10 years of LIGHTNING

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This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Lightning series of graphics cards. A name that has become synonymous with record-breaking performance, bold innovations and the very best in graphics card technology.
 
The origins of the Lightning series start way back in 2008 when MSI hosted its first MOA (Master Overclocking Arena) event. In those days overclocking was gaining popularity fast as more people found out that hardware could be pushed far beyond its out-of-the-box limits. MOA 2008 was the first in a series of worldwide extreme overclocking competitions, drawing some of the worlds most talented overclocking enthusiasts and giving them a stage. On this occasion they were overclocking the living daylights out of the N9800GTX+.
 
 
It was during this event that some of the participating overclockers suggested to create a graphics card specifically designed for extreme overclocking. With all the proposed changes, the resulting card would be physically larger because of all the additional components, heavier due to the additional cooling, far more expensive because of the previous reasons, but above all way more powerful when it comes to reaching performance levels higher than anything before it. So of course, we said: Let's do this!
 

GTX 260 Lightning (2008)

Later that year the very first MSI Lightning graphics card was introduced: GTX 260 Lightning.
 
This was the first graphics card to feature the famous TWIN FROZR thermal design in the age where the vast majority of graphics cards were cooled by a single fan. The first TWIN FROZR cooler provided much more thermal headroom for the graphics card to reach higher levels of performance. It also introduced the physical V-Checkpoints on the PCB for direct voltage measuring without having to rely on software which requires you to boot into an Operating System. There was even a special 'Black Edition' which included a touch panel called AirForce panel which could be either table-mounted or built into a drive bay on your desktop.

The AirForce panel offered hardware-level access to things like GPU and memory frequencies and even voltages. The GTX 260 Lightning was the first GTX 260 graphics card to break the 1.1 GHz clockspeed barrier.
 

GTX 275 Lightning (2009)

After this initial success, the GTX 275 Lightning was introduced in 2009. It featured a number of innovations like the second generation of the TWIN FROZR cooler, the biggest heatsink in the industry at the time and a custom PCB with more power phases and higher quality components. This made the card incredibly stable under the exceptional stresses of extreme overclocking and enabled it to outperform the higher positioned GTX 285 models. Smashing the 3DMark Vantage World record, then held by a GTX 285 by quite a big margin!
 

MSI Afterburner (2009)

Along with the GTX 275 Lightning we released a software solution that offered overclocking options like clockspeed & voltage tweaking. The software would become legendary in its own right, you might know it by the name of MSI Afterburner.



R5870 Lightning (2010)

2010 saw the first ever Radeon-based (still ATI in those days) Lightning card with the R5870 Lightning. On the outside it looks relatively similar as the previous Lightning with the same TWIN FROZR II cooler, though if you look closely you'll notice the shroud design is mirrored. The R5870 Lightning featured a fully redesigned PCB with a massive 15 power phases, higher quality components and the V-check points. One of the innovations on this card were a row of 12 LEDs on the back of the PCB which indicated the activity of the power phases. At a 2010 MSI/AMD overclocking contest, the R5870 Lightning managed to break 6 world records while achieving an incredible 1485MHz GPU clockspeed.
 



GTX 480 Lightning (2010)

2010 was the first year that Lightning struck twice with the GTX 480 Lightning launching in October, featuring NVIDIA's latest flagship GPU. This card featured an all new TWIN FROZR III cooling with a very striking black & red external design. Exceptional cooling was required because the GTX 480 GPU was infamous for running very hot. A completely redesigned PCB with 16 power phases and 2 x 8-pin + 1 x 6-pin PEG connectors helped this card to push new limits as the second card (after the R5870 Lightning) to hit 1450MHz.

 

R6970 Lightning & GTX 580 Lightning (2011)

2011's Lightning yield started with the simultaneous launch of the GTX 580 Lightning and AMD-based R6970 Lightning. Both cards used a modified version of the powerful TWIN FROZR III cooler, keeping the GTX 580 pretty cool and effectively making the R6970 completely silent. They also used a new and custom fan design by the name of Propeller Blade which doubled the amount of airflow compared to conventional fans. The outward design of both cards adopted a look more akin to the TWIN FROZR II instead of the bold design of the GTX 480 Lightning.
 
The R6970 was the first Lightning card to feature GDDR5 VRAM memory while both cards introduced the dual vBIOS concept with a physical switch on the card for easy access.
 
From the two cards, it was especially the GTX 580 Lightning that managed to break overclocking world records, claiming the top spots for 3DMark 11, 3DMark Vantage and Unigine Heaven.
 
 


GTX 580 Lightning Xtreme Edition (2011)

Although the GTX 580 Lightning managed to break plenty of records, there is always room to improve. Enter the GTX 580 Lightning Xtreme Edition which was launched during Computex in 2011. To be honest here, apart from a higher factory memory clock the changes on the Xtreme Edition were relatively minor or superficial. But keeping true to the spirit of Lightning, innovations were applied. For example, when started the fans would first spin 'the wrong way' for a few seconds in order to shake off any dust that might have settled on the blades. The Xtreme Edition also featured special versions of the Propeller Blade fans that were made from a material that would change color depending on the temperature.

 


R7970 Lightning (2012)

2012 was kicked off in convincing fashion with the AMD-based R7979 Lightning which showed off the brand-new TWIN FROZR VI thermal design in the same aggressive black & yellow theme that MSI overclocking motherboards were wearing. This was also the first Lightning to feature a backplate. Besides the new looks, this card featured an innovation called the GPU reactor. This little plug-in board would plug into the back of the PCB to enable a much higher amount of power to the GPU and reduce voltage ripple for a cleaner signal. Shortly after launch, the R7970 broke many OC world records, setting the highest GPU core clockspeed at 1800MHz and obliterating the leaderboards in benchmarks like 3DMark11 and 3DMark03.
 
   

GTX 680 Lightning (2012)

Later that year a very similar looking GTX 680 Lightning was introduced. Using the same black & yellow TWIN FROZR VI cooler to tame NVIDIA's GTX 680 flagship GPU. While on the backside you could connect the GPU Reactor to unlock voltage levels that are best left to professional overclockers who know how to keep it cool.
 



R7970 Lightning Boost Edition (2012)

About 6 months after launching the original Radeon HD 7970 (Tahiti XT) GPU, AMD introduced a revision known as the Tahiti XT2 which sported higher clockspeeds and improved performance. Building on the record breaking success of the R7970 Lightning, a revision was introduced using the Tahiti XT2 GPU and titled the R7970 Lightning Boost Edition.


 



GTX 770 Lightning (2013)

Everything slowed down a bit in 2013 with the global economy stagnating, which affected both NVIDIA and AMD's plans. With NVIDIA's introduction of the GTX 700 series, the Lightning series would remain green for that year. The GTX 770 Lightning was the first to strike with a very similar look to the GTX 680 Lightning that preceded it. In fact the only differences were found under the hood as the GTX 770 GPU was very much a GTX 680 on steroids with higher clockspeeds, higher voltages and using faster GDDR5 memory.

 



GTX 780 Lightning (2013)

NVIDIA's flagship GPU in early 2013 was the GTX 780, which was given the Lightning treatment and received an all new design. It was the first graphics card to be fitted with the now much more common Tri-Frozr thermal design, using three Propeller Blade fans that could be independently controlled. It even had some functional LEDs embedded into the side of the shroud which would change color based on the temperature of the GPU. The heatsink also had the first version of airflow control technology, which can now be found in almost all MSI graphics card heatsinks. This card featured an absurd 19 power phases and could be fitted with the GPU Reactor module for much higher power output to the GPU. On the day it launched the GTX 780 Lightning already held several top spots in the global benchmark ratings. It wasn't long until the big names in extreme overclocking did their thing and broke several records, making it the fastest GTX 780 in the world, by far.
 


R9 290X Lightning (2014)

In 2014 Lightning was back in red with the R9 290X which was released at the end of 2013. The R9 290X Lightning is the last and also the very best Radeon-based Lightning card to date. It used the same Tri-Frozr cooler as the GTX 780 Lightning, however under the hood it had a number of innovations that gave it a big edge. Most noticeably, a massive 20 power phases meant that this beast could handle more power than pretty much any other card. It also featured GDDR5 memory that was over-spec from AMD's product Advisory and then optimized by AMD engineers in Toronto. This card broke pretty much all the records worth breaking when it came out, it was insanely good.
 
