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MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review

MSI is back again with another Lightning series video card. This time the NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 680 gets the wicked treatment.

Published Mon, Jun 25 2012 11:37 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Package

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 02 | TweakTown.com

Prior to Computex we got wind that MSI GTX 680 Lightning was coming, then at Computex we got a chance to have a closer look at the card as it was on display at their booth. Today, though, we get a chance to get the video card in our hands at our lab and find out exactly what it's capable of.

The other week we got a chance to look at the MSI GTX 670 Power Edition which is the little brother to the GTX 680 Lightning we're looking at today, so it will be interesting to see how the two models compare against each other.

The lightning series has always represented the pinnacle of power for MSI with a Lightning version of the AMD Radeon HD 7970 impressing us back in March. Today we'll see if the GTX 680 version impresses us just as much.

Of course there's a few things we need to do before we get into the performance side of things and the first thing is we'll check out the package and cover some of the main features that are on offer. Once we've done that we'll take a closer look at the card itself and get into the specification side of things where we will also look at the overclocking capability.


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MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 04 | TweakTown.com

Having a look at the box you can see we've got a lot of information that highlights some of the main features. Starting off with the Military Class III components we can see Copper MOSFETs, Highly-Conductive Capacitor, Golden Solid State Choke and Dark Solid Capacitors are included.

We've also got Unlocked Digital Power which brings with it an unlocked BIOS, Enhanced Power design and a digital PWM controller while one of the other big features is the 3x3 OC Kits which brings with it the V-Check Points, Triple Overvoltage and Triple Temp Monitor.

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MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 06 | TweakTown.com

Moving across to the bottom of the box the main highlight is the Twin Frozr IV Thermal Design cooler which offers us SuperPipe Technology, Dust Removal Technology and Propeller Blade Technology. There are also two 10CM fans with a Dual-Form heatsink design which is said to bring a video card that runs both quieter and cooler.

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MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 08 | TweakTown.com

As for the contents of the bundle we've got the normal line up of paperwork which includes the Military Class III certificate and driver CD. We've also got two 6-pin PCIe to 8-pin PCIe power connectors, three V-Check point connectors, DVI to VGA connector and a long SLI cable.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 09 | TweakTown.com

Having a look at the video card we can see that big Twin Frozr IV cooler we saw on the HD 7970 Lightning following the same black and yellow color scheme. The first thing I thought of, though, when we pulled the card out of the box was just how good it would look against the upcoming ASRock Z77 OC Formula which follows a similar black and yellow design.

Having a look at the cooler you can see we've got two 10cm fans and behind them you can see the massive heatsink that takes up most of the card. We can also see the copper heatpipes coming out the bottom and the shroud itself shoots over the top and slightly off the end.

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MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 11 | TweakTown.com

Moving around we've two 8-pin PCIe power connectors at the top which is up on the normal 6-pin / 8-pin PCIe setup we see on standard GTX 680s. In the middle you can see the V-Check points which give you the ability to check out the voltage. And closer to the front there are two SLI connectors.

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Looking at the connectivity side of things we've got two Dual-Link DVI connectors in the form of a DVI-D and DVI-I connector. Along with that we've also got a full size HDMI port and DisplayPort connector to round off the connectivity side. You can also see a small vent to let hot air escape.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 13 | TweakTown.com

Finally before we move onto the specification and overclocking side of things you can see on the back we've got the GPU Reactor, which is something we've started to see on MSI cards. It's said to bring with it increased overclocking ability due to providing higher power capacity and the removal of power noise.

It's a cool feature, but it feels like something that is going to benefit LN2 overclockers more than people who are using the standard air cooler, based on our testing results so far. All we know, though, is in the end Lightning based cards tend to overclock better than the competition.


Being a Lightning based video card means that it of course comes overclocked out of the box and looking below you can see the default core has been pushed to 1111MHz or 1176MHz via Boost. This is up from the default 1006MHz or 1059MHz via Boost. As for the 2GB of GDDR5, that hasn't changed with the same default 6008MHz QDR.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 01 | TweakTown.com

With the card being part of the Lightning series, though, we're more interested in the overclocking side of things and looking above you can see we pushed the core to 1200MHz or 1265MHz via Boost while we managed to push the 2GB of GDDR5 up to 6800MHz QDR.

