MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z Review

MSI's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z is a limited-edition flagship designed to show what the company's engineers can do. The result is an almost 1.7-kilogram behemoth that needs three expansion slots worth of space to deliver high-end air cooling.

The stock specifications that MSI cites may as well be a footnote. Anyone buying such an overbuilt thermal solution surely plans to overclock anyway. So, even though a base 1607 MHz and GPU Boost frequency of 1721 MHz in Lightning Mode already sounds aggressive, we're anticipating more.

Indeed, a high factory-set power target of 300W, in combination with binned GPUs (according to MSI) and top-end cooling guarantees high clock rates under load in real gaming workloads. In addition, MSI overclocks its GDDR5X memory a bit, which should help at high resolutions with anti-aliasing enabled.

Since the actual performance of any third-party card depends on the GPU Boost frequency it can sustain, and thus on cooling, power limits, and processor quality, any review that relies on bar charts is little more than a snapshot of a single specimen. That's why we're putting our emphasis on the actual implementation of each model. To that end, a lot of equipment goes into thoroughly documenting a graphics card's behaviors. If you'd like a peek at what goes into such an evaluation, check out our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB Review. It makes for a good baseline on which MSI builds.

Unboxing, Dimensions & Interfaces

MSI does bundle a number of accessories with its GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z, including a real three-slot bracket in matte black, various color highlights that allow for a bit of customization, and a selection of connectors for voltage monitoring.

Exterior

MSI employs a matte, graphite-colored plastic cover that's quite angular in appearance. Yet it's still fairly conservative as far as high-end graphics hardware goes. Those highlights can be changed out to taste; you also get a gold, red, and carbon-fiber-like set to match other components in your PC.

The milky-white plastic inlay provides RGB lighting on the front and back, which you can control through a phone-based app or MSI's Gaming App software. If you have other compatible components installed, their colors and effects can be synchronized. We don't mind the extra bit of flair, even if it does push the upper bounds of classy-looking.

The cooling fins are installed vertically, meaning heated air is pushed up, out the top and down, toward your motherboard. Three auxiliary eight-pin power connector line the card's top edge. They're rotated by 180° so the connector release mechanisms aren't trapped up against heat sink.

The complement of two DisplayPort 1.4-ready connectors, one dual-link DVI-D output, and two HDMI 2.0 ports reflect a growing acceptance of VR HMDs (which use HDMI) and the gradual phasing out of DVI. Of those five interfaces, a maximum of four can be used simultaneously in a multi-monitor setup.

A GPU-Z screenshot provides the most pertinent technical information, even if the GPU Boost values we observed were much higher than MSI's official specifications.


Nvidia
Titan X
(Pascal)
Nvidia
GeForce
GTX 1080 Ti FE
MSI
GTX 1080 Ti
Lightning Z
Nvidia
GeForce
GTX 1080 FE
Nvidia
GeForce
GTX 980 Ti
GPU
GP102
GP102
GP102GP104
GM200
CUDA Cores
3584
3584
35842560
2816
Base Frequency
1417 MHz1480 MHz
1582 MHz
1607 MHz1000 MHz
Boost Frequency
1531 MHz+1582 MHz+
1695 MHz
1733 MHz+1076 MHz+
Memory Size & Type
12GB GDDR5X
11GB GDDR5X
11GB GDDR5X8GB GDDR5X
6GB GDDR5
Die Size
471 mm²
471 mm²
471 mm²314 mm²
601 mm²
Process Technology
16nm
16nm
16nm16nm
28nm
Transistors
12 billion
12 billion
12 billion
7.2 billion
8 billion
Streaming Multiprocessors (SM)
28
28
28
20
22
GFLOPS (Base Clock)
10,157
10,609
11,340
8,228
5,632
Texture Units
224
224
224160
176
Texture Fill Rate
317.4 GT/s331.5 GT/s354.4 GT/s
257.1 GT/s214 GT/s
ROPs
968888
6496
Pixel Fill Rate
136 GPix/s130.24 GPix/s139.2 GPix/s
114.2 GPix/s116.7 GPix/s
Memory Data Rate
10Gb/s11Gb/s11Gb/s10Gb/s7Gb/s
Memory Bus
384-bit
352-bit
352-bit256-bit
384-bit
Memory Bandwidth
480 GB/s
484.4 GB/s
489.3 GB/s320 GB/s
336 GB/s
L2 Cache
3MB
2816KB
2816KB2MB
3MB
TDP
250W
250W
300W (PT)
180W
250W

Test System & Measurement Methods

We explained our test system and methodology in How We Test Graphics Cards. If you want to learn more about the procedures we're using in today's review, have a look at that story. In the time since it was published, we also upgraded our CPU and cooling system to rule out any possible host processing bottlenecks.

Here's a short summary in table-form to provide a quick overview:

Test System
SystemIntel Core i7-6900K @ 4.3 GHz
MSI X99S XPower Gaming Titanium
Corsair Vengeance DDR4-3200
1x 1TB Toshiba OCZ RD400 (M.2, System SSD)
2x 960GB Toshiba OCZ TR150 (Storage, Images)
be quiet Dark Power Pro 11, 850W PSU
Windows 10 Pro (All Updates)
Cooler
Alphacool Eisblock XPX
Alphacool Eiszeit 2000 Chiller
2x be quiet! Silent Wings 3 PWM (Closed Case Simulation)
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut (Used when Switching Coolers)
Case
Lian Li PC-T70 with Extension Kit and Mods
Configurations: Open Benchtable, Closed Case
MonitorEizo EV3237-BK
Power Intake
Contact-free DC Measurement at PCIe Slot (Using a Riser Card)
Contact-free DC Measurement at External Auxiliary Power Supply Cable
Direct Voltage Measurement at Power Supply
2x Rohde & Schwarz HMO 3054, 500MHz Digital Multi-Channel Oscilloscope with Storage Function
4x Rohde & Schwarz HZO50 Current Probe (1mA - 30A, 100kHz, DC)
4x Rohde & Schwarz HZ355 (10:1 Probes, 500MHz)
1x Rohde & Schwarz HMC 8012 Digital Multimeter with Storage Function
Thermography
1x Optris PI640 80Hz Infrared Camera + PI Connect
Real-Time Infrared Monitoring and Recording
Acoustics
NTI Audio M2211 (with Calibration File, Low Cut at 50Hz)
Steinberg UR12 (with Phantom Power for Microphones)
Creative X7, Smaart v.7
Custom-Made Proprietary Measurement Chamber, 3.5 x 1.8 x 2.2m (L x D x H)
Perpendicular to Center of Noise Source(s), Measurement Distance of 50cm
Noise Level in dB(A) (Slow), Real-time Frequency Analyzer (RTA)
Graphical Frequency Spectrum of Noise

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