MSI's GTX 1080 Gaming X was the first AIB partner GTX 1080 to show up at our lab, marking the beginning of AIB partner reign over the GTX 1080 market. We originally reviewed the GTX 1080 and remarked that, although the card is good, it just made far more sense to wait for non-reference (“Founders Edition”) designs. The FE card exhibited some clock-rate instability in some instances, and our DIY Hybrid project served as a proof of concept for aftermarket cooling solutions.
MSI's GTX 1080 Gaming X (priced at $720) tests that theory with a manufacturer-made cooling solution. The GTX 1080 Gaming X uses a new Twin Frozr VI air cooler, ships with three OC settings in the MSI Gaming App (maxing-out at 1847MHz with OC mode), and is stacked in the middle of MSI's options. The company is also working on a Gaming Z card, which we live-overclocked at Computex, and a new SeaHawk – all those are detailed here.
In this MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X review, we look at cooling performance, noise levels, FPS (gaming), and maximum overclocking performance.
GTX 1080 & Pascal Architecture Content
To catch-up on the GTX 1080, our GN Hybrid experiment, and Pascal architecture, check out these articles:
MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X Overclocking & Video Review
NVIDIA GTX 1080 Specs, 1070 Specs, 980 & 980 Ti Specs
|NVIDIA Pascal vs. Maxwell Specs Comparison|
|Tesla P100||GTX 1080||GTX 1070||GTX 980 Ti||GTX 980||GTX 970|
|GPU||GP100 Cut-Down Pascal||GP104 Pascal||GP104 (?)||GM200 Maxwell||GM204 Maxwell||GM204|
|Fab Process||16nm FinFET||16nm FinFET||16nm FinFET||28nm||28nm||28nm|
|TPCs||28 TPCs||20 TPCs||Unknown||-||-||-|
|Memory Clock||?||10Gbps GDDR5X||Unknown||7Gbps GDDR5||7Gbps GDDR5||7Gbps|
|Power Connectors||?||1x 8-pin||Unknown||1x 8-pin
|2x 6-pin||2x 6-pin|
MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X Specs
MSI's GTX 1080 Gaming X ($720) runs the same GP104 GPU as all other GTX 1080s, resulting in the same core specs as – again – every other GTX 1080 that will hit the market. As is always the case with AIB partner cards, the primary difference to MSI's Gaming X is its cooling design and pre-overclock settings.
The MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X uses MSI's Twin Frozr VI cooler, the newest version of the Twin Frozr cooling solution, and institutes a few minor (but technical) changes that we explored at Computex. In this specific implementation, the Twin Frozr VI cooler uses six 8mm heatpipes that have a tapered design. The heatpipes are rounded toward the fringes of the cooler, but come to a squared end at the coldplate. Squaring the heatpipes seems to be a trend for this generation of AIB partner coolers, and widens surface area and contact with the coldplate and nearby fins. The real-world impact of this is difficult to measure without access to a tooling shop, but the science behind the concept is sound – it just may be negligible; that said, the world of cooling is often a fight over one degree Celsius, if that, so every small change is critical to these manufacturers.
EVGA's approach is a bit different. EVGA's ACX 3.0 cooler sticks with round heatpipes, but the company is filling the borders between the heatpipe and coldplate/fins with copper (or “something like that,” as we were coyly told at Computex).
Back to Twin Frozr, though.
The GTX 1080 Gaming X and GTX 1080 Gaming Z both mount an aluminum heatsink to the PWM for better OC/OV temperature control, shown at the right-edge of the card. The baseplate offers what some companies might call “thermal armor,” sitting between the sizable aluminum heatsink and the PCB. That baseplate deploys thermal pads between each of the memory modules and its metal, with MSI's “Extreme Compound X” TIM between the GPU and coldplate. MSI did not reveal the thermal conductivity of the TIM when asked.
As for the fans, MSI has upgraded to its “Torx 2.0” fan design – basically pairs of traditional fan blades and dispersion fan blades, which help trap col air and move it through the fins. The left fan is positioned above the GPU, the right above the VRM. Previous MSI coolers function the same way as the new one, using a “Zero Frozr” hardware toggle to disable fans when the GPU is below 60C. This keeps noise levels down during idle or low-load times. As an example, intentionally throttling the GPU for a game like LoL or DOTA2 would result in (easily) 60FPS framerates at nearly any resolution, while maintaining passive cooling with just the copper and alloy.
Power design is improved substantially over the reference (“Founders Edition”) card, now using a 10+1 phase VRM rather than the 5+1 phasing of the GTX 1080 FE card. MSI also cuts a custom PCB, as should be plenty obvious from the comparative heights of the FE and Gaming X cards – the Gaming X is much taller. This is actually a little annoying, but we'll talk more about the z-height later.
An additional 6-pin power header provides another 75W of power to the GPU which, if fully utilized (and that's tough to accomplish with this chip), would result in a maximum power allowance nearing 300W. MSI tells us that a custom VBIOS is on the Gaming X card and that all shipping Gaming X cards will have this custom VBIOS. We were – again, coyly, as seems the case of manufacturers – told that the VBIOS should allow marginal voltage increases past the OV limit of the FE card.
MSI ships the GTX 1080 Gaming X with its MSI Gaming App, which can switch the card between these three pre-OC values & fan curves:
OC Mode: 1847MHz Boost / 1708MHz Base
Gaming Mode: 1822MHz Boost / 1683MHz Base
Silent Mode: 1733MHz Boost / 1607MHz Base
Review Sample Notes
Our review sample shipped at its maximum pre-overclock speed, so that'd be with OC Mode pre-enabled at 1708/1847MHz base/boost. If retail cards do not ship with this speed pre-configured, downloading the MSI Gaming App and selecting “OC Mode” will put retail cards at parity with what we tested (which was configured to the OC Mode by default).
Continue to the next page for testing methodology.