MSI GTX 680 Lightning Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: August 4, 2012
Product Name: GTX 680 Lightning
Part Number: N680GTX Lightning
Warranty: 3 Years
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Overclocking Results & MSI's AfterBurner

This section has been a long time in the making since we went on a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions while overclocking the Lightning. Let’s start things off by saying that while some cards offer a straightforward overclocking experience where you can drag a few application sliders and leave things be, this one rewards even the smallest change and features an almost infinite number of options for enterprising individuals. You’ll find yourself constantly striving to one-up your latest accomplishment and luckily, MSI’s flagship is more than willing to deliver.

Unfortunately, until recently we were singing a very different tune than what’s presented in this section. The reason for this is quite simple: MSI’s AfterBurner software just wasn’t up to the task of keeping up with the GTX 680 Lightning’s abilities or bypass the stringent limitations NVIDIA placed upon their Kepler architecture.

For reasons we don’t want to speculate about, NVIDIA has decided to put a cap deep within their BIOS which limits core voltage to 1.175V. Normally, this would be more than enough for anyone but with their advanced cooling solutions and overclocker-oriented marketing, one of the main challenges for any of NVIDIA’s board partners is finding a way past this voltage ceiling. The AfterBurner version that was available when the Lightning first launched couldn’t bypass this so its extra 200% Power Limit adjustment when using the LN2 BIOS simply went to waste. AfterBurner 2.2.3 finally turned this unfortunate situation around.

With AfterBurner 2.2.3 (pictured above) allowing for an almost infinite number of possibilities, we decided to test overclocking on MSI’s GTX 680 Lightning in two ways. The first will be with the default BIOS paired up with a 1.171V core voltage. The second attempt was with the LN2 BIOS enabled alongside a maxed out Power Limit and a core voltage of 1.325V. All voltages were confirmed with a multimeter rather than software. In both cases, the memory voltage was set to +100mV and the PLL bumped to +50mV. We also disabled the default fan speed profile and set it to 70% which is about as loud as any sane person could stand them. We believe overclocks will go MUCH higher on more exotic forms of cooling but unfortunately, that option wasn’t available to us.

Now, you may notice that the image of the AfterBurner with the LN2 BIOS enabled only shows a +100mV increase, or the same as the default BIOS. Essentially, there is still a 100mV increase (which is quite limiting for overclockers) but the LN2 BIOS has a higher starting load voltage to begin with, hence this is 100mV on top of a “default” voltage of 1.271V.

Anyways, on to the results:

Default BIOS @ 1.171V
Maximum Boost Clock Observed: 1374MHz
Memory Clock: 6.604GHz (QDR)

LN2 BIOS @ 1.325V
Maximum Boost Clock Observed: 1450MHz
Memory Clock: 6.788GHz (QDR)

The results we see above are certainly interesting since in its default configuration, our sample’s core wasn’t able to beat some GTX 680s we’ve tested in the past. 1.374GHz is still VERY impressive but the Lightning doesn’t really shine until switching over to the very capable LN2 BIOS. When that happens, the sky truly is the limit and our 1.45GHz plateau was reached simply because we set 1.325V as the absolute ceiling for our tests when using air cooling.

Memory overclocking was quite good as well with speeds in excess of 6.6GHz being achieved with a minimum of effort. Interestingly enough, the LN2 BIOS allowed these clocks to hit even higher levels, presumably due to the excess overhead granted to the onboard memory controllers.

As you can see below, the end result of all this tweaking was some very, very impressive performance.


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