MSI’s GTX 1080 Ti Armor card piqued our attention for its weak stock cooler and non-reference PCB: The card, at $700, appears to be the closest we’ll get to a bare 1080 Ti PCB sale. It’s an ideal liquid cooling candidate, particularly given the overwhelmingly negative user reviews pertaining to the card’s propensity to overheat. The photos made the Armor look like a Gaming X PCB -- something we praised in our PCB & VRM electrical analysis -- but with a GTX 1070 class cooler stuck onto it. If that were the case, it’d mean the 1080 Ti Armor would perform dismally in thermals when tested with its stock cooler, but could make for a perfect H2O card.

We decided to buy one and find out why the MSI Armor had such bad user reviews, and if it’d be possible to turn the card into the best deal for a liquid-cooled 1080 Ti.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the hardware industry is when a company made a perfectly viable product, but somehow flummoxed execution. The consumer doesn’t see the architecture or the engineering – at least, not outside of reviews – they see the full picture. In this capacity, consumers get a view of a product that is similar to a product manager’s: The big picture as it comes together, seeing past all the smaller details along the way.

A GPU might, for instance, be a powerhouse when analyzed under an SEM or in a vacuum, but could prove hamstrung in adverse thermal conditions resultant of an inadequate cooler. More appropriately, a laptop could host the best mobile hardware available, but prove devalued when flooded with unneeded software. The fastest SSD in the business, as bogged down with bloatware, will still be slower than a clean Windows install on a fresh HDD.

This big picture is sometimes lost to the chaos of marketing development efforts, particularly when MDF starts exchanging hands, and lost in the need to turn a profit in an industry with small margins. That’s what happened with MSI’s laptops: These are completely capable, highly competitive laptops that demand attention – but they’re plagued with an ineffable concoction of applications, responsible for doubling time required to boot. That’s not all, either – we have measured an impact to noise output as the CPU boosts sporadically, an unpredictable and spurious impact to frametimes, an impact to battery life, and an overall reduction in product quality.

All because of bloatware.

Laptop reviewing and benchmarking comes with a unique challenge: We don’t typically get to hang onto review samples once the cycle is complete, unlike other review products, which limits regression testing for content like today’s. This means that we need to rely on some of our older testing and methodology, but we can still judge scaling based on old games – that should be mostly linear, with some exceptions (which we’ve accounted for in our summary of tests).

Fortunately, the upshot of revisiting older titles for comparative analysis is that those titles do not change. They don’t get updates to game code and they don’t get driver updates, so results should largely exist in a hermetically sealed state.

Regardless, today’s goal is to benchmark the GTX 1050 Ti notebook GPU. We still have a lot of work to do on notebooks as we work to rebuild our bench, but this will start us off. The GTX 1070 is next. We’re starting with an MSI GE72 7RE Apache Pro with GTX 1050 Ti and i7-7700HQ CPU. This isn’t a review of the GE72 – that’s upcoming – but just a GPU benchmark to help determine scaling and placement of the 1050 Ti against other notebook GPUs.

Our review of the notebook is forthcoming, as are a few feature benchmark pieces. It’ll be interesting stuff, as we’ve got some key things to point out with this one. Be sure to follow or subscribe to catch that. For today, let’s get into the 1050 Ti notebook benchmarks.

AMD’s got a new strategy: Don’t give anyone time to blink between product launches. The company’s been firing off round after round of products for the past month, starting with Ryzen 7, then Ryzen 5, and now Polaris Refresh. The product cannon will eventually be reloaded with Vega, but that’s not for today.

The RX 500 series officially arrives to market today, primarily carried in on the backs of the RX 580 and RX 570 Polaris 10 GPUs. From an architectural perspective, there’s nothing new – if you know Polaris and the RX 400 series, you know the RX 500 series. This is not an exciting, bombastic launch that requires delving into some unexplored arch; in fact, our original RX 480 review heavily detailed Polaris architecture, and that’s all relevant information to today’s RX 580 launch. If you’re not up to speed on Polaris, our review from last year is a good place to start (though the numbers are now out of date, the information is still accurate).

Both the RX 580 and RX 570 will be available as of this article’s publication. The RX 580 we’re reviewing should be listed here once retailer embargo lifts, with our RX 570 model posting here. Our RX 570 review goes live tomorrow. We’re spacing them out to allow for better per-card depth, having just come off of a series of 1080 Ti reviews (Xtreme, Gaming X).

We’re reviewing the new MSI GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X card today, priced at $750 and positioned as one of the highest-performing gaming cards on the market. These tests will extensively look at thermals, given that that’s the primary differentiator between same-GPU video cards, and then look at gaming performance (in FPS) versus the Reference card and our Hybrid mod FE card. Part of our thermal testing will include performance analysis with and without a backplate. Noise levels are going to be the same as the last Twin Frozr card we tested, which can be found here.

