HDMI connector and one DisplayPort connector.

MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning

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The MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lighting has been loaded to the brim with all sorts of custom features from MSI. It sports MSI Twin Frozr IV cooling system which has been proven time and time again as one of the most effective on the market. It also comes with a factory overclock with a base GPU clock speed of 1110MHz, a Boost clock speed of 1176MHz, and the memory left at the stock operating speed of 1502MHz or 6GHz GDDR5. While the factory overclock is not the most impressive thing about this video card, the overclocking capability of this video card is.

The current version of MSI Afterburner 2.2.2 does not support manual voltage tweaking on the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning, however once Afterburner 2.2.3 becomes available users will be able to manually change the voltages of the GPU, memory, and the PLL. Until this is available users will not be able to get the most out of the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning which is designed for extreme overclocking. As you know, voltage settings are carried out automatically by the GTX 680, and GPU Boost is able to raise it to a certain level. When the new Afterburner 2.2.3 comes out you will be able to raise it above the preset settings, for the first time ever on any GTX 680 based video card. This should allow greater overclocking like we've never seen before on the GTX 680, but we must wait for this new version of Afterburner before we can use this feature. Official word from MSI is that the software just isn't ready yet, but rest assured once it is we will re-visit this video card with overvolted overclocking.

The Military Class III components on this video card provide the best performance, stability, and efficiency available; they are used on the space shuttles and satellites. These include Dark Solid Capacitors that have a nickel plated cover and have lower temperatures and better performance than standard capacitors, and have a 10 year life span. The Golden SSC's have a gold coating for better heat resistance and have a higher maximum current output. The Hi-c CAP have 15% less leakage and stabilizes the GPU power for more efficient overclocking. Among these components is the GPU Reactor which is plugged into the back of the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning. The GPU Reactor is there for improved overclocking stability. It provides 200% higher power capacity for the GPU which will translate to higher operating speeds when overclocking.

The Twin Frozr IV cooling system is comprised of several parts. There are 5 nickel-plated copper heat pipes that provides the best heat dissipation. These heat pipes directly contact the GPU and spread out to different areas along the heat sink which stretches the length of the video card. The heat sink has made of small fins which provide a higher surface area for heat to spread to. The heat is dispersed by the two 10cm PWM fans. The dual 10cm fans provide 40% more airflow than dual 9cm fans, and keeps the heat off of the GPU, the memory, and the power module. The fans are also using propeller blade structure which can generate 20% more airflow than traditional fans.

The Twin Frozr IV cooling system also features dust removal technology. When you power on the computer with this video card installed the fans will spin in reverse at 100% to help remove any dust accumulating on the heat sink or fan blades. This not only ensures that the cooling is running optimally, it is also extending the life of the video card. There is also a heatsink plated on the back which helps disperse and spread any heat, and to protect the components mounted on the back of the video card.

The MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning comes with a 3 year factory warranty and is currently available on Newegg for $569.99 with free shipping and a coupon for a free game NBA2K11. You can read more about the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning's specifications here.

MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Pictures

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The MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning comes packaged in a green and black glossy box with a jet plane that has become the symbol for Lightning edition video cards. The fold up flap on the front of the box goes in to detail about several of the components on the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning and talks about the Twin Frozr IV cooling system. The video card itself fit snug inside of some foam packaging inside of an antistatic bag.

The software bundle included a quick start guide and a user guide. There is also a driver CD that also includes an older version of MSI Afterburner. MSI also included a certificate of quality and stability which states that the components on the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning are Military Class III components. The only accessories that come with the video card are three small adaptors that plug into the back end of the graphics card so you can manually read GPU, memory, and PLL voltages.

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The outermost cover on the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning is made of thick, sturdy aluminum and is painted black with yellow accents. This cover runs the entire length of the video card over the heat sinks and houses the dual 10cm PWM fans. The back of the video card is also covered with the same metal. The nickel-plated copper heat pipes do not protrude from behind the cover.

Directly behind the GPU is where the GPU Reactor is plugged in there is a silver and blue plastic clip on piece that covers the actual GPU Reactor. There are a few blue LED's on the GPU Reactor that light up when the video card has power as well as a few LED's under the power connectors. The end of the video card has the three slots to measure GPU, memory, and PLL voltages. You can connect the small adaptors that MSI sends with the video card and connect a voltage reader with a positive and negative connector to read them manually.

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The rear I/O panel houses a Dual-Link DVI-I connector, a Dual-Link DVI-D connector, an HDMI connector, and a DisplayPort connector. The top of the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning houses two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors which require a minimum 650 Watt power supply to run correctly. The MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning measures 11 and 5/8ths inches in Length, 2 inches Wide including the GPU Reactor, and 4 and 7/8ths inches in Height. It will only take up 2 slots in your computer.