This is a really strong overclock, especially when compared to the reference clocks. We'll find out what exactly this does for performance in just a moment, but first we need to quickly cover our testbed and the cards that will be in our graphs today.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup

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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, ASUS and Corsair.

We won't go into any real detail on our testbed as everything is really covered in the above image. Instead we'll just get into the video cards that will be in our graphs today. One of the main cards we want to compare our overclocked Lightning to is of course the reference clocked GTX 680 2GB.

Along with that, though, we've also got the GTX 670 Power Edition from MSI overclocked to 1168 / 6584 QDR to give us an idea on how the two models differ in overall performance. Moving back to the GTX 680s, we've also got the pre-overclocked 2GB Phantom from Gainward, while the 4GB Jetstream version from Palit is also represented.

As for AMD video cards we've got the brand new GHz Edition of the HD 7970 on offer here while we've also included the same card overclocked to 1165 / 6800 QDR. Overall we've got a good line up of cards and we should be able to really determine what the Lightning version of the GTX 680 is capable of today.

Let's get started!

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

Benchmarks - 3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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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3DMark 11 straight away sees some awesome performance out of the MSI GTX 680 Lightning when overclocked. You can see it comes out ahead of everything here and is the only video card to break the P11,000 score while continuing to show a very strong score in the higher resolution X preset.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5

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.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 21 | TweakTown.com

Like we've mentioned lately Tessellation performance on NVIDIA offerings is always stronger, and when you throw the large overclock into the mix here, you can see some really strong performance the higher resolution score breaking that 2000 point mark by almost 10%.

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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The MSI GTX 680 Lightning overclocked helps cement the GTX 680 dominance in this game with boosts across the board and just overall amazing performance.

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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At 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200 we can see that there's no issue with the GTX 680s coming out ahead of the competition, but at the higher 2560 x 1600 resolution, we see the HD 7970 GHz Edition flex its muscle.

Overclocked we can again see the HD 7970 GHz Edition manages to pull out the win, but against the MSI GTX 680 Lightning, it's only just by a single FPS.

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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We see strong performance across the board again from the MSI GTX 680 Lightning thanks to that strong Tessellation performance and huge overclock on offer. You can see it just has no issue with the super intensive Lost Planet 2 with an 82 FPS average at the highest resolution.

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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Aliens vs. Predator has been one of the weaker games when it comes to the GTX 680. The Lightning version from MSI does offer us a strong performance increase, though, and playable numbers at all resolutions including 2560 x 1600. Compared to the AMD HD 7970 GHz Edition, though, it fell a little behind.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used:

Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

Developer Homepage: http://www.eidos.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.justcause.com/

Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

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Just Cause 2 performance is strong across the board and we see a nice boost in performance. Again, though, we see that at the highest resolution the HD 7970 GHz Edition did a good job of staying ahead of the competition.

Even with the GTX 680 Lightning overclocked we see the overclocked HD 7970 GHz Edition manages to sneak ahead - like Mafia II, though, it's by only a single FPS again.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.4a-games.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.thqnordic.com/

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360.[3] In March 2006, 4A Games announced a partnership with Glukhovsky to collaborate on the game.[4] The game was announced at the 2009 Games Convention in Leipzig;[5] a first trailer came along with the announcement.[6] A sequel was announced, currently titled Metro: Last Light.

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Again, we see this situation where the HD 7970 GHz Edition really manages to flex its muscle at the highest resolution. Comparing that model overclocked with the GTX 680 Lightning here, we can see that the AMD offering manages to sneak out ahead by a single FPS with a 63 FPS vs. 64 FPS score.

Below that we see the GTX 680 Lightning come out ahead and overall we see nice gains when compared to the reference version of the video card with that 2560 x 1600 number moving from not playable to playable.

Benchmarks - Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.dirt3game.com/

DiRT 3 boasts more cars, more locations, more routes and more events than any other game in the series, including over 50 rally cars representing the very best from five decades of the sport. With more than double the track content of 2009's hit, DiRT 3 will see players start at the top as a professional driver, with a top-flight career in competitive off-road racing complimented by the opportunity to express themselves in Gymkhana-style showpiece driving events.

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We continue to see this trend where the GTX 680 Lightning overclocked shows strong gains, but at the highest resolution, we fall a single FPS behind the overclocked HD 7970 GHz Edition.

