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MSI R6970 Lightning 2GB
Join the community - in the OCAU Forums!
Date 29th March 2011
Author DiGiTaL MoNkEY
Editor James "Agg" Rolfe
Manufacturer MSI

Introduction, Package, Features

Today we bring you the latest and most extreme HD 6970 that MSI has to offer. Labelled the "Lightning," it brings a completely custom PCB design and features MSI's Power4 architecture, including an 18 power phase design, independent memory power, CopperMOS mosfets for higher current capacity and quality Proadlizers to optimise power supply and increase overclocking capabilities. All this is topped off by their latest Twin Frozer III cooling solution and full-featured Afterburner overclocking software. So let's get into it!

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The MSI HD 6970 Lightning measures in at approximately 310 millimetres in length (12.2 inches) including the metal shroud (PCB is approximately 280mm), and should be used with a minimum of 650W or greater power supply. Cooling is provided by a MSI custom dual fan design, this combined with five heatpipes and large aluminium fin array allows for efficient heat transfer from the HD 6970 graphics processor core.

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As with the majority of new 6000-series graphics cards it features support for AMD's Eyefinity multi-display technology, AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP), HD3D technology, CrossFireX, PowerTune power management technology and Microsoft DirectX 11 game support. It also supports UVD 3, a set of dedicated video playback accelerators and video quality enhancements, as well as Dual-stream HD (1080p) playback support. More information about these technologies can be found here (PDF).

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Inside the box we find a quick user's guide and a more detailed manual for the features and general requirements of the video card. A software and driver disc for installation is also included. Two PCI-Express 6-pin to 8-pin power connectors are present, as well as a DVI to VGA and mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort converter. One neat and unique feature is the three short black and red cables that connect to the three voltage monitoring plugs at the end of the card, allowing you to use a multimeter or similar device to keep an eye on the voltages directly.

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In terms of the display outputs on the back of the card, MSI's HD 6970 Lightning conforms to the AMD reference design. Two mini-DisplayPort, one HDMI and two DVI ports are featured by default. This configuration allows up to four monitors to be used when two DVI and two mini-DisplayPort connectors are utilised, without the need of a second graphics card.

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On the top of the card you'll see a set of CrossFireX connectors. Unlike mainstream video cards such as the 6870 and 6850, the 6970 allows two, three and four-way CrossFireX with supporting motherboards, just like we find on AMD's reference design. At the end of the card there are a pair of 8-pin PCI-Express power connectors to make sure the card is adequately fed when overclocking.

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Three voltage check points for the GPU, Memory and PLL (PCI-Express interface) are present on the edge of the card, and as mentioned earlier, MSI include a set of cables that you can attach easily to your multimeter (not provided) for accurate voltage monitoring while benchmarking or volt-modding. In addition to those voltage check points, MSI include their own dual-BIOS technology as originally seen with reference HD 6970's, but this time they've included their own second BIOS setting that increases the PowerTune range (2.5x) and maximised the Catalyst Control Centre overclocking limit with a click of a button.

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To complement the voltage adjustment available in software, MSI include Mem Voltage, GPU Voltage, PWM Clock Tuner and OCP Unlocker switches near the end of the card to help tune PWM clock ripple elimination, instantly adjust voltages without delay, and remove overclock protection for a variety of extreme overclocking scenarios. In addition, multiple NEC-Tokin 0D108 Proadilizer chips have been added to handle decoupling at higher frequencies, while also reducing electrical impedance and reducing space taken by the usual bank of capacitors that are required for decoupling.

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On the power delivery front, the MSI HD 6970 Lightning includes a total 18 power phases, with a row of 14 red and green bright LED's, each representing one of the 14 GPU PWM phases; over double the amount of phases a standard reference design HD 6970 includes (6 phases). The remaining phases take care of the memory (3 phases) and PCI Express bus power (1 phase), and due to the significant increase in power delivery MSI's engineers needed to increase the PCB size as pictured at the start of this review.

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One of the most obvious ways that MSI's card differs from the reference cards, apart from the PCB, is the cooling system. The card sports MSI's own next-generation TwinFrozr III thermal cooling solution with five heatpipes to transfer the heat load, via a nickel-plater copper base, to a high-density aluminium heatsink which is cooled by two 9cm PWM controlled fans.

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Many users are now familiar with MSI's Afterburner software that is developed in partnership with the people that created RivaTuner. This software works with the video card to allow for the adjustment of the core (GPU), memory and PCI-Express (PLL) voltages as well as the usual core and memory frequencies and monitoring capabilities in a single software package.

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All original content copyright James Rolfe.
All rights reserved. No reproduction allowed without written permission.
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