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MSI Z77A-G45 & Lightning GTX680 Review

Rating: 9.0.

Many people will be heading into 2013 with plans of upgrading their system. MSI sent us their capable, but competitively priced Z77A-G45 Z77 motherboard and we are pairing it up with the monster Lightning GTX680 graphics card. We test a system using these components with the latest games and try our hand at some overclocking. Are these products worthy of your money?

MSI have released a wide range of products this year, from gaming laptops to high end motherboards and graphics cards. The Lightning graphics cards have always scored well in the Kitguru labs due to their pimped out cooling systems and generous ‘out of the box’ overclocked speeds. There is no shortage of competition today however from companies like ASUS, Club3D, Sapphire and VTX3D.

Nvidia’s GTX680 is a killer discrete solution so we have high hopes that the MSI GTX680 Lightning Edition is right up there with the best of them. At a whopping £439.99 inc vat there is no doubt that it will need to deliver the goods.

The MSI Z77A-G45 is not one of the high end boards in the current MSI range but the company have been confident that it will overclock well. At only £104.99 inc vat, it won’t break the bank either. We know most of our readers like to overclock so we find out if the lowish price means a compromise has to be made in regards to hitting high clock speeds. To thoroughly test the overclocking capabilities we will be using the Intel Core i7 3770k today.

We had planned to use Windows 8 for the operating system choice today, but our recent polls on both the main site and our Facebook page have shown a very low interest/adoption rate for the new Microsoft operating system. We may redress this in 2013, but for the time being we are sticking to Windows 7 64 bit for these reviews.

The Lightning GTX680 box follows MSI’s traditional design featuring a military aircraft. It is nothing out of the ordinary, but it should get the attention of the male audience.

The box features a certificate, manual and software disc, extra length SLI connector and various converter cables.

MSI have opted for a plain dark design with two yellow stripes to add some pizazz to the design. The PCB, cooler and fans are all black. The cooler is very large and is a dual slot design.

This card features the MSI ‘GPU reactor’ at the rear, which can be removed to expose a circuit board underneath. When the GPU reactor is in place, it glows blue when the card is operating.  This additional circuit board plugs into the main PCB and provides cleaner and higher power levels and reduces ripple characteristics for the GPU.

This board features MSI Military Class III components and features voltage check points.

The card is SLI capable in 2,3 and 4 way configurations. It demands power from two 8 pin PCI E connectors.

There are two DVI ports on the back, along with an HDMI and DisplayPort connector. This is a perfect configuration of digital video connectors and covers all bases.

This is a hefty cooler, comprising 5 thick heatpipes which are connected to a nickel plated base and two racks of aluminum fins on either side of the base. The PCB (including VRM’s and GDDR5 memory) is covered with a dedicated heatsink which receives air flow from the fans above. There is an overclocking bios system switch on the board as well.

An overview of the MSI Lightning GTX680 via GPUz.

Product Nvidia GTX580 Nvidia GTX590 Nvidia GTX680 MSI Lightning GTX680
Transistors 3000m 3000m x2 3540m 3540m
Core Clock 772mhz 607mhz 1006mhz+ 1111mhz+
(1176mhz boost)
Memory clock 1002mhz 855mhz 1502mhz 1502mhz
Shaders 512 512×2 1536 1536
ROPs 48 48×2 32 32
Memory amount
3GB 3GBx2 2GB 2GB
Memory bus width 384bit 384 bit x 2 256 bit 256 bit

The MSI Lightning GTX680 is overclocked out of the box, to a 1,111 mhz core clock speed (1,176mhz boost), the 2GB of GDDR5 is running at 1,502mhz (6.0Gbps effective). The GTX680 is a formidable graphics card with 32 ROP’s, 1536 CUDA cores and the 2GB of GDDR5 memory is connected via a wide 256 bit memory interface.

On this page we present some super high resolution images of the product taken with the 24.5MP Nikon D3X camera and 24-70mm ED lens. These will take much longer to open due to the dimensions, especially on slower connections. If you use these pictures on another site or publication, please credit Kitguru.net as the owner/source.