 

GTX 980 Ti Lightning (2015)

Built around NVIDIA’s Maxwell flagship GPU, the GTX 980 Ti Lightning once again introduced a range of innovations. Starting with the cooling, it used a brand-new design of Tri-Frozr featuring three of MSI's unique TORX fans and a shroud that spelled OC in big yellow elements. This cooling made the GTX 980 Ti Lightning one of the most silent high-end graphics cards on the market. The PCB had 16 power phases with 60a rated MOSFET chips, which was double the number of phases of NVIDIA's reference design. This was the biggest and heaviest Lightning card to date, measuring 33cm in length and weighing in at 1365 grams. Upon launch, the GTX 980 Ti Lightning had already claimed several records and global first places on the leaderboards. It would continue to be the fastest GTX 980 Ti based graphics card on the market for quite a while.
 
 

GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z (2017)

After a 2-year interval, the GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z hit the scene based on NVIDIA's Pascal architecture. This new architecture was very different from previous ones as it imposed a few more restrictions on (extreme) overclocking in favor of a safer and more consistent end-user experience. Using a Tri-Frozr cooler with triple TORX 2.0 fans and over 1000 grams worth of heatsink, the GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z would keep the GPU well under 70 degrees with ease. The thermal design was so good in fact, that it beat several water-cooled models in tests. The aesthetics of this card received considerable attention with according to many "the best implementation of RGB LEDs" and you could even change the colored elements on the front of the shroud. Some notable innovations on this model were the infused heatpipe on the PCB heatsink and a heatpipe on the backplate, effectively making the backplate into a great big passive heatsink.
 
 

RTX 2080 Ti Lightning Z (2019)

In the year of the Lightning series' 10th anniversary, another green bolt came crashing down from the heavens to bring the RTX 2080 Ti Lightning Z. Built around NVIDIA’s Turing GPU, the PCB is of course completely custom with a very beefy 19 power phase design and triple 8-pin power PEG connectors. For this card the Tri-Frozr cooler was fitted with the new TORX 3.0 fans which kept the 2080 Ti core very cool under full load. On the outside the Mystic Light RGB LEDs are of course present, but completely new are the LEDs lighting the outer fans. They can flash with a variable frequency, giving a different visual effect per setting. On the side of the card is an OLED screen that can display real-time clockspeeds, temperatures, fan speeds, memory usage or custom animations. Another first is the backplate made entirely from a carbon fiber composite. This obviously looks very nice, but also adds a lot of strength to the overall card while being relatively lightweight. The latest Lightning stays true to the formula of providing a top-notch performance card with innovations and adds a big chunk of aesthetic flavor to the mix as well.
 
 

RTX 2080 Ti Lightning 10th Anniversary Edition (2019)

To celebrate 10 years of Lightning series, a special limited edition of the RTX 2080 Ti Lightning was created and shown at Computex 2019. Trading in the gold accents for a more distinguished silver for the occasion. There was even a one-of-a-kind Pink edition on display. Why you ask? Just because we wanted to see how it would look. Even if you're not one of the lucky few that were able to get your hands on a 10th Anniversary Edition Lightning, you can still enjoy a special Anniversary skin for MSI Afterburner. The Anniversary skin's design is based on the very first graphical interface of MSI Afterburner when it was released to support the GTX 275 Lightning.
 
 

Sources:

Other parts of the slideshow :

Part 1/4 : http://www.dailymotion.com/Xyala/video/x7g8np_master-overclocking-arena-2008-foto_tech
Part 2/4 : http://www.dailymotion.com/Xyala/video/x7g8sh_master-overclocking-arena-2008-foto_tech
Part 3/4 : http://www.dailymotion.com/Xyala/video/x7g8xc_master-overclocking-arena-2008-foto_tech
Part 4/4 : http://www.dailymotion.com/Xyala/video/x7g90x_master-overclocking-arena-2008-foto_tech
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