MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z Review

MSI's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z is a limited-edition flagship designed to show what the company's engineers can do. The result is an almost 1.7-kilogram behemoth that needs three expansion slots worth of space to deliver high-end air cooling.

The stock specifications that MSI cites may as well be a footnote. Anyone buying such an overbuilt thermal solution surely plans to overclock anyway. So, even though a base 1607 MHz and GPU Boost frequency of 1721 MHz in Lightning Mode already sounds aggressive, we're anticipating more.

Indeed, a high factory-set power target of 300W, in combination with binned GPUs (according to MSI) and top-end cooling guarantees high clock rates under load in real gaming workloads. In addition, MSI overclocks its GDDR5X memory a bit, which should help at high resolutions with anti-aliasing enabled.

Since the actual performance of any third-party card depends on the GPU Boost frequency it can sustain, and thus on cooling, power limits, and processor quality, any review that relies on bar charts is little more than a snapshot of a single specimen. That's why we're putting our emphasis on the actual implementation of each model. To that end, a lot of equipment goes into thoroughly documenting a graphics card's behaviors. If you'd like a peek at what goes into such an evaluation, check out our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB Review. It makes for a good baseline on which MSI builds.

Unboxing, Dimensions & Interfaces

MSI does bundle a number of accessories with its GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z, including a real three-slot bracket in matte black, various color highlights that allow for a bit of customization, and a selection of connectors for voltage monitoring.

Exterior

MSI employs a matte, graphite-colored plastic cover that's quite angular in appearance. Yet it's still fairly conservative as far as high-end graphics hardware goes. Those highlights can be changed out to taste; you also get a gold, red, and carbon-fiber-like set to match other components in your PC.

The milky-white plastic inlay provides RGB lighting on the front and back, which you can control through a phone-based app or MSI's Gaming App software. If you have other compatible components installed, their colors and effects can be synchronized. We don't mind the extra bit of flair, even if it does push the upper bounds of classy-looking.

The cooling fins are installed vertically, meaning heated air is pushed up, out the top and down, toward your motherboard. Three auxiliary eight-pin power connector line the card's top edge. They're rotated by 180° so the connector release mechanisms aren't trapped up against heat sink.

The complement of two DisplayPort 1.4-ready connectors, one dual-link DVI-D output, and two HDMI 2.0 ports reflect a growing acceptance of VR HMDs (which use HDMI) and the gradual phasing out of DVI. Of those five interfaces, a maximum of four can be used simultaneously in a multi-monitor setup.

A GPU-Z screenshot provides the most pertinent technical information, even if the GPU Boost values we observed were much higher than MSI's official specifications.


Nvidia
Titan X
(Pascal)
Nvidia
GeForce
GTX 1080 Ti FE
MSI
GTX 1080 Ti
Lightning Z
Nvidia
GeForce
GTX 1080 FE
Nvidia
GeForce
GTX 980 Ti
GPU
GP102
GP102
GP102GP104
GM200
CUDA Cores
3584
3584
35842560
2816
Base Frequency
1417 MHz1480 MHz
1582 MHz
1607 MHz1000 MHz
Boost Frequency
1531 MHz+1582 MHz+
1695 MHz
1733 MHz+1076 MHz+
Memory Size & Type
12GB GDDR5X
11GB GDDR5X
11GB GDDR5X8GB GDDR5X
6GB GDDR5
Die Size
471 mm²
471 mm²
471 mm²314 mm²
601 mm²
Process Technology
16nm
16nm
16nm16nm
28nm
Transistors
12 billion
12 billion
12 billion
7.2 billion
8 billion
Streaming Multiprocessors (SM)
28
28
28
20
22
GFLOPS (Base Clock)
10,157
10,609
11,340
8,228
5,632
Texture Units
224
224
224160
176
Texture Fill Rate
317.4 GT/s331.5 GT/s354.4 GT/s
257.1 GT/s214 GT/s
ROPs
968888
6496
Pixel Fill Rate
136 GPix/s130.24 GPix/s139.2 GPix/s
114.2 GPix/s116.7 GPix/s
Memory Data Rate
10Gb/s11Gb/s11Gb/s10Gb/s7Gb/s
Memory Bus
384-bit
352-bit
352-bit256-bit
384-bit
Memory Bandwidth
480 GB/s
484.4 GB/s
489.3 GB/s320 GB/s
336 GB/s
L2 Cache
3MB
2816KB
2816KB2MB
3MB
TDP
250W
250W
300W (PT)
180W
250W

Test System & Measurement Methods

We explained our test system and methodology in How We Test Graphics Cards. If you want to learn more about the procedures we're using in today's review, have a look at that story. In the time since it was published, we also upgraded our CPU and cooling system to rule out any possible host processing bottlenecks.

