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MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning!

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning!

MSI blows us away with their new GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z graphics card.

@anthony256
Anthony Garreffa
Published Mon, Jul 17 2017 3:42 PM CDT   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction, Pricing & Availability

I have been waiting oh-so-long for MSI to unveil its GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z graphics card, so much so that the first vendor I ran to at Computex 2017 earlier this year was MSI to see if they had the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z on display. They did, and I was the first to snap photos of it and display it to the world. I was like a kid on Christmas morning, and then the card itself turned up, and I crumbled into a technologically obsessed heap.

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VIEW GALLERY - 59 IMAGES

MSI has always pushed the boundaries of what's possible on graphics cards with their LIGHTNING series, but the last time we saw a LIGHTNING card was the older MSI GeForce GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING. This was all the way back in August 2015, so fast forward nearly two years and we have the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z. Has MSI learned anything between now and then? You can bet they have. NVIDIA has also provided some slick tweaks with the Pascal GPU architecture, with the GTX 1080 Ti being the best graphics card you can buy today - without blowing out the price/performance balance with the new TITAN Xp.

We've seen a few crazy high-end GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards so far, with MSI's own GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X 11G, ZOTAC's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti AMP! Extreme Edition, the ASUS GeForce GTX 1080 Ti STRIX OC, and I still have a backlog of other cards to review with the EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 iCX, Palit GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GameRock Premium Edition, and the newly arrived GALAX GeForce GTX 1080 Ti HOF. Out of them all, the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is the cherry on top of all of this GP102 goodness flowing through the GPU labs.

MSI has effectively thrown everything but the kitchen sink into their new GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z, with amazing performance and one of the best uses of RGB LED lighting I've seen on a graphics card so far. It's not over the top and compliments the design of the card instead of taking over and attacking your eyeballs.

Pricing & Availability

NVIDIA has its own GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition priced at $699, so the news that MSI is selling their new GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z at just $749 feels like a steal. You're getting a far superior card that runs dead silent for the most part, overclocks like a champion (and if you have LN2, even more so), and looks much better.

I have one of the earliest samples of the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z, so I can't quite confirm the availability of it in the US just yet - and will update this once I've heard back from MSI. I do know that MSI only made 3000 units, so they are an extremely limited run. If you buy one, cherish it.

Cooling Tech Upgraded: TriFrozr

Hmm... Upgrades

MSI already has some of the best graphics card cooling technology on the market with its always impressive TwinFrozr cooling, but the company is amping things up to 11 with its new Tri-Frozr cooling technology. This means we have 3 x fans instead of 2 x fans, ready for the gaming and benchmarking loads that the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z will be put under.

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Under the hood, the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z has a lot going on. MSI has used a custom PCB and then added close quarters cooling on top. After that, we have their usual military-class components, Torx 2.0 fans with double ball bearings, and of course RGB LEDs. MSI has also used a gorgeous backplate on the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z, with the RGB LEDs standing out - but not too much.

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The exclusive MSI Torx 2.0 fans work in tandem with MSI's own Tri-Frozr cooling technology, generating 22% more air fan pressure than competing fans.

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The double ball bearings on the Torx 2.0 fans will last for years, through massive amounts of gaming and workstation use. MSI is also pushing the advanced aerodynamics on GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z, with their Airflow Control Technology that directs air onto the heat pipes more efficiently.

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The close quarters heat pipe cooling keeps the tail end of the card cool.

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Active backplate cooling is necessary these days, and it protects the back of the card from damage, too.

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MSI has deployed a huge heat sink with "countless" fins through a huge 8mm thick heat sink. Beautiful.

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We also have a huge heat sink covering the memory and MOSFETs, with more pins and fins on the sink to keep the MOSFETs cool.

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This wouldn't be a LIGHTNING branded graphics card if it wasn't designed for overclocking, right?!

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For those who want the ultimate in control from their card, MSI has included multiple temperature monitors on the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z.

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This is where MSI's great Afterburner OC software comes into play, tweaking your new GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is easier than ever before.

