Review Index:
Feedback

MSI R7970 Lightning Review: AMD's HD 7970 Gets the Treatment

Author:
Manufacturer: MSI

Will it Strike Again?

 It can now be claimed that we are arguably in our 4th generation of Lightning products from MSI. It can also be claimed that the 3rd generation of products really put that brand on the mainstream map. The R6970 and N580GTX (and XE version) set new standards for enthusiast grade graphics cards. Outstanding construction, unique pcb design, high quality (and quantity) of components, and a good eye for overall price have all been hallmarks of these cards. These were honestly some of my favorite video cards of all time. Call me biased, but I think when looking through other reviews those writers felt much the same. MSI certainly hit a couple of homeruns with their three Lightning offerings of 2011.

View Full Size

Time does not stand still.  Resting on laurels is always the surest way to lose out to more aggressive competitors.  It is now 2012 and AMD has already launched the latest generation of HD 7000 chips, with the top end being the HD 7970.  This particular product was launched in late December, but cards were not available until January 9th of 2012.  We are now at the end of March where we see a decent volume of products on the shelves, as well as some of the first of the non-reference designs hitting the streets.  Currently Asus has its DirectCU II based 7970, but now we finally get to see the Lightning treatment.

 MSI has not sat upon their laurels it seems.  They are taking an aggressive approach to the new Lightning series of cards, and they implement quite a few unique features that have not been seen on any other product before.  Now the question is did they pull it off?  Throwing more features at something does not necessarily equal success.  The increase in complexity of a design combined with other unknowns with the new features could make it a failure.  Just look at the R5870 Lightning for proof.  That particular card tread new ground, but did so in a way that did not adequately differentiate itself from reference HD 5870 designs.  So what is new and how does it run?  Let us dig in!

Continue reading our review of the MSI Radeon HD 7970 3GB Lightning Graphics Card!!

View Full Size

Packaging has always been a strong point of MSI.  Opening the cover details the many features that the Lightning series brings to the table.

Same Philosophy, New Features

The R7970 Lightning appears to be a ground-up redesign.  While it retains much of the physical appearance of the previous products, quite a few things have changed under the hood.  Considering that MSI has had specifications out on the HD 7970 since last year, and have been producing reference HD 7970 cards for some time, the 3+ month wait to release this particular card appears to be well spent.

View Full Size

The card itself is well protected in its sleeve and surrounded by the standard sea of foam.

The board is obviously based on the HD 7970 GPU from AMD.  This unit features the new GCN architecture which radically changes the way that AMD processes graphics.  This architecture is much more flexible in terms of workloads than the previous VLIW-5 and VLIW-4 series were.  It also appears to be overall more efficient per clock than previous iterations.  AMD also continues to keep overall die sizes down as compared to the much larger products like NVIDIA’s Fermi.  The standard clock for a HD 7970 is 925 MHz, but the Lightning board takes that all the way up to 1070 MHz core.  It also overclocks the memory from 1375 MHz to 1400 MHz (from 5500 MHz to 5600 MHz effective).  This gives the card 268.8 GB/sec of bandwidth.  The board has two CrossFire connections, so it can have a maximum of four cards in CrossFire. 

March 31, 2012 | 01:00 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

There is a CFG setting you have to manually put in with Afterburner to get the memory and PCI-E bus to over volt.

http://forums.overclockersclub.com/index.php?showtopic=182403

Surprised the memory doesn't go any higher than that for you. Also, put power tune to + 20%. That essentially increases the amount of available power to the GPU. Powertune was put in place so in corner cases like Furmark, the board/chip would not exceed the rated TDP (and shut down).

March 31, 2012 | 02:12 PM - Posted by nabokovfan87

Nevermind. I can OC the memory now. In the msi utility, to the right of the core voltage there is a small arrow, hit that and you can get the other 2 voltage settings.

March 31, 2012 | 03:48 PM - Posted by nabokovfan87

I got it up to 1220/1520 The memory is about done. Even 5 MHz and I get corruption. I don't know whether to add a ton more voltage (I have slider space for 75 mV). I tried 1240 on the core, but got some severe image corruption.

I think I will try some stability testing, just let it run for an hour or so instead of 5-10 loops on the metro benches, and see if anything ends up happenings in terms of corruption. As far as voltage goes, I'm not sure if there is a "less is more" type approach, or if you simply add more when you reach corruption.

From my Computer Engineering background I know a bit about how the ripple and stuff affects everything, and I'm not sure just how much ripply is being introduced and so forth, but, needless to say...

925 -> 1220 = 31.89% OC
1375 -> 1520 = 10.55% OC

April 2, 2012 | 11:33 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Wow, not a bad overclock at all. I had overclocked the one I have to 1100 MHz... but I was using Oblivion to play, so I don't know if the vid card was causing problems or that rather unstable game was...

I'm betting the game.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <blockquote><p><br>
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.