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Written by David Ramsey   
Monday, 09 July 2012
Table of Contents: Page Index
MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video Card
Closer Look: MSI N680GTX Lightning
N680GTX Lightning Detailed Features
Features and Specifications
Video Card Testing Methodology
DX11: 3DMark11
DX11: F1 2010
DX11: Batman: Arkham City
DX11: Aliens vs Predator
DX11: Lost Planet 2
DX11: Metro 2033
DX11: Unigine Heaven 3.0
DX11: Battlefield 3
Temperature and Power Consumption
MSI N680GTX Lightning Final Thoughts
MSI N680GTX Lightning Conclusion

MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video Card

Manufacturer: Micro-Star International (MSI)
Product Name: N680GTX Lightning
Model Number: V823
UPC: 816909099126
Suggested Retail Price: $599.99 (Newegg)

Full Disclosure: MSI provided the product sample used in this article.

Now that the Kepler drought has finally eased, NVIDIA's retail partners can start providing the overclocked and top-spec'd versions of their GTX 680 video cards. GPUs typically have some exploitable "headroom" in their clock frequency and power specifications, and often all a vendor needs to do to make use of this headroom is outfit the card with an improved cooler.

Kepler-based cards make this proposition more difficult than it has historically been since NVIDIA's reference cooler is very good: effectively and quiet. It's not that absolute best that can be done within a two-slot form factor, but it's much closer to that ideal than it has been in the past, and it's helped by the fact that Kepler GPUs are much less power-hungry than previous generations. Less power means less heat, which makes the card easier to cool.

Not that MSI would be content with anything so mundane as just a new cooler for their Lightning product lineup. While they do offer variants of the GTX 680 with their signature Twin Frozr cooling system as the sole distinguishing feature, the N680GTX Lightning is built upon a completely new custom PCB that owes nothing to NVIDIA's reference design.


With greatly enhanced power circuitry as well as mil-spec components and an unlocked BIOS, impressive overclocks should be possible...and you should expect them given the card's substantial price premium over a reference design GTX 680.



# RE: MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video CardChris 2012-07-09 15:18
It's probably the best 2 gb 680 on the market right now. It might be a good idea to take a second look at it when the next version of Afterburner 2.2.3 comes out.

I don't know if this was due to time constraints, but the depth of the closer look seems to have been shortened compared to say, this review:

In particular, one thing that might be interesting to see is if MSI is still using excessive thermal paste.

It's not a card aimed at those maxing price-performance; just absolute single GPU performance, which this card does very well at.

Otherwise, it's a solid review and a very impressive enthusiast card.
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# RE: RE: MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video CardDavid Ramsey 2012-07-09 15:43
I normally only remove a card's cooler after I've completed all testing, because there's a small possibility of damaging the card. Since I haven't run the overclocked benchmarks yet, I haven't removed the cooler. When Afterburder 2.2.3 is released and I can write the separate article on overclocking this card, rest assured there will be a "naked" card shot!
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# RE: RE: RE: MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video CardChris 2012-07-09 18:55
Understandable. I suppose that apart from reapplying the thermal paste, it's hard to imagine someone replacing the cooler, unless they intend to try LN2 benchmarking. Waterblocks for custom PCBs like this are pretty hard to find, although I do recall the previous 580 Lightning getting one.
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# RE: MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video CardChris 2012-07-09 15:22
Edit: I can see that on the final thoughts page that you've already mentioned that you'll take a second look.

The GPU voltage lock is very frustrating on the 680s - almost to the point where some people have recommended getting a 7970 over a 680.
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# Um..Johnny Utah 2012-07-17 23:03
Unwinder who maintains Afterburner (and coded it I believe) has yet to receive his Lightning. He eve stated it may not be possible to overvolt the card with software.
You might want to do your OC testing now.
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# RE: Um..Olin Coles 2012-07-18 07:26
To quote MSI marketing on 22 June 2012: "Afterburner 2.2.3 is in the works and should be out in a few days. 2.2.3 will have voltage unlock so Kepler voltages can be adjusted past 1.175V... so users can maximize the potential of the GTX680 Lightning. Please be noted in case you're looking to maximize overclocking."

It seems that MSI forgot to tell Unwinder what his software can do. :p
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# RE: Um..David Ramsey 2012-07-18 07:51
Yeah, I saw that he hadn't received his card yet. I'm pretty sure the MSI engineers are smart enough to design a card that can be overvolted in software, so I remain hopeful. I was able to run Heaven 3.0 (aka "the overclocking killer") with the core at 1340MHz, so if we still don't have a new Afterburner in a few weeks I'll do an overclocking article anyway.
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# SLI FunctionalityJohn 2012-07-19 15:08
I have not seen the functionality of this card in an SLI environment tested in any review. It has been my experience that if you cannot leave at least a slot spacing between cards, they quickly overheat and shutdown. You are therefore limited to 2-way SLI only. If you want to do a 3-Way or 4-Way SLI, you need to liquid cool these, and as of yet there are no full board waterblocks available.
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# RE: SLI FunctionalityDavid Ramsey 2012-07-19 15:19
That's probably because MSI isn't handing out pairs of them to reviewers, and we're disinclined to spend $600 of our own money in order to be able to add a column to the performance charts.

Some available motherboards (EVGA X79 Classified, for example) will allow you to use three dual-slot graphics cards with at least one slot's worth of space between each pair of cards. Of course you'd need an 8 or 10 slot case to pull this off. But you're right: system builders must take thermals into account when designing their rigs.
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# RE: MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video Cardkzinti1 2012-11-26 00:41
I'd already own a pair of these if they had at least 3GB memory each.
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# RE: RE: MSI GeForce GTX 680 Lightning Video Cardkzinti1 2012-12-06 05:33
"For this reason we will revisit this card's performance in a separate overclocking review once the required software becomes available."
I just remembered the above quote.
When are you going to do another review now that MSI Afterburner Version 2.3.0 (2012/11/200 is here? I'd really like to know how these cards run with the voltage that was intended for them.
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# Marketing PropogandaOlin Coles 2012-12-06 06:21
I can tell you that MSI overextended themselves with this claim. While Afterburner 2.3.0 does allow users to increase voltage, it's not much. Core and Memory voltage can be raised by 100 mV, and Auxiliary voltage by 50 mV.
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# Afterburner 2.3.0Joe 2013-02-24 22:57
Wheres the updated review? The new afterburner version has been out. Very interested to see what you guys have to say.
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# RE: Afterburner 2.3.0Olin Coles 2013-02-25 08:25
There was no need to re-test anything, since MSI over-exaggerated their claims by stating a newer version of the software would unlock features in the card. While Afterburner versions 2.3.0 to 4.0.0 do allow users to increase voltage, it's not much. Core and Memory voltage can be raised by 100 mV, and Auxiliary voltage by 50 mV.
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# RE: RE: Afterburner 2.3.0Chris 2013-05-14 22:06
I know this is several months after, but to their credit, MSI did release the later versions Afterburner allowed for much more aggressive overclocking. Typically 1300 MHz to 1400 MHz was doable on air.
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