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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MSI’s GTX 680 Lightning is built for overclockers, this market’s elitists who demand top tier parts and won’t settle for anything less. In this respect, it succeeds spectacularly and we’d even go so far as to say that it is one of the best cards that money can buy right now.

From a features perspective, MSI hit all of the high notes with high quality design and attention to even the smallest details. Build quality is top notch, the dual BIOS offers a world of possibilities for serious overclockers, the new AfterBurner software is a joy to use and a 3 year warranty with Canada-based RMA services will be a boon for those of us north of the 49th parallel. In addition, the Twin Frozr IV heatsink played David to ASUS’ gigantic Goliath by beating its much larger triple slot competitor in thermal and acoustical testing.

There were some surprises throughout testing as well. Lightning’s paper specifications are a bit of a fallacy since they seem to indicate it won’t perform up to the DirectCu II TOP’s level. That wasn’t the case as throughout testing, MSI’s flagship was able to consistently trade blows with the best ASUS had to offer. It even pulled ahead by a miniscule amount once everything was said and done. At first this may seem impossible but through the “magic” of NVIDIA’s GPU Boost, the Lightning’s advanced power distribution and slightly lower temperatures allowed the core to hit its maximum speed more often and for longer periods of time than its competitor. The actual difference may be minor and will be indistinguishable to end users but in our charts at least, MSI now has the fastest GTX 680 we’ve tested. But is it worthy of a $599 price on that merit alone? No.

While we can’t fathom a reason why a gamer would be willing to buy a Lightning rather than a more affordable option, hardcore overclockers should be salivating right about now. The LN2 BIOS and unlocked power / voltage limits are what they have been waiting for since the GTX 680 was first introduced. MSI did take their sweet time getting AfterBurner updated with the necessary features that allow the GTX 680 Lightning to stand apart from the competition but without them, this conclusion would have sounded much, much different.

Normal everyday users may be swayed by MSI’s fancy marketing terms and the pedigree of the Lightning brand but let caution prevail before jumping onto the $599 bandwagon. Without the willingness to push this card to its absolute limits with extreme methods of cooling (be it with blaringly loud fans or LN2), the high end features you pay so dearly for will be wasted. On the other hand, if someone is willing to put time, money and patience on the line to master the art of GPU tweaking, the GTX 680 Lightning has the chops to provide a profoundly rewarding experience and will be worth every last penny.


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