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ASUS STRIX GeForce GTX 1080 review: There’s a new king in town

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NVIDIA unleashed the GeForce GTX 10 series earlier this year, with the GTX 1080 touted as the fastest video card in the world. The GTX 1080 represents a significant leap over the outgoing Maxwell-based GeForce 980, largely due to the long-awaited shift to a 16nm FinFET manufacturing node. The result is that the GTX 1080 is a staggering 62% faster than the 980, and nearly 35% faster than the Titan X. The shift to a more efficient manufacturing node also sees vast improvements in power consumption. The GTX 1080 uses a single 8-pin connector and has a maximum power draw of 180W, a significant reduction on the 250W TDP of the Titan X and the 980 Ti.
The GTX 1080 is available in a brand-new reference design from NVIDIA called the Founders Edition, which includes a new vapor chamber shroud and five-phase power supply. NVIDIA’s AIB (add-in board) partners have rolled out their own designs with custom PCBs and cooling solutions, and today we’re going to be taking a look at ASUS’ top-of-the-line STRIX GTX 1080. Before we delve into what’s on offer, here’s a quick primer on the new Pascal architecture.

Pascal fever

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With Pascal, the goal for NVIDIA is to refine the Maxwell architecture and leverage the 16nm manufacturing process to carve out a large performance delta over the GTX 900 series. The node shrink means that Pascal is the most efficient GPU design ever, and the GP104 GPU (revision A1) used in the GTX 1080 offers 7.2 billion transistors, 2560 CUDA cores and 160 texture units. The result is that the GTX 1080 puts out a performance of 8.8 teraflops, nearly double the 4.6 teraflops of the GTX 980. The GPU is built on TSMC’s 16nm FinFET manufacturing process, which brings significantly higher performance while delivering more efficiency at the same time.
As this is a factory overclocked card, we’re looking at a bump in the core clock from 1607MHz to 1759MHz and a boost clock of 1898MHz. With ASUS’ overclocking software, you can quickly tweak the base clock to 1784MHz and boost clock to 1936MHz. Given the massive increase in frequencies, we’re at a stage where you can overclock the card above 2GHz.
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The card also sees the introduction of GDDR5X video memory from Micron. This year’s video cards were heavily rumored to offer HBM2 (High Bandwidth Memory), but with yields still low for mainstream production, it looks like we’re still a year away from the standard making its debut. That said, with GDDR5X we’re seeing an increment in memory clock to 10Gbps, which when combined with the 256-bit wide memory bus results in an overall bandwidth of 320GB/s, an increase of 43% from the 224GB/s on offer with the GTX 980.
NVIDIA has also made a few changes to SLI: two-way SLI is still possible, but you won’t be able to link up three or four GTX 1080s.

HDR

The GP104 GPU introduces a new display controller with support for DisplayPort 1.3 and 1.4, bringing significant bandwidth gains and support for HDR. The HDMI 2.0b connector is also HDR-enabled. The technology itself is starting to take off just now, and we’re starting to see the first batch of HDR TVs roll out. Gaming monitors with HDR are likely to make their debut at the end of the year, or early next year, and it doesn’t take a lot to see the growing interest in the standard. HDR offers a wider color gamut, which results in more true-to-life colors, and the expanded contrast ratio allows scenes with varying brightness levels to be displayed in greater detail.

Ansel

Ansel is the new in-game screenshot technology introduced in Pascal. Ansel is designed with VR use cases in mind, allowing you to take 360-degree screenshots of in-game footage. Using Ansel is as easy as it gets: just press the ALT+F2 keys together in-game, and you’ll see the frame freeze and a panel pop out that lets you tweak the contrast settings of the frame, add filters, and more. The full-resolution screenshots are saved directly onto your hard drive in a .png format. NVIDIA showed off Ansel in action with *Mirror’s Edge Catalyst* during the launch of the GTX 1080, and more games will support the feature in the coming months.