We like the MSI motherboard box artwork, its big and bold and colourful. The box focuses on their high grade ‘military class III’ components.

The bundle includes a back plate I/O panel, a user quick installation guide, full manual, software/driver disc, motherboard headers and two SATA cables.

The motherboard is built around a dark brown PCB with blue and black sockets and several heatsinks around the CPU socket. The board complies with the ATX form factor measuring 30.5 cm x 24.5 cm.

The Z77 platform is a dual channel memory architecture and there are four slots on this board which support up to 32GB.  The company list support as 2667*(OC)/ 2400*(OC)/ 2133*(OC)/ 1866*(OC)/1600/ 1333/ 1066 DRAM.

Internal I/O Connectors

– ATX 24-Pin power connector
– 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
– CPU x 1 / System x 4 FAN connectors
– 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
– 2 x Serial ATAII connectors
– 4 x Serial ATAIII connectors
– 3 x USB 2.0 connectors
– 1 x USB 3.0 connector
– 1 x Serial port connector
– 1 x TPM Module connector
– 1 x Front Panel Audio connector
– 1 x Front Panel connector
– 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
– 1 x Voice Genie connector (optional)
– 1 x MultiConnect Panel connector (optional)
– 1 x V-Check Points Set (optional)

The CPU socket has a two tone blue/black heatsink surrounding it, which helps to cool the VRM’s when overclocking. MSI use SFC and Solid Caps which have passed MIL-STD-810G certification.

There is a single 8 pin power socket for the CPU to ensure stability.

The PCB has a row of V-Check points which will appeal to the overclockers out there who like to push things to the limits.

• SATAII controller integrated in Intel Z77 chipset
– Up to 3Gb/s transfer speed.
– Supports four SATAII ports (SATA3~6) by Z77

• SATAIII controller integrated in Intel Z77 chipset
– Up to 6Gb/s transfer speed.
– Supports two SATAIII ports (SATA1~2) by  Z77

– SATA1~6 support Intel Rapid Storage Technology enterprise (AHCI/ RAID 0/ 1/ 5/ 10) by Intel Z77

The expansion slots are split into the following:

• 2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
• 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 slot
–  PCI_E7 supports up to PCIe 2.0 x4 speed
• 4 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots

Back Panel I/O Ports

– 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse port
– 1 x Clear CMOS button
– 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF-out port
– 1 x Optical S/PDIF-out port
– 4 x USB 2.0 ports
– 2 x USB 3.0 ports
– 1 x RJ45 LAN Jack
– 1 x 6 in 1 audio jack
– 1 x HDMI® port with max. resolution up to 1920×1200 @60Hz
– 1 x DVI-D port with max. resolution up to 1920×1200 @60Hz
– 1 x VGA port with max. resolution up to 2048×1536 @75Hz

On this page we present some super high resolution images of the product taken with the 24.5MP Nikon D3X camera and 24-70mm ED lens. These will take much longer to open due to the dimensions, especially on slower connections. If you use these pictures on another site or publication, please credit Kitguru.net as the owner/source.

MSI are using a very clean UEFI style bios with six separate subsections. Main settings, Overclocking Settings, ECO energy saver settings, Browser, Flash and Live Update utilities and Password Security.

The main settings panel gives a brief overview of the system alongside SATA, CPU and memory configurations.

There are a series of submenus within the main ‘Settings’ panel, as shown above.

The boot configuration is always one of the first places to visit, especially if you are installing the operating system from a USB bluray drive, like we are.

An overview of the overclock setting panel. We are using Corsair Dominator 2,666mhz memory and the Z77A-G45 has defaulted to 1,333mhz, a safe first boot option.

The ECO energy savings panel shows the PC health status and some options for fine tuning power saving settings.

We adjusted the memory settings to use the XMP profile, as shown above. A quick reboot and the system was running at native 2,666mhz memory timings of 10-12-12.

