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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition Review

 

Nvidia’s highly anticipated (and widely expected) flagship GeForce graphics card, the GTX 1080 Ti is here!  As we heard at the recent Game Developers Conference, the GTX 1080 Ti looked like a monster. And today we have our review. As PC enthusiasts ourselves, we love it when a new flagship part crosses our desk. Read on to find out what makes the 1080 Ti tick and see just how the newest Nvidia beast handles itself.

Given Nvidia’s recent strategy or releasing a big die Ti version as its GeForce flagship, we have been expecting the GTX 1080 Ti pretty much ever since the release of the GTX 1080 and 1070. Much like the GTX 780 Ti, and 980 Ti, now we have the Big Pascal, based on  the GP102 die as previously seen on the exorbitantly priced GTX Titan (referred to as the Titan XP to distinguish it from previous Titans)

The GTX 1080 Ti is quite similar to the GTX Titan XP. Key differences include 1Gb less of memory, a few less ROP’s and a slightly thinner memory bus. Key specifications can be seen below. Essentially we have a card that will perform more or less the same as the Titan XP, but at a much lower price ($1200 USD vs $700 USD) Unless you require the compute capabilities of the Titan X, it is basically obsolete. 11Gb of memory may seem a bit weird, but really, who cares as long as it performs.

Partner cards are expected to appear from next month, and you can expect to see higher clocks and performance from many of those cards. You can also expect custom cooling solutions and hybrid/air water coolers as well as blocks and accessories from custom water cooling manufacturers such as EKWB.

 

Specifications

 

Below we have a block diagram of the GP102 die. The major things to take away from this are the 28 shader clusters with 128 Cuda cores per SC. This give a total of 3584 Cuda cores, which compared to the 2560 featured in the GTX 1080, represents a substantial increase in shader power. Also note the 6 GPC blocks. 2 of them have a shader cluster missing. This is because the die in the 1080Ti and the Titan XP is not the full GP102 die, which actually carries 3840 Cuda cores. Only the Quadro P6000 card carries the full die and if you want one of those you’ll have to pay with a kidney or 5.

 

Being a Pascal generation GPU, of course you get some very nice features supported both by hardware and software. Significant under the hood effort has been made to improve bandwidth efficiency. The include new compression algorithms and tiled caching. Nvidia claims this can produce improvements amounting to an effective doubling of memory bandwidth in some games.

Of course you get Direct X 12 support and support for technologies such as async compute which is expected to become more prevalent in native DX12 games to come in the future. Then there are popular features such as Shadowplay. Many twitch streamers swear by Shadowplay and the 1080 Ti will do it better than any other GPU thanks to its grunt.

One of the things we don’t see talked about much is Nvidia’s Ansel technology. This is essentially an in game camera that create images from any angle or position, even 360 for VR.

 

A Closer Look

We have the Founders Edition of the card on hand. You can expect to see manufacturers own versions of the card in the next few weeks with custom PCB’s and coolers, along with factory overclocks for even better out of the box performance.

 

Along with the card itself, the box contains the following: A driver CD,  DP-to-DVI adapter, some documentation and a nice Nvidia case badge.

 

The GTX 1080 Ti is a rather lovely looking card we have to say. There’s nothing cheap looking about the cooler which comes with the standard illuminated green GTX GeForce branding and the side and a solid backplate on the rear that’s not just for aesthetics, but also adds to the rigidity and can assist with cooling performance. We found the backplate can get quite hot on this card, so good case airflow will be important to keep the card happy and boosting to its maximum. Air cooled systems should have decent airflow in this region, but some AIO watercoolers may not, so do consider this.

 

 

Moving around to the outputs, we have 3 Display Port 1.4 ports. and one HDMI 2.0b port. This brings the 1080 Ti up to date with the latest output standards. DP1.4 can support 8K UHD (7680×4320) at 60 Hz with 10-bit color and HDR, or 4K UHD (3840×2160) at 120 Hz with 10-bit color and HDR. Now where’s that 120Hz 4k panel!! There is no DVI port this time around, though you can use the included DP to DVI adapter if required. This frees up area on the rear output plate for a larger exhaust for expelling hot air.. And it certainly is needed as well see later in the review.

