The GTX 580 has officially been launched and the review can be found on page XX but the GTX 480 is far from dead. MSI has decided to slap its Lightning brand onto a slightly overclocked card – not because this card is mind-blowing at factory speeds but rather because it boasts the ability to break overclocking world records.
The MSI GTX 480 Lightning is based on the GF100 GPU and therefore has 480 shader processors, 60 texture units and 48 Render OutPut units (ROPs) which is all made up of 3 billion transistors. A stock GTX 480 has a core clock speed of 700MHz, a shader clock speed of 1401MHz and a memory clock speed of 924MHz. The MSI Lightning has a core clock speed of 750MHz, a shader clock speed of 1500MHz and a memory clock speed of 1000MHz. At these speeds the Lightning outperforms the HD6870 and HD5970 in the tessellation and Modern Warfare 2 benchmarks.
The GTX 480 Lightning boasts a few interesting and exciting features. The first is independent adjustment of the voltage on the GPU, memory and PLL (Phase-Locked Loop). This means that when the memory is being overclocked, only the memory voltage need be adjusted – very useful when squeezing every last drop of performance from a graphics card. The stock GTX 480 uses a 6+1 phase PWM design (six phases for the GPU and one for the memory), but MSI has taken it to a whole new level by using a total of 15 phases in a 12+2+1 layout. Twelve phases are dedicated to the GPU, another two are for the memory and the remaining one for the PLL. This lavish use of power comes at a price; the MSI GTX 480 Lightning has a TDP of 275W and requires two 8-pin and one 6-pin PCI-E power connectors. The 6-pin connector, which is capable of supplying 75W, is dedicated to the memory alone. Three voltage measuring points on-card allow a multimeter to be connected to verify the voltage being supplied.
MSI has opted to use its own TwinFrozr III cooler to deal with the extra heat. It manages to not only keep the Nvidia’s thermonuclear device (aka the GF100 or Fermi) below melting, but also keeps it at a comfortable 77 °C when the fan is set to auto. Crank the fan up to full speed and the card comes down to a lovely 56 °C. The (overclocked) GPU temperature never exceeded 66 °C even at full load.
MSI’s Afterburner overclocking app allows adjustment of the independent voltages as well as the memory, core and shader clock speeds (the latter two are linked in a 1:2 ratio). With some liberal use of the voltage sliders, the core clock managed 900MHz while the memory clock only managed to hit the 1050MHz mark. MSI’s air cooler is good but it is the overclocking bottleneck. Swedish overclocker “elmor” managed to get a core clock speed of 1450MHz (the shader clock speed is therefore 2900MHz) and a memory clock speed of 1325MHz on the MSI GTX 480 using liquid nitrogen. That makes this card the highest clocked GTX 480 in the world at time of writing.
The MSI GTX 480 Lightning is not for everyone. For most it would probably be easier to pick up one of the new GTX 580s or even a HD6970. But for those who want a card that is capable of some of the highest clock speeds ever seen on a graphics card, the MSI GTX 480 Lightning is currently simply the only one to consider. If you have deep pockets and an insatiable appetite for overclocking, this is the graphics card for you.
Price R5 800
Interface PCI-E 2.1
Fabrication process 40nm
Transistor count 3 billion
Core clock 750MHz
Shader clock 1500MHz
Texture Units 60
Memory 1536mB GDDR5
Memory clock 1000MHz (4000MHz effective)
Memory Interface 384-bit
DirectX 9 performance
DirectX 10 performance