With the GTX 580 maturing like a fine wine, it has been interesting to see what NVIDIA’s board partners had in store for the market. We’ve already looked at Gigbayte’s Super Overclock and MSI’s Lightning and there even more custom cards on the horizon from companies like ASUS and EVGA. With this long list of ultra expensive cards making a splash, one would think that yet another overclocked GTX 580 would fail to make people sit up and take notice. However, the Lightning Xtreme Edition has caused a considerable amount of buzz within enthusiast circles ad with good reason too.
The XE is an extremely ambitious card since it combines the high speeds seen in the previous MSI Lightning with a massive amount of memory. Granted, this combination does come with an ultra high price of some six hundred bucks (or possibly more!) but that’s a price many will likely be willing to pay for what will likely be the highest performing GTX 580 available in North America.
From framerates to thermal numbers to its extremely quiet operation, the Lightning XE is a must have card for enthusiasts with some extra coin burning a hole in their wallets. However, the additional 1.5GB of GDDR5 doesn’t come without some sacrifices. MSI’s flagship card does tend to suffer a bit from the increase latency that comes with higher memory densities. The performance drop-off this caused against the standard Lightning wasn’t noticeable within games but it was notable nonetheless since it showed up in nearly every game. On flip side of this coin, the extra memory did allow the Lightning XE to post a few impressive gains in high resolution, high AA scenarios, particularly in the minimum framerate department.
Another issue we saw was a repeat of our past experiences with cards sporting non-reference memory allotments. Even in the case of the GTX 580, it seems like the underlying GF110 architecture runs out of gas far before the memory bandwidth limits are reached. In both Metro 2033 and Shogun 2 a 3GB framebuffer did allow for the game to run at ultra high detail settings but the experience was still a slideshow since the overclocked core was pushed well past its rendering capabilities. Granted, multi monitor resolutions would have likely seen the 3GB Lightning XE pulling off some impressive wins but we weren’t given a pair to play around with. Plus, spending $1200 or more on two of these cards is more than all but a few upper-crust enthusiasts are willing to spend.
In our opinion, MSI has a winner on its hands that likely won’t be eclipsed for some time. 3GB of memory may be dubious in its usefulness in some scenarios but with DX11 games demanding more and more memory resources, we’d highly recommend this type of layout for upcoming games. If ultra high resolution gaming isn’t your thing, the “vanilla” Lightning is out there but Xtreme Edition still is one hell of a card that’s well worth its asking price…but only to those who can absolutely afford it.