OC'ed GeForce GTX 480 Shoot-Out: MSI vs Gigabyte

MSI N480GTX Lightning

Like MSI’s other “Lightning” branded cards, the N480GTX Lightning seen here is anything but a “me too” reference card. In fact, MSI has modified everything from the PCB design, to frequencies, and obviously the cooler.



First and foremost, the MSI N480GTX Lightning is designed for overclockers. The card features MSI’s new, dual-fan Twin Frozr III cooler which also has a nickel-plated copper heatsink base, linked to a high-density array of aluminum cooling fins by five heat-pipes. The card also features over-voltage controls for the GPU, memory, and PLL, voltage check-points, voltage switches for instant voltage changes, and “CopperMOS” MOSFETS, which reportedly offer better cooling performance. In addition to the aforementioned items, the N480GTX Lightning also sports some “Proadlizer” (Prompt, Broadband, Stabilizer) capacitors which offer ultra-high capacitance ratings and have flat surfaces that can be more easily cooled by a heatsink / heatplate.


If you need further proof that MSI is targeting this card are the extreme overclocking crowd, get a load of this. The MSI N480GTX Lightning is also outfitted with dual-BIOS chips, one with a standard BIOS and another that solves the GTX 480’s “cold bug” when LN2 cooling is used. There is also an XtremeCool switch that supposedly solves that same “cold bug”. There is an OCP Unlock switch that allows for >320A of current as well, along with a PWM Clock Tuner switch that sets the PWM to 350MHz, from 260MHz to help minimize ripple.

Other interesting features of the MSI N480GTX Lightning include 16 total power phases (GPU=12, Memory=3, PLL/PWM=1), triple power connectors—two 8-pin and one 6-pin—and an output configuration that consists of dual, dual-link DVI outputs, an HDMI output, and a DisplayPort output. Reference GTX 480 cards have only 8 power phases, 6 for the GPU and two for memory; the PLL/PWM gets its power from the PCIe slot. We should also note that the third power connector on the card (the 6-pin connector) is dedicated to the on-board memory, which reportedly results in cleaner, more stable power delivery.

Reference GeForce GTX 480 cards are clocked at 700MHz (GPU), 1400MHz (shaders), and 924MHz (3696MHz effective) for the memory. This MSI card, however, pushes the GPU up to 750MHz, which in turn takes the shaders to 1.5GHz, and the memory hums along at a cool 1GHz (4GHz effective).


Included with the MSI N480GTX Lightning are the obligatory driver CD and user manual, an HDMI cable, a trio of PCIe power adapters, DVI-to-VGA and HDMI adapters, and a group of small connectors with positive and negative leads hanging off them. The connectors plug into receptacles on the card, and allow for easy probing with a multi-meter to check voltages.

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