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MSI N275GTX Lightning Squanders Functionality

Radeon HD 5770, Radeon HD 4890, And GeForce GTX 275 Overclocked
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Click the image below to launch the image gallery of the MSI GeForce GTX 275 Lightning.

In order to better explain this page's title, it helps to go back and compare MSI’s current Lightning model with its GeForce GTX 260 version (we'll go ahead and do that for you in a moment). For now, let’s examine what the NGTX275 Lightning brings to the table. For starters, the card sports a cooler with two 75mm fans. Thanks to this departure from the reference design, the card is actually quieter than the standard models, despite the fact that it offers better performance. MSI has also equipped the card with read points. with which you can measure the GPU and memory voltage. This model doesn’t come with an Air Panel. Instead, all overclocking is handled through a utility called Lightning Afterburner.

That brings us to the card’s weaknesses. The Lightning Afterburner tool lacks a separate setting for shader frequency, which is a painful omission. Unlike ATI cards, where the shader clock is sync'ed to the GPU frequency, Nvidia cards can benefit greatly from selective tweaking in this area, squeezing out additional performance. Another point of feedback: whenever it is launched, MSI’s overclocking utility shows a pop-up, warning users that employing the software to overclock the graphics card may damage the hardware. An overclocked OC Edition that cautions users about overclocking? This is a strange brand of logic verging on the schizophrenic.

While it may sound like we’re splitting hairs here, this isn’t the case. That pesky pop-up provides no information at all. It doesn’t explain that the warranty may be voided (or, indeed, what that may mean), nor does it tell you what range of frequencies MSI considers safe and acceptable (or even covered by the company's guarantee). What’s more, while memory speed is capped at 1,200 MHz, the tool lets you set the GPU core to a completely unrealistic 1,000 MHz. Thus, what was a cool feature on the GTX 260 Lightning turns into a feature that tempts fate (and a voided warranty).

As an OC edition, the NGTX275 Lightning comes factory-overclocked. While Nvidia’s specifications call for 644/1,404/1,134 MHz (GPU/shader/memory) settings, MSI sets its card to 700/1,404/1,150 MHz in the card’s BIOS. Thus, the Lightning doesn’t rely on a driver for its pre-overclocked speeds. The Lightning Afterburner tool comes with three presets called Default, Power Saving, and Game, with Game corresponding to the factory overclocked frequencies. Default, meanwhile, sets the card to Nvidias reference clock speeds, basically underclocking the OC card. Again, MSI’s little pop-up comes back to haunt us. If you don’t need the card running at full speed and want to set it to Power Saving or Default speeds (or even just launch the card’s fan speed utility), up comes the alert message warning users of possible damage to their hardware (when underclocking, no less). We wonder what less experienced users will make of this.

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