Swiftech MCW80 – Riding the Lightning

Overclockers is supported by our readers. When you click a link to make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn More.

Swiftech’s MCW80 vs. MSI 5870 Lightning & MSI 480 Lightning.

When you have two cards as formidable as these two, it’s only natural to want to squeeze every last bit of performance out of them.  There are several ways to achieve that and today we’ll be looking at how two high-end cards perform under water cooling. If you’ve developed a taste for system tuning and never tried water cooling, you’re missing out because it allows more headroom with voltages. And you’ve probably noticed more voltage means you can push frequencies higher, which is never a bad thing. A lot of people ask how difficult it is to water cool a GPU – the reality is it’s no different than H2O cooling a CPU, just a couple more hoses and connections are required. I don’t typically water cool GPU’s because I’m usually playing around with dry ice or something colder on cards, but I do run an open loop for pre-testing CPU’s (it’s an old loop, a Danner Mag 5 and some random old heater-core) which works well for my purposes. So we’ve got a loop and some hard charging cards to keep cool, now what?

Enter Swiftech’s high efficiency MCW80, decked out in black, copper & chrome, it certainly looks like it means business. The MCW80 has another thing going for it, it’s a universal block. That means this block will fit multiple graphics cards including reference cards and custom PCB models from both ATI and NVIDIA, no full-coverage stuff here folks. If your idea of fun is buying a new block for every card you play with then you might want to skip over to the test results and see how your fc block compares. So now we know the contendors, and as expected adding another block into the mix only took a couple of minutes.

MCW80 Specs

  • Solid Copper (C110) Base with 0.25mm pin matrix internals
  • Black Delrin Top with G 1/4 thread spec
  • Universal Form Factor with default mounting for: Radeon 1800, 1900, 3800, 4800, 5800 series
    NVIDIA GeForce 6, 7, 8 (G92) series
  • Optional Mounting Capability: CSK kit – 4870X2 (R700) & 5970
    G80 kit – GeForce 8 (G80) series, GT400 kit – GeForce 400 series
  • Chrome Plated ½ barbs with G14 thread spec
  • Weight: 5 oz. (141g)
  • Dimensions: 1.95” x 1.95” x 1.23” (49.6 x 49.6 x 31.2mm)

mcw80 dimensionsmcw80 dimensions

Box contents

mcw80 image3
MCW80 Accessories

The MCW80 in stock configuration ready to tame the 5870 Lightning.

mcw80 image 4b
MCW80 Out of the Box

The mirror base of the MCW80, Swiftech did a nice job finishing on this.

mcw80 image 5
MCW80 Base's Mirror Finish

Inside the block the copper base utilizes 0.25mm pin spacing. It may not look like it from this image but this is a very fine matrix which creates a high surface area per square inch and contributes to the blocks excellent performance. According to Swiftech this base is similar to the award-winning Apogee XT CPU water-block and is capable of dissipating high heat loads with good efficiency even at low to moderate flow rates. Once I had the loop setup, I fired up the pump to check flow rates. With a Danner Mag 5 and a nozzle-less D-Tek Fuzion R1 CPU block, flow rates are 1.6 GPM. Adding the MCW80 into the loop, flow rates are .5 GPM. I’m not sure what pump Swiftech used to test this block to over 2.5 GPM, it must be one beast of a pump.

mcw80 internal
Inside the MCW80

For the base-to-top seal, the MCW80 uses a rubber o-ring fit into the square channel in the Delrin top.

mcw80 o-ring channel
MCW80 O-Ring Channel

This seal type allows for multiple base removals and dissassembly for cleaning, I know because I’ve torn down other blocks using the same design and it’s very quick and easy. One of the downsides to running an open loop is it’s not the cleanest, but more importantly it allows me to dump ice into the res (small lunch cooler) when I want to push temperatures down below ambient.

Here you can see the mounting backplate and clearances with the back of the card but take note: there is a center rubber bumper that had to be removed because there is one rather large SMD component directly in its path behind the core. Once the bumper is gone, the backplate will sit flush and the block can be mounted normally.

mcw80 backplate
MCW80 Backplate

Mounting the block is a little tricky – getting things lined up so the screws will catch takes a moment or two but once you get one of the screws started it’s easy to finish off the mount. Being a universal block there is nothing provided for VRM cooling so I left the 5870’s stock ALU spreader in place. And wow, looking at it it looks like a high end setup designed from the gound up and ready to compete in the vanity department easily.

mcw80 on 5870 Lightning
MCW80 on 5870 Lightning

This block doesn’t have what I would call a high flow capability but it’s also compact allowing you to run a pair in CF/SLI like a full coverage block, and most importantly maintaining very good performance. Let’s take a look at how this block performs running some real tests.

3DMark Vantage

Under H2O you can push more VGPU allowing higher core clocks, with 1.275V the result is rather nice considering this is just water cooling. The MCW80 is able to hold GPU temps in check easily with these settings with a peak bench (loaded) temperature of 42° C. While the Cypress core of the lightning is known to be cool running, the max frequency I could reach with this card on stock cooling was around 1000MHz. So the MCW80 just gave us 100 more MHz to play with at reasonable voltages.

mcw80 Vantage result
MCW80 Vantage Result

3DMark 06

Here we can see higher memory clocks allowed by the less stressful 3DMark 06. Core temps are also slightly lower as shown in the second image.

mcw80 3Dmark06 result
MCW80 3Dmark06 Result
mcw80 AFB temps 3DMark06
MCW80 Temperatures during 3DMark06 (using MSI Afterburner)

MSI 480 Lightning

What? A card with unlimited voltage control out of the box? That would scare off many other blocks for sure! Fortunately Swiftech has a GT400 mounting kit available. No, the block will not fit the 480 by default so you need to go shopping first.

mcw80-GT400 Kit
mcw80-GT400 Kit

The kit uses a modified ‘stiffiner’ on the base of the block and no back-plate for mounting.

MCW80 Block "Stiffiner"
MCW80 Block "Stiffiner" Install

As you can see all eight holes surrounding the core are used for mounting, I did one test mount and this method is working quite well, in fact it’s much easier to mount this way versus the backplate used on the 5870.

MCW80 Mount from the Back
MCW80 Mount from the Top

3DMark Vantage
I don’t know why but I’m starting to like this benchmark a lot more than I used to. This was the second test I ran, running out of time for this but for sure a nice result with more potential in there. The MCW80 is holding up well to the cards extreme heat.

mcw80-480-27K Vantage
MCW80 480 - 27K Vantage


Another strong run, seems ’06 pushed core clocks off a tick but the rig still hit 31K.

MCW80 480 - 31K 3dmark 06

480 Kombusted

Kombustor is MSI’s custom GPU stress testing tool based on FURMARK technology. Kombustor will be the most stressful test this card will see and will push the cooling and block to it’s limits. While the 5870 consumes around 240W at peak load, Fermi pushes the envelope past 300W so hang on.

30-Minute Stress Test - MSI Kombustor
Temperature Plot: 30-Minute Stress Test - MSI Kombustor

There you have it, a very good performing combo with the ability to stretch it’s leg’s when needed. It’s obvious the Swiftech MCW80 is a very capable block and when setup properly can run with the best. I may try it with chilled water in the near future, it’s cheap (retails for $54 on CrazyPC.com) and easy to use/install, which makes for even more fun. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 480 Lightning hit 1000 MHz with a bit lower H2O temps. Stay tuned for updates if I have the opportunity within the next few weeks.


Thanks to CrazyPC.com for providing the block for this review.

Loading new replies...