Overclocking with the MSI Z77A-G45 was extremely straightforward. We pushed the Intel Core i7 3770k to 4.8ghz with 1.3 volts and set the VDROOP to +100% for added stability. It really was as simple as that. We have used this particular processor in many reviews and this is the limit with a modest voltage boost, ideal for a 24/7 configuration.

System validation is available over here. The memory was running at 2,666mhz (checked by CPUz), although the online validation showed 2,400mhz.

We test today and compare some of the results against a variety of systems we have reviewed in the past. For the gaming section of the review we compare this MSI system against our long term overclocked Core i7 970 gaming rig, using the same MSI Lightning GTX680 system.

Main Test System:

Processor: Intel Core i7 3770k

Motherboard: MSI Z77A-G45
Cooler: Corsair H100

Memory: 16GB Corsair Dominator Platinum 2,666mhz

Graphics Card: MSI Lightning GTX680
Power Supply: Corsair 850W
Optical Drive: Asus BluRay Drive
Chassis: Lian Li X2000FN
Monitors: Dell U3011
Boot Drive: Intel 510 120GB
Secondary Drive: Patriot 240GB WildFire

Comparison Test Systems:

Processors: Intel E5 2687W x 2
Motherboard: Asus Z9 PE-D8 WS
Coolers: Corsair H80 x2
Memory: 64GB Kingston Predator 1,600mhz 9-9-9-24 1T
Graphics Card: Sapphire HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition (1,200mhz core 1,600mhz memory).
Power Supply: Seasonic 1000W Platinum Modular
Optical Drive: Asus BluRay Drive
Chassis: Lian Li X2000FN
Monitors: Dell U3011, 3x Ilyama ProLite E2472HDD
Boot Drive: Corsair 240GB Neutron GTX SSD
Secondary Drive: Corsair 240GB Neutron SSD
Intel E5 2660
Motherboard: Gigabyte X79S-UP5-WIFI
Cooler: Corsair H100
Memory: 16GB G.Skill ARES 2,133mhz @ 9-11-10-28
Graphics Card: Sapphire HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition (1,200mhz core 1,600mhz memory).
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Optical Drive: Asus BluRay Drive
Chassis: Lian Li X2000a
Boot Drive: Intel 510 120GB
Secondary Drive: Patriot 240GB WildFire

Intel i7 3960X EE
Motherboard: Asus P9X79 WS WorkStation
Cooler: Corsair H100
Memory: 8GB Corsair Dominator GT8 2400mhz memory
Graphics Card: Sapphire HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition (1,200mhz core 1,600mhz memory).
Power Supply: ADATA 1200W
Optical Drive: Asus BluRay Drive
Chassis: Cooler Master Cosmos 2
Monitors: Dell U3011, 3x Ilyama ProLite E2472HDD
Boot Drive: Crucial C300 128GB SSD
Secondary Drive: Patriot 240GB Pyro SE

Intel i7 3820
Motherboard: ASRock Extreme4-M
Cooler: Intel reference cooler
Memory: 8GB Corsair GTX8 @ 2133mhz
Power Supply: ADATA 1200W
Chassis: Lian Li PC60
Monitors: Dell U3011/La Cie 730
Boot Drive: Crucial C300
Secondary Drive: Patriot Pyro SE 240GB

AMD FX 8150 Black Edition
Processor: AMD FX 8150 Black Edition
Motherboard: Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7
Cooler: Noctua NH D14
Memory: G-SKill Ripjaws 1600mhz 8GB (2x 4GB)
Power Supply: ADATA 1200W
Chassis: SilverStone Raven 3
Boot Drive: Intel 40GB SSD
Secondary Drive: Patriot 120GB WildFire

Intel Core i7 990X
Processor: Intel Core i7 990x
Cooler: Corsair H100
Motherboard: Gigabyte G1 Assassin
Memory: Kingston HyperX 6GB
Drives: Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Chassis: Antec Twelve Hundred

Intel Core i7 2700k
Processor: Intel Core i7 2700k
Cooling: ThermalTake Frio OCK
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z68AP-D3 Z68 Motherboard
Chassis: Silverstone Raven 3.
Power Supply: Corsair 850W.
Memory: Corsair 1600mhz memory
Storage: Intel 80GB SSD (boot) / Patriot Wildfire 120GB SSD.

