MSI designed a terrific card with the new Lightning. If you want something really special, look no further. It has it all, the looks, the very nice factory overclock, the (relatively) low power consumption, downright excellent noise levels and obviously the performance to play any game really well.
It however is not all golden and praises from us today though ...
In order to get this card Eyefinity6 support MSI had to make a compromise, and that meant splitting the available DP bandwith -- one dual-link link DVI connector has been merged into single-link DVI connectors. Honestly I have a lot of issues with that design choice. Nobody, and I do literally mean not one of our readers (consumer) makes use of Eyefinity with six screens with the big phat bezel in the middle. Next to that this one card is not powerful enough to game on with six monitors really.
Now, lots of people have a DVI monitor that needs dual-link DVI, all 27"/30" monitors for example, but also DVI-D based 3D Stereoscopic monitors. So keep that in mind, if you need a high-resolution like 2560x1600 / 2560x1440 etc .. then your monitor MUST have a DisplayPort connector (HDMI won't suffice either), otherwise this graphics card will force you to purchase a new 1000 EUR monitor or an active DP to DVI-D converter, easily running into 100/150 EUR a pop. MSI could have prevented this by applying a switch, forging two links to one dual-link DVI (ASUS does this for example on their 7970 DCII cards). So that choice in my eyes is that MSI opted rather to have an extra feature on the box, as to rather offer better functionality to the end user. A graphics card should have at least one dual-link DVI connector, period.
Secondly, and I can't say it any other way then it is -- I simply expected better overclocking performance. The card has been overhauled, equipped with military standard components, custom PCB, gold plated components, a GPU reactor, 8-pin power headers with a lot of power phases, a superb cooler and so on .. still we end at roughly the same overclock as any reference card can achieve just as well.
Now it might simply be the limit of the Tahiti XT GPU on air-cooling really, but yeah ... these boards are made for overclocking, hence we expected more and had slight hopes for the 1300 MHz region. You do pay a premium price for this. Ah well wishful thinking. Mind you that overclocking per card can differ. You might even end up at 1150 MHz and some will end at 1250 MHz.
Now the overall design is hard to beat though, it really is a gorgeous card where every variable has been thought about. We have to say that we definitely like the lovely factory overclock at 1070 MHz, which does give this card a nice extra kick in performance over the reference design.
Despite that factory overclock the new Twin Frozr IV cooler makes the Lightning an inaudible graphics card (under gaming conditions), temperatures stay at roughly 63 Degrees C under load which is quite wonderful. Power consumption as well impressed us, with the GPU at 100% load our X58 Core i7 based AMD test PC was consuming roughly 350W. When we input the variables and reverse calculate the TDP, we end up at a score of give or take 200W for this card, and that's noteworthy.
Gaming wise obviously you will not have anything to complain either, all modern games play perfect up-to at least 1920x1200 and higher. The 3GB memory is grand, but realistically only comes into play once you start to setup Eyefinity with at least three screens, as that's where memory starts to matter.
When you look at the overall package, performance, the new Eyefinity updates, PCIe gen 3 compatibility and all other stuff then we can only conclude that we happily embrace the R7970 Lightning in the enthusiast graphics card arena.
The default factory overclock is significant enough to make a good difference. The product as released by MSI and as tested today works out well. It has all the variables to become a successful product, we do need to observe first how the price level will work out though.
The performance level is excellent and more then enough for the enthusiast gamer with a monitor up-to 1920x1200, and much like the reference model we still have a smile on our face when we look at its low power draw. If you game at 1920x1080/1200 then this is a product we can very much recommend. Good performance, good looks with a nearly inaudible product (based on gaming). Remember our remarks about dual-link DVI though, if you are dependant on such a connection you need to either steer straight away from this product, or invest in a converter or new monitor.
The pricing of the R7970 Lightning just became live and the product costs 525 EUR, that's roughly a 50 EUR price premium for a product that has been customized and redesigned from ground up. Looking purely at tweaking we can say it's worth the price premium. From the competitions GeForce GTX 680 point of view, things look more difficult though.
However looking at the product from an overall build quality, component selections, noise levels, heat and that sheer gorgeous design. Then we say the extra 50 EUR is money well spend.
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