Manufactured by MSI. MSRP at launch 500 USD
MSI GeForce N680GTX Lightning Review
MSI’s Lightning Edition series have some of the best custom jobs in the whole graphics card manufacturing industry. Even within their own product range, with their Power Edition and Hawk series, the Lightning series reigns supreme in terms of feature set. And today I’ll be looking at their most impressive result to date, the N680GTX Lightning graphics card.
The N680GTX Lightning first of all comes with MSI’s new Twin Frozr IV heatsink, a GPU Reactor for extra voltage control in addition to the Triple Voltage controls and V-Check points. Additionally all the connectors are gold plated and multiple layers of metal casings were used to hold the custom PCB and cooling solution together.
Starting with the massive Twin Frozr IV heatsink, the N680GTX Lightning measures just over 11-inches (or 28.5cm), so make sure your computer chassis can actually hold this behemoth in the first place. The regular GTX 680 looks puny in comparison.
Looking closely at the size, you’ll notice that the N680GTX Lightning is actually comprised of 5 layers. The custom PCB is covered with black metal plates on the front and back, followed by the main heatsink and then the metal cover on top. The backplate has cutouts for the VRM, designed for extreme cooling as heat from literally every part of the board not only travels to the metal plates surrounding the PCB but also the huge heatsink itself.
The heatsink has two cooling areas, with the long fins spread out evenly over the length of the PCB. The 5 heatpipes actually are spreading out from the GPU contact area into the metal fins. The entire base is then cooled by two 100mm fans which are enshrouded by the metal cover on top.
One of the reasons the N680GTX Lightning is so long is due to MSI using two 8-pin power connectors instead of the two 6-pin connectors Nvidia used on reference card. The extra juice is necessary for the unrestricted access to the voltage control on the 12-phase PWM design.
On the back of the card you’ll notice the GPU Reactor, which is basically an additional PCB plugged in just behind the GPU to give it extra voltage. As this extra PCB is attached onto the card itself, there’s a small plastic covering that further protrudes up from the card’s rear surface. If you’re not planning on some serious overclocking, this PCB can be detached for a regular looking behind, and the N680GTX Lightning will function perfectly fine without it.
The BIOS switch is basically a failsafe for overclocking. You can switch it over to the right for an LN2 focused BIOS that has the N680GTX Lightning’s gears settings tuned for extreme overclocking.
The factory settings on the N680GTX Lightning comes with a factory overclock of 1110MHz (with 1167MHz Boost) on the core clock, while the memory remains the same at 6008MHz (effective). The core clock speeds for reference Nvidia design for the GTX 680 is 1006MHz (with 1058MHz Boost). That’s a factory overclock of 10% on the core clock by MSI over Nvidia.
For testing the MSI N680GTX Lightning the below testbed was used:
Due to the new motherboard and CPU as the basis of our testbed, I have retested the Nvidia GTX 680 alongside the N680GTX Lightning using the latest GeForce 304.48 beta drivers.
Below are the details of how each benchmark was conducted with specific details of settings used. All of the below benchmarks were run at a resolution of 1920×1080.
The N680GTX Lightning was designed with extreme overclocking in mind, however not everyone will have access to LN2 cooling. Even still, turning the BIOS switch from ‘Normal’ settings to ‘LN2’ setting will allow MSI Afterburner to increase the voltage headroom from a limit of +133 to +200mV.
Using this setting I was able to bump the core clock speed from 1110MHz to 1210MHz, while memory clocked was bumped from 6008MHz to 6108MHz (effective), resulting in an actual overclock of 9% on core clock and 1.6% on memory speeds. Your mileage may vary.
Given the massive heatsink and the huge fans on top of it I was expecting the N680GTX Lightning to have decent cooling performance; the actual results surprised me greatly.
Fan speeds during idle state was just 1,080RPM, reaching up to 1,440RPM under full load which was barely audible. The best part, however, was than when the N680GTX Lightning was overclocked to its limits the maximum speed rose to just 1,530RPM.
When running some of the heavy benchmarks, especially 3DMark 11, I’m used to hear a graphics card making a lot of sound; with the N680GTX Lightning there was nothing. I was genuinely shocked at the lack of noise!
At $600 the MSI N680GTX Lightning is one of the most expensive air cooled GTX 680 graphics card on the market, but it’s also the quietest and arguably the coolest of the bunch. The wealth of overclocking headroom provided on this custom GTX 680 is incredible.
To be sure it’s a luxurious item, but when you want the most performance out of a single GPU based card, why not also go for the aesthetic appeal of something that runs awfully quiet as well?
MSI N680GTX Lightning
Well designed card with high-end components
Custom design is very big compared to reference Nvidia design, making it barely fit in most cases.