MSI’s flagship GTX 1080 Ti Lightning GPU made an appearance at the company’s Computex booth this year, where we were able to get hands-on with the card and speak with PMs about VRM and cooling solutions. The 1080 Ti Lightning is an OC-targeted card, as indicated by its LN2 BIOS switch, and will compete with other current flagships (like the Kingpin that we just covered). The Lightning does not yet have a price, but we know the core details about cooling and power.
Starting with cooling: MSI’s 1080 Ti Lightning uses a finned baseplate (think “pin fins” from ICX) to provide additional surface area for dissipation of VRM/VRAM component heat. This baseplate covers the usual areas of the board, but is accompanied by a blackout copper heatpipe over the MOSFETs & driver IC components for heat sinking of power modules. We’ve seen this design get more spread lately, and have found it to be effective for cooling VRM devices. The heatpipe is cooled by the Lightning’s 3-fan solution, as is the rest of the thick finstack above the custom PCB.
The EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 is the company’s attempt at a 3-fan cooler, entering EVGA into the three-fan ranks alongside ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSI. The difference with EVGA’s card, though, is that it’s a two-slot design; board partners have gone with a “bigger is better” mentality for the 1080 Ti, and it’s not necessarily advantageous. Sure, there are benefits – taller cards mean taller fans, like on the Gaming X, which results in slower rotation of fans without sacrificing volume of air moved. It follows then that taller fans on taller cards could be profiled to run quieter, without necessarily sacrificing thermal performance of the GPU, VRM, and VRAM components.
But we’re testing today to see how all that plays out in reality. In our EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 review, we benchmark the card vs. EVGA’s own SC2, MSI’s 1080 Ti Gaming X, Gigabyte’s Xtreme Aorus, and the Founders Edition card. Each of these also has an individual review posted, if you’re looking for break-outs on any one device. See the following links for those (listed in order of publication):
- EVGA GTX 1080 Ti SC2 review
- Gigabyte GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Aorus review
- GN Hybrid 1080 Ti reference review (with liquid)
- MSI GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X review
- NVidia GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition review
It’s Not About Gaming Performance
Having reviewed this many cards in the past few weeks, it should be apparent to everyone that same-GPU cards aren’t really differentiated by gaming performance. Gaming performance is going to be within a few percentage points of all devices, no matter what, because they’re ultimately governed by the GPU. A manufacturer can throw the world’s best PCB, VRM, and cooler together, and it’s still going to hit a Pascal wall of voltage and power budget. Further, chip quality dictates performance in greater ways than PCB or VRM will. We have duplicates of most of our cards, and they can perform 1-3% apart from one another, depending on which boosts higher out-of-box.
NVidia’s Titan Xp 2017 model video card was announced without any pre-briefing for us, marking it the second recent Titan X model card that took us by surprise on launch day. The Titan Xp, as it turns out, isn’t necessarily targeted at gaming – though it does still bear the GeForce GTX mark. NVidia’s Titan Xp followed the previous Titan X (that we called “Titan XP” to reduce confusion from the Titan X – Maxwell before that), and knocks the Titan X 2016 out of its $1200 price bracket.
The Titan Xp 2017 now firmly socketed into the $1200 category, we’ve got a gap between the GTX 1080 Ti at $700 MSRP ($750 common price) of $450-$500 to the TiXp. Even with that big of a gap, though, diminishing returns in gaming or consumer workloads are to be expected. Today, we’re benchmarking and reviewing the nVidia Titan Xp for gaming specifically, with additional thermal, power, and noise tests included. This card may be better deployed for neural net and deep learning applications, but that won’t stop enthusiasts from buying it simply to have “the best.” For them, we’d like to have some benchmarks online.
Our Gigabyte GTX 1080 Ti Aorus Xtreme ($750) review brings us to look at one of the largest video cards in the 1080 Ti family, matching it well versus the MSI 1080 Ti Gaming X. Our tests today will look at the Aorus Xtreme GPU in thermals (most heavily), noise levels, gaming performance, and overclocking, with particular interest in the efficacy of Gigabyte’s copper insert in the backplate. The Gigabyte Aorus Xtreme is a heavyweight in all departments – size being one of them – and is priced at $750, matching the MSI Gaming X directly. A major point of differentiation is the bigger focus on RGB LEDs with Gigabyte’s model, though the three-fan design is also interesting from a thermal and noise perspective. We’ll look at that more on page 3.
We’ve already posted a tear-down of this card (and friend of the site ‘Buildzoid’ has posted his PCB analysis), but we’ll recap some of the PCB and cooler basics on this first page. The card uses a 3-fan cooler (with smaller fans than the Gaming X-type cards, but more of them) and large aluminum heatsink, ultimately taking up nearly 3 PCI-e slots. It’s the same GPU and memory underneath as all other GTX 1080 Ti cards, with differences primarily in the cooling and power management departments. Clock, of course, does have some pre-OC applied to help boost over the reference model. Gigabyte is shipping the Xtreme variant of the 1080 Ti at 1632/1746MHz (OC mode) or 1607/1721 (gaming mode), toggleable through software if not manually overclocking.
The GTX 1080 Ti posed a fun opportunity to roll-out our new GPU test bench, something we’ve been working on since end of last year. The updated bench puts a new emphasis on thermal testing, borrowing methodology from our EVGA ICX review, and now analyzes cooler efficacy as it pertains to non-GPU components (read: MOSFETs, backplate, VRAM).