ASUS STRIX 1080 overview

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ASUS’ STRIX 1080 comes with the manufacturer’s DirectCU III cooling solution and Aura RGB LED lighting. The all-black shroud is certainly impressive, and while it is made out of plastic, it doesn’t feel inferior in terms of quality to the metal shroud on offer with the Founders Edition.
The card comes with a matte black steel backplate that reinforces the graphics card against any flexing or bending, and the back also gets the RGB LED treatment. There are two LEDs next to the power connectors that turn white as soon as you plug in the 6-pin and 8-pin connector. If there’s any problem with power delivery, the LEDs turns red.
The STRIX 1080 runs completely silent during light workloads, with the triple-fan cooling system only kicking in after the GPU reaches 50 degrees Celsius. The third-generation DirectCU cooling solution sees four copper composite heat-pipes that come in direct contact with the GPU, along with an aluminum fin stack and a new blade design for the fans that increases the airflow. The card also offers two four-pin fan headers, giving you the ability to control your PC fans directly through the GPU.
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As for connectivity, you get two DisplayPort 1.4 ports, as well as two HDMI 2.0b ports and a Dual Link DVI-D port. The DisplayPort offers support for 4K displays at 120Hz, 5K displays at 60Hz, and 8K displays at 60Hz.
Unlike the reference GTX 1080, the STRIX 1080 has a 6-pin connector in addition to the 8-pin connector, which is to accommodate the RGB lighting as well as the custom cooling solution.

STRIX 1080 software

The software offers a wealth of information about the video card, and you have the ability to adjust base and boost clocks, voltages, memory clock, and fan speed with ease. If you’re worried about the card overheating, you can set a temperature target, which will dial the settings back once the card hits the threshold. Conversely, if you’re looking to eke out the most out of the card, you can set an FPS target.
With Aura lighting, you can set the LEDs to change color based on music you’re listening to, or on the card’s temperature. Other options include strobing, breathing, and color cycle effects, but if you’re not interested in any of that, you can just select a static color. Don’t want the LEDs at all? You can toggle the lights off entirely from the utility.

Benchmarks

Here’s a look at the test configuration used for benchmarking the STRIX 1080:
– Intel Core i5 4690K CPU
– Noctua NH-L9x65 CPU cooler
– ASUS Z97 Pro (Wi-Fi ac) motherboard
– Corsair Vengeance DDR3 RAM (2 x 8GB)
– 256GB Samsung Evo 840 SSD
– Corsair RM850
– ASUS 28-inch PB287Q 4K monitor
– Windows 10 64-bit
– NVIDIA GeForce driver 372.54
Let’s kick things off with 3DMark, an industry standard benchmark from Futuremark. In Fire Strike Ultra, the card scored 4,966 points, significantly more than the GTX 980’s score of 3,600.
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In 3DMark’s DirectX12 Time Spy test, the STRIX 1080 achieved a score of 6,117.
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For gaming benchmarks, I tested at Full HD (1920 x 1080), Quad HD (2560 x 1440), and 4K (3869 x 2160) resolutions, and used last year’s GTX 980. Let’s get things started off with Batman: Arkham Knight.

Batman:Arkham Knight

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Battlefield 4

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Crysis 3

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Fallout 4

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Grand Theft Auto V

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Hitman

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

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The Witcher: Wild Hunt

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Verdict

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The STRIX 1080 is a generation leap in every sense of the word. The card offers significantly higher performance while consuming less power. NVIDIA’s reference GTX 1080 is excellent, and ASUS’ offering builds on that with a custom cooling solution, RGB lighting, and easy overclocking options.
If you’re running a 1080p or QHD single-monitor setup, the STRIX 1080 is overkill, and you’ll be better served by the GTX 1070. If you’re looking for a card that can handle 4K and VR, look no further.
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Harish Jonnalagadda
http://harishjonnalagadda.com
Harish Jonnalagadda is an avid reader of science-fiction novels. A long-time Arsenal fan, his other interests include gaming, basketball and making music. He also likes tinkering with hardware in his free time.

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