AMD’s RX 560 continues a trend of refreshing the Polaris line, but with a more notable change than the previous RX 580RX 570 refreshes: The RX 560 fully unlocks itself to 16 CUs, up from the previous 14 CUs of the RX 460. This change (in addition to voltage-frequency changes) instantly accounts for performance increases over the RX 460, theoretically making for a more exciting update than was had with the 580 & 570. That’s not to say that the predecessors of this 500 line were unworthy, but they certainly weren’t eye-catching for anyone who’d followed the 400-series launch.
Our review of the Sapphire RX 560 Pulse OC 4GB ($115) card is the first look at this new low-end line from AMD, updating the entry-level, sub-$120 market (in theory) with fresh competition. The incumbent would be the GTX 1050, which we previously thought a better buy than the RX 460. Today, we’re seeing how that’s changed in seven months.
To catch everyone up on the RX 500 refresh thus far, it’s mostly been a glorified BIOS update to the RX 580 and RX 570 cards, driving higher frequency, permitting higher voltage under OV, and trading more power for some performance. Nothing special, but enough to keep AMD in the game until its eventual Vega launch. We found the RX 580 to be a strong competitor to the GTX 1060, particularly at the price point, though noted that owners of RX 480 series cards shouldn’t bother considering an upgrade – because it’s not one. This 500 series is not meant for owners of the 400 series. Tune out until Vega, Volta, or high-end Pascal makes sense.
Sapphire’s RX 560 Pulse OC has one of the weakest cooling solutions we’ve seen of late, but – as we learn in our VRM+VRAM temperature testing – it’s sufficient for this type of card. A low-end GPU doesn’t draw much power, and so Sapphire skates by with its MagnaChip Semiconductor MDU1514 + MDU1517 3-phase power design.
As this content is relatively straight-forward, given the low price, let’s dive straight into testing.
One of the most requested additions to our video card testing has been to normalize for noise. Several of you have emailed, tweeted, or tagged us on Reddit to ask for this type of testing, and so we started the process of re-testing some devices to build a database. The idea is to find fan RPM at a fixed dBA output – 40dBA, for example – and then test thermal performance when fans match that noise level. This doesn’t take into account the type of noise, e.g. frequency spectrum analysis, but it’s a good start to a new type of testing. And, honestly, most of these coolers sound about the same pitch/frequency (subjectively) with regard to frequency output.
The ASUS ROG Strix 1080 Ti review is our first to introduce normalized noise testing, and it’s an interesting card to start us off. We’ll talk more about that specific testing approach lower down.
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.
Our Titan Xp Hybrid mod is done, soon to be shipped back to its owner in its new condition. Liquid cooling mods in the past have served as a means to better understand where a GPU could perform given a good cooler, and are often conducted on cards with reference coolers. The Titan Xp won’t have AIB partner cooler models, and so building a Hybrid card gives us a glimpse into what could have been.
In today’s benchmarks and conclusion of the Titan Xp Hybrid mod, we’ll cover thermals and noise levels extensively, overclocking, and throw in some gaming benchmarks.
GN resident overclocker ‘Buildzoid’ just finished digging through the details of EVGA’s GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 ($780) video card, noting that the card is one of the most overbuilt 1080 Tis that we’ve seen yet. The FTW3 over-engineers its VRM and power delivery solution and cooling solution equally, the latter of which we detailed in our 1080 Ti FTW3 tear-down a few days ago.
Much of this is to do with the FTW VRM discussion of last year, something we closed the book on in November. Our conclusion was that the cards were operating within thermal spec, but that there were supply-side QA issues that happened to fall on EVGA. The engineering team decided to design for this by over-engineering every aspect of the VRM on the new ICX and 1080 Ti cards, something we see in today’s PCB analysis:
Our GTX 1080 Ti SC2 review was met with several comments (on YouTube, at least) asking where the FTW3 coverage was. Turns out, EVGA didn’t even have those cards until two days ago, and we had ours overnighted the same day. We’ve got initial testing under way, but wanted to share the tear-down process early to spoil some of the board. This tear-down of the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 ($780) exposes the PCB and VRM design, fan header placement, and cooler design for the FTW3. We’re working with GN resident overclocker ‘Buildzoid’ for a full PCB + VRM analysis in the coming days, but have preliminary information at the ready.