Here's a short summary in table-form to provide a quick overview:

Test System
SystemIntel Core i7-6900K @ 4.3 GHz
MSI X99S XPower Gaming Titanium
Corsair Vengeance DDR4-3200
1x 1TB Toshiba OCZ RD400 (M.2, System SSD)
2x 960GB Toshiba OCZ TR150 (Storage, Images)
be quiet Dark Power Pro 11, 850W PSU
Windows 10 Pro (All Updates)
Cooler
Alphacool Eisblock XPX
Alphacool Eiszeit 2000 Chiller
2x be quiet! Silent Wings 3 PWM (Closed Case Simulation)
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut (Used when Switching Coolers)
Case
Lian Li PC-T70 with Extension Kit and Mods
Configurations: Open Benchtable, Closed Case
MonitorEizo EV3237-BK
Power Intake
Contact-free DC Measurement at PCIe Slot (Using a Riser Card)
Contact-free DC Measurement at External Auxiliary Power Supply Cable
Direct Voltage Measurement at Power Supply
2x Rohde & Schwarz HMO 3054, 500MHz Digital Multi-Channel Oscilloscope with Storage Function
4x Rohde & Schwarz HZO50 Current Probe (1mA - 30A, 100kHz, DC)
4x Rohde & Schwarz HZ355 (10:1 Probes, 500MHz)
1x Rohde & Schwarz HMC 8012 Digital Multimeter with Storage Function
Thermography
1x Optris PI640 80Hz Infrared Camera + PI Connect
Real-Time Infrared Monitoring and Recording
Acoustics
NTI Audio M2211 (with Calibration File, Low Cut at 50Hz)
Steinberg UR12 (with Phantom Power for Microphones)
Creative X7, Smaart v.7
Custom-Made Proprietary Measurement Chamber, 3.5 x 1.8 x 2.2m (L x D x H)
Perpendicular to Center of Noise Source(s), Measurement Distance of 50cm
Noise Level in dB(A) (Slow), Real-time Frequency Analyzer (RTA)
Graphical Frequency Spectrum of Noise

MORE: Best Graphics Cards

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21 comments
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  • samer.forums
    20% more performance for 100% more price ?

    no ty .. I can GET 2x SLI GTX 1080 ti for the same price.
    1
  • mahanddeem
    Nice 1080ti, I had an msi 680 Lightning and it was the greatest gpu I ever had, and I had like 20 gpus thought the years.
    0
  • TMTOWTSAC
    After allowing for driver improvements since the review, the final result looks an awful lot like a Titan XP with maybe an extremely mild OC. Or a stock Titan XP in an 18C room rather than a 20C room. For $200 more.
    0
  • Gam3r01
    Anonymous said:
    20% more performance for 100% more price ?

    no ty .. I can GET 2x SLI GTX 1080 ti for the same price.


    Well, thats not really the point is it?
    Nobody buys a Lightning card because its affordable, you buy it because its a Lightning card.
    -1
  • Sam Hain
    $2K for??? There are several "high-end" Ti's in the $700 range (on air) that run better specs than this overpriced card and run same or better benches.

    What is the purpose of this card, LOL.
    1
  • redgarl
    Remember about the line, no bad products, just bad price... well this is the case. The price is just ridiculous.

    I cannot believe you gave an Award to this. So basically any overpriced piece of hardware deserve an award by the same logic.

    Also, you never talk about reliability or engineering flaws. For example, you gave that piece of garbage an award...

