Awards: Best 1080 Tis of 2017 (ASUS vs. EVGA, MSI & More)

By Published November 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Having gone over the best CPUs, cases, some motherboards, and soon coolers, we’re now looking at the best GTX 1080 Tis of the year. Contrary to popular belief, the model of cooler does actually matter for video cards. We’ll be going through thermal and noise data for a few of the 1080 Tis we’ve tested this year, including MOSFET, VRAM, and GPU temperatures, noise-normalized performance at 40dBA, and the PCB and VRM quality. As always with these guides, you can find links to all products discussed in the description below.

Rounding-up the GTX 1080 Tis means that we’re primarily going to be focused on cooler and PCB build quality: Noise, noise-normalized thermals, thermals, and VRM design are the forefront of competition among same-GPU parts. Ultimately, as far as gaming and overclocking performance, much of that is going to be dictated by silicon-level quality variance, and that’s nearly random. For that reason, we must differentiate board partner GPUs with thermals, noise, and potential for low-thermal overclocking (quality VRMs).

Today, we’re rounding-up the best GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards that we’ve reviewed this year, including categories of Best Overall, Best for Modding, Best Value, Best Technology, and Best PCB. Gaming performance is functionally the same on all of them, as silicon variance is the larger dictator of performance, with thermals being the next governor of performance; after all, a Pascal GPU under 60C is a higher-clocked, happier Pascal GPU, and that’ll lead framerate more than advertised clocks will.

All Our GTX 1080 Ti Reviews

Best Overall: ASUS ROG Strix GTX 1080 Ti

Buy the ASUS ROG Strix GTX 1080 Ti here.
Find our review of the ASUS ROG Strix here.

asus strix rog 1080ti

The first award is the most important, and is assigned for the best overall combination of thermal and noise performance. Across all tested thermal categories – that’d be VRAM, MOSFET, and GPU diode temperatures – we found the ASUS Strix 1080 Ti (Amazon) to be the most consistent and impressive in its performance. Our review found that the Strix keeps its core temperature low, but also manages to keep VRAM and VRM thermals equally and proportionally low, which can’t be said for a lot of other coolers. A lot of this comes down to the mounting plates for the heatsink, and then the fact that ASUS is actually leveraging the mass of its 2.5-slot heatsink. Fin design, pitch, and density permit good airflow through the heatsink, and the shroud doesn’t trap the air inside of the cooler.

zotac extreme 40dba gpu

zotac extreme 40dba mosfet

zotac extreme 40dba vram

The only category where the Strix cooler loses some ground is that of size – but size and cooling-to-noise performance are largely mutually exclusive. At 2.5 slots, some users may instead require a 2-slot card to better accommodate build needs. For a single-card build, though, this isn’t generally a concern.

Honorable Mention: MSI 1080 Ti Gaming X

Buy the MSI 1080 Ti Gaming X here.
Find the MSI 1080 Ti Gaming X review here.

gtx 1080ti gx 1

We want to give an honorable mention to MSI and the 1080 Ti Gaming X (Amazon), here: The Twin Frozr cooler remains the most effective dual-fan solution we’ve tested this year, and is able to leverage its larger fans to spin at lower, quieter RPMs than some of its competition. The Twin Frozr design isn’t the best by raw numbers, but has an excellent mix of noise-to-cooling performance, and manages this at a lower price than some of the flat-out best coolers, like the Strix. That price reduction matters, and to offer a competitive cooler at a lower price, MSI gets an honorable mention. We are interested to see how the company improves its dual-fan design for 2018.

Best for Modding: MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor

Buy the MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor here. (Note: Currently overpriced, at time of posting. Wait til it’s $700-$720)
Find the MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor review here.

msi 1080ti armor clc 1

This next category, “Best for Modding,” could also be taken to mean “most room for improvement.” The MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor (Newegg) was originally a $700, bottom-of-the-barrel GTX 1080 Ti, and it was for good reason: We found the stock cooler to be abysmal in its performance, and noted that the cooler was highly similar – though not entirely the same – as the coolers on the MSI GTX 1070 Armor cards. The upshot of this, though, is that you could get a very cheap, very good PCB and VRM for entry-level 1080 Ti prices. The best-kept secret of 1080 Tis is that the GTX 1080 Ti Armor, for all its faults, actually has the Gaming X PCB. The Gaming X PCB uses 16 5018SGs hooked up to 8 inductors, controlled by 8 driver ICs, and results in an 8-phase VRM with 4 MOSFETs per phase. The Fairchild dual-FET packages contain both the high-side and low-side FETs, and this overbuilt VRM outputs just 15W of heat under a typical 250A load, or 40W of heat under a 400A OC, assuming 125C and 300KHz switching frequency.

