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MSI Radeon HD 6970 2GB Lightning Overclocked Video Card Review

MSI expand the Lightning series with AMDs top single GPU card - the HD 6970. Let's see just what it does for us.
@ShawnBakerTW
Published Fri, Apr 8 2011 12:24 AM CDT   |   Updated Fri, Sep 18 2020 10:50 PM CDT
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Package Pictures


Introduction

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VIEW GALLERY - 32 IMAGES


I always seem to start these reviews by stating that the series of the card we're looking at is one of my favorite. It's not just some generic introduction and I really am a large fan of series' like the IceQ from HIS, Vapor-X from Sapphire, SOC from GIGABYTE and most of all, the MSI series including the Cyclone, HAWK and Lightning which we're looking at today.

While most companies have a good stand-out series, MSI have an arsenal of them. The Cyclone is great for these lower end mid-range cards; the cooler is quiet and performs very well. You can kick it up a notch and start looking at the Twin Frozr series which tends to be reserved for the higher end cards. It's also quiet, performs well and is essentially a higher end version of the Cyclone series.

Outside of these cooler modifications, though, you've got the HAWK and Lightning series. Both are designed from the ground up to offer us the most performance possible which is then harnessed with the best overclocking software around - MSIs own Afterburner.

The HAWK series is reserved for the mid-range models and to date we've seen MSI release some of the best versions of mid-range cards with models like the HD 5770 HAWK and GTX 460 HAWK. Today, though, we're not looking at a mid-range card; instead we're looking at the AMD single GPU beast that is the HD 6970 which is getting the Lightning treatment. Let's find out exactly what happens.


Package Pictures

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The overall package design isn't all that surprising with the typical Lightning design being laid out. Inside isn't much different either, it's larger than most other bundles but it's a very typical Lightning bundle with 6-Pin to 8-Pin convertors, little voltage measuring adapters and an extra-long CrossFire cable.

What's really great to see, though, is the inclusion of a mini-DP to DP adapter. We haven't seen a lot of companies include them and it's disappointing if you're on a DP monitor. Spending over $350 US on a new card and not being able to hook up via DP is indeed a pain, but fortunately it's not something we have to worry about here today.

Card Pictures & Specification


Card Pictures

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Checking out the card, we're seeing the Twin Frozr III cooler which is the latest incarnation of the popular Twin Frozr series cooler. Overall the design isn't too surprising; it's just a beefier version of the previous one and should do a good job cooling our card once we start to overclock it.

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Looking across the top of the card, we've got two 8-Pin PCI-E power connectors at the back and closer to the front we've got our two CrossFire connectors. You can also see to the left on the raised bit of PCB a little switch like we've seen from other HD 6900 series cards. This switch actually has two settings which give you the ability to unlock higher clock speeds in Afterburner. For the core we didn't find it all that handy, but for the memory it was, as achieving the standard 6000MHz is so easy.

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Also across the top but moving to the middle of the card we've got three little plugs that our little voltage adapters plug in to, so the core, AUX and memory voltage can all be read. Most users won't have a need for this, but if you're going to be going crazy with something like LN2 you may find it useful.

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Connectivity is the same as other HD 6970s we've seen. That means a Single-Link and Dual-Link DVI connector, HDMI connector and two Mini-DP connectors. The gold plated connectors also look awesome and just add another touch to the card.


Specifications

Out of the box the HD 6970 Lightning indeed comes pre overclocked, but as usual it's not much of an overclock and instead it's up to you to get the most out of the card. This is the main reason why you choose this card over something else; because you want to overclock yourself which is exactly what we did.

Before we quickly cover what we achieved with our overclock, let's first cover the out of the box clocks. MSI have bumped the core up from 880MHz to 940MHz on the core which isn't bad at all. As for the 2GB of GDDR5, that's at the default 5500MHz QDR clock that's seen on the reference HD 6970. It would've been nice to see MSI bump the memory clock up a little, but it comes as no surprise that they didn't.

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As nice as the HD 6970 Lightning clocks are out of the box, it's all about overclocking the card. With Afterburner running and our Core, AUX and Memory voltage sliders at the peak of their ability, we managed to bump the core up to 1015MHz and the memory up to an extremely impressive 6260MHz QDR.

To date the highest HD 6970 overclock we had achieved was 980MHz on the core and 6000MHz QDR on the memory on a reference designed card, so this is a nice increase over that.

Test System Setup and 3DMark 11


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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Noctua and Corsair.