Intel Core i7 2600k
Processor: Intel Core i7 2600k
Motherboard: ASRock Fatal1ty Z68 Professional Gen 3
Cooler: Intel XTS-100H
Memory: ADATA 1600mhz DDR3 8GB (2x4GB)
Power Supply: Thermaltake Toughpower 850W
Boot Drive: Intel 510 SSD 250GB

Intel Core i5 2500k
Processor: Intel Core i7 2500k
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z68AP-D3 Z68 Motherboard
Cooler: Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2 CPU Cooler
Memory: Corsair 1600mhz memory 8GB (2x4GB)
Power Supply: Corsair 850W.
Boot Drive: Patriot Pyro 120GB SSD.

AMD Phenom II X6 1100T
Processor: AMD Phenom II X6 1100T
Motherboard: Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7
Cooler: Noctua NH D14
Memory: G-SKill Ripjaws 1600mhz 8GB (2x 4GB)
Power Supply: ADATA 1200W
Chassis: SilverStone Raven 3
Boot Drive: Intel 40GB SSD
Secondary Drive: Patriot 120GB WildFire.

Kitguru Gaming Comparison System:
: Core i7 970 @ 4.6ghz
Graphics Card: MSI Lightning GTX680
Cooling: Coolit Vantage
Motherboard: MSI X58A-GD65
Chassis: Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Memory: 6GB ADATA @ 2133mhz 9-10-9-32
Storage: Kingston SSDNow V+ 512GB Gen 2 SSD (Storage) / Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB (OS boot)

3DMark Vantage
3DMark 11
ATTO Disk Benchmark
SiSoft Sandra
3DStudio Max
Cinebench R11.5 64 bit
Media Espresso
Handbrake 9.5
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
HQV Benchmark 2.0
Total War: Shogun 2
F1 2012
Sleeping Dogs
Max Payne 3
Hitman: Absolution
Far Cry 3

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software.

Sandra is a (girl’s) name of Greek origin that means “defender”, “helper of mankind”. We think that’s quite fitting.

It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what’s really going on. Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCI-X, PCIe (PCI Express), database, USB, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc.

Native ports for all major operating systems are available:

  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x86)
  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x64)
  • Windows 2003/R2, 2008/R2* (IA64)
  • Windows Mobile 5.x (ARM CE 5.01)
  • Windows Mobile 6.x (ARM CE 5.02)

All major technologies are supported and taken advantage of:

  • SMP – Multi-Processor
  • MC – Multi-Core
  • SMT/HT – Hyper-Threading
  • MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE 4.1, SSE 4.2, AVX, FMA – Multi-Media instructions
  • GPGPU, DirectX, OpenGL – Graphics
  • NUMA – Non-Uniform Memory Access
  • AMD64/EM64T/x64 – 64-bit extensions to x86
  • IA64 – Intel* Itanium 64-bit

Motherboard performance is excellent, and we can actually see that memory bandwidth at 2,666mhz is slightly better than the same Corsair sticks running on the Gigabyte Z77X-UP7 motherboard.

CINEBENCH R11.5 64 Bit is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.

CINEBENCH is the perfect tool to compare CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms (Windows and Mac OS X). And best of all: It’s completely free.

Core i7 3770k performance is excellent and it really comes to life when overclocked to 4.8ghz, scoring 9.73 points. An ideal system for a serious full time 3D rendering rig at home.

PCMark 7 includes 7 PC tests for Windows 7, combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. Specifically designed to cover the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops, PCMark 7 offers complete PC performance testing for Windows 7 for home and business use.

The system scores 5,605 points which indicates a very strong overall balance of performance.

Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7. This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.

Overall system performance is excellent, scoring 41,802 points at the default performance configuration.

3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.

Direct X 11 gaming performance is not in question with a final score of 10,660 points.

Unigine provides an interesting way to test hardware. It can be easily adapted to various projects due to its elaborated software design and flexible toolset. A lot of their customers claim that they have never seen such extremely-effective code, which is so easy to understand.

Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine engine from Unigine Corp. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. Interactive mode provides emerging experience of exploring the intricate world of steampunk.

Efficient and well-architected framework makes Unigine highly scalable:

  • Multiple API (DirectX 9 / DirectX 10 / DirectX 11 / OpenGL) render
  • Cross-platform: MS Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) / Linux
  • Full support of 32bit and 64bit systems
  • Multicore CPU support
  • Little / big endian support (ready for game consoles)
  • Powerful C++ API
  • Comprehensive performance profiling system
  • Flexible XML-based data structures

We use the following settings: 1920×1080 resolution. Anti Aliasing off. Anisotrophy 4, Tessellation normal. Shaders High. Stereo 3D disabled. API: Direct X 11.

Excellent results, thanks to the powerful GTX680 Lightning graphics card.

Crystalmark is a useful benchmark to measure theoretical performance levels of hard drives and SSD’s. We are using V3.0 x64. The Patriot Wildfire SSD drive is on test today.

These are actually some of the highest scores we have seen from the Patriot Wildfire SSD.

ATTO Disk Benchmark results indicate a 560MB/s peak read and around 515MB/s peak write.

V2011 is the first release of 3DStudio Max to fully support the Windows 7 operating system. This is a professional level tool that many people use for work purposes and our test will show any possible differences between board design today.

Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2011 software offers compelling new techniques to help bring designs to life by aggregating data, iterating ideas, and presenting the results.

Streamlined, more intelligent data exchange workflows and innovative new modeling and visualization tools help significantly increase designers’ creativity and productivity, enabling them to better explore, validate, and communicate the stories behind their designs.

Major new features:

  • Slate: A node based material editor.
  • Quicksilver: Hardware renderer with multithreaded rendering engine that utilizes both CPU and GPU.
  • Extended Graphite Modeling Toolset
  • 3ds Max Composite: A HDRI-capable compositor based on Autodesk Toxik.
  • Viewport Canvas toolset for 3D and 2D texture painting directly in the viewport
  • Object Painting: use 3D geometry as ‘brushes’ on other geometry
  • Character Animation Toolkit (CAT): now integrated as part of the base package
  • Autodesk Material Library: Over 1200 new photometrically accurate shaders
  • Additional file format support: includes native support for Sketchup, Inventor
  • FBX file linking
  • Save to Previous Release (2010)

We created a new 8200×3200 scene and recorded the time for the hardware to finalise the render.

The final time is close to the leading board in this test, the Gigabyte Z77X-UP7, only a second slower and not really noticeable in the ‘real world’.

CyberLink MediaEspresso 6 is the successor to CyberLink MediaShow Espresso 5.5. With its further optimized CPU/GPU-acceleration, MediaEspresso is an even faster way to convert not only your video but also your music and image files between a wide range of popular formats.

Now you can easily playback and display your favourite movies, songs and photos not just on your mobile phone, iPad, PSP, Xbox, or Youtube and Facebook channels but also on the newly launched iPhone 4. Compile, convert and enjoy images and songs on any of your computing devices and enhance your videos with CyberLink’s built-in TrueTheater Technology.

New and Improved Features

  • Ultra Fast Media Conversion – With support from the Intel Core i-Series processor family, ATI Stream & NVIDIA CUDA, MediaEspresso’s Batch-Conversion function enables multiple files to be transcoded simultaneously.
  • Smart Detect Technology – MediaEspresso 6 automatically detects the type of portable device connected to the PC and selects the best multimedia profile to begin the conversion without the need for user’s intervention.
  • Direct Sync to Portable Devices – Video, audio and image files can be transferred in a few easy steps to mobile phones including those from Acer, BlackBerry, HTC, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Palm, as well as Sony Walkman and PSP devices.
  • Enhanced Video Quality – CyberLink TrueTheater Denoise and Lighting enables the enhancement of video quality through optical noise filters and automatic brightness adjustment.
  • Video, Music and Image File Conversion – Convert not only videos to popular formats such as AVI, MPEG, MKV, H.264/AVC, and FLV at the click of a button, but also images such as JPEG and PNG and music files like WMA, MP3 and M4A.
  • Online Sharing – Conversion to video formats used by popular social networking websites and a direct upload feature means posting videos to Facebook and YouTube has never been easier.

