MSI R7970 Lightning Graphics Card Review (Twin Frozr IV)

n the last month AMD’s partners have been unveiling their custom cooled graphics cards and we have already reviewed the latest Dual X HD7970 Overclock Edition from Sapphire and the HD7970 X Edition from VTX3D. Today we are looking at MSI’s flagship R7970 Lightning with custom twin fan cooler and proprietary PCB design.
MSI tend to bring their graphics cards to market later, much like ASUS. If past experiences are anything to go by however, the wait is normally worth it.
The MSI R7970 Lightning is a highly modified solution, with pre-overclocked speeds ‘out of the box’ and custom PCB design. This card uses the latest version of the Twin Frozr metal cooler which started development in 2009.

The R7970 Lightning ships with a whopping overclock on the core – from 925mhz to 1,070mhz.
Product MSI R7970 Lightning AMD HD7950 AMD HD7870 AMD HD7850
Core Clock speed 925mhz
(1070mhz)
800mhz 1000mhz 860mhz
Transistors 4.31 billion 4.31 billion 2.8 billion 2.8 billion
Stream Processors 2,048 1,792 1,280 1,024
Compute Performance 3.79 TFLOPS 2.87 TFLOPS 2.56 TFLOPS 1.76 TFLOPS
Texture Units 128 112 80 64
Texture Fillrate 118.4 GT/s 89.6 GT/s 80 GT/s 55.0 GT/s
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Pixel Fillrate 29.6 GP/s 25.6 GP/s 32.0 GP/s 27.52 GP/s
Z/Stencil 128 128 128 128
Memory Type 3GB GDDR5 3GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5
Memory Clock 1,375mhz
(1,400mhz)
1,250mhz 1,200mhz 1,200mhz
Memory Data Rate 5.5 GBps
(5.6Gbps)
5.0 Gbps 4.8 Gbps 4.8 Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 264 GB/s 240 GB/s 153.6 GB/s 153.6 GB/s
Above, the clock increases in bold. The memory overclock is modest – 25mhz (100 mhz effective) faster than the reference clocked card. However the core receives a huge increase of 145mhz to 1,070mhz. This should have a significant impact on the results.

MSI have always promoted this range with aircraft imagery. This card is no exception.

The box is a gatefold design. MSI list many of the enhancements across these areas. The R7970 Lightning uses Military Class III components which have passed third party testing to meet MIL-STD-810G standards. MSI are keen to highlight the Unlocked Digital Power architecture. The implementation includes an unlocked BIOS, digital PWM chipset and an improved power supply design which is said to provide double the power of the reference board. The unlocked BIOS removes CCC overclocking limits and the power tune limit is increased by 180%. The OCP limits are also relaxed to help ensure a good overclock.

The MSI bundle is impressive, there is a software disc, a ‘certificate’, Crossfire bridge and various video converters for a myriad of panels. MSI also include voltage check point connectors.

The latest Twin Frozr cooler looks fantastic and like the XFX design is constructed from metals. MSI include a yellow ‘racing stripe’ along the top of the cooler. MSI use a dual 100mm fan configuration to reduce noise and to maximise air flow. The fans use the ‘Propeller Blade Technology’, these fans run in reverse for 30 seconds after booting to remove dust from the heat sinks and to keep the cooling performance at optimum levels. The card measures 305mm x 135.5mm x 40mm with the GPU reactor installed.

The rear of the card features a ‘GPU reactor’ power supply module which increases the current volume by 88% while reducing power supply noise by 13%.

The card requires two 8 pin power connectors for stable operation.

This card can power up to 6 screens simultaneously via EyeFinity. There are two DVI ports and four Mini-Displayport connectors.

The card is Crossfire capable in 2, 3 and 4 way configurations.

The ‘GPU Reactor’ is removed by pushing in on the sides. Underneath is a little board which controls the improved power delivery.

In operation, this GPU Reactor glows blue, as shown above.

The GPU reactor has to be removed first before disassembling the R7970 for a closer look. The backplate has the power cable adhered on the inside, so be careful when handling.

The MSI R7970 Lightning features dedicated heatsinks on the memory and VRM’s to improve the performance. They are using gold coated Solid State Chokes on the PCB to provide higher maximum current output and to protect against power surge. The gold coating is said to offer better heat resistance. We noticed they are also using Dark Solid Capacitors with a special coating to help prevent against rust. These also offer higher levels of efficiency.

The MSI cooler uses five thick heatpipes which run into several racks of aluminum fins on either side of the core. MSI call this ‘SuperPipe’ technology. The two large 10cm fans above help push air across the full width of the cooler.

Above, an MSI image showing the various layers of this complex discrete solution, viewed from a side angle.

A GPUz overview of the card, detailing the enhanced clock speeds. The Tahiti core is build around the 28nm manufacturing process. It features 2,048 stream processors, is fully PCI E Gen3 compliant (up to 32 gb/s of data bandwidth) and incorporates new AMD Powertune and ZeroCore power technology. There are dual geometry engines, eight render back ends, 32 color ROPs per clock and 128 Z/stencil ROPs per clock.
On this page we present some super high resolution images of the product taken with the 24.5MP Nikon D3X camera and 24-70mm ED lens. These will take much longer to open due to the dimensions, especially on slower connections. If you use these pictures on another site or publication, please credit Kitguru.net as the owner/source. You can right click and ‘save as’ to your computer to view later.







To test today we are using our long standing Core i7 970 system, which is overclocked. We have a variety of hardware benchmarked on this system within the last couple of months which will make for an interesting market comparison.
Main Test System:
Processor
: Core i7 970 @ 4.6ghz
Graphics: MSI R7970 Lightning
Cooling: Coolit Vantage
Motherboard: MSI X58A-GD65
Chassis: Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Memory: 6GB ADATA @ 2133mhz 9-10-9-32
Storage: Kingston SSDNow V+ 512GB Gen 2 SSD (Storage) / Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB (OS boot)

Comparison Cards:
HD7970
HD7950
HD7870
HD7850
HD6990 (880 core)
HD6970
HD6950
HD6870
Sapphire HD7770 1GHZ OC Edition
XFX HD7770 Black Edition S CFx
HD7770 CFx
HD7770
Sapphire HD7750 Ultimate Edition
HD6790
HD6770
HD6670
GTX590 SLi
GTX590
GTX580 SLi
GTX580
GTX570
Monitors: Dell U3011
Software:
Windows 7 Enterprise 64 bit
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 11
Fraps Professional
Steam Client
FurMark
Games:
HomeFront
Alien V Predator
Dead Island
Tom Clancy HAWX 2
Resident Evil 5
Far Cry 2
F1 2011
Total War: Shogun 2
All the latest BIOS updates and drivers are used during testing. We perform generally under real world conditions, meaning KitGuru tests games across five closely matched runs and then average out the results to get an accurate median figure. If we use scripted benchmarks, they are mentioned on the relevant page.
Some game descriptions are edited from Wikipedia.
Unigine provides an interesting way to test hardware. It can be easily adapted to various projects due to its elaborated software design and flexible toolset. A lot of their customers claim that they have never seen such extremely-effective code, which is so easy to understand.
Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine engine from Unigine Corp. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. Interactive mode provides emerging experience of exploring the intricate world of steampunk.
Efficient and well-architected framework makes Unigine highly scalable:
  • Multiple API (DirectX 9 / DirectX 10 / DirectX 11 / OpenGL) render
  • Cross-platform: MS Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) / Linux
  • Full support of 32bit and 64bit systems
  • Multicore CPU support
  • Little / big endian support (ready for game consoles)
  • Powerful C++ API
  • Comprehensive performance profiling system
  • Flexible XML-based data structures
We use the following settings: 1920×1080 resolution. Anti Aliasing off. Anisotrophy 4, Tessellation normal. Shaders High. Stereo 3D disabled. API: Direct X 11.


The R7970 Lightning is only 2 frames per second slower than Nvidia’s GTX590, showing the benefits of the highly overclocked state.
Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7. This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.


