MSI N770 Lightning Overclocking Review

We take the new MSI N770 Lightning and overclock it to its maximum potential. We will compare it with a highly overclocked MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning and GIGABYTE Radeon HD 7970. Each GPU is getting its best chance to show us how well it can perform, as all of these GPUs are highly overclocked.


On May 30th, 2013 NVIDIA launched its GeForce GTX 770. We debuted our evaluation with a look at the retail MSI N770 Lightning video card. The MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning represents the flagship model from MSI based on the new GTX 770 GPU. This video card retails for $459, but carries with it a phenomenal conglomeration of specifications geared to the hardware enthusiast and extreme gamer.

The MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning improves upon the GeForce GTX 770 specification by delivering an amazing out-of-box frequency boost. The base clock is set to 1150MHz, which is 104MHz over the reference design. The boost clock is set to run at 1202MHz which is 117MHz over the reference boost clock. Already at 1202MHz, the boost clock frequency is well above any GeForce GTX 680 card's natural boost state. In fact, it takes manual overclocking to reach 1.2GHz+ on GeForce GTX 680 cards.

Due to MSI incorporating its customized Twin Frozr IV heatsink and fan design the GPU is able to be cooled extremely well under full-load. This means that the new GPU Boost 2.0 can take the actual real-world frequency a lot higher since it is based on an 80c temperature cap. The GPU on the MSI N770 Lightning never reaches anywhere near 80c even under full-load, so GPU Boost 2.0 never has to cap the real-world frequency and is able to raise the voltage and provide a near maximum real-world GPU frequency. This is very important to understand as we look at overclocking the MSI N770 Lightning.

GPU Boost 2.0 and Custom Coolers

Just a quick recap of what the GeForce GTX 770 actually is. What you are looking at is a GeForce GTX 680 refresh. Think GeForce GTX 680 with the new GPU Boost 2.0 and 7GHz memory with a better cooler. GPU Boost 2.0 changes the way GPU Boost attains the highest real-world clock speed in games. Before, it was based on power and TDP. GPU Boost would raise the real-world gaming frequency to the maximum power target.

Now, with GPU Boost 2.0, GPU Boost utilizes a temperature cap. NVIDIA has set the temperature cap at 80c. This means that GPU Boost can raise the in-game clock frequency and voltage, don't forget voltage, until the GPU reaches 80c. When it reaches 80c it stops, and if the load pushes the GPU harder exceeding the temperature cap then GPU Boost will either lower the frequency, or the voltage, or both to keep it from never going beyond 80c.

This inherently means then that an extremely good heatsink and fan combo on the video card, keeping the GPU as cool as possible, is paramount to providing the highest possible in-game real-world frequencies. If a heatsink and fan combo never lets the GPU reach 80c, and is able to keep it very cool, then GPU Boost has more room to keep pushing the clock speed and voltage upwards, until it reaches the TDP or power target of the video card.

This means that video cards with excellent custom coolers can and will perform better in games since the real-world frequency will be higher since GPU Boost is actively trying to get the most out of the GPU. This is why on a video card like the MSI N770 Lightning you will see already excellent out-of-box real-world frequencies in-game. This means we could potentially not have a lot of room for manual overclocking if GPU Boost 2.0 is already tapping the potential of the GPU.

Card Comparisons for Overclocking

In our creation process for putting this evaluation together we wanted to showcase the overclock on the MSI N770 Lightning. We also wanted to give it some real competition. Since the GeForce GTX 770 is a refresh of GeForce GTX 680 with faster memory, then it made the most sense to also overclock a good GeForce GTX 680 video card and compare the MSI N770 Lightning with that. What we want to know is, when both are overclocked as high as possible, is there really any difference?

We also needed to give the Radeon HD 7970 the best chance possible, since prices are a lot closer with the GeForce GTX 770 now. Therefore, we decided to get the best overclock we could out of a Radeon HD 7970 and show that in the comparison as well.