 

 

Part of this backplate can be removed when used in a sandwiched SLI configuration. This will allow more air to reach the fan intake of the lower card. This shouldn’t be as much of an issue on many SLI capable modern motherboards which have spacing between the primary and secondary PCIe slots.

Here we see the logo which is illuminated as well as the PCIe 6 pin and 8 pin power plugs to feed the GPU. Nvidia recommends a 600W PSU as the minimum. though if you’re planning to overclock or have an overclocked X99 or Ryzen system then of course you’ want something a bit beefier than 600W.

On the left are the SLI fingers. Nvidia recommends using one of their high bandwidth SLI bridges, especially when running bandwidth eating high resolution displays.

 

 

Here is the PCB of the GTX 1080 Ti. It has been beefed up over that of the Titan X. We have a 7+2 phase power delivery system that Nvidia claims is capable of delivering up to 250 amps to the GPU. We are happy to say that this choice of capacitors and inductors completely eliminates any coil whine, at least on our sample. We know this drives some of you crazy. The GDDR5X memory gets two phases of their own. Note the missing memory chip that is of course present n the Titan XP.

The card is 10.5 inches in length means it should be compatible with most normal ATX chassis. You’ll see the 8 pin and 6 pin power connectors. Add these together and you get a theoretical 150w from the 8 pin, 75w  from the 6 pin and 75w from the PCIe slot for a total of 300w, so there is plenty of power headroom. The cooler of the 1080 Ti features an upgraded vapor chamber which was definitely needed as the GPU gets quite hot.

 

 

Test Setup and Benchmarks

Below is the spec of our test setup that we’re using for reviews of hardware components. We’ve overclocked the 5960x as far as we can keep it stable to minimize the effect of a CPU bottleneck on the performance of other components. There’s a shot of what CPUZ says about our test system.

 

Moving onto the all important game benchmarks! we test at the 3 common resolutions, 1080p, 1440p and 4K. Some of these have internal benchmarks which are great for consistent results. The others, we used FRAPS to record in game FPS, which we test 3 times and average for consistency. Outlier results are discarded.

The graphs speak for themselves really. The GTX 1080 is a beast! Some of these games are worst case scenarios with high res texture packs or just poor coding we think in the case of Deus Ex. Running a 2017 era game at 60fps+ at 4k with all the eye candy is really something, though of course many of you swear that 120fps+ monitors are the way to go, so you’ll be covered at 1440p or you can just dial back the AA or AF to get the FPS up at 4k for the best of both worlds. If you want the best gaming experience with the highest FPS in 2017 for a single card, the 1080 Ti is it.. for now. Where’s that AMD Vega? hmmm

 

 

 

 

 

 

23k in 3D Mark Firestrike! The overs out there will know that this was the realm of ln2 cooled systems just months ago! very nice.. and with a stock card too.

 

Temperatures and Noise levels

Lets analyze the graph below. The yellow dotted line shows the cards’ characteristics when everything is left at auto. The maximum temperature is 83c with a couple of spikes to 84c. At this temp, the fan is at 49% of its maximum speed and the boost clock is 1747Mhz. This indicates that Nvidia have opted for a quiet fan ramp curve at the expense of a little performance and temperature trade off. At these levels the card remains very quiet. We’d also note that the heat being exhausted from the card is quite substantial, and we’d recommend leaving quite a bit of space around the rear of the case to allow it to dissipate effectively.

This is backed up by looking at the right of the graph, when the fan is manually set to 100%, you can see the boost clock is going over 1800Mhz and a full 23-24c cooler. Though of course the fan sounds like a vacuum cleaner at these speeds.

