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MSI GTX 980 Ti Lightning Review

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MSI GTX 980 Ti Lightning Closer Look:

MSI's GTX 980 Ti Lightning is going to be at the top of MSI's GTX 980 Ti product stack. The first view shows that the Lightning is equipped with MSI's patented Tri Frozr cooling solution that uses a trio of Torx 80mm fans to provide the airflow through the massive heat pipe-based heat sink. Built around a custom PCB and all-digital power supply, MSI equipped the card with an aluminum back plate to ensure that the PCB does not develop a case of the bends. Combined with the cooling plate on the front side of the PCB, the card is incredibly rigid. The side view show just how large the heat sink package is. Most of MSI's cooling solutions come in at two slots deep, but the GTX 980 Ti Lightning is going to take up almost three slots worth of motherboard real estate, even though it physically only occupies a single 16x PCIe 3.0 slot. The Lightning logo on the top of the card by default mirrors the yellow theme of the card, but by using MSI's Mystic Lights software you can change the color of the LED to green, blue, red, purple, orange, or a rotating montage of these colors that change automatically. When you get a look at MSI's Torx fans, they are not just your standard propeller blade fan. These fans include dispersion blades that help improve static pressure and move more air through the heat sink.

 

 

 

Display connectivity is standard for the model and uses a single dual link DVI port, a single HDMI 2.0 port, and a trio of DisplayPort 1.2 ports. The single HDMI 2.0 port supports resolutions up to 4K natively with a refresh rate of 60Hz. The maximum resolution supported by the DisplayPort connections has been bumped up to 5120x3200 at 60Hz. There are a total of five ports and seven links on-board that allow the end user to use any four of the connections simultaneously. The use of the trio of DisplayPort connections with G-SYNC ready monitors, such as the ASUS ROG SWIFT PG278Q, allows you to take advantage of NVIDIA's G-SYNC technology to eliminate the screen tearing and lag that occurs with running with V-sync on or off with refresh rate that scales up to 144Hz. The back end of the card is pretty boring from the top side, but flipping over the card we get to see some of the special features MSI equips the GTX 980 Ti Lightning with. There are a trio of Voltage measuring points that use plug-in extenders to allow the end user to hook up a multimeter and measure voltage at the hardware level instead of via software.

 

 

MSI made sure that current flow would not be an issue when you start beating on this card. MSI put a pair of 8-pin and a single 6-pin PEG connector that provides a theoretical 450W to this card when you add up the wattage from each connection point. Thanks to NVIDIA's load balancing technology, no one source is overloaded when gaming or benchmarking. SLI multi-GPU technology is supported up to four cards in a motherboard that can handle the possibility. One board from ASUS that comes to mind would be the Rampage V Extreme.

 

 

Pulling the covers back, you can see the engineering that goes into making the GTX 980 Ti Lightning tick. A dual position switch is used to cycle between standard and LN2 mode for the more adventurous in the community. As we saw in the accessory bundle, MSI includes a special heat sink plate for use when you have an LN2 pot installed. MSI goes all out on the Lightning with an all-digital power 12+3 power circuit full of Military Class IV components including Super Ferrite Chokes, DR MOS, Dark Caps, and Tantalum filled Hi-C caps. If you look at the right side of the PCB front and back you can see just how much space on the custom PCB is dedicated to the all-digital power circuitry.

 

 

 

Knowing that the user base is going to throw the screws to it, MSI put a large by huge Tri Frozr cooling solution on the Lightning. Three PWM controlled fans are used to minimize the noise profile that really is quieter than I thought it initially would be, especially when ramped up to 100%. A total of two fin arrays are connected to the contact plate via five heat pipes. MSI used two 6mm and three 8mm nickel plated copper heat pipes to transfer the thermal load. Looking at the end of the rear fin array, you see a couple diverters that are used to keep the airflow in the heat sink longer with the ultimate goal being to improve thermal transfer without increasing noise. This MSI tech actually works well.

 

 

 

NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture has been out for quite some time now and has become a proven product that delivers improvements in power efficiency, as well as a big leap forward in performance. The GTX 980 Ti is based on a cut down version of the GM200 core, utilizing six Graphics Processing Clusters. Five of the six GPCs house four Maxwell streaming multiprocessors for a total of 22 instead of the 24 seen on the full implementation of GM200. Each GPC has a total of four Maxwell Streaming Multiprocessors units, each with a Polymorph engine, 128 CUDA cores, and eight texture units. A 384-bit bus consisting of six 64-bit memory controllers are used to manage a total of 6GB of Hynix 7000MHz rated GDDR5. Each of the memory controllers comes equipped with 16 ROPs and 512KB of L2 cache. By adding all this up you get 2816 single precision CUDA cores, a unified shared 3072KB of L2 cache, 96 ROPs, and 176 texture units. NVIDIA's Maxwell GM 200-based silicon is built on a mature 28nm process housing a total of eight billion transistors under the lid. Delivered clock speeds on the GTX 980 Ti Lightning are 1205MHz on the base core clock with a GPU Boosted clock speed of 1304MHz. That being the case, the Maxwell core has been known to scale upwards of 1400MHz+ in games depending on the thermals and power limit restrictions.

 

 

Except for the fact that the GTX 980 Ti Lightning has a GM 200 core and 6GB of GDDR5 memory, the comparison cannot be made with a reference card. There is so much going for this card from MSI that I am excited to actually see what it can do right out of the box.




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