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MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card

The HD 5870 gets struck with lightning. But is it just a fancy title to the card or something we actually want to own?

Published Mar 17, 2010 7:53 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:02 PM CST
Manufacturer: MSI


MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 02 |

I'll be the first to admit that a few years ago when someone mentioned MSI, video cards were not the first thing that came to mind, let alone video cards that I would recommend. It's not that there was anything wrong with MSI's video cards, it's just that they didn't really stand out from the pack.

In the past couple years, however, we've seen the company really move forward in the VGA market. First they started doing a bit of overclocking and then we saw some extra coolers and nowadays we see the company move way out of the box with some fantastic own-PCB designed cards.

The Lightning series has already left a mark with us recently and it looked like it could be a dominant force in the enthusiast market. Combining both an impressive model with stand out features, MSI are able to do something special.

The latest model to get hit by the lightning bolt is the HD 5870 which is already a model we know and love. But the question is, what have MSI done to the model to make it stand out from the pack? - Let's check out the package before looking at the card itself and find out exactly what they've done with it.

The Package

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 03 |

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 04 |

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 05 |

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 06 |

For the most part there's nothing that you haven't really seen before. In saying that, some of the extras included in the bundle are a HDMI cable, 6-Pin to 8-Pin convertors and a couple of other cables which can be used to grab the voltage of the card if you have a multi-meter.

Video Card

Having a quick look at the front of the card, you don't notice anything too different with the same Twin FrozrII cooler being used as we've seen on other popular MSI models. If you look a bit more carefully, though, you might notice the extra bit of PCB hanging out the top of the card.

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 07 |

MSI have crammed so many new features onto this card that they had to extend the PCB. In using their brains instead of making the card longer (which in turn would make it difficult to install for some people), they chose to make it a little bit taller or wider, depending on which way you want to look at it. It also only takes up the standard two slots instead of three like other companies who have opted for new designs and big coolers.

What they've done to the card to make it slightly bigger is use include 15 Phase PWM power, Hi-C Caps that give higher thermal stability, lower wasted heat and higher power efficiency. They've also used a Solid State Choke, all Solid Caps and golden plated connectors along with multiple V-Check (Voltage-Check) points for extreme overclockers who need to know exactly what's going on with the card.

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 08 |

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 09 |

All these new features requite some extra power if you want to achieve maximum power from the model and for this reason MSI have opted to use dual 8-Pin power connectors. While the second is optional, we would recommend using it anyway, even if you're not doing extreme overclocking.

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 10 |

While we made note that the PCB has been expanded across the top, the CrossFire connectors are still on the same level. You can clearly see in the picture above the extra height that the card has over what would be a standard HD 5870.

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The I/O department while looking ultra sexy with the inclusion of gold plated connectors doesn't offer anything that we haven't seen before. We've got our two Dual-Link DVI connectors along with a single DisplayPort and HDMI port. Of course, all these connectors give us the ability to run Eyefinity.


Out of the box MSI offer us a small overclock by moving the core from 850MHz to 900MHz. As for the 1GB of GDDR5, that carries with it the same 4800MHz QDR clock that you'll expect to see on most HD 5870s.

What makes this card really stand out and what all those extra high quality components on the card let us do is adjust the voltage easily and safely through the included Afterburner software.

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 01 |

Firing up Afterburner and talking to MSI about what is a safe voltage mark for the stock cooling, we moved to 1.165v from the stock 1.125v. While this isn't a huge amount, it's enough to give us a higher core clock then we're used to seeing.

If you're an extreme user, though, and interested in using something like Liquid Nitrogen, the software gives you the ability to increase the core to as high as 1.35v which is just insane and something air cooling people will need to stay away from. In saying that, MSI have implemented a shut down feature if the card does get too hot, so you shouldn't be able to do much damage. Talking to MSI about this, they recommend around 1.165v for the stock cooling.

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 500 |

With our voltage adjusted we moved the core up to a solid 1GHz and while the memory doesn't have a voltage adjustment option, that moved successfully to 5000MHz QDR. Compared to the stock HD 5870, this is 150MHz higher which should yield some impressive gains.

Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage

Test System Setup

Processor(s): Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.8GHz (190MHz x 20)
Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P (Supplied by Noctua)
Motherboard(s): GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Memory: 3 X 2GB Kingston Hyper X PC3-16000 2000MHz DDR CL9 (Supplied by Kingston)
Hard Disk(s): Western Digital 300GB Velicorapter (Supplied by Western Digital)
Operating System: Windows 7
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 10.2

Since the MSI card only offers a 50MHz core increase over the stock HD 5870, we didn't worry about testing it at that speed. Instead we opted for what we could achieve in our overclock. When it came to a comparison, it was clear that it had to go up against a stock HD 5870 to see just what kind of performance improvement could be seen with this overclock.

We've also thrown in the HD 5850 for good measure. With that said, we'll mainly be looking at how the two HD 5870s go against each other.

Let's get started!

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

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Straight away you can see the big performance boost that is being offered. Compared to the stock clocked HD 5870 we can see the MSI version is able to break P20000 and X10000 which is no doubt impressive for a single GPU card.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark (DX10 & DX11)

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

Note: If a card doesn't support DirectX 11 the benchmark will be left out, if it does it will be included along with the DirectX10 results.

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 21 |

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 22 |

Heaven continued to show the big numbers for the MSI video card. Are we going to see the same improvements when we move to real world testing? Let's move on and find out.

Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10


Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.

MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).

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CINEBENCH performance is as we would expect with all three setups performing very close to each other. With the program not being able to make use of the extra MHz on offer, this isn't a surprise at all.

Benchmarks - Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5

Version and / or Patch Used: Demo Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Resident Evil 5 is a survival horror video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on September 18. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

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Getting into the real world games, we begin to see strong performance from the MSI HD 5870 Lightning. At the highest resolution we've got an increase of over 6 FPS which equates to a gain of almost 10%.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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Far Cry 2 shows us some very good numbers. At 2560 x 1600 we've got a minimum of 46 FPS which is 8 FPS over the stock HD 5870 or over 20% more performance in the minimum department which is exactly where we want to see the big improvements.

Benchmarks - World in Conflict

World in Conflict

Version and / or Patch Used:
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10).

The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.

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WIC never does a good job of making use of our overclock, but you can see that the 32 FPS minimum is a gain of 10% compared to the stock HD 5870 and in turn is able to break that 30 FPS minimum that we need to see.

Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham Asylum

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum - Gotham's psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City's most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.

Using a wide range of Batman's gadgets and abilities, players will become the invisible predator and attempt to foil The Joker's demented scheme.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini, whose credits include Lost season one and Batman: The Animated Series.

Note: With support for PhysX NVIDIA based cards will be tested with the technology on and off, ATI cards will be tested with the technology off due to it not being supported on their cards.

Without PhysX

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MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 30 |

Big numbers across the board for the HD 5870 Lightning from MSI with a 10 FPS gain seen in the minimum department at 2560 x 1600; this equating to over a 15% performance increase over the stock card.

Benchmarks - Darkest of Days

Darkest of Days

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.4
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Darkest of Days takes the player through time into historic battles in an effort to save key individuals from certain death. The battles range from Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 to fighting in Pompeii as ash and fire rain down from an erupting Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Other locations include the battles of Antietam and Tannenberg, and a German World War II P.O.W. camp. There are different missions in every time period and the game takes about 4 hours to complete.

The game features over twenty weapons, both from the original time period as well as those brought back from the future. In addition, there are artillery weapons from different time periods to assist in battle.

Note: With the PhysX set to Medium or High Darkest of Days take advantage of the NVIDIA PhysX abilities. For that reason we will test ATI cards at the Low preset, NVIDIA based cards though will be tested at Low and High.

PhysX set to Low

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Darkest of Days at the lower resolution throws out some lower numbers than the stock HD 5870. When we really apply the pressure at 2560 x 1600, you can see a 5FPS gain which is an increase of over 5%.