The force is strong at these clock speeds, showing huge increases over the reference clocked card. The MSI R7970 Lightning is actually only 1,400 points behind the dual GPU HD6990 flagship from the last generation.
3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.
After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.
If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.


The HD7970 responds well to overclocking, as indicated by the MSI R7970 Lightning results above. The score increases from 7,823 points to 8,639 points. The Nvidia GTX590 by comparison scores 9,293 points.
HQV Benchmark 2.0 is an updated version of the original tool and it consists of various video clips and test patterns which are designed to evalute motion correction, de-interlacing, decoding, noise reduction, detail enhancement and film cadence detection.
There are two versions of the program, standard definition on DVD and high definition on Bluray. As our audience will be concentrating on HD content so will we.
This has a total of 39 video tests which is increased from 23 in the original and the scoring is also up from a total of 130 to 210. As hardware and software gets more complicated, the software has been tuned to make sure we can thoroughly maximise our analysis.
Read our initial analysis over here

MSI R7970 Lightning
Dial
4
Dial with static pattern 5
Gray Bars 5
Violin 5
Stadium 2:2 5
Stadium 3:2 5
Horizontal Text Scroll 5
Vertical Text Scroll 5
Transition to 3:2 Lock 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 0
2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCAM Video
5
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video
5
3:2:3:2:2 24 FOS Vari-Speed
5
5:5 FPS Animation
5
6:4 12 FPS Animation
5
8:7 8 FPS Animation
5
Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP)
5
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE)
5
Random Noise: Sailboat
5
Random Noise: Flower
5
Random Noise: Sunrise
5
Random Noise: Harbour Night
5
Scrolling Text
5
Roller Coaster
5
Ferris Wheel
5
Bridge Traffic
5
Text Pattern/ Scrolling Text
5
Roller Coaster
5
Ferris Wheel
5
Bridge Traffic
5
Luminance Frequency Bands
5
Chrominance Frequency Bands
5
Vanishing Text 5
Resolution Enhancement
15
Theme Park
5
Driftwood 5
Ferris Wheel
5
Skin Tones
7
Total 196
A score of 196 points is class leading right now, the ideal solution for high definition media playback on a big screen.
F1 2011 is the newest Direct X 11 racing game from industry pioneers CodeMasters. The 2011 Formula One season is the 62nd FIA Formula One season. The original calendar consisted of twenty rounds, including the inaugural running of the Indian Grand Prix before the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Pirelli returns to the sport as tyre supplier for all teams, taking over from Bridgestone. Red Bull Racing are the reigning Constructor’s Champions. Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel is the defending Drivers’ Champion, one of five World Champions appearing on the grid.


No problems powering this engine, averaging 85 frames per second, ahead of the reference HD7970 by around 12 frames per second.
Homefront’s PC version was developed by Digital Extremes, a Canadian developer responsible for numerous Unreal Tournament games and Bioshock ports. It received mixed reports, although Kitguru really likes the single player aspect of this title. The engine isn’t the most demanding on the market, but it requires decent partnering hardware for solid frame rates at 1080p.


Very closely matched with the XFX HD7770 Black Edition cards in Crossfire, scoring an average of 1 fps more.
Aliens V Predator has proved to be a big seller since the release and Sega have taken the franchise into new territory after taking it from Sierra. AVP is a Direct X 11 supported title and delivers not only advanced shadow rendering but high quality tessellation for the cards on test today.
To test the cards we used a 1080p resolution with DX11, Texture Quality Very High, MSAA Samples 1, 16 af, ambient occulsion on, shadow complexity high, motion blur on. We use this with most of our graphics card testing so cards are comparable throughout reviews.

A demanding Direct X 11 title, although for the HD7970 solution this proves no problem, even at these high settings. The MSI R7970 Lightning averages 10 frames per second more than the reference clocked card at these settings. It falls around 8 frames per second behind the Nvidia GTX590.
Dead Island is a first person horror action-adventure video game developed by Techland and published by Deep Silver for Microsoft Windows. It is centered on the challenge of survival on a zombie-infested open world island with a major emphasis on melee combat. It is rather good fun, for a short while, but it becomes repetitive.