For our testing today we are converting a 3.3GB 720p MKV file (2h:12mins) to Apple Mp4 format for playback on a portable device. This is a common procedure for many people and will give a good indication of system power. We are using the newest version which has been optimised for Sandybridge processors.

Hardware acceleration is enabled, to call on the CUDA power of the GTX680.

Overall performance is good. The system finishes the video encoding job in 8 minutes and 39 seconds. When overclocked to 4.8ghz the time is reduced to 7 minutes and 16 seconds.

Sleeping Dogs started development as an original title, but was announced in 2009 as True Crime: Hong Kong, the third installment and a reboot of the True Crime series. As a result of the game’s high development budget and delays, it was canceled by Activision Blizzard in 2011. Six months later, it was announced that Square Enix had picked up the publishing rights to the game, but the game was renamed Sleeping Dogs in 2012 since Square Enix did not purchase the True Crime name rights.

We are using the highest possible image quality settings at 1080p, including the high resolution texture pack.

The differences between the systems are noticeable, the MSI Z77A-G45 system is smooth throughout, with the 970 system dropping a little below the sweet spot of 25 frames per second.

Hitman: Absolution is an action-adventure stealth game developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is the fifth entry in the Hitman game series, and runs on IO Interactive’s proprietary Glacier 2 game engine. Before release the developers conveyed that Absolution would be easier to play and more accessible, while still retaining hardcore aspects of the franchise.

This is quite a demanding game at these settings, although it runs perfectly smooth on both systems. There is a little extra headroom on the MSI Z77A-G45 system.

Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal in conjunction with Ubisoft Massive, Ubisoft Red Storm, Ubisoft Reflections, and Ubisoft Shanghai and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is the sequel to 2008’s Far Cry 2. It has received a lot of acclaim from the public and is up for contention as Game of the Year via many publications.

Another demanding Direct X 11 game at these high settings. The results are excellent however and perfectly smooth throughout.

F1 2012 is a video game developed by Codemasters. It is based on the 2012 Formula One season, and is the sequel to F1 2010 and F1 2011. It is the fourth Formula One game developed by the Codemasters studios after the company renewed its licence to develop the official games of the series. It was announced on March 18, 2012, co-inciding with the first race of the 2012 season. The game features all twelve teams and twenty-four drivers competing in the 2012 season (except for mid-season changes), as well as the twenty circuits and Grands Prix — including the brand new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas — included in the championship.

This game isn’t quite as demanding as some of the others on test today. Great results however and plenty of headroom for a multi screen gaming setup.

Shogun 2 is set in 16th-century feudal Japan, in the aftermath of the Ōnin War. The country is fractured into rival clans led by local warlords, each fighting for control. The player takes on the role of one of these warlords, with the goal of dominating other factions and claiming his rule over Japan. The standard edition of the game will feature a total of eight factions (plus a ninth faction for the tutorial), each with a unique starting position and different political and military strengths.

The MSI Z77A G45 system clearly has more bandwidth as we can see a noticeable difference at 720p. When the settings are enhanced and resolution is increased to 1080p the gap narrows substantially.

We have changed our method of measuring noise levels. We have built a system inside a Lian Li chassis with no case fans and have used a fanless cooler on our CPU. The motherboard is also passively cooled. This gives us a build with almost completely passive cooling and it means we can measure noise of just the graphics card inside the system when we run looped 3dMark tests.

Ambient noise in the room is around 20-25dBa. We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the closed chassis and 4 foot from the ground to mirror a real world situation.

Why do this? Well this means we can eliminate secondary noise pollution in the test room and concentrate on only the video card. It also brings us slightly closer to industry standards, such as DIN 45635.

