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.
Zotac's GTX 1080 Ti AMP! Extreme is one of the largest GTX 1080 Ti cards on the market, rivaling the Gigabyte Aorus Xtreme card in form factor. The card uses nearly three expansion slots, runs a long PCB and cooler, and hosts a dense aluminum heatsink with a three-fan cooler. This card runs $750 to $770, depending on if the “Core” edition is purchased. The only difference is the out-of-box clock, but all these 1080 Tis perform mostly the same in games (once solving for thermals).
For its VRM, Zotac takes a brute-force approach to the 1080 Ti, using a doubled-up 8-phase (16 phases total) with rebranded QN3107 and QN3103 MOSFETs, operating on a UP9511 in 8-phase mode. The VRM is the reason for the tall card, with two phases tucked off to the side (under a small aluminum heatsink that's isolated from all other cooling). This theoretically helps distribute the heat load better across a larger surface area, which Zotac then cools using a small aluminum fin stack that's isolated from the denser aluminum fin array. Above the VRM's isolated heatsink rests a rubber damper, which doesn't fully make contact (and is presumably to prevent scratching in the event of over-flex during installation, as it otherwise does nothing), and then the three fans.
Above: Contactless rubber bumper above the MOSFET heatsink.
The card is one of the heaviest, largest cards we've looked at this generation. To give some perspective, Zotac's AMP Extreme is about 1” thicker than a 2-slot card (like the reference card), is longer than the Aorus Xtreme, and is heavy from the mass of aluminum resting atop the GPU. Learn more about the inner-workings of this card in our tear-down.
For today, we're focusing on thermals, power, and noise, as that's the biggest difference between any of these 1080 Ti cards. The gaming performance and overclocking performance, sans Kingpin/Lightning cards, is not notably different.
With hours to spare until our Vega shipment arrives from a retailer, we put together a review of the Zotac 1080 Ti Amp Extreme – it’s in editing now, and still pending completion – and tore-down the card. The tear-down is live now on YouTube, and is embedded below.
As for the reference to the rubber bumper not making contact, that’s shown in the above photo. Note also that this bumper isn’t over the inductors, so it’s not going to impact coil whine, and it’s not making contact to the VRM heatsink. We already tested this and have data for it in the review.
Recapping some of the most recent hardware news for the past two days, we visit topics centering on liquid cooling for video cards and a side topic discussing Micron's newest 32GB mobile 3D NAND.
For GPUs, ZOTAC has just announced its “ArcticStorm” GTX 1080 card with waterblock, providing full coverage over the VRAM, FETs, and GPU itself. Standard G1/4 threaded fittings include barbs to support 10mm inner diameter tubing, and microfins are spaced at 0.3mm apart. For a more visual understanding of microfins and spacing, check our liquid cooler tear-down. A metal backplate is included with the card.
We don't have a price on Zotac's ArcticStorm just yet, but have reached-out to ask.
The Zotac GTX 980 Extreme ($610) is the most disappointing, saddening attempt at a high-end overclocking device I've ever seen. I've never been so resonantly disheartened by a review product. I've also never seen an aftermarket product perform worse than the reference model while being priced more than 10% higher. The added cost is justified – on paper – by several factors, including a better cooler and higher bin (better GM204).
Testing Zotac's GTX 980 Extreme overclocking card began with excitement and anticipation, rapidly decaying as despair and uncertainty took hold. When the card failed to overclock higher than my reference GTX 980 ($550), I first suspected error on my end – and proved that suspicion wrong – and then went to Zotac with strong emphasis that the BIOS needed a serious overhaul. A BIOS update should have been quick and easy if no hidden problems existed in the hardware, as other video card manufacturers have proven in the past. We published all of this about a week ago, firmly stating that no one buy the GTX 980 Extreme until we could revisit the topic.
We're revisiting it.
We've been playing around with Zotac's GTX 980 Extreme for about a week now. The story of Zotac in this launch cycle is sort of an interesting one. The company has been making mini-PCs (“ZBOX”) and nVidia video cards for many years now, but they've managed to remain in an unremarkable B-list / C-list of vendors in the GPU market. I don't think many would really disagree with the statement that Zotac has historically not been the first company that pops into mind when looking for a new GeForce card. But all of that changed with the GTX 980 and Game24, where we caught our first glimpses of a revitalized effort to capture the limelight.
From a design standpoint, the GTX 980 Amp! Extreme is positioned to be the best overclocking GM204 device on the market, short of adding liquid. It will compete with K|NGP|N on air. The triple-fan setup uses dual flanking exhaust and a single, central intake fan, with a massive copper coldplate mounted to the semiconductor, stemming from which are four heatpipes that feed into an aluminum sink. This will help cool the ~171W TDP device that can theoretically (2x8-pin) consume upwards of 300W (or more) when overclocked correctly. Additional aluminum is available near the somewhat over-engineered VRM, making for what should be cooler phases when placed under load. The problem is just that, though – we can't place the card under load. Yet. We've been trying for an entire week now, and I think we've deduced the heart of the issue.
We're looking at Zotac's new Pico PI320 mini-PC today which, despite its name, is not a Raspberry Pi derivative. The Pico is part of an invasion force of mini computers that has been flooding the market lately. Steam Machines are one thing – and Zotac has made those, too – but these are entirely different. Mini PCs are more targeted at low-end, TV-mounted used, generally favoring browsing and YouTube viewing over any heavy-duty tasks.
Most don't have enough storage to work as a long-term multimedia solution, demanding a more robust network-attached storage device if movie or TV file streaming is a requirement. Mini PCs also don't afford the gaming prowess required to run much more than a 2D platformer; with thanks to efforts made by Valve's Steam, AMD, and nVidia (GameStream), game streaming to a mini PC is a possibility, but even that has other throttles (network, OS / platform concerns). All these shortcomings noted, they're still viable computers – it just depends on what the user wants. For browsing, business use (documents, simple spreadsheets, day-to-day life), and down-streamed content, a mini PC has potential for deployment.
Following-up on our GTX 980 benchmark and review that went live yesterday, board manufacturers now have their own variations on the new Maxwell cards up for sale. Most of the manufacturