MSI R5870 Lightning review -
Final Words & Conclusion
Intriguing is what the the R5870 Lighting really is. It is one of the finest 5870 cards currently available, if not the most interesting and fastest single GPU based graphics card obtainable on the market. In every foreseeable way the Lightning has been either altered or thought through and that makes it a very unique product.
MSI literally thought through everything they could and implemented it. The VRM phase design, active phase switching, voltage monitor points, standard overclock, the TwinFrz II cooler, wide connectivity in the form of dual DVI, HDMI and even DisplayPort connectors, the list of improvements is nearly endless. Combine all these things with a very high quality build and you'll quickly realize that this card is among the best of the best in the Radeon 5870 series.
Did the Lightning dishearten at certain points? Well to be honest, a little here and there. You know, during our overclocks we always state that our results can always differ from yours, hinting at the fact that batches differ and that could mean a slightly worse experience (or better) on your end.
Well, with this sample it's the other way around. We really were hoping to pass the 1 GHz marker yet whatever we tried, we could not succeed both with and without voltage GPU tweaks. We got the card stable at 975 MHz and while that still is a really exemplary clock frequency we did hope to see that little bit extra. The graphics memory did way better, we could quite easily take it towards 5488 MHz resulting in a baffling 177 GB/sec framebuffer bandwidth. But sure, while the core overclock is stunning, we really had hoped to see a bit more and we are fairly confident that this is mostly cooling related.
Touching the topic 'cooler'. It looks great but it performs only okay-ish. We feel it's running at it's maximum capacity. Next to that a byproduct of the massive cooling performance needed is that the two fans spin up quite hard once the GPU starts to heat up. And that makes the product quite noisy during gaming. We also would like to see MSI to be on the lookout for a cooling solution that dumps the residual GPU heat outside the PC, and not inside the PC as this design does. The more I think about it, the more the cooler is starting to bother me.
Cooler preferences aside, the R5870 Lightning is a kickass card to own of course. A card like this oozes with unadulterated gaming performance and we feel is priced reasonably for what you get. The overclock we achieved today with this card was quite nice. The afterburner overclocking software is a must as you can increase GPU voltage achieving an overclock like presented today.
The build quality of the card is absolutely stunning, when you look at the PCB you will be impressed. When you look at component usage, you will be impressed as well. Though the whole Military Class component usage is a good marketing feature, the reality also is .. it really works. Better component usage will grant you less heat, increased stability, better tweakability and also lifespan.
So then the bottom line; is the Lightning edition worth an additional 50 bucks? Well, performance wise, no. But in our opinion you reap the benefits of all the extra's. The overclocks we have shown you really are fair and good. The board design is exemplary and the component usage is tremendously good. MSI used the best of the best while designing and manufacturing the R5870 Lightning. Whether or not that extra cash is money well spent is for you guys to decide. But we can recommend the MSI R5870 Lightning edition very much for the real hardware entrepreneur and tweaker.
We test the MSI R5870 Lightning. The MSI R5870 Lightning is from ground up a custom board design. I mean literally; the only thing original on that graphics card is the GPU from ATI and even on the GPU MSI tries to tweak a little. Custom PCB, specific component usage, a bucket load of VRM phases (15 phases) and Twin Frozr II cooler. This Mc Daddy of graphics cards should be ready for some good overclocks. What will also be of interest are V-Check points that allow you to check GPU and memory voltage, and a series of twelve LEDs on the rear of the card showing active vGPU power phases.