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MSI GeForce GTX 780 3GB Lightning Graphics Card Review

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: MSI

Overclocking and Closing Thoughts

With a card like MSI's GTX 780 Lightning, you are crazy if you are trying to overclock it a bit before getting your gaming on!  As we showed you on the first couple of pages, this design is well over engineered and leaves a lot of room for further clock speed improvements over even the pre-overclocked settings (which are already impressive)!

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This shows the stock state of the MSI GTX 780 Lightning: 980 MHz base clock (13.5% over reference), 1033 MHz boost clock and 6.0 GHz memory clock.  In order to overclock the card we used the MSI Afterburner software that is often considered one of the best utilities for GeForce card users regardless of make or model of card. 

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MSI did unlock the ability to increase the voltages of the GPU, memory and auxiliary as we discussed previously and it is easily accessed and utilized in the latest Afterburner software beta 14.

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It took a bit of work, but these are the overclocked settings that best balances the GPU core speed and memory speed jumps and run some games in a stable environment.  I was able to apply a GPU offset of 140 MHz and a memory offset of 300 MHz to bring our base GPU clock up to 1120 MHz, the boost clock up to 1173 MHz and the memory speed up to 6.6 GHz.  That is an additional 15% overclock over the stock MSI card speeds and a 30% increase over the reference speeds of the GTX 780.  Add in a 10% jump in memory speed and you can clearly see that this card is going to blow past even the GTX TITAN in its stock configuration.

UPDATE: I got a note from a reader that pointed out that GPUZ is known to misreport the Boost clock of the MSI Lightning cards.  After checking the logs for the overclocked test runs I see (and the reader correctly guessed) that I was actually running at 1241 MHz, not 1173 MHz as reported above.  Here is a capture from the log showing the 1241 memory GPU clock and the 1652 MHz memory clock:

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Thank you to "driftingforlife" for the heads up!

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Our 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme score of 5,181 (graphics score of 5,352) are 10%+ higher than the stock speeds of the GTX 780 Lightning and more than 20% faster than the stock GTX 780.

There is even more headroom available on this card than I took advantage of.  For example you can see that our power limit peaked at 109% yet MSI said that BIOS update for the card would increase that up to the expected 112%.  (When I get this BIOS I'll come back and update here if our overclock results changed at all.)

 

Pricing and Availability

As of this writing, the MSI GeForce GTX 780 Lightning isn't for sale but it should be on retail and etail shelves in the next 48 hours. The card's MSRP is $749 though, making it one of the most expensive GTX 780 cards on the market, beating out the EVGA Classified and the Galaxy Hall of Fame cards on Newegg.com.  Both of those cards also have higher base clocks as well.

At a $100 premium over the standard GTX 780 cards, the MSI GTX 780 Lightning will definitely require a dedicate buyer; one that is willing and able to take advantage of the features and technology that MSI has built into this beast of a graphics card. 

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But, from the other angle, getting a card that can perform nearly as well as the TITAN out of the box, for $250 less, is a compelling option if those are in your budget.  Keep in mind though that the 3GB frame buffer difference (TITANs have 6GB) will likely come into play when going to multi-panel Surround gaming.

 

Closing Thoughts

The MSI GTX 780 Lightning isn't a graphics card that just any gamer should buy.  With a hefty price tag of $750 and a feature set that requires some overclocking experience to really take advantage of, MSI is hoping to once again attract the hardcore enthusiast that wants the best of the best.  With a completely redesigned TriFrozr cooler with 7 SuperPipes and Military Class 4 components on top of an enhanced power delivery design, MSI's GTX 780 Lightning clearly is among the top graphics cards on the market. 

Overclocking was a breeze and the clock rates we hit were impressive while maintaining noise levels in line with less effective single-fan coolers of reference designs.  The card wasn't perfect as I wish the dual/triple slot cooler was compressed a bit more and the GPU Reactor could be a bit smaller for tight spacing but if you are looking for a single GPU card capable of battling with the best in the market, this is it.

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August 27, 2013 | 10:28 PM - Posted by Johnny Rook (not verified)

Cool card but 1173Mhz core boost overclock "only"? C'mom, my reference PNY GTX780 overclocks stable 1173MHz without any overvoltage... I was expecting a lot more of this Lightning...

August 27, 2013 | 11:04 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Check the update on the last page - actually running at 1241 MHz.

August 30, 2013 | 08:04 AM - Posted by Wendigo (not verified)

ALL of the kepler cards have a Max Boost different to the official Boost. It isn´t only about MSI Lightning. Everyone card has a unique Max Boost, different to the official boost of the model and other units of it.

ALL of the kepler cards reach upper clocks than the official boost that GPU-z shows.

August 27, 2013 | 10:30 PM - Posted by Mr Marauder (not verified)

The GPU reactor can be taken off without any impact on performance, as it only starts to shine when watercooled or LN2 cooled.

August 27, 2013 | 11:04 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Ah cool, thanks for that!  I'll try removing it tomorrow.

August 27, 2013 | 11:47 PM - Posted by tabuburn (not verified)

You should give EVGA a call and get a sample of their GTX 780 Classified and compare it to this since both tend to trade blows.

August 28, 2013 | 03:20 AM - Posted by capawesome9870

i just got an idea on how to improve the graphs you give out with these Frame Rating (although they are very interesting to me being an AMD user).

the idea is to give 'highlight' of the performance and actually give the number of the observed FPS 2-5 times per benchmark, just the observed because that is the one that matters.

another thing could you make the graphs stretched a little by cutting out the bottom portion of the graph. example: if all the FPS is above 20, why show the graph part under 15. this would be to give a little more clarity when just looking at the graphs in the article with out clicking on a particular graph to get the bigger picture of it.