We wanted to keep this comparison fair, and at the same time give each GPU the best chance possible. The best way to do this was to do a straight down the line comparison of MSI Lightning cards. MSI produces a GeForce GTX 680 Lightning and Radeon HD 7970 Lightning, both of which we have evaluated in the past. What better comparison to make, then to compare three MSI Lightning cards?

Well, that was our plan anyway, but after our initial evaluation specifically of the Radeon HD 7970 Lightning overclock we never really did get a good overclock on that video card. We tried again with it for this evaluation, but in today's newer and more power demanding games, our obtainable overclock was even lower than the 1190MHz overclock we got initially. We found we had to lower it to 1150MHz to get it stable now in Crysis 3. This is simply not a good overclock on a Radeon HD 7970 GPU. We needed to be over 1.2GHz for a good overclock.

Therefore, we sifted through our pile of cards and tested several different ones until we found one with the highest stable frequency we could get in today's games. This actually ended up being the GIGABYTE Radeon HD 7970 OC we have also evaluated. We initially got that video card up to 1305MHz when we evaluated it. Since it was easy to use with MSI Afterburner software, and supports core voltage and memory voltage, we knew this was the video card to go with. After re-evaluating it for overclocking in today's newer, more power hungry, graphically demanding games, we found 1275MHz to be stable. This is a lot better than the MSI Radeon HD 7970 Lightning video card, and would showcase the Radeon HD 7970 with a much better overclock.

Therefore, our evaluation is going to use the MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning overclocked, the MSI N770 Lightning overclocked, and the GIGABYTE Radeon HD 7970 overclocked. These three video cards gave us the best overclock we've seen on any of these GPUs in today's latest graphically demanding games. This is literally the best of the best being compared. We'll give a summary of the overclocks below that are being compared to the MSI N770 Lightning.

MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning - When we initially reviewed this video card we got an overclock of 1286MHz out of the GPU. This was with all the extra voltage sliders to the max. We got the memory up to 6.8GHz once the memory voltage was also maxed. However, this video card was reviewed a long time ago, and a lot of things have changed since that review. Namely, the newer games out today are more graphically demanding and more power hungry.

What happens when you try to overclock that video card again, in a game like Crysis 3, is that we find the overclock to no longer be stable. Therefore, we had to completely re-evaluate its overclock in today's games.

Our conclusion was that with the sliders maxed out on voltage, we got it up to a stable real-world frequency of now 1251MHz in all the games tested here today. That overclock is still well above 1.2GHz, and anything above 1.2GHz on a GTX 680 is a great overclock. We are not displeased at all with that overclock. The memory frequency was unaffected; we obtained the same overclock to 6.8GHz memory frequency. Therefore, our GTX 680 overclock that will be compared to the MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning will be 1251MHz/6.8GHz from the GTX 680.

GIGABYTE Radeon HD 7970 OC - Our original overclock on this video card was an incredible 1305MHz GPU frequency with 1.274v core voltage. Anything at 1.3GHz on a Radeon HD 7970 is incredible. We also got the memory up to 6.42GHz. However, things do change, and with the newer games of today that overclock was not stable. We had to lower it and completely re-evaluate overclocking as well.

What we found was with a voltage of 1.275v that 1275MHz was the stable frequency in all the games here today. The memory also overclocked higher this time because we now had control of memory voltage. By raising that, we were able to get 6.8GHz out of the memory. Therefore, the Radeon HD 7970 frequency that will be compared will be 1275MHz/6.8GHz. This is a very good overclock on a Radeon HD 7970, and represents "the most" you'll get out of that GPU.

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Above you will see the three MSI Lightning cards we started with the GTX 680 Lightning - Top, MSI N770 Lightning - Middle, and Radeon HD 7970 Lightning - Bottom. What we ended up with though was replacing the Radeon HD 7970 Lightning with the GIGABYTE Radeon HD 7970 OC shown in the third picture. The third and fourth picture show the MSI N770 Lightning in the system overclocked with all the power VRMs in use.