N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout

MSI has cranked up the quality dial with the connectors of the N480GTX Lightning, as its DVI, Display Port and HDMI connectors are all gold plated. It certainly looks tasty but it's simply a fancier way of preventing corrosion, which isn't a killer factor with video connectors. We suppose you could always pawn the connectors off for cash if the card dies post-warranty.


Along the top of the PCB there are three small white sockets for voltage probes, next to them is a BIOS selection switch. The card features a pair of BIOS chips with one BIOS designed specifically for extreme cooling that 'fixes' cold boot, cold slow and thermal shutdown bug issues, according to MSI.

MSI N480GTX Lightning Preview N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout MSI N480GTX Lightning Preview N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout
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The OC BIOS is used in conjunction with four teeny-tiny switches on the back of the card to unlock the extreme voltage options. These include turning off over-current protection from 320A to a massive 600A, and also enabling extra GPU and memory voltage and PWM clock frequency. This is combined with MSI's use of 'High-c' Tantalum capacitors and four Proadlizer's that offer massive charge capacity with low ESR (electrical signal noise). These things don't come cheap.

These additions do set the N48GTX Lightning apart from the reference design and at MSI's recent MOA overclocking competition the winning team were hitting 1,400MHz core frequency. Clearly that's the result of some very hard work done by MSI's engineers, but for you and I using its stock Twin Frozr III, these technical investments are about as useful as wearing a chocolate suit to protect you against lava.

MSI N480GTX Lightning Preview N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout
MSI's power design requires all three power connectors

You'll notice that the N480GTX Lightning has three power connectors too: two 8-pin and one 6-pin. They are all required. It's a design choice by MSI to completely separate the PCB power and ground areas, as the card needs grossly more power under the extreme OC conditions. We do wonder about the comparative efficiency when the card is used normally though.

MSI N480GTX Lightning Preview N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout MSI N480GTX Lightning Preview N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout
The heatpipes are all soldered in, but they are not directly in contact with the core

Underneath the heatsinks is a 6+1+1-phase design (MSI calls it a 12+3+1-phase but it's marketing embelishment) 12+3+1 phase design powered by a row of DirectFETs similar to those we've already seen on Asus Immensity motherboard.

Addendum 20th September 2010: MSI has contacted us to inform us that it's really actually a 12+3+1 phase design. Despite only having six physical driver ICs, the ICs used are 'uP6282' Dual Phase MOSFET Driver ICs that can drive two adjacent phases together. It's not a doubled up design. Ahh, everyday's a school day!

Again, for normal overclocking with the TwinFrozr III we'll likely hit the thermal limit before actually seeing the real benefit of this design. With that in mind, we have to question why we'd pay for extra hardware we'll never use. If MSI wanted the TwinFrozr III cooler to be for everyone, we'd expect a card with a standard PCB and a TwinFrozr III cooler.

MSI N480GTX Lightning Preview N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout MSI N480GTX Lightning Preview N480GTX Lightning PCB and Layout
Click to enlarge

We accept this pimped-up practice works though, as like other companies (the Gigabyte's X58A-UD9 and Asus' Rampage III Extreme come to mind), MSI has realised there are enough people out there with money to buy such ludicrously over-specced products.

Even so, our geeky side is still very impressed with what MSI has done to the GeForce GTX 480. The N480GTX Lightning has more stuff than the vast majority of us will ever use, but that's never stopped people wanting over-engineered kit before. At least MSI only wants $550 for one, rather than $1,000.
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