To review the Lightning Xtreme edition of MSI's GeForce GTX 580 really is to review the 'regular' lightning edition all over again. Very little has changed to be honest but we have to acknowledge it, how on earth can you improve a near perfect product ? The temperature color changing cooler fans are fun, but are just that. What we do like is that the first 30 seconds after activating the PC, the fans run backwards ... trying to remove any residual dust, but sure it is not a primary feature either. The card is clocked at the very same (fast) clock frequencies as the regular lightning edition is as well, and overclocking wise there's no difference there either. Therefore the Lightning Xtreme has to have it from the better looks with the blue fan, blue LEDs and more dark design -- the most primary feature is obviously the fact that this Xtreme edition comes with 3 GB of graphics memory.
Now in gaming resolutions up-to 1920x1200 you will hardly, and maybe never ever, see a benefit from the extra framebuffer really, unless you use ridiculous amounts of anti-aliasing. However for the ones that like to break records, or game in uber high-resolutions with three monitors in Surround View (SLI required), that's where the extra memory will come in handy. But in the forums we've seen it many times, people really are interested in the 3GB GTX 580 versions so there's definitely (albeit small) market for it.
Obviously if you plan to use a card like this for the next three years, then sure, games will become more stringent and will require more graphics memory on the long term. What I am trying to say is that the extra memory is hard to justify money wise, but definitely a welcome addition on the long term.
The Xtreme edition just like the regular Lighting (it sounds corny to name the original Lightning edition 'regular' doesn't it?) to date this is the fastest GTX 580 we've had in our hands and in fact this is the fastest single GPU graphics card to date. And yeah we again tried to nitpick and look for small subtleties that could be better but quite honestly, there isn't anything we came up with as all negative variables on this product seem to be ruled out.
Starting with noise and cooling, the Twin Frozr III cooler does it's work really well. You can slightly hear it with the default factory clocks but really, that's all. The temperatures of this pre-overclocked product remain striking low and the sheer looks of the cooler are just dazzling. The Xtreme edition has the blue colored fans with the core of the fans changing color to white when the temperature rises enough.
The XTreme edition as well comes factory overclocked for you, where a regular GTX 580 has a 772 MHz base frequency and 1000 MHz (4000 effective) on the memory, MSI brings that number up-to 832 MHz on the base clock and 4200 MHz on the memory (effective data-rate).
Since the GeForce cards are really sensitive in performance when you overclock them you'll immediately notice a performance increase over the reference product, and that's very nice to see as it's rewarding to tweak these values a little more.
Something we did not mention yet is the following, this will be announced at the start of Computex; very soon MSI will release an extension to AfterBurner, allowing you to monitor and even overclock from your Android based smartphones as well. So that's even more value and features on the software side.
Once you start to manually overclock you can get close to 900 MHz, but it would be a shame not to voltage tweak at the very least the GPU. Grab AfterBurner, set your voltage at 1.2V and you can take the GPU into sixth gear, we actually ended at a lovely 950 MHz on that graphics core and would we have taken some more time and fiddle around with the cooler RPM, then that 1 GHz might be a barrier you could reach, though after 950 MHz things will get increasingly difficult plus your noise levels would go up quite a bit.
But yeah that's the fun factor, the card allows you to do that stuff without too much risk. Heck the military class components and rigid VRM design makes the product go where other can't.
As mentioned in the review, there's a second BIOS as well, if you screw up the first with an OC firmware tweak, then you can revert to the default BIOS, and reflash the corrupted firmware. A nice fail-safe. Also there are small micro buttons to be found on the card, but leave them alone we say, unless you are planning to break records with liquid nitrogen or other exotic cooling.
Well there you have it, MSI's GeForce GTX 580 Lightning Xtreme edition is definitely not ground breaking new stuff over the original release, on the contrary the fan color change, dust removal are fun, but just that. You'll need to seek the extra value in the 3GB graphics memory, as that really is the biggest change. But yeah, it is hard, very hard to improve on a product that was already nearing perfection. Again we can't do anything else other than granting it our best hardware award. The quality and sophisticated level of design is something that appeals to us incredibly so, if you are in the market for a GeForce GTX 580, we honestly do not see how it can get any better than this.
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