It really goes to show the superior performance of the HD 7970 at the higher resolution. Again, though, we see strong gains across the board when compared to the reference clocked cards and the other GTX 680s.

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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Across the board performance is really strong and there's no real surprise with the numbers we've got here thanks to the high performance models we're using.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

While we test all our games with maximum in-game settings, turning on Anti-Aliasing (AA) and Antistrophic Filtering (AF) helps take the intensity of our testing to another level.

Here we see video cards go from playable FPS to an unplayable FPS and the real power houses continue to help break that 60 FPS mark we always aim for to provide a smooth gaming experience.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 30 | TweakTown.com

Mafia II sees some great gains and you can see at 2560 x 1600 the MSI GTX 680 Lightning when overclocked manages to break into that 60 FPS barrier. This is something that none of the other GTX 680s are able to do coming in between 50 and 56 FPS.

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Aliens vs. Predator also sees the overclocked GTX 680 Lightning push the 1920 x 1200 number to just over 60 FPS while the other 600 series cards all sit below that number. At 2560 x 1600, though, we can see all cards struggle here to break that 60 FPS mark we aim for that provides a solid gaming experience.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 32 | TweakTown.com

Far Cry 2 sees some nice gains and the averages are really strong. Overall, though, the playable numbers under Far Cry 2 with these high-end cards (and overclocked) don't come as too much of a surprise.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 33 | TweakTown.com

Looking at Metro 2033 numbers we can see some nice gains at 1920 x 1200 which gives us some more breathing room. At 2560 x 1600, though, we can see across the board the numbers aren't playable on any of the cards.

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Good gains again are seen under Just Cause 2, but you can see when overclocked, the GTX 680 Lightning is the only card that is able to break the 60 FPS barrier at 2560 x 1600.

Temperature Test

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.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 40 | TweakTown.com

The temperature on the core was so low here that I had to double and triple check that the number was correct. Considering the clocks we're at, the Twin Frozr IV cooler is doing a super fantastic job of keeping the card at a really good temperature.

Sound Test

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).

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 41 | TweakTown.com

Noise levels are also really strong here. While sitting in the top half of the graph, we're still overall at a very good number that is lower than the reference overclocked GTX 680, which to keep in mind is clocked lower.

Power Consumption Test

Using our 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.

MSI GEFORCE GTX 680 Lightning 2GB Video Card Review 42 | TweakTown.com

Power draw sits around that mid 400 watt mark which is going to be fine for most people. No real surprises here - we've really seen both AMD and NVIDIA improve the power usage on these new models.

Final Thoughts

The Lightning series from MSI never disappoints, but there's some really interesting results from the AMD HD 7970 GHz Edition. When this new AMD model is overclocked, it shows the dominance that AMD have at 2560 x 1600. Saying that, you at times see the difference is only a single FPS and when the GTX 680 does come out ahead, it's normally by more than 1 FPS.

Looking at the numbers here today, though, we can see the Lightning version of the NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 680 does wonders to performance where a couple of times we saw ourselves able to get out of that non-playable area to a playable region thanks to the overclock on offer. For people who are on 120Hz monitors as well who want to be closer to that 120 FPS mark as well, the extra grunt on offer from the card is going to be really appreciated.

Outside of the performance, though, there's so much more. The cooler is fantastic and the numbers we see it give off when overclocked to these levels is really quite amazing. Along with that we've got the GPU Reactor and just generally better quality components throughout the video card.

At $599.99 the Lightning version of the GTX 680 from MSI is the third most expensive GTX 680 listed at Newegg with only the 4GB EVGA FTW+ Edition and Water Blocked Hydro Copper version also from EVGA costing more. Compared to the Lightning version of the HD 7970, it is $70 more expensive, which we think is a fairly reasonable amount and we'd have no problem opting to spend the extra money for the GTX 680 version.

I think what's going to be interesting now is where we see MSI go with the Lightning series. I'd like to see an Extreme version come from them again which carries 4GB of GDDR5 like we saw with the GTX 580 while I'd also like to see the new AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition get the Lightning treatment as well.

If you're after a really good GTX 680 and you're happy to spend the associated money that goes with buying a quality Lightning card, this is a really good buy. If you've used the Lightning series before you'll probably already know what they're capable of and if you're in the mood for an upgrade, then this is a great option to consider.

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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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