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.
EVGA’s GTX 1080 Ti Kingpin made its first debut to a group of press before Computex 2017, and we were given the privilege of being the first media to tear-down the card. The Kingpin edition 1080 Ti is EVGA’s highest-end video card – price TBD – and is built for extreme overclockers and enthusiasts.
The GTX 1080 Ti Kingpin uses an oversized PCB that’s similar to the FTW3, though with different components, and a two-slot cooler that partners with NTC thermistors on the VRM + VRAM components. This means that, like the FTW3, the cooling solution slaves to independent component temperatures, with a hard target of keeping all ICs under 60C (even when unnecessary or functionally useless, like for the MCUs). The Kingpin model card uses a copper-plated heatsink, six heatpipes, and the usual assortment of protrusions on the baseplate for additional surface area, but also makes accommodations for LN2 overclocking. We’ll start with detailing the air cooler, then get into LN2 and power coverage.
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.
With days to go before we fly out to Taipei, Taiwan for this year's Computex show, EVGA's new 1080 Ti SC2 Hybrid card arrived for tear-down and analysis. We might not have time to get the review dialed-in on this one before the show, but we figured the least we could do is our inaugural disassembly of the card.
EVGA's 1080 Ti SC2 Hybrid makes a few changes over previous Hybrid cards, as it seems the liquid+air amalgams have grown in popularity over the past few generations. Immediately of note, the shroud now carries some 'tessellation' paint embellishments, an illuminated name plate, and a cable tether for the radiator fan. Small increments.
Another day, another GPU driver update. This one comes from AMD, with Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition update version 17.5.2. The new version fixes several bugs and also improves Prey’s performance on the RX 580.
Bugfixes include a NieR: Automata crash, long Forza: Horizon 3 load times, an issue with CrossFire systems where the main display adapter could appear disabled in Radeon settings, and a system hang when entering sleep or hibernate with the RX 550.
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:
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