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-nvidia-geforce-gtx-1080-graphics-cards,4725-4.html

    Just take a look at this from a fellow user and me... you guys cannot even point out these simple issues and give feedback about the manufacturers design quality.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/answers/id-3547768/evga-ftw-1080-caught-fire.html
    -1
  • jasonelmore
    This card does not even match the Asus ROG Poseidon's base clocks nor boost clock.. So basically your paying $2K for the cooler
    -1
  • Lasselundberg
    why are the charts only stock nvidia stuff and none of the competitions overclocked cards.....why is there a stupid video on all pages i hate it....why is there a stupid email popup every time i visit this site. tomshardware i bid you goodbye i have been with you since the beginning, but all the spam video's and popups...and worst of all comparisons thats useless....bye
    1
  • derekullo
    For the most part you can always ignore the seemingly helpful prices that Tom's shows in the big green stickers.

    The price of the card is not $2000.

    Bit-tech did a review of the card and mentioned they bought it for $870.

    https://www.bit-tech.net/reviews/tech/graphics/msi-geforce-gtx-1080-ti-lightning-z-review/1/

    When sites sell out of the cards they remove the price from the page making the overpriced $2000 cards the only ones left to actually advertise, hence the price grabber code pulling $2000 and saying that is the price.


    If you dig deep enough you can find the actual vendor Tom's is talking about, Ecotest with 33 whole reviews over the past year, that sells it for $2000 hoping some one will inadvertently hit purchase.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B074DKRWG3/ref=dp_olp_new_mbc?ie=UTF8&condition=new
    1
  • Artakra
    I simply cannot imagine something of this weight and width is a good thing to be hanging off your PCI bridge...

    Ill pass thanks. And take just about any other similarly spec'ed 1080ti.
    0
  • ericallanbrooks
    Anonymous said:
    20% more performance for 100% more price ?

    no ty .. I can GET 2x SLI GTX 1080 ti for the same price.


    My 1080ti asus turbo is clocking higher than this.
    1
  • mapesdhs
    Scan in the UK has the card listed for 888 UKP (though awaiting an ETA). Not exactly the $2K the article mentions, but still kinda nuts compared to other 1080 Ti options. Amazon UK lists it for a distinctly silly 950 UKP but not yet available.

    Ian.
    0
  • poochiepiano
    Anonymous said:
    Remember about the line, no bad products, just bad price... well this is the case. The price is just ridiculous.

    I cannot believe you gave an Award to this. So basically any overpriced piece of hardware deserve an award by the same logic.

    Also, you never talk about reliability or engineering flaws. For example, you gave that piece of garbage an award...

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-nvidia-geforce-gtx-1080-graphics-cards,4725-4.html

    Just take a look at this from a fellow user and me... you guys cannot even point out these simple issues and give feedback about the manufacturers design quality.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/answers/id-3547768/evga-ftw-1080-caught-fire.html


    How exactly would you expect them to predict that one or two cards would blow up?
    0
  • FritzEiv
    Thanks for the comments on this. Based on the pricing and availability (or lack thereof), we've made a couple modifications, including removing the award for now. Performance wise, we still think it's a stellar product. But if you can't buy it, or buy it at a reasonable price, it makes sense to withhold an award.
    0
  • mr0000000000
    Give the award to the almost-the-same but significantly cheaper Lightning X.
    0
  • mapesdhs
    Anonymous said:
    You can find all msi hardware products with instant quote with reasonable prices at
    https://www.asap-ittechnology.com/manufacturer/msi/


    You would say that. ;D
    0
  • Danra
    This card is high quality, however, I am waiting on the next generation high endvideo card. If that does not perform well at 4K and less than 300 watts. I will wait for generation after generation until I am unable to play or die of old age. There is no use for me to upgrade to 4K and get a video card that is sub-par or uses 350+ watts.
    0
  • mapesdhs
    Danra, if The Good Old Gamer is right about where the GPU industry is heading (he does make some good points), then you could be waiting a very long time.

    Ian.
    0
  • TMTOWTSAC
    Power wise, the 1080 ti is practically there now. Assuming the next generation transitions either to HBM2 or GDDR6 you're well below that power threshold even without another process shrink. Performance wise, who knows what game developers have coming down the pipeline.
    0
  • altandmain
    Igor, the Lightning X and other variants are more widely available. The Z variant had only 3,000 made, which is why it is not available.

    That said, even those are at times, out of stock. Before taxes, I paid about the equal to $820 USD each for 2, which is not all bad, and when overclocked, they do as well, since they have the same hardware.

    I think that was worth mentioning in your article.
    0