We'll be comparing our overclocked HD 6970 Lightning from MSI today against a number of other cards. The main competition will be the reference HD 6970 and the reference GTX 580.

We've also got some CrossFire / Dual-GPU setups included for good measure, though, including the HD 6870 in CF, HD 6950 in CF, HD 6990, GTX 560 Ti in SLI and GTX 580 in SLI. Of course, the card won't compare to a lot of those more expensive dual GPU setups, but it gives you a good idea of how this card does sit amongst those more expensive ones.

Let's get started!


3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/
Buy It Here




3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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With such a big overclock compared to the reference card it comes as no surprise that we see the MSI HD 6970 Lightning perform extremely strong against a reference clocked card. Compared to a reference GTX 580, we can see that the MSI Lightning is able to just outperform it at both presets.

3DMark Vantage




Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
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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Vantage again manages to see some strong performance, but of course it's quite NVIDIA favored due to the PhysX support which is the main reason we'll be dumping the benchmark in our next refresh.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark




Version and / or Patch Used: 2
Developer Homepage: http://www.unigine.com
Product Homepage: http://unigine.com/press-releases/091022-heaven_benchmark//



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.

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Heaven sees the MSI card perform strong and compared to the GTX 580 it does fall behind. As we climb up the resolution table, though, we see that the gap does indeed close up a bit; the GTX 580 still wins out, but the MSI HD 6970 Lightning is closer at 1920 x 1200.

Benchmarks - Resident Evil 5


Resident Evil 5

Version and / or Patch Used: Demo Benchmark
Developer Homepage: www.residentevil.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.residentevil.com/




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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Resident Evil 5 performance is very strong on the reference clocked card, but you can see a strong performance increase over the reference clocked card. Here we can also see just how strong the AMD offering is at the higher resolution. 30 FPS separates the GTX 580 and HD 6970 Lightning at 1680 x 1050, but at the highest resolution it's only 2 FPS.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2


Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/UK/default.aspx
Product Homepage: http://www.hawxgame.com/




Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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HAWK 2 really favors NVIDIA and that's obvious here. Comparing the two HD 6970s we can see the Lightning version is indeed ahead, but HAWK 2 doesn't benefit the most from the overclock we've achieved.

Benchmarks - Mafia II


Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.2kczech.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.mafia2game.com/
Buy It Here




Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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A few interesting things here under Mafia II. The first is that the extra grunt that's on offer from the HD 6970 Lighting helps move away from that 60 FPS average that is only just achieved on the reference HD 6970. At the highest resolution we also see that the Lightning is able to outperform the GTX 580 by what equates to almost 10%.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2


Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1
Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.lostplanet2game.com/




Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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While we see some strong performance gains over the reference HD 6970, unfortunately we're still a little below that 60 FPS average we want to achieve. Compared to the GTX 580 it also falls a bit behind, but that's due to the superior tessellation performance NVIDIA has and the heavy emphasis on tessellation under Lost Planet 2.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator


Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/




Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Looking at another intensive game, we can see that performance on the Lightning is very strong. The most notable gain is at 1920 x 1200 where we move from a 63 FPS average to 72 FPS.

Benchmarks - Street Fighter IV


Street Fighter IV

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.streetfighter.com/




While Street Fighter IV features models and backgrounds rendered in 3D, the gameplay remains on a traditional 2D plane, with the camera having freedom to move in 3D at certain times during fights, for dramatic effect. Producer Yoshinori Ono has stated that he wanted to keep the game closer to Street Fighter II. A new system called "Focus Attacks" ("Saving Attack" for the Japanese version) has been introduced, as well as Ultra moves. The traditional six-button control scheme returns, with new features and special moves integrated into the input system, mixing classic gameplay with additional innovations.

All the characters and environments in Street Fighter IV are rendered as 3D models with polygons, similar to the Street Fighter EX sub-series Capcom produced with Arika. However, there are a couple of key differences. Art director and character designer Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, opted for non-photorealistic rendering to give them a hand-drawn look, with visual effects accented in calligraphic strokes, ink smudges and ink sprays during the fights.

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Looking at Street Fighter IV we can see big performance numbers. You can of course see a nice boost in performance, but to be honest, moving from a 281 FPS average to 319 FPS average isn't going to feel any different in game.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2


Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/
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 manages to see some very good performance and some nice gains are seen when compared to the reference HD 6970. Compared to the GTX 580 we can see it manages to lose out at the lowest resolution, but does indeed show its dominance as it climbs the resolution table which is very interesting and something that you need to make note of.

Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum


Batman Arkham Asylum

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/





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.

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Compared to the reference HD 6970 we can see a nice boost in performance, but it's not really needed. Compared to the GTX 580 the card does lag a little behind, even though we're quite overclocked. More importantly, though, it's not such a big deal as we've already got such playable numbers and really that's the most important thing.

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.

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We see some nice performance gains when we crank up the detail and while we're a little behind that average we want to achieve under Aliens vs. Predator, we've got playable numbers in our other tests which is important.

Temperature Test


Temperature Tests



The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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Considering we've not just bumped the core voltage up, but also the memory and AUX voltage while achieving the highest HD 6970 clocks to date, the temperature of the card is extremely good at only 70c.

Sound Test


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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What's even better than the temperature, though, is the fact it's able to do it at a very good noise point which comes in similar to a reference cooled and clocked HD 6970.

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 SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal 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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Power Draw is indeed up on the Lightning offering which isn't a surprise, as so often we see these Lightning cards shoot to the top of our charts. Overall, though, it's still under 500 Watt and if you're buying a card like this you should already have a decent power supply or be buying a decent one at the same time.

Total Performance Rating (TPR)


Total Performance Rating

The TPR graph is a combination of all our benchmarks in which NVIDIA and AMD are on an even playing field.

The TPR number is a combination of:

3DMark 11, Heaven Benchmark V2, Resident Evil 5, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2, Mafia 2 (PhysX Off), Lost Planet 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV, Far Cry 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum (PhysX Off) and our four High Quality tests which include Mafia 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV and Far Cry 2.

All of the benchmark results achieved are then combined into a single number. As this graph will grow over time and cards won't be re-tested, next to each model you'll find the driver version that was used when the card was benchmarked.

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You can see that when looking at our TPR graph this is a fast card; it's got a good jump on the GTX 570 and the previously highest clocked HD 6970 we tested. Compared to the reference clocked card, though, it's performance is very strong.

Total Value Rating (TVR)


Total Value Rating

The TVR graph is the TPR score divided by the price of the video card. The price of the video card is based on the list price of the model on Newegg.com. In the event the card isn't listed, it will be based on the U.S. $ MSRP given to us by the manufacturer.

In the event we can't source a price from either, the product will not receive a TVR rating. As with our TPR graph, the amount of video cards on the list will grow over time and the price of the model won't change from what it was when first reviewed. For this reason the U.S. $ price that the card is based off will be included next to the name of the model.

In the event you want to find the TVR rating yourself based on the current price, all you have to do is simply divide the TPR number by the list price.

TVR numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number; 100.3 will be 100; 100.8 will be 101 and 100.5 will be rounded down to 100.

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At around the $370 US mark the HD 6970 Lightning is actually quite good value which comes as a bit of a surprise. Normally the Lightning cards don't sit as well on the value side of things because of the larger cost associated with them, but this one does extremely well.

Final Thoughts




The Lightning series is made for overclocking and that's the reason why we chose to test the card only overclocked in all our benchmarks here today. It helps us do two things; find an overclock that you could actually use in day to day gaming as we need to find something that's stable across more than just 3DMark 11. It also lets us show you exactly why you buy this card.

Honestly, if you bought the HD 6970 Lightning and just ran it with its out of the box settings you'd be disappointed. For starters, MSI don't overclock the memory and while the core clock is nice, it's not as strong as you're able to get it to. This card has overclockers in mind and the fact that overclocking is so easy these days means that anyone who really wants to have a play will have a good time with this card.

Of course, all overclocks are different and we've seen some that are able to run at closer to the 1050MHz mark, but it has to be noted, unlike some other people who show these higher speeds we don't just test it in 3DMark 11. We managed to achieve a core clock of 1037MHz and complete 3DMark 11 no problems, but we saw the card crash under Heaven and Lost Planet 2. We pulled the core back another 20MHz and we had everything running perfectly.

With this kind of card you'd probably find yourself sitting at something like 1000MHz on the core and 6100MHz QDR on the memory for everyday gaming. This would make it stronger than any other HD 6970 while making sure that everything was going to run perfect.

The Lightning series continues to be at the pinnacle of performance for people who want the most out of their graphics card. If you don't mind spending closer to $370 US to not only get more performance, but also an awesome cooler, then we're sure you won't be disappointed.

Not only is this just another great Lightning series card, but this is the best HD 6970 we've tested to date. MSI do a fantastic job of laying down the gauntlet and that hasn't changed here.

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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.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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