Let’s cut straight to the point, the MSI 7970 Lightning takes AMD’s high end GPU to a whole new level. We have seen custom design versions before but MSI have reengineered the product from the ground up and in almost every area have made improvements over everything we have tested to date.
Across the board (excuse the pun) we have high quality components which are designed to maximise stability, power delivery and reliability including high quality capacitors and MOSFETs. On past cards this has usually been enough but MSI have gone even further by adding a second PCB to further enhance the power delivery possible on the Lightning edition. They don’t stop there though with additional power phases, monitoring points and even a fan design which rotates in the opposite direction for the first 30 seconds of operation to try and draw out dust from the cooler.
We were also pleased to see the inclusion of six display outputs which maximise the potential of the GPU for productivity and gaming though there is one aspect we would change. As noted earlier in the article there is a cover on the back of the card which sits over the GPU Reactor. Firstly with this being plastic it feels a bit cheap and doesn’t look particularly great but the main issue is that it adds too much height to the back of the card, it should be tighter to the PCB to minimise any issues with space between it and larger, enthusiast air coolers (or other cards in multi-GPU setups).
Looking specifically at performance the MSI lightning scores well at its 1070/1400MHz where it seems the 7970 benefits from core increases more than memory as this model is a little lower than most OC models on the GDDR5 but still performs a little higher. Clearly though MSI don’t really intend for people to run at those speeds as the card has been opened up for overclocking and that’s what we did throughout this review. With the highest overclock we have achieved on a 7970 so far the MSI model was able to outperform the GTX 580 OC 3GB by significant amounts and the reference 7970 couldn’t really compete either. In scenarios which were not game engine limited the extra MHz available on the Lightning allowed us to game with far higher framerates while maintaining low noise levels and power draw below the GTX 580.
In terms of value MSI give us a decent bundle with this card which is good to see however there is no doubting that the card will be expensive. We are awaiting a price at the moment but expect to pay a premium for this model… because it uses premium components throughout.