KitGuru noise guide
10dBA – Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA – High Quality Computer fan
40dBA – A Bubbling Brook, or a Refridgerator
50dBA – Normal Conversation
60dBA – Laughter
70dBA – Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA – City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA – Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA – MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA – Orchestra
120dBA – Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA – Threshold of Pain
140dBA – Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA – Instant Perforation of eardrum

The card is almost silent when it is idling, with the fans spinning around only 1,100rpm. When gaming these spin up to around 1,500 rpm, producing around 33.4 dBa. When under the Furmark stress test, the fans spin up to 1,700 rpm which emits around 35 dBa of noise. Still not intrusive at all.

The tests were performed in a controlled air conditioned room with temperatures maintained at a constant 24c – a comfortable environment for the majority of people reading this.

Idle temperatures were measured after sitting at the desktop for 30 minutes. Load measurements were acquired by playing Crysis Warhead for 30 minutes and measuring the peak temperature. We also have included Furmark results, recording maximum temperatures throughout a 30 minute stress test. All fan settings were left on automatic.

The cooler on the Lightning GTX680 is exceptional. When gaming it barely breaks a sweat, running at under 60c.

To test power consumption today we are using a Keithley Integra unit and we measure power consumption from the VGA card inputs, not the system wide drain. We measure results while gaming in Crysis Warhead and record the results.

Power consumption is as we would expect for a high end GTX680.

To overclock today we used MSI Afterburner. It is worth pointing out that every card will overclock to a different level, the results we achieve can really only be used as a guideline.

The card overclocked well, hitting 1,200mhz on the core (8% increase) and 1,710mhz (6.84Gbps effective) from the memory (13.8% increase).

Many gamers may be looking for a system upgrade heading into 2013 and both the MSI Z77A-G45 and Lightning GTX680 are as good as you are likely to find at their respective price points.

The MSI Lightning GTX680 is undoubtedly an expensive graphics card – at £439.99 inc vat it will certainly cause a noticeable dent on a bank balance. This isn’t unique to MSI however, a GTX680 purchase is only for a small audience who take their gaming very seriously. It is worth reiterating that this Lightning card does compare well against other flagship cards from the likes of ASUS or KFA2.

The nickel plated copper cooler is very capable indeed, joining the market leaders in the top 5% of thermal and acoustic performance. The non aggressive two fan cooler profile will ensure that noise is never a concern either. You get the best of both worlds from the Lightning GTX680 – low noise operation and excellent cooling proficiency.

Gaming performance is without reproach, even with the latest intensive Direct X 11 games which we tested today. Far Cry 3 runs well with extremely high image quality settings at 1080p with anti aliasing enabled … one of the more demanding games we have tested recently.

MSI supply the Lightning GTX680 in a high state of overclock and there is clearly some additional headroom as we managed to push our review sample to 1,200mhz core and 1,710mhz via the GDDR5 memory. We need to point out that every card will overclock differently but even if we factor in a slight variable on limitations, our sample indicates that MSI are not pushing the design close to the limit. This is a good thing, long term.

Not many people would be contemplating pairing the cost effective MSI Z77A-G45 with a flagship Lightning GTX680, however we have shown today that this motherboard deserves serious consideration. Certainly the MSI Z77A-G45 connectivity will not compete with a high end Z77 motherboard priced at £200 and above, but when it comes to overclocking this board can rock with the best of them.

We managed to drive our Core i7 3770k sample to 4.8ghz with only a couple of bios changes and an all in one mainstream liquid cooler. Higher clock speeds would be possible if you were willing to live with increased temperatures and voltage parameters. The board also supports the latest 2,666mhz rated memory. This is as good as any board we have tested to date, regardless of the price point. At only £104.99 inc vat this is easily one of the best buy deals you can get right now.

Gamers should be aware that a graphics card is the primary component in their system. Our review today highlights that the MSI Z77A-G45 can handle a high overclock while not costing the earth. Pairing this board with a 3570k or 3770k means that a little more budget could be directed towards the graphics card.

Both MSI Z77A-G45 & Lightning GTX680 are great components and a perfect high note for MSI to end the year.

Kitguru says: Both products are class leading and well worth a purchase.

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