1080ti gx vrm 1

If you’re hoping to buy a 1080 Ti and convert it to a liquid-cooled card – something that we tested with this very card – this is one of the best options. You’re discarding the cooler anyway, so don’t spend big on one; get a cheaper cooler, like the one on the Armor, and a good PCB. In our testing with a closed-loop cooler, the Armor PCB became one of the best cards on our thermal charts, while also retaining one of the better PCBs. You definitely wouldn’t want this thing with its stock cooler, but it’s primed for modding.

Best Technology: EVGA ICX Series

Buy the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti SC2 ICX here (Amazon).
Find our EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 review here.

evga 1080ti sc2 face

Our next category is for Best Technology, which is assigned to the card that made the biggest contribution to the underlying tech in an AIB partner card for 2017. This one goes to the EVGA ICX cards (Amazon), responsible for implementing NTC thermistors across the entire PCB, improving VRM cooling by increasing baseplate surface area, and significantly overhauling ACX after the Great Thermal Pad Incident of 2016. Video cards don’t change much generationally, so to see a company move to install thermistors on critical non-GPU components is big. It may not seem like it to the average user, but if you think about it from a testing perspective, ICX gives us new tools to improve thermal testing accuracy of aftermarket coolers, water cooling blocks, and validate our own external case temperature measurements of VRMs with NTC thermistor measurements. ICX has become a tool for benchmarking, as it’s easy to measure temperatures of components that would usually go unrecognized. This comes at a time when other manufacturers have dropped the ball on VRM thermals, like Zotac with the Amp Extreme and its poor thermal performance when compared to the sheer mass of the cooler. As GPUs continue to reduce power consumption and cards get smaller, temperatures of components other than the GPU core become increasingly relevant. ICX complements what we do with our own thermocouples, and has become an important tool for testing other cooler designs.

Best Value: MSI GTX 1080 Ti DUKE (and EVGA SC Black)

Buy the MSI GTX 1080 Ti DUKE here.

msi duke 1080ti

Our next award is for Best Value. Thus far, other than the Armor, a lot of these cards have been in the $750 to $800 range. You definitely don’t need a card that expensive to still get the same framerates, and acoustic or thermal performance aren’t universally important to people. We were split between the 1080 Ti SC Black and 1080 Ti Duke, but given the current pricing market, the MSI Duke is winning. This card ranges from $735 to $750, depending on rebates and sales, and ends up priced about where the Gaming X used to be, before the mining craziness. The SC Black used to be closer to $720, but is unfortunately out of stock at that price or boosted to $750 now, making the Duke a bit cheaper. For pure value, we’d recommend considering the Duke.

Best PCB: Galax HOF 

galax hof buildzoid

On the opposite side of the value argument, we also wanted to point out the Best PCB and VRM. This isn’t something that 99% of users will ever need, but if you’re going for heavy overclocking, the Galax GTX 1080 Ti HOF video card is among the top-tier cards. Buildzoid of Actually Hardcore Overclocking worked on this card, and believes it to be the best PCB of the 1080 Tis.

The Galax HOF VCore VRM is a 16-phase VRM which, to quote Buildzoid, is “ridiculous” and “absolutely insane.” The Galax HOF uses an IR 3595 voltage controller in 8-phase mode, using a doubling scheme on the 16-phase setup for this card. The VRM  ends up with 40W of heat dissipation at 400A, or 54W at 500A, both of which are reasonably controllable with targeted and active cooling.

Find Buildzoid’s Galax HOF review here. 

Dumbest Trend 

The Dumbest Trend award goes to gigantic heatsinks. In what can only be described as a measuring contest, some manufacturers have continued to increase the mass and physical size of their GPU coolers, often with minimal gain in thermal performance, or in noise-normalized performance. What’s worse, a lot of these massive coolers overlook cooling basics, like physically connecting hot VRM components to the oversized heatsink – sort of the entire point of a big cooler, really. Stretching into 3-slot designs with 3 pounds of metal doesn’t make the cooler automatically good. It just means it’s big, and oftentimes, not at all worth the added cost to buy. There are a lot of good 2.5-slot designs out there, like MSI’s Twin Frozr and ASUS’ Strix coolers, and cards like the Gigabyte Xtreme or Zotac Extreme are larger than each of these, yet worse in thermal performance. This comes down to smart design, as opposed to just using more metal for the sake of looking bigger.

That’s all for this one. Check our other round-ups here:

More to come soon.

Editorial, Testing: Steve Burke
Video: Andrew Coleman

Last modified on November 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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