Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z Video Card Review

MSI is taking it the max with the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z video card, sporting the most robust cooling, the highest factory overclock, and even an unlocked Power Limit switchable BIOS mode, this video card has the potential for the highest overclocking possible out of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU on air.

Introduction

We’ve been reviewing some very high-end, enthusiast grade GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU based video cards as of late. Video cards with great air cooling, and even liquid cooling, all poised to deliver the best gaming experience, and potential for overclocking. However, there is one video card from MSI that takes all of these and pushes these over the edge.

The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z video card is a very unique air-cooled video card with features that surpass every other GeForce GTX 1080 Ti based video card we’ve evaluated so far. The suggested retail pricing is $849.99 from MSI, and currently it is available from Newegg at a slightly higher $869.99. This is the kind of video card you buy if extreme air-cooled overclocking is on your mind.

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MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z

Under MSI branding the LIGHTNING series of graphics cards are MSI at its best, driving unique products and features. It takes a familiar GPU and pushes it to the ultimate limits. Among the LIGHTNING series are actually three different models of LIGHTNING video cards that vary only in the provided factory overclocks. Reminder, the reference GeForce GTX 1080 Ti runs at 1481MHz base clock and 1582MHz boost clock. Memory runs at 11GHz.

Sitting at the bottom is the regular LIGHTNING video card which ships at 1506MHz base clock and 1620MHz boost clock. There is a software selectable "LIGHTNING" mode which sets the GPU to 1518MHz base clock and 1632MHz boost clock. Memory overclocks to 11.1GHz in shipping default mode, and LIGHTNING mode.

Moving up the scale is the "LIGHTNING X" video card which ships at 1544MHz base clock and 1657MHz boost clock. There is a software selectable LIGHTNING mode which sets the GPU clock to 1569MHz and boost clock to 1683MHz. Memory overclocks to 11.1GHz in shipping default mode, and LIGHTNING mode.

Finally, at the top-end (and the model we are reviewing today) sits the "LIGHTNING Z" model. The default shipping frequency is 1582MHz base clock and 1695MHz boost clock. The software selectable LIGHTNING clock speed is 1607MHz base clock and 1721MHz boost clock. Memory overclocks to 11.1GHz in shipping default mode, and LIGHTNING mode.

The TDP (250W), and recommended PSU (750W), and all other specifications are equal among the three models of LIGHTNING video cards. The card dimensions are all the same at 12.5" long, 5.5" wide and 2.4" height.

All LIGHTNING models are capable of being manually overclocked with MSI Afterburner using all four points of voltage control, Core Voltage, Memory Voltage, Aux Voltage and Aux2 Voltage. All LIGHTNING models have the "LN2" BIOS switch to enable unlocked Power Limit mode. Today we are reviewing the "Z" model, which has the highest factory overclocks, naturally we will be manually overclocking the video card.

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The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z improves upon the reference design in many ways. In terms of cooling the heat sink area is 54.66% bigger, allowing more surface area, there is 18% more airflow to the heat pipes and 13% more efficient heat dispersion. The fan shroud uses 2x 100mm and 1x 92mm MSI TORX 2.0 fans. These fans provide greater air pressure, they also use double ball bearings for long life. The thermal design allows for air to be channeled in certain directions to direct it onto the heat pipes directly as well as the wider area of the heat sink.

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Both the front heatsink plate and backplate incorporate what MSI calls Close Quarters Heat Pipe Cooling, on the plate itself. The front plate contacts the MOSFETS, VRMs etc... with thermal pads and at the same time there is a built-in heat pipe on the plate along the MOSFETs to transfer heat to a larger empty surface area on the heat plate with built in fins.

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In addition, on the backplate there is a long copper heat pipe that goes across the backplate and touches the back of the GPU with thermal pads. It allows heat to not be trapped under the backplate, but rather be absorbed into the heat pipe and spread out across the backplate. These heat pipes and technologies alone are completely separate from the primary heatsink and provide their own cooling properties to those components specifically. The primary heatsink is very large and has four heat pipes plus two 8mm SuperPipes, for a total of six heat pipes. The base is a nickel-plated copper base.

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In terms of hardware the printed circuit board is completely custom and utilizes MSI’s Military Class 4 grade components. The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z utilizes a 14+3+1 phase setup, the reference GTX 1080 Ti is 6+2+1 phases. Hi-c CAP super-efficient capacitors allows for 93% energy efficiency. DrMOS 60A MOSFET delivering power for the GPU. New SFC that runs at lower temperatures with a 30% higher current capacity for better overclocking. SOLID CAP provides lower ESR and lifespan.

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In terms of overclocking the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z supports Quadruple Overclocking. That is, it has four points of voltage control within software. The two common options are the GPU Core Voltage, and Memory Voltage for pushing the memory as far as possible as well. In addition, there are two Auxiliary Voltage control points that might help eek out higher overclocks. Note, the Auxiliary Voltage overvolting points are more so meant for overclocking under LN2 cooling, and might yield better results under that type of cooling, to fine tune an ultimate overclock.

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Finally, this video card can support LN2 cooling. That is extreme. There is a switch atop the video card that enables a different BIOS profile. This new BIOS profile will literally unlock the Power limits, current limits, and thermal limits of the GPU. Be cautious however, on air cooling it might not be enough. This mode is really meant for better cooling, like LN2. However, we will give it a go on air to see what happens.

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