MSI R9 290X Lightning Review: The Right Way To Cool Hawaii

Technical Specs And Manual Overclocking

This high-end board comes factory-overclocked to 1080 MHz, so its stock performance should exceed competing Radeon R9 290X boards (remember from Radeon R9 290X Review: AMD's Back In Ultra-High-End Gaming that reference-class cards run at up to 1 GHz). The question is whether that advantage translates to real-world performance.

First, let's have a look at the factory specifications of the seven Radeon R9 290X boards we've tested already:

GPU Clock, in MHz
Memory Clock, in MHzMemory Bandwidth (GB/s)
Pixel Fillrate (GPixel/s)
Texture Fillrate (GTexel/s)
Asus R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5 R9 290X DirectCU II OC1050
Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290X1040
Gigabyte GV-R929XOC-4GD R9 290X Windforce OC1040
HIS R9 290X IceQ X² Turbo1060
MSI R9 290X Gaming 4G1040
MSI R9 290X Lightning
MSI R9 290X Lightning (Overclocked)

GPU-Z Screen Shot

Manual Overclocking

Let’s start this section on a good note, with a stable overclocking profile we can use through our review, posted up next to the card's stock settings. Because we don't have access to voltage settings, there's not a ton of headroom available, unfortunately. Hitting 1158 MHz was all the board could muster after increasing the power target to 50%. Any higher and the card simply wasn't stable. At 1165 MHz, it'd last a few minutes; the card could only handle a load at 1200 MHz for a few seconds.

Hence, we set the GPU clock to 1150 MHz and increased the memory clock to 1350 MHz. While higher memory clocks are possible, they do not result in further performance increases.

Clock Rates under Load, With and Without Manual Overclocking

We saw clock throttling in both cases, but only briefly, and it didn't appear to affect measurable performance.

Increasing the power target allows the GPU to overclock beyond 1100 MHz, where it remains stable enough to use daily.

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  • blackmagnum
    If it costs 750 bucks, it should come with water-cooling. Why the need to slap on a pound of metal to cool it if there was a more customer friendly way?
  • solix
    Unless I am mistaken you burn 3 slots with this guy. For how close this is to the Tri-x in thermals and acoustics, but with the loss of a slot and the added price, meh. Tri-x still seems like the best value proposition.
  • CaptainTom
    I just want to point out how silly the 780 Ti is priced. People, this card trades blows with the 780 Ti while giving you an extra GB of VRAM. It should cost at least as much as the 780 Ti. Or better yet, the other way around! ;)
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Unfortunately, in order to increase this card's GPU voltage, you have to register with MSI for a special license. This isn't given out freely; only professional overclockers can get their hands on it.

    Whoa, wait, what???
  • dscudella
    As of my post, the pricing on Newegg for the mentioned cards:

    MSI 290x Lightning $699.99 + $4.99 shipping
    Sapphire 290x Tri-X OC $649.99
    Sapphire 290x Tri-X $639.99
    Gigabyte 290x Windforce $579.99 ($549.99 after rebate)

    This makes the Lightning $125 ($155 after rebate) more expensive than the Windforce. MSI is really stretching the price here.
  • zzzaac
    $899 or 841 USD where i'm from for this card. Got to admit though, 3 slot cards are really unappealing for me.

    Got to agree that the Tri-X seems a better value proposition
  • cats_Paw
    A bit useless review:
    The main aspect of a GPU and its most important job is to make games run smooth.
    In this review there is only a Performance ratio chart. This does not give the important data at all.

    I dont care if that GPU has 80 or 85 FPS in farcry3, but I Do care if it has 25 or 30 on more demanding games/settings.
    Finally, this card seems like itsmissing its purpouse a bit.
    It has a huge heatsink, but dosent actually run cool or quiet.
    It has an OC that is decent but dosent increase performance that much.
    You could water cool that GPU for a similar price and get better performance in every aspect as long as you are willing to have a loop in your PC.
  • redgarl
    Where is your review of the Powercolor PCS+ R290x...? From all the review I have seen, not only they are cheaper, but perform better I from what I am seeing, smaller.
  • ubercake
    That "Certificate of Quality and Stability" is humorous...

    "I hereby declare this video card to be of the utmost quality and thereby further and henceforth declare this same electronic device to be 101% stable to the fullest of my capabilities to determine it as such. Sincerely, Your Mom".

    Definitely something to frame and hang on your wall above the monitor.
  • ewok93
    I feel like it would be much more cost effective to go with water cooling, it would definitely be much lighter. I may be wrong, though, as that heatsink is pretty freaking massive. It just seems like past a certain point, air cooling can only do so much, and can only take up so much space.

    If you're just going for overkill, I want to see one of these with phase change cooling. It can't cost that much more, can it?
  • admin$
    I used to be a huge fan of AMD and was excited for the 290x because of its performance for the price. But this card is slower and more expensive than the 780ti. I can't justify purchasing a slower card for more money just because I am loyal to the AMD brand. Sorry AMD, I just bought my asus direct cu ii gtx 780ti for 709$ at frys (they matched amazon). It was the right choice too. Probably the next to go will be OC'd 8350. :( Its just not the XP 3200+ days anymore.
  • rwinches
    As I read this Amazon showing $650

    Anyway 3 slots? No. But it looks good on you though.
  • Haravikk
    Personally I think that if you're getting into three-slot 1.5kg territory to air-cool a graphics card that you may as well switch to liquid cooling, especially for the price. I mean, for the extra cost of this limited edition you could get a cheaper R9 290X compatible with the Kraken G10 adaptor, and use that with any suitable all-in-one cooler. For around the same cost it should give you better, quieter cooling and a lot less stress on your poor motherboard.
  • forged
    that power drop might be similar to the unusual voltage drop that i observed with 780 Lightning. I didn't notice the effect on gaming though. It's just something not common to the other cards i have owned.
  • heero yuy
    so this thing is supposed to be good for overclocking and it has a huge possible power draw to facilitate that
    yet apparently in order to increase the voltage you need to be a professional overclocker in the eyes of MSI

    am I missing something here?
  • unknown9122
    What a monster.
  • geok1ng
    there is no reason to ditch VGA completely. A single DVI-I output would improve the compatibility of the card without changing the out layout too much. 2 DVI-D are a compromise, if not downright stupid.
  • ykki
    MSI needs to rethinking its marketing strategy
  • Steveymoo
    So ridiculously huge. And so expensive!!

  • Achoo22
    Why are there no 780 and 780TI boards in the sound and heat comparison charts?