We’d expect the custom variants from partner manufacturers to improve on virtually every aspect of the Founders Edition cooler. The FE cooler is not poor at all and in fact its exhaust design will be quiet and well suited to certain builds, it’s just that the custom card coolers are better  From our experience, the like of Asus’ Direct CU, MSI’s Twin Frozr and Gigabyte’s Windforce coolers tend to do a better job, with 0db fan profiles, quieter operation at typical gaming loads and the ability to dissipate heat better, which directly leads to higher and less variable boost clocks.

As far as noise levels go, we tend not to place too much emphasis on the Db reading as these days, even a hard drive seeking tends to be noisier and more noticeable than a GPU cooler. Temperatures and case airflow in different parts of the world make a Db reading pretty much irrelevant. Also our AiO cooler pump is not silent which can distort the reading. We did record a very quiet idle reading of 32db with a load of 42Db, which is audible but far from intrusive. Overall the cooler works well, though with low noise levels being the distinguishing characteristic at the expense of temperatures and maximum boost clock.

Overclocking

Nvidia’s Pascal cards are known to go over 2Ghz on the core clocks with stock coolers which is simply unheard of just a generation ago. OC is always a time consuming trial and error process and we’re sure there’s more in this card even without the benefit of a voltage increase. We were able to push the base clock to 1635 Mhz with a boost clock getting very close to that magical 2Ghz mark (1974Mhz). We think the upcoming custom cards with a voltage tweak will easily be able to hit and maintain 2Ghz boost clocks. Superb! Also, look at that memory bandwidth! by pushing the GDDR5X to 12000Mhz+, the memory bandwidth is hitting a cool 528GB/s.. who needs HBM? :p

 

Here we have Rise of the Tomb Raider benched with the 1080 Ti overclocked. Titles in Ultra HD will love every Mhz you can throw at them. With this little bit of OC, RotTR will  be butter smooth at 60Fps at 4K and simply stunning at 1440P with one of the gorgeous 120Hz panels. All on ultra settings of course!

 

Conclusion

The big daddy Pascal we’ve been waiting for is here. While performance like this has been available for quite a while in the form of the GTX Titan, there’s no doubt its exorbitant price kept it out of the reach of all but the deepest pocketed gamer. Now we have the same performance for a still pricey, but palatable $699 USD.

Still to come are the custom cards from the usual suspects. We have already seen social media teasers of the various 1080 Ti models in development, and we’re quite sure these will fully unleash the capabilities of the GP102 GPU. These models should run cooler and maintain higher boost clocks for longer, as we did see some throttling with the Founders Edition card here.

Everything considered, the GTX 1080 TI is an absolute beast. 4K? no problem. 120/144Hx at 1440p? For sure! Though this card is overkill for 1080p, its nice to know it will run everything, probably for several years until we see DX13 at maximum setting and remain butter smooth. There’s no such thing as future proofing in the PC world, but we’re quite sure the GTX 1080 Ti will give you several years of elite gaming goodness.

We think the card looks great, though its basically identical to any other reference GeForce card in recent years. It looks classy from the outside, the cooler is quiet and though it gets a bit hot, at least the heat is ejected out the back of the chassis which is very important for small form factor builds. Just make sure you give it room to breathe or you PC will get very hot very quickly.

There looks to be plenty of OC headroom too, so you can expect at least 10% performance improvement once the software catches up.

If you’re a gamer who wants the best card on the market. This is it (until custom cards come) The Titan X is basically obsolete unless you need its compute capabilities, but gamers don’t care about that. The price puts it out of the reach of many, but $699.. well it could be worse. If you want the best, you have to pay for it. We love the GTX 1080 Ti. Its the fastest car we’ve ever tested. It’s an FPS monster and for this reason we highly recommend it.

Your move AMD.

 

Pros:

The best consumer GPU

Frames and more frames per second especially at 4K

Solid build quality

DP 1.4 and HDMI 2.0b support

 

Cons:

Gets a bit hot resulting in throttling from max boost

Relative to a Titan X, the 1080 Ti is a steal, but $699 USD is still pricey for many

 

 

 

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