CPU limiting is a problem with this engine, however we can see that the MSI R7970 Lightning performs great, averaging 175 frames per second.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. After the events of the first game, the H.A.W.X squadron is sent to Middle East, where a high level of violence is being registered, and the appearance of various insurgents leaders in various hotspots. The team also has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Russian nuclear weapons. The player will be controlling three groups: one American (Hunter), one British (Munro) and one Russian (Sokov), each with its own pilots and supporting characters. There will also be references to other characters in the Tom Clancy universe.
We are testing in full DX11 mode with all settings to maximum.

A favourite for Nvidia hardware, however the results above are very good indeed, placing the MSI R7970 Lightning right behind the dual GPU HD6990.
Resident Evil 5, known in Japan as Biohazard 5, is a survival horror third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on March 5, 2009 in Japan and on March 13, 2009 in North America and Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A Windows version of the game was released on September 15, 2009 in North America, September 17 in Japan and September 18 in Europe. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.
Within its first three weeks of release, the game sold over 2 million units worldwide and became the best-selling game of the franchise in the United Kingdom. As of December, 2009, Resident Evil 5 has sold 5.3 million copies worldwide since launch, becoming the best selling Resident Evil game ever made.


The GTX590 outperforms the R7970 Lightning, but only by 6 frames per second. Great performance from the overclocked MSI solution.
Far Cry 2 (commonly abbreviated as “FC2 or “fc2″) is an open-ended first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It was released on October 21, 2008 in North America and on October 23, 2008 in Europe and Australia. It was made available on Steam on October 22, 2008. Crytek, the developers of the original game, were not involved in the development of Far Cry 2.
Ubisoft has marketed Far Cry 2 as the true sequel to Far Cry, though the sequel has very few noticeable similarities to the original game. Instead, it features completely new characters and setting, as well as a new style of gameplay that allows the player greater freedom to explore different African landscapes such as deserts, jungles, and savannas. The game takes place in a modern-day East African nation in a state of anarchy and civil war. The player takes control of a mercenary on a lengthy journey to locate and assassinate “The Jackal,” a notorious arms dealer.
Far Cry 2 is still a popular game and the open world environment can be taxing on even the latest hardware available today.
Settings: 1920×1200, D3D10, Disable Artificial Intelligence(No), Full Screen, Anti-Aliasing(8x), VSync(No), Overall Quality(Ultra High), Vegetation(Very High), Shading(Ultra High), Terrain(Ultra High), Geometry(Ultra High), Post FX(High), Texture(Ultra High), Shadow(Ultra High), Ambient(High), Hdr(Yes), Bloom(Yes), Fire(Very High), Physics(Very High), RealTrees(Very High).

The dual GPU cards dominate this particular benchmark, however the MSI R7970 Lightning claims the top spot against the GTX580 in the single GPU arena.
Shogun 2 is set in 16th-century feudal Japan, in the aftermath of the Ōnin War. The country is fractured into rival clans led by local warlords, each fighting for control. The player takes on the role of one of these warlords, with the goal of dominating other factions and claiming his rule over Japan. The standard edition of the game will feature a total of eight factions (plus a ninth faction for the tutorial), each with a unique starting position and different political and military strengths.
We are using the built in benchmark which is available via the STEAM client for this game.



The results at 720p are CPU limited, however the 1080p scores are more interesting. We can see that the overclocked speeds enable the MSI R7970 Lightning to produce a 9 fps advantage against the reference clocked HD7970.
We have changed our method of measuring noise levels. We have built a system inside a Lian Li chassis with no case fans and have used a fanless cooler on our CPU. We are using a heatpipe based passive power supply and an Intel SSD to keep noise levels to a minimum. The motherboard is also passively cooled. This gives us a build with completely passive cooling and it means we can measure noise of just the graphics card inside the system when we run looped 3dMark tests.
Ambient noise in the room is around 20-25dBa. We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the closed chassis and 4 foot from the ground to mirror a real world situation.
Why do this? Well this means we can eliminate secondary noise pollution in the test room and concentrate on only the video card. It also brings us slightly closer to industry standards, such as DIN 45635.
KitGuru noise guide
10dBA - Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA - High Quality Computer fan
40dBA - A Bubbling Brook, or a Refridgerator
50dBA - Normal Conversation
60dBA - Laughter
70dBA - Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA - City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA - Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA - MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA - Orchestra
120dBA - Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA - Threshold of Pain
140dBA - Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA - Instant Perforation of eardrum