August 28, 2013 | 08:33 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks for the ideas.  I'll play around with trying to make them more readable in the coming weeks!

August 29, 2013 | 03:07 AM - Posted by capawesome9870

cool: thanks Ryan. Keep up the good work.

September 5, 2013 | 10:19 AM - Posted by Mountainlifter

Hi Ryan, I was wondering if you could include an average line on the observed FPS graph or state the average. Like on this graph.
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/2371050/TITAN_BENCHES/MPtest.png

Or is there a reason why it is left out?
It makes it easier to compare with what other review sites report.

August 28, 2013 | 03:33 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This card is design for overclocking, like the clasified you should be able to overvolt the core to 1.35 volt safely and probably hit 1300 to 1400 on the core. It is a bit pointles to test the card without any overvolting because the limitation of Nvidia of 1.21v will let the card perform like any other....

August 28, 2013 | 03:50 AM - Posted by OCN.net not impressed (not verified)

overclock the dam thing and then people might care about this panzy review.

oc max vs calssified oc max vs gtx titan oc max at 1.35v. you won't because that's way above your skillset as usual ryan.

August 28, 2013 | 07:56 AM - Posted by Ian (not verified)

And he overclocked it to a level the typical gamer will use on this card.

Not everyone wants to massively clock their card just to see high numbers pop up on a screen once a graphics test is done because they lack any real sense of achievement in life that they feel great about dialing some numbers into an electronic device to make it run faster. Most people don't particularly care about that they just want a little bit of extra power and safe temps while gaming.

Yes this card is for overclocking and he overclocked it but the option is there should you wish to push it further. This doesn't mean a standard consumer who has no interest in number chasing cannot purchase this card for their own use to play games on a Titan level for less money.

Is it possible you are concerned as to what the new Lightning can achieve?

My Galaxy HOF is completely stable at 1293mhz on the core under gaming and can push 1330mhz for synthetic benchmarks. Lets hope the Lightning can at least exceed these. I myself am however just a normal gamer and not big into overclocking because its not my main focus to number chase. I have more interesting things to do with my time.

August 28, 2013 | 08:35 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

First, thanks for stopping by.  :)

Second, max OC vs max OC is probably one of the worst indicators for basing a conclusion of a graphics card on.  It's important, but can't be the only or even primary concern.  Why?  VARIABILITY.

Each card sample is going to be different on the Lightnings, each is going to be different on the Classified, and the difference between the lines is likely going to vary even more.  I can overclock this card further (and I will I'm sure once I get the updated BIOS from MSI) but even if I get 50 MHz additional clock doesn't really mean YOU or any buyer will.  

Now if MSI were to send me a dozen cards for each review we did, you'd have a better argument.

Also, go fuck yourself.

August 28, 2013 | 11:56 AM - Posted by Thedarklord

Great response, lol, you rock dude.

August 30, 2013 | 11:58 AM - Posted by snook

way to poop on him.

August 28, 2013 | 11:49 AM - Posted by mLocke

This may help you. http://youtu.be/aWVywhzuHnQ

August 28, 2013 | 08:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

On the first comparative graphs, you reference the 680 and the 680 sli, but not the 780?

August 28, 2013 | 08:45 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

If you are looking at THIS page then you are just seeing our explanation of the TYPE of graphs you are going to see, not the specific results for this review.

http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Graphics-Cards/MSI-GeForce-GTX-780-3GB-Ligh...

August 28, 2013 | 09:20 AM - Posted by !Shocked! (not verified)

Did you JUST NOW figure out that GPUz doesnt show the ACTUAL boost clock? Wow guys... I love your reviews but holy cow, pull it together!

August 28, 2013 | 09:24 AM - Posted by !Shocked! (not verified)

So does this mean all your past reviews with boost clocks will need adjusting to show the actual clocks reached?

ANother question, did it actually HOLD that clock with the 109% limit or was it all over the place? I ask that as I am not sure if PEAK values are what should be reported. I am personally torn.

I know that 109% limit was hit VERY easily.

August 28, 2013 | 11:14 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

It held that based on the logs, yes.  We are awaiting another BIOS from MSI that will move the 109% slider a bit further...

August 28, 2013 | 09:40 AM - Posted by ProxYO (not verified)

EVGA's Classi vs Galaxy's HOF vs MSI's Lightning

plz&ty ;D

August 29, 2013 | 12:05 AM - Posted by tabuburn (not verified)

I second this.

August 28, 2013 | 10:36 AM - Posted by !Shocked! (not verified)

Last message!

The extra cooler does NOT go on top of the other one. It is used when you go Dry Ice or LN2 as the full cover bracket that comes with it can get in the way of mounting plates.

August 28, 2013 | 11:20 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Noted!

August 28, 2013 | 11:58 AM - Posted by Thedarklord

Something I noticed, and maybe I missed it in the review, but I've been seeing a lot of problems with benchmarking on Windows 8 and it not being accurate due to Real Time Clock issues?

Is that something that was noted in the article or was the hotfix applied?

August 28, 2013 | 12:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why for the dirt and skyrim config page screenshot do you show 1080p but show results in 1440p?

August 28, 2013 | 01:15 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Settings screenshots show the SETTINGS but the resolution is variable.  Many times we test at 19x10, 25x14 and 57x10.

August 28, 2013 | 03:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What is the max the voltage can be set to?

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