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MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z Review

Our Verdict

Although we're not altogether satisfied with MSI's pricing and availability, an otherwise pristine product is absolutely convincing. In the German version of our review, which went live back in August, the Lightning Z card earned a rare Editor's Choice award. It's that good. But we can no longer confer that honor with so many other 1080 Tis out there readily available under $800.

For

  • High factory GPU Boost frequency
  • Very good thermal solution
  • Quiet fans
  • Hardly any coil whine
  • Lots of RGB effects to choose from
  • External sensors

Against

  • Power consumption
  • Near non-existent availability
  • Inaccessible pricing
  • Very heavy
  • High starting fan pulse
  • High power consumption

Features & Specifications

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

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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.

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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.

NvidiaTitan X (Pascal)NvidiaGeForce GTX 1080 Ti FEMSIGTX 1080 Ti Lightning ZNvidiaGeForce GTX 1080 FENvidiaGeForce GTX 980 Ti
GPUGP102GP102GP102GP104GM200
CUDA Cores35843584358425602816
Base Frequency1417 MHz1480 MHz1582 MHz1607 MHz1000 MHz
Boost Frequency1531 MHz+1582 MHz+1695 MHz1733 MHz+1076 MHz+
Memory Size & Type12GB GDDR5X11GB GDDR5X11GB GDDR5X8GB GDDR5X6GB GDDR5
Die Size471 mm²471 mm²471 mm²314 mm²601 mm²
Process Technology16nm16nm16nm16nm28nm
Transistors12 billion12 billion12 billion7.2 billion8 billion
Streaming Multiprocessors (SM)2828282022
GFLOPS (Base Clock)10,15710,60911,3408,2285,632
Texture Units 224224224160176
Texture Fill Rate317.4 GT/s331.5 GT/s354.4 GT/s257.1 GT/s214 GT/s
ROPs9688886496
Pixel Fill Rate136 GPix/s130.24 GPix/s139.2 GPix/s114.2 GPix/s116.7 GPix/s
Memory Data Rate10Gb/s11Gb/s11Gb/s10Gb/s7Gb/s
Memory Bus384-bit352-bit352-bit256-bit384-bit
Memory Bandwidth480 GB/s484.4 GB/s489.3 GB/s320 GB/s336 GB/s
L2 Cache3MB2816KB2816KB2MB3MB
TDP250W250W300W (PT)180W250W

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 GHzMSI X99S XPower Gaming TitaniumCorsair Vengeance DDR4-32001x 1TB Toshiba OCZ RD400 (M.2, System SSD)2x 960GB Toshiba OCZ TR150 (Storage, Images)be quiet Dark Power Pro 11, 850W PSUWindows 10 Pro (All Updates)
CoolerAlphacool Eisblock XPXAlphacool Eiszeit 2000 Chiller2x be quiet! Silent Wings 3 PWM (Closed Case Simulation)Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut (Used when Switching Coolers)
CaseLian Li PC-T70 with Extension Kit and ModsConfigurations: Open Benchtable, Closed Case
MonitorEizo EV3237-BK
Power IntakeContact-free DC Measurement at PCIe Slot (Using a Riser Card)Contact-free DC Measurement at External Auxiliary Power Supply CableDirect Voltage Measurement at Power Supply2x Rohde & Schwarz HMO 3054, 500MHz Digital Multi-Channel Oscilloscope with Storage Function4x 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
Thermography1x Optris PI640 80Hz Infrared Camera + PI ConnectReal-Time Infrared Monitoring and Recording
AcousticsNTI Audio M2211 (with Calibration File, Low Cut at 50Hz)Steinberg UR12 (with Phantom Power for Microphones)Creative X7, Smaart v.7Custom-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 50cmNoise Level in dB(A) (Slow), Real-time Frequency Analyzer (RTA)Graphical Frequency Spectrum of Noise


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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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • Gam3r01
    20297187 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply