When it comes to graphics cards, MSI has established quite a reputation with its Hawk and Lightning series. The Twin Frozr cooler on these cards particularly has caught our eye for being quiet and efficient at its task. It's exactly why we have high hopes for MSI's latest twist on its highest end GeForce GTX 580 card, the Lightning Xtreme.
Physically, the card isn't too different from MSI's N580GTX Lightning. It has the same Twin Frozr III cooler with dual 90mm fans that takes up two expansion slots. Except that the fins on the Xtreme's cooler start off as blue but gradually changes to white as the graphics card heats up. It's intended to be a instant visual indicator of the graphics card's operating temperature.
These two fans also have a dust removal technique - the fans will spin up opposite of its usual rotational direction during startup for around 30 seconds before resuming its normal direction. Apparently this will help the fins shake off any accumulated dust.
The other major change is the presence of 3GB of DDR5 memory, twice that found on the typical GeForce GTX 580. We aren't sure if that's the right move given that the amount of memory seems excessive at this moment. However, we'll be testing that later in the performance benchmarks.
Befitting its high-end 'Extreme' status, this graphics card also includes features that will find favor with enthusiasts, like voltage check points and special switches that will allow overclockers armed with liquid nitrogen to go beyond the safe voltage limits. Of course, the 16-phase power delivery system will help with the overclocking, aided by NEC's Proadlizers that stabilize the power signal, which is something that we have seen on other high-end graphics cards.
As for the clock speeds on the Lightning Xtreme, the core comes in clocked at 832MHz, with the 3GB of memory running at 4200MHz DDR. These are the same clocks as the Lightning GTX 580 from MSI. In short, the Xtreme has doubled the memory on MSI's original Lightning, while introducing a tweaked version of its excellent Twin Frozr III cooler. But will that be enough for MSI to fend off the competition, like ASUS' recent ROG version of the GTX 580?