Benchmarks - BattleForge


Version and / or Patch Used: Auto Patched at Load
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

The Gods have disappeared and the old sun has died, letting a vile twilight engulf the world of Nyn. In exchange for all treasures the mortals possessed, the evil giants agreed to forge a new sun and hurl it into the sky.

But the deal was betrayed, the treasure stolen and now the mortals flee the wrath of the giants. Under the light of a new sun the mortals stumble into a world changed and twisted by an age of twilight. The long journey home has become a conquest of survival.

Note: Supporting DirectX 11 we have seperated the graphs for NVIDIA and ATI cards. While the numbers between the two brands can be compared you have to make note that ATI based HD 5000 series cards are running DirectX 11.

DirectX 11 (ATI HD 5000 Series Only)

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BattleForge is an extremely intensive game and you can see the stock HD 5870 only just manages to break that 60 FPS average we want to see. The HD 5870 Lightning from MSI, however, blitzes past it while breaking into 70 FPS territory.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

Resident Evil 5

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Another gain that equates to around 5% this time and helps move well away from that 60 FPS average we want to see in a situation where there's no minimum.

Far Cry 2

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 34 |

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 35 |

Minimum numbers don't really change here, but you can see the average jumps up a good chunk. Unfortunately at 1920 x 1200 the HD 5870 still struggles with 8xAA on with the only model really offering a playable frame rate being the dual GPU HD 5970.

World In Conflict

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 36 |

MSI Radeon HD 5870 Lightning Video Card 37 |

We see a very nice jump under WIC, but again we see most models struggle under this test with the AA and AF cranked up.

Temperature and Sound Tests

Temperature Tests

With the TES 1326 Infrared Thermometer literally in hand we found ourselves getting real-world temperatures from the products we test at load (3D clock speeds).

There are two places we pull temperature from - the back of the card directly behind the core and if the card is dual slot and has an exhaust point we also pull a temperate from there, as seen in the picture.

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Even with the extra voltage running through the card we can see the cooling option is able to keep the GPU running cooler than the stock clocked HD 5870 and its stock cooler.

Sound Tests

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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The reason it seems to be able to keep the temperature down is because the two fans are working hard and creating a bit of noise. 67dB isn't too bad, though, and inside a case you shouldn't really notice the card much more than any other HD 5870.

Power Consumption Tests

Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD ROM or many cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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The extra voltage and dual 8-Pin power connectors do draw a bit more power, but nothing we would be worried about.

Final Thoughts

There's no such thing as the perfect product because something can always be improved upon. The problem is I think what would make the MSI HD 5870 Lightning better than what it already is doesn't exist at the moment.

It's what MSI haven't done that makes this card so great. MSI haven't just slapped an overclock on a reference card; MSI haven't just slapped a new cooler on a reference card and MSI haven't just given us Afterburner on a reference card. MSI have thought outside the box again to make one of the most impressive cards on the market.

We've only touched the surface with this card. If you water cooled the card or strapped something more extreme to it you'll be able to push the voltage even further and achieve an even higher core clock.

At $499.99 over at Newegg the card is going to set you back $80 more than the standard HD 5870. But this isn't just another HD 5870; this isn't a reference card with a bit of fancy software, or a fancy cooler. This is a fully redesigned HD 5870 that MSI have clearly put their heart and soul into.

Extreme overclockers can't even put a price on what the MSI HD 5870 Lightning is able to do when it comes to voltage adjustments. As for regular users there's still huge value there because you'll find yourself hopefully achieving 1GHz or more on the core. On the other hand, if you're not going to use the software you'd be better off with the standard HD 5870 from MSI or from most other companies.

MSI aren't here to play with the big boys, they are one of the big boys. MSI have shown us that they're a serious competitor in the VGA market with this video card. MSI have aimed for perfection and the only reason they don't have it is because there's no such thing as the perfect product. The MSI HD 5870 Lightning is about as close as we've seen a video card get to it, though, with the only other product being the HD 5770 HAWK which is also from MSI.

If overclocking doesn't interest you, pass GO and do not collect $200. If it does, though, and you're happy to pay the premium for one of the highest quality cards we've had the pleasure of using, you'll be happy, oooh so happy!

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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