EVGA’s 1080 Ti FTW3 is one of the most overbuilt PCBs we’ve seen in recent history. As stated in our SC2 review, the EVGA team has gone absolutely mental with thermal pad placement (following last year’s incident), and that’s carried over to the FTW3. But it’s more than just thermal pads (on literally every component, even those that have no business being cooled), it’s also the VRM design. This is a 10+2 phase card with doubling and dual FETs all across the board, using Alpha Omega Semiconductor E6930s for all the FETs. We’ll save the rest of the PCB + VRM discussion (including amperage and thermal capabilities) for Buildzoid’s deep-dive, which we highly encourage watching. That’ll go live within a few days.
We just posted our second part of the Titan Xp Hybrid mod, detailing the build-up process for adding CLCs to the Titan Xp. The process is identical to the one we detailed for the GTX 1080 Ti FE card, since the PCB is effectively equal between the two devices.
For this build, we added thermocouples to the VRAM and VRM components to try and determine if Hybrid mods help or hurt VRAM temperatures (and, with that part of testing done, we have some interesting results). Final testing and benchmarking is being run now, with plans to publish by Monday.
In the meantime, check out part 2 below:
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.
EVGA’s GTX 1080 Ti SC2 ($720) card uses the same ICX cooler that we reviewed back in February, where we intensely detailed how the new solution works (including information on the negative type thermistors and accuracy validation of those sensors). To get caught-up on ICX, we’d strongly recommend reading the first page of that review, and then maybe checking the thermal analysis for A/B testing versus ACX in an identical environment. As a fun add, we’re also A/B testing the faceplate – it’s got all those holes in it, so we thought we’d close them off and see if they actually help with cooling.
The fast version is basically this: EVGA, responding to concerns about ACX last year, decided to fully reinvent its flagship cooler to better monitor and cool power components in addition to the GPU component. The company did this by introducing NTC thermistors to its PCB, used for measuring GPU backside temperature (rather useless in a vacuum, but more of a validation thing when considering last year’s backplate testing), memory temperature, and power component temperature. There are thermistors placed adjacent to 5 MOSFETs, 3 memory modules, and the GPU backside. The thermistors are not embedded in the package, but placed close enough to get an accurate reading for thermals in each potential hotspot. We previously validated these thermistors versus our own thermocouples, finding that EVGA’s readings were accurate to reality.
Although this is absolutely a unique, innovative approach to GPU cooling – no one else does it, after all – we found its usefulness to primarily be relegated to noise output. After all, a dual-fan ACX cooler was already enough to keep the GPU cool (and FETs, with the help of some thermal pads), and ICX is still a dual-fan cooler. The ICX sensors primarily add a toy for enthusiasts to play with, as it won’t improve gaming performance in any meaningful way, though those enthusiasts could benefit from fine-tuning the fan curve to reduce VRM fan speeds. This would benefit in noise levels, as the VRM fan doesn’t need to spin all that fast (FETs can take ~125C heat before they start losing efficiency in any meaningful way), and so the GPU + VRM fans can spin asynchronously to help with the noise profile. Out of box, EVGA’s fan curve is a bit aggressive, we think – but we’ll talk about that later.
Thanks to GamersNexus reader ‘Grant,’ we were able to obtain a loaner nVidia Titan Xp (2017) card for review and thermal analysis. Grant purchased the card for machine learning and wanted to liquid cool the GPU, which happens to be something with which we’re well-versed. In the process, we’ll be reviewing the Titan Xp from a gaming standpoint, tearing it down, analyzing the PCB & VRM, and building it back into a liquid-cooled card. All the benchmarking is already done, but we’re opening our Titan Xp content string with a tear-down of the card.
Disassembling Founders Edition nVidia graphics cards tends to be a little more tool-intensive than most other GPU tear-downs. NVidia uses 2.0mm & 2.5mm Allen keys to secure the shroud to the baseplate, and then the baseplate to the PCB; additionally, a batch of ~16x 4mm hex heads socket through the PCB and into the baseplate, each of which hosts a small Phillips screw for the backplate.
The disassembly tutorial continues after this video version:
We moderate comments on a ~24~48 hour cycle. There will be some delay after submitting a comment.