The card is much quieter than the reference solution, as we expected. It is roughly equivalent to the VTX3D HD7970 X Edition card that we reviewed a few weeks ago.
The tests were performed in a controlled air conditioned room with temperatures maintained at a constant 25c – a comfortable environment for the majority of people reading this.
Idle temperatures were measured after sitting at the desktop for 30 minutes. Load measurements were acquired by playing Crysis Warhead for 30 minutes and measuring the peak temperature. We also have included Furmark results, recording maximum temperatures throughout a 30 minute stress test. All fan settings were left on automatic.


The Twin Frozr IV cooler is exceptionally good, maintaining a 61c temperature when gaming. This rises to 69c when loaded with the synthetic stress test Furmark. 19c improvements over the reference solution. This is the most capable HD7970 cooler we have tested to date, maintaining a 2c advantage over the Sapphire HD7970 Overclock Edition, when gaming.
To test power consumption today we are using a Keithley Integra unit and we measure power consumption from the VGA card inputs, not the system wide drain. We measure results while gaming in Crysis Warhead and record the results.
In such an energy aware climate, AMD are making a big deal out of their new ‘ZeroCore Power’ technology. Many solutions today use power gating, clock gating and memory compression to reduce idle power requirements, but ZeroCore power technology can completely power down the core GPU while the rest of the system remains active.

Power consumption, considering the overclocked state is very impressive, only a few watts higher when gaming than the reference solution.
To overclock today we used the latest beta of the MSI Afterburner software tool which allows for 3 way voltage tweaking.


We managed to push the core clock to 1260mhz, from 1070mhz, which translates to an almost 18% increase. The memory maxed out at 1478 mhz, or a 3.7% increase.

When the card is manually pushed to the limits, we achieved a score of 9,821 points, almost in line with the HD6990. Great results.
The MSI R7970 Lightning is a no compromise video card which has been built from the ground up to deliver the ultimate performance in highly overclocked situations.
In a similar fashion to the Sapphire HD7970 Overclock Edition, the focus has been on improving the reference cooling solution as much as possible, by lowering noise emissions and dropping temperatures.
The Twin Frozr IV cooler is the most impressive HD7970 cooler we have tested to date, maintaining 61c under gaming load. This is around a 2C improvement on the Sapphire Dual X cooler which we reviewed last week. The combination of low noise emissions and fantastic temperatures mean the Twin Frozr IV is the new benchmark for other manufacturers to beat.
MSI have released the card in a highly overclocked state and out of the box, it is even faster than the VTX3D HD7970X Edition, which ships at 1050mhz core clock speeds. By using MSI Afterburner I was able to push the core clock even higher, to 1260mhz.
Obviously this will vary from card to card, but we are seeing good potential headroom, even with these aggressive out of the box settings.
Right now there are quite a few custom cooled HD7970′s which offer noticeable improvements over the reference card. The VTX3D HD7970 X Edition is the cheapest, at £429.99 inc vat, from DABS and it still offers a tempting price to performance ratio, if you can live with the gaudy red cooler. Sapphire have several models available between £450 and £500 inc vat.
The MSI HD7970 Lightning is more expensive, available now on pre-order from Overclockers UK for £499.99 inc vat. For such a strong solution we feel it offers good value for money, especially when factoring in the class leading Twin Frozr IV cooler.
Pros:
  • Twin Frozr IV cooler is the best solution on the market.
  • overclocked to 1070mhz out of the box.
  • quiet
  • built like a tank.
Cons:
  • It is £500.
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