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MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z Review

Cooling & Noise

Cooling System & Backplate

MSI went all-out with the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z's cooler. We might have guessed as much from that almost-1.7kg specification cited on the first page of our review.

Cooling System Overview
Type2.5-slot air cooler
Heat SinkNickel-plated copperHeat pipes on the back
Cooling FinsAluminum, horizontal orientationVery narrow configuration; larger cooling surface
Heat Pipes2x 8mm and 4x 6mmCopper composite material, nickel-plated
VRM CoolingVia interior cooling frame
RAM CoolingVia interior cooling frame
Fans2x 10cm (9.5cm rotor diameter)1x 9 m (8.5cm rotor diameter)14 rotor blades each, optimized for static pressureAll spin in same direction, semi-passive regulation
BackplateAluminum, blackenedIntegrated heat pipe for GPU on backIncludes back-lit LED frame

The backplate is an aesthetic add-on that also serves to stabilize the cooling frame on the board's other side. Inside the plate, where it faces the PCB, you'll find a horizontal heat pipe that MSI uses to claim active backplate cooling capabilities on its spec sheet. But this pipe is only touching two capacitors under the GPU package through a thermal pad. It doesn't really contribute to the card's cooling otherwise.

There is a cooling and mounting frame between the heat sink and PCB that somewhat resembles what EVGA's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 uses, particularly since MSI also employs a heat pipe to draw thermal energy away from the VRM array and distribute it across the plate. MSI adds to the plate's area with various protrusions that stick out from its surface.

The chokes and capacitors are equipped with thick thermal pads, allowing heat to move quickly through them and into the fin array. It would have been even more efficient to angle the cooling fins by 90° at this point, though, increasing the connecting surface area.

The flat, nickel-plated heat sink covers Nvidia's GPU. Six heat pipes are flattened and attached to the sink's back side, dissipating thermal energy as quickly as possible into the array of narrowly-spaced fins at their other ends. Four narrower 6mm pipes work quickly, complementing the two larger 8mm pipes with increased capacity.

The cooler's overall production quality is quite good. One factor contributing to this is that it spaces the heat pipes out, so they don't end up too close to each other. What results is good balance.

Fan Speeds and Noise

The fan curves indicate a conservative, volume-optimized setup. They might startle you on start-up, though. Our measurements indicate that the fans snap out of their semi-passive mode with a 2500 RPM impulse, their maximum speed! It should be possible to fix this initial howl with a firmware update, which we hope MSI follows through on.

Fan speed drops a little bit during our stress test, since GPU Boost isn't allowed to push the clock rate as high.

Fan Speed and Noise Output
Fan Speed (Open Test Bench, Maximum)1310 RPM
Fan Speed (Open Test Bench, Average)1196 RPM
Fan Speed (Closed Case, Maximum)1515 RPM
Fan Speed (Closed Case, Average)1278 RPM
Noise (Air Cooling, Maximum)38.8 dB(A)
Noise (Air Cooling, Average)35.4 dB(A)
Noise ( Air Cooling, Idle)0 dB(A)
Acoustic CharacteristicsLight motor noises <1 HzHardly any coil buzzing noiseAudible air/tearing noise under full load

This snapshot illustrates the entire frequency range of our laboratory measurements, adding some data to our subjective observations.

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