This generation of GTX 1080 Ti cards has gone big. MSI’s Gaming X is already large, but the Gigabyte unit that we’re reviewing next is similarly big in the multi-slot department. The Gaming X uses MSI’s known twin-frozr cooler, with modifications to the underlying aluminum heatsink to increase surface area and fin density. Noise output is therefore identical to the noise output of previous Twin Frozr coolers we reviewed for the 10-series, including the GTX 1080 non-Ti Gaming X.

MSI ships the 1080 Ti Gaming X at three different frequencies, configurable through software: OC mode runs at 1683MHz boost and 1569MHz base, Gaming mode runs at 1657MHz boost and 1544MHz base, and silent mode runs at 1582 and 1480MHz.

 

While we crank away at finalizing the review for the GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X, the Ryzen R5 CPUs, and some other products, we decided to run a PCB & VRM quality analysis of MSI’s card. The new GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X is another in a line of overbuilt VRMs, but interesting for a number of reasons (especially given the quality of this round’s reference VRM).

In our analysis of the PCB, we go over VRM design, overclocking potential, and power mods. The power mod section (toward the end of the video) discusses shunt shorting and how to trick the GPU into permitting a higher power throughput than natively allowed.

View Buildzoid’s analysis below:

MSI’s new-ish GS43 Phantom Pro laptop made an appearance at PAX East this weekend, where we’re presently RNG-ing some tear-downs and live benchmark demonstrations. Our first content piece discussed keyboard input latency testing, and our second piece – this one – will open up the Phantom Pro for a closer look.

As a quick side note, MSI does have “new” camo finish GTX 1060s, Z270 motherboards, and GE62 laptops. We show those briefly in the video, though it’s really not a focal point for today.

Every now and then, a new marketing gimmick comes along that feels a little untested. MSI’s latest M.2 heat shield always struck us as high on the list of potentially untested marketing claims. The idea that the “shield” can perform two opposing functions – shielding an SSD from external heat while somehow simultaneously sinking heat from within – seems like it’s written by marketing, not by engineering.

From a “shielding” standpoint, it might make sense; if you’ve got a second video card socketed above the M.2 SSD and dumping heat onto it, a shield could in fact help keep heat from touching SMT components. This would include Flash modules and controllers that may otherwise be in a direct heat path. From a heat sinking standpoint, a separate M.2 heatsink would also make sense. M.2 SSDs are notoriously hot resultant of their lower surface area and general lack of housing (ignoring the M8Pe and similar devices), and running high temperatures in a case with unfavorable ambient will result in throttled performance. MSI thought that adding this “shield” to the M.2 slot would solve the issue of hot M.2 SSDs, but it’s got a few problems that don’t even require testing to understand: (1) the “shield” (or sink, whatever) doesn’t enshroud the underside of the M.2 device, where SMDs will likely be present; (2) the cover is designed more like a shield than a sink (despite MSI’s marketing language – see below), and that means we’ve got limited surface area with zero dissipation potential.

After receiving a number of emails asking how to flash motherboard BIOS, we decided to revive an old series of ours and revisit each motherboard vendor’s flashing process as quickly as possible. This is particularly useful for users residing on the Z170 platform who may want to flash to support Kaby Lake CPUs. The process is the same for all modern MSI motherboards, and will work across all SKUs (with some caveats and disclaimers).

This tutorial shows how to flash firmware and update BIOS for MSI motherboards, including the new Z270 Pro Carbon / Tomahawk boards and ‘old’ Gaming M7 Z170 motherboards. For this guide, we’re primarily showing the MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, but we do briefly have some shots of the Tomahawk Z270 board. This guide applies retroactively to Z170 motherboards, and even most Z97 motherboards.

Article continues below the video, if written format is preferred.

Despite the general lack of official documentation on AM4, we were able to get hands-on with some early AM4 motherboards from MSI at CES 2017. This is the first time – from AMD or from others – that we’ve received any detail on the new AM4 products, and the first time they’ve been demonstrated in public. The company debuted its X370 XPOWER Titanium overclocking motherboard (For Ryzen) alongside a mid-range B350 Tomahawk board, neither yet adorned with a price. We do have a release date target, though.

During PAX Prime 2016, we posted some official documentation on lower-end AM4 chipsets that would ship to bulk buyers, for use in HP-like systems at Costco-like places. Since then, we’ve learned that the X370 platform will crown the AM4 chipset accompaniment, with B350 falling next under that, and A320 (already known, see: PAX) at the low-end. A320 would be comparable to A68, were we to draw parallels to previous generation platforms. From what MSI tells us, an X300 chipset will also exist, but is not responsible for lane assignment and I/O tasking in the same way that X370 and B350 are; instead, X300 will likely see exclusive use on SFF platforms, and will perform no substantial functions. This was also detailed in our PAX coverage.

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