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In the first months following the announcement of a new graphics card we can usually buy only a copy of the reference sample with stickers and accessories peculiar to the particular brand. This was also the case with the Radeon HD 6970 and HD 6950 cards released by AMD in late 2010. However, there was already a variety of custom-made products as soon as the spring of 2011. They feature more effective or less noisy coolers, custom PCBs with reinforced power circuitry, pre-overclocked GPU and memory frequencies, and gorgeous accessories with various extras. Among them we can name such products as Gigabyte GV-R697OC2-2GD, ASUS EAH6970 DCII/2DI4S/2GD5, HIS 6970 IceQ Turbo, PowerColor PCS+ HD6970 as well as the two products we are going to discuss today: MSI Radeon R6970 Lightning and VTX3D Radeon HD 6970 X-Edition.

Closer Look at MSI Radeon R6970 Lightning

The MSI Radeon R6970 Lightning comes in a large and colorful box that bears a picture of a supersonic jet caught in a lightning.

 

You can find a description of the product’s features and differences from the reference card on the spread of the box cover.

Bundled with the MSI Radeon R6970 Lightning are the following accessories:

  • Mini DisplayPort → DisplayPort adapter;
  • Two adapters from 6- to 8-pin connector;
  • CrossFireX bridge;
  • DVI → VGA adapter;
  • Three cables with contact pads for voltage monitoring;
  • CD disk with MSI drivers and utilities;
  • Installation manual;
  • Marketing booklet.

It’s rather odd that such an expensive graphics card comes without one or two recently released games which would make it even more appealing. It is priced at about $390 or some 40$ more than the recommended price of Radeon HD 6970 2GB. This product comes with a 3-year warranty on the territory of the USA and Canada and mostly 2-year warranties elsewhere.

MSI’s Lightning is impressive for its sheer size. Considering the size of the cooler casing, the card is 35 millimeters longer and 28 millimeters wider than the reference Radeon HD 6970. You should keep this in mind if you want to install an alternative cooler, especially a liquid cooling system, on it.

The card matches the reference sample in its height, so its dimensions are 308 x 125 x 41 millimeters. This is one of the largest single-processor graphics cards of our time.

MSI doesn’t indulge us when it comes to the card’s connectivity options. We have two DVIs, one HDMI and two mini-DisplayPorts here.

There is gold sputtering on the video connectors. Another external difference from the reference Radeon HD 6970 is that there are two 8-pin power connectors here instead of one 8-pin and one 6-pin connector. The R6970 Lightning also has two standard CrossFireX connectors.

The place for a BIOS switch is empty. There is another switch nearby that selects the operation mode for the graphics card and its cooler.

 

According to the user manual, setting it into the Performance position extends the adjustment range for the graphics card’s clock rates and voltages (in fact, the card just boots up using a second BIOS). However, this switch didn’t help us in overclocking. It can also be set into a third position but the card does nothing then. It doesn’t even boot up with the switch in that position.

 

There are also three connectors for measuring main voltages. They are going to be useful for serious overclockers.

Now let’s take a look at the MSI Radeon R6970 2GB Lightning without its cooler and the plate that covers its power components:

We can see that the power circuit is reinforced:

 

Instead of the reference Radeon HD 6970’s 9-phase circuit (6+2+1), the MSI card features as many as 18 power phases: 14 for the GPU, 3 for the memory chips and 1 for VDDCI. Coupled with high-quality Japanese capacitors, ultracapacitors from NEC and 10-layer PCB, this allows MSI to claim unprecedented stability and high overclocking potential. The PCB is indeed unique in this respect. No other maker has ever introduced anything like that although there is a lot of custom-made Radeon HD 6970s available on the market now.

The Cayman processor installed on our sample of the MSI card was manufactured on the 47th week of 2010 in Taiwan.

It is clocked at 940 MHz at a voltage of 1.175 V in 3D mode, which is 60 MHz (or 6.8%) higher than the GPU clock rate of the reference Radeon HD 6970. The frequency and voltage are lowered to 250 MHz and 0.9 volts in 2D mode. To remind you the Cayman specs, the GPU incorporates 1536 shader processors, 96 texture-mapping units, and 32 raster back-ends. The GPU die is 389 sq. mm large.

The MSI Radeon R6970 Lightning is equipped with 2 gigabytes of GDDR5 memory in eight FBGA chips from Hynix Semiconductor located on the face side of the PCB.

The memory chips are marked as H5GQ2H24MFR R0C. They have a voltage of 1.5 V and a frequency of 5500 MHz (but they are rated for 6000 MHz). There is no difference from the reference Radeon HD 6970 here. The memory clock rate is lowered to 600 MHz in 2D mode. The memory bus is 256 bits wide.

Here is what the GPU-Z utility reports about the MSI card:

 
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