In addition to this, of course, we’ll be conducting a new suite of game FPS benchmarks, running synthetics, and preparing for overclocking and noise. The last two items won’t make it into today’s content given PAX being hours away, but they’re coming. We will be starting our Hybrid series today, for fans of that. Check here shortly for that.
If it’s not obvious, we’re reviewing nVidia’s GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition card today, follow-up to the GTX 1080 and gen-old 980 Ti. Included on the benches are the 1080, 1080 Ti, 1070, 980 Ti, and in some, an RX 480 to represent the $250 market. We’re still adding cards to this brand new bench, but that’s where we’re starting. Please exercise patience as we continue to iterate on this platform and build a new dataset. Last year’s was built up over an entire launch cycle.
NVidia just opened the floodgate on its GTX 1080 Ti video card, the Pascal-based mid-step between the GTX 1080 and GTX Titan X. The 1080 Ti opens up SMs over the GTX 1080, now totaling 28 SMs over the 1080’s 20 SMs, resulting in 3584 total FP32 CUDA cores on the GTX 1080 Ti. Simultaneous multiprocessor architecture remains the same – Pascal hasn’t changed, here – leaving us with primary changes in the memory subsystem.
The GTX 1080 Ti will host 11GB of GDDR5X memory – not HBM2 – with a speed of 11Gbps. This is boosted over the GTX 1080’s 10Gbps GDDR5X memory speeds, resultant of work done by memory supplier Micron to clean the signal. The heavy transition cluttering of early G5X iterations have been reduced, allowing a cleaner signal in the GDDR5X cells without data corruption concerns. We’ll have some news below on how this also relates to existing Pascal cards.
NVidia has added to our pile of pre-CES hardware news with the announcement of GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti-equipped laptops. 30+ models from various OEMs will be arriving in Q1 2017, including several using Intel’s new Kaby Lake CPUs this week at CES. Confirmed manufacturers include Acer, Alienware/Dell, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, and MSI.
As mentioned in our laptop 1060/1070/1080 benchmark, improvements to power management mean that nVidia’s 10-series notebook GPUs are the real deal, rather than the neutered “-M” versions that laptops have gotten in the past. The specs listed for the notebook GPUs confirm this, with the only major difference being higher core clock speeds in the notebook 1050 and 1050 Ti. This doesn’t indicate a change in the physical hardware, it mostly seems that nVidia has increased the clock-rate given the high thermal headroom (room to increase heat) as a result of the efficient 1050/Ti GPUs. Like other 10-series laptops, OEMs will probably be allowed an additional +/-10% for overclocking their GPUs.
The Nintendo “Switch” was announced this morning, the next-generation half-portable, half-docked console. To reduce confusion, the Switch was previously referred to as the Nintendo “NX.” It is the same device.
Nintendo's new Switch is built in partnership with nVidia and leverages the Pascal architecture found in current-generation GTX 10-series GPUs. At least, based on this text from nVidia's blog: "[...] NVIDIA GPU based on the same architecture as the world’s top-performing GeForce gaming graphics cards." Tegra SOCs include ARM processors alongside the nVidia graphics solution, and also host all of the I/O lanes and memory interfaces. This is a complete system, as indicated by “system on chip.” We've asked nVidia for details on which ARM devices are used and which memory will be supported, but were told that the company is not revealing further details on Nintendo's product. We are awaiting comment from Nintendo for more information.
We do know that the Tegra SOC is accelerating gameplay with hardware-acceleration for video playback, and that nVidia and Nintendo have deployed “custom software for audio effects and rendering.” We can confidently speculate that the Switch is not functioning as the previous Shield devices have (read: not streaming to handheld from a dock), mostly because the Switch is large enough to contain all necessary render hardware within its handheld state. The Switch is also shown in the advert to be playable on planes, which most certainly do not have fast enough internet to support up/down game streaming. This is processing and rendering locally.
Buildzoid returns this week to analyze the PCB and VRM of Gigabyte's GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force GPU, providing new insight to the card's overclocking capabilities. We showed a maximum overclock of 2151.5MHz on the Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force, but the card's stable OC landed it at just 2100.5MHz. Compared to the FTW Hybrid (2151.5MHz overclock sustained) and MSI Sea Hawk 1080 (2050MHz overclock sustained), the Gigabyte Xtreme Water Force's overkill VRM & cooling land it between the two competitors.
But we talk about all of that in the review; today, we're focused on the PCB and VRM exclusively.
The card uses a 12-phase core voltage VRM with a 2-phase memory voltage VRM, relying on Fairchild Semiconductor and uPI Micro for most the other components. Learn more here:
The GTX 980's placement in notebooks heralded the now-present era of desktop GPUs in laptops, but was still sort of a trial of the tech. NVidia and AMD have both introduced their Pascal and Polaris architectures in full, uncut versions to notebooks this generation, with performance generally within about 10% of an equivalent desktop build. Despite the desktop-level power, battery life should also be improved resultant of an overall reduction in power consumption by the GPU and the CPU alike. And almost every other component, for that matter – like DDR4, which requires lower voltage and draws less power than DDR3.
Today, we're looking at the MSI GE62VR 6RF Apache Pro laptop with GTX 1060 & i7-6700HQ, priced at $1600. The benchmarks follow our previous notebook 1070 vs. 1080 tests, but with proper depth and hands-on. Note also that we already wrote about the GE62VR's bloatware problem.
In this review of the MSI GE62VR 6RF Apache Pro ($1600), we'll be testing FPS on the GTX 1060, temperatures, noise levels, and build quality.