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Military Class 4 components are used on the card.

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The money shot: LN2 mode switch!!!

RGBs Everywhere!

MSI Does RGB Right With Mystic Light

The big upgrade on the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z over the previous-gen GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING is that MSI has added in their own RGB Mystic Light tech, with an RGB LED strip along the top and back, which truly add to the awesome styling of the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z.

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MSI's own Gaming App will let you tweak the RGB lights on the card easily, and if you've got multiple MSI products - like their peripherals, motherboard, and/or cooler - you can have the entire system using Mystic Light Sync. This syncs all of the RGB LEDs across your Mystic Light-capable MSI products, meaning you can have synchronized Mystic Light colors flowing through your products, right down to the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z.

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Even if you don't have other Mystic Light products, the ability to personalize the lighting on your graphics card is something that is a default now. You might rock another branded motherboard from the likes of GIGABYTE or ASUS and can tweak the Mystic Light RGB LEDs to red, green, or other colors to match your board and fans.

Detailed Specs + LN2 Mode Switch!

Detailed Specs

MSI has saved the best for what will most likely be last, at least until we get to the next generation GeForce graphics cards that I'm sure NVIDIA is preparing to retaliate with after AMD launches Radeon RX Vega later this month and into August. We have the usual three different overclocking profiles, with Silent/Gaming/Lightning modes.

  • Silent Mode: GPU (1480/1582MHz) VRAM (11,016MHz)
  • Gaming Mode: GPU (1582/1695MHz) VRAM (11,124MHz)
  • Lightning Mode: GPU (1607/1721MHz) VRAM (11,124MHz)

Of course, these are just MSI's recommended GPU clocks - with our sample hitting closer to 1975MHz or so GPU boost clocks. Overclocking wise, we'll get into that soon.

LN2 Mode Switch

MSI slides into its own territory with the inclusion of an LN2 mode switch on their new GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z, so with a single flick of the LN2 switch, your card will switch to another BIOS ready for overclocking under LN2.

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The LN2 mode switch will unlock the power, current, and thermal limits, letting you push things to an entirely new level.

It Looks SO Freakin' Good!

The Best Looking GTX 1080 Ti?

I loved the look of the previous-gen GeForce GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING, with its sleek yellow and black looks... but damn, does the new MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z look shmick. I've taken some high-res shots of the card, take a look:

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Here we have it: the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z from the front. The new triple-fan Tri-Frozer cooling tech is awesome, keeping the card at less than 65C at all times, including when I was overclocking it.

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MSI has made some small changes to the back of the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z, with the Mystic Light RGB lighting teased at the bottom.

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Another look at the card... that style... awesome.

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From the top, we have the MSI LIGHTNING branding, as well as NVIDIA's forced GeForce GTX branding. You can also see how thick the heat sink is, and the 8+8+8-pin PCIe power connectors.

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This card can take a serious pounding in the power department.

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The 8+8+8-pin PCIe power connectors.

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The end of the card, with the five heat pipes poking out.

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You can connect a digital multimeter directly to the card for live readings, a nice trick that the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z offers.

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The heat sink is massive... but it also helps keep the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z at less than 65C under load.

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See... it's THICK.

The LIGHTNING Z Experience

Throughout all of our testing, the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z didn't go above 65C, even after hours of benchmarking and stress testing. For the most part, the card is totally silent until it goes under load, and then the fans will spin up slightly to keep it cool. It's only under heavy stress from increased voltages and GPU/VRAM clocks that the fans need to be increased in speed.

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As for overclocking, most GeForce GTX 1080 Ti cards still hit a ceiling at 2050MHz, and the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is no exception except for a few points. First, there's the LN2 mode that I can't play around with because I don't have liquid nitrogen sitting around. I think we might see over 2200MHz or so with crazy high voltages, and some tweaks to the GDDR5X RAM which I could get to 12Gbps.

The RGB lighting on the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is actually captivating, and I left it on the rainbow swirl pattern the entire time as it just looks so damn good. There's plenty of room for tweaking the card through Mystic Light, something I'll be testing now and editing this portion of the review - so the Mystic Light for me right now, is a work in progress.

There are parts of the LIGHTNING Z that just aren't for me, which is the inclusion of plugging in a digital multimeter to check voltages, etc. - and the LN2 mode switch. For me at least, this is a boutique, limited edition GTX 1080 Ti from MSI. It has great overclocking ability, but in its stock form, it's no more impressive than competing GTX 1080 Ti cards, while it does have some of the best styling I've seen yet, especially with its RGB LED streak.

Test System Specs & Benchmark Details

I've recently edited my GPU test bed, which was powered by the Intel Core i7-5960X processor, and shifted into the arms of Kaby Lake and Intel's new Core i7-7700K. GIGABYTE hooked us up with their awesome new AORUS Z270X-Gaming 9 motherboard, which is the heart and soul of my new GPU test platform.

Detailed Tech Specs

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-7700K
  • Cooler: Nocua U12S
  • MB: AORUS Z270X-Gaming 9
  • RAM: 16GB (2x8GB) G.SKILL Trident Z 4000MHz DDR4
  • SSD: 1TB OCZ RD400 NVMe M.2
  • PSU: Corsair AX1500i
  • Chassis: In Win X-Frame

Detailed Look

A larger article on our 7700K system is available right here.

Here are some shots I've taken of the new system in action:

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Benchmarks - Synthetic

3DMark Fire Strike - 1080p

3DMark has been a staple benchmark for years now, all the way back to when The Matrix was released and Futuremark had bullet time inspired benchmarks. 3DMark is the perfect tool to see if your system - most important, your CPU and GPU - is performing as it should. You can search results for your GPU, to see if it falls in line with other systems based on similar hardware.

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3DMark Fire Strike - 1440p

3DMark has been a staple benchmark for years now, all the way back to when The Matrix was released and Futuremark had bullet time inspired benchmarks. 3DMark is the perfect tool to see if your system - most important, your CPU and GPU - is performing as it should. You can search results for your GPU, to see if it falls in line with other systems based on similar hardware.

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3DMark Fire Strike - 4K

3DMark has been a staple benchmark for years now, all the way back to when The Matrix was released and Futuremark had bullet time inspired benchmarks. 3DMark is the perfect tool to see if your system - most important, your CPU and GPU - is performing as it should. You can search results for your GPU, to see if it falls in line with other systems based on similar hardware.

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Heaven - 1080p

Heaven is an intensive GPU benchmark that really pushes your silicon to its limits. It's another favorite of ours as it has some great scaling for multi-GPU testing, and it's great for getting your GPU to 100% for power and noise testing.

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Heaven - 1440p

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Heaven - 4K

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Benchmarks - 1080p

1080p Benchmarks

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Ubisoft's latest installment in the Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series is Ghost Recon Wildlands, an open world tactical shooter with some of the best graphics on the market, with Ubisoft Paris using a modified version of the AnvilNext engine.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best looking games on the market, a truly gorgeous game - and a wonder to benchmark. The team at Crystal Dynamics made a very scalable PC game that plays really well testing graphics cards. We've got DX11 and DX12 results in one here, showing the slight strengths of running DX12 mode.

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Far Cry Primal is a game built on the impressive Dunia Engine 2 with wide open, beautiful environments. It might look stunning, but the performance is actually quite good - but most cards will be stressed at 1440p, and especially so at 4K and beyond.

You can buy Far Cry Primal at Amazon.

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is one of the most graphically intensive games we test, with Monolith using their own Lithtech engine to power the game. When cranked up to maximum detail, it will chew through your GPU and its VRAM like it's nothing.

You can buy Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at Amazon.

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Metro: Last Light Redux comes from developer 4A Games, making the Redux version of Metro: Last Light the 'definitive' version of the game. Redux had a fresh coat of paint on the already impressive 4A Engine, and it really pushes our GPUs to their limits.

You can buy Metro: Last Light Redux at Amazon.

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Benchmarks - 1440p

1440p Benchmarks

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Ubisoft's latest installment in the Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series is Ghost Recon Wildlands, an open world tactical shooter with some of the best graphics on the market, with Ubisoft Paris using a modified version of the AnvilNext engine.

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 32 | TweakTown.com
MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 102 | TweakTown.com

Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best looking games on the market, a truly gorgeous game - and a wonder to benchmark. The team at Crystal Dynamics made a very scalable PC game that plays really well testing graphics cards. We've got DX11 and DX12 results in one here, showing the slight strengths of running DX12 mode.

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 33 | TweakTown.com
MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 101 | TweakTown.com

Far Cry Primal is a game built on the impressive Dunia Engine 2 with wide open, beautiful environments. It might look stunning, but the performance is actually quite good - but most cards will be stressed at 1440p, and especially so at 4K and beyond.

You can buy Far Cry Primal at Amazon.

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is one of the most graphically intensive games we test, with Monolith using their own Lithtech engine to power the game. When cranked up to maximum detail, it will chew through your GPU and its VRAM like it's nothing.

You can buy Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at Amazon.

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Metro: Last Light Redux comes from developer 4A Games, making the Redux version of Metro: Last Light the 'definitive' version of the game. Redux had a fresh coat of paint on the already impressive 4A Engine, and it really pushes our GPUs to their limits.

You can buy Metro: Last Light Redux at Amazon.

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Benchmarks - 4K

4K Benchmarks

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Ubisoft's latest installment in the Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series is Ghost Recon Wildlands, an open world tactical shooter with some of the best graphics on the market, with Ubisoft Paris using a modified version of the AnvilNext engine.

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 42 | TweakTown.com
MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 102 | TweakTown.com

Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best looking games on the market, a truly gorgeous game - and a wonder to benchmark. The team at Crystal Dynamics made a very scalable PC game that plays really well testing graphics cards. We've got DX11 and DX12 results in one here, showing the slight strengths of running DX12 mode.

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 43 | TweakTown.com
MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 101 | TweakTown.com

Far Cry Primal is a game built on the impressive Dunia Engine 2 with wide open, beautiful environments. It might look stunning, but the performance is actually quite good - but most cards will be stressed at 1440p, and especially so at 4K and beyond.

You can buy Far Cry Primal at Amazon.

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 44 | TweakTown.com
MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 104 | TweakTown.com

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is one of the most graphically intensive games we test, with Monolith using their own Lithtech engine to power the game. When cranked up to maximum detail, it will chew through your GPU and its VRAM like it's nothing.

You can buy Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at Amazon.

MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 45 | TweakTown.com
MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z: Ride The Lightning! 105 | TweakTown.com

Metro: Last Light Redux comes from developer 4A Games, making the Redux version of Metro: Last Light the 'definitive' version of the game. Redux had a fresh coat of paint on the already impressive 4A Engine, and it really pushes our GPUs to their limits.

You can buy Metro: Last Light Redux at Amazon.

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Performance Analysis

If you're in the market for a new graphics card and you've been holding your finger over the trigger for one of the best custom GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards, the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z offers enough performance in every resolution to be the perfect card for you.

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Thousands of gamers are also waiting for AMD's new Radeon RX Vega, but we're into July now, and it's still a month away. So, unless you have a FreeSync display that you're eyeing down (because they are cheaper than G-Sync alternatives by a fair margin), you might want to jump the gun and grab the LIGHTNING Z. It will offer more performance than the Radeon RX Vega judging from the current leaks, seeing RX Vega offer GTX 1080 level performance, while the GTX 1080 Ti continues to slay the gaming battlefield.

For gamers with a 1920x1080 panel, the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z - and every other GTX 1080 Ti on the market, are overkill. You can drive 1080p @ 60FPS+ with a GTX 1070 or Radeon RX 580, so the GTX 1080 Ti is something I only recommend for 2560x1440 and above.

3440x1440 and 4K are two resolutions that would deserve the purchase of a GTX 1080 Ti, and the MSI GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z has those covered without a problem. 60FPS at 1440p, 3440x1440, and even 4K are easily achievable. 4K gaming really comes down to the title itself, with some games less taxing on the graphics card so you can crank the in-game visual details to maximum and still hit 60FPS.

There are other games where you might reach 4K and maximum in-game settings but not hit 60FPS, but with a few adjustments, you can easily hit 60FPS on any of the latest AAA games. If you have a high refresh rate 1080p or 1440p panel, that now arrive in 144/165Hz at 1440p and even 240Hz for 1080p, the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is a great match.

Overclocking the LIGHTNING Z

Overclocking the GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z

The inclusion of 11GB of GDDR5X on the GTX 1080 Ti is great, and even at its stock 11Gbps bandwidth, it's more than enough for high-res gaming. Some games enjoy higher memory bandwidth numbers, which is where overclocking the GTX 1080 Ti GDDR5X comes into play.

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Off to MSI Afterburner I go, and I crank up the speeds of the GDDR5X while looping benchmarks in the background. I thought I'd push the GPU past 2050MHz, but I reached a wall at 2037MHz. Even with the voltage pushed all the way to 100% the GPU clock couldn't get above 2040MHz on my sample without failing. The entire time, even with voltages at 100% increase, the MSI GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z was running at 65C maximum - the fans, at 49% (1250RPM or so).

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I could overclock the hell out of the GDDR5X, though... where I hit 6000MHz (up from 5500MHz) and providing us with 12Gbps (up from 11Gbps). At 12Gbps, we have 528.9GB/sec of memory bandwidth, which is massive considering even HBM1 on the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X had 512GB/sec of memory bandwidth... and it was freakin' HBM.

GDDR5X is a monster in the memory bandwidth department, and it shows when you push it past 12Gbps and reach nearly 530GB/sec of memory bandwidth.

NVIDIA locks down the Pascal-based GP102 pretty damn well under GPU Boost 3.0, which is why there needs to be unlocked voltages to push past 2050MHz on the GTX 1080 Ti. This is where the LN2 mode switch, an exclusive on the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z, comes into play. Overclockers using LN2 could flick this switch, and possibly see large gains in the OC headroom on the GP102 chip.

If they do, I'll do a follow-up piece on LN2 overclocking and its additional performance and GPU overclocking headroom.

Final Thoughts

MSI's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is the graphics card I've been waiting for: my most anticipated custom GTX 1080 Ti, and it has delivered in every way possible. It's one of the best-looking graphics cards I've ever seen, with impressive performance at all resolutions, and so many other little things that make it unique.

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There's no denying it, the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is one of the best looking, and best-performing GTX 1080 Ti cards you can buy.

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At the end of the day, MSI has designed its new GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z for overclocking. There are only 3000 of them being made, so it's a limited run. You wouldn't want to buy this 'just because' it's the new LIGHTNING Z from MSI unless you wanted a boutique, near 3000-in-1 in the world graphics card. LN2 users are going to scoop these things up to break world OC records and some.

If you have a 1440p or 4K display, or better yet a 34-inch UltraWide with its native 3440x1440 resolution, the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z is perfect. It can crank out 4K 60FPS easily, and 100FPS+ at 2560x1440 and even 3440x1440 depending on the game. I'd love to get two of these in SLI for some LIGHTNING Z multi-GPU action... which is what I'll be emailing MSI about shortly after this review goes live. MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z in SLI would be a GPU combo battle for the ages.

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MSI has crafted exactly what the world expected: one of the best custom graphics cards ever made and a cherry on top of NVIDIA's growing list of kick ass GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards. MSI is a master in its own class, so if you weren't satisfied by their GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X, the new GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z has your name written all over it.

TweakTown award
Performance (overclocking, power)95%
Quality (build, design, cooling)95%
General Features (display outputs, etc)95%
Bundle, Packaging & Software95%
Overall95%

The Bottom Line: MSI. This is directed at you: thank you for making the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti LIGHTNING Z. It is a tour de force of engineering and performance, and I feel so limited by it without LN2. This is the gamers card, period. There are only 3000 made, so treasure it.

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DEDeutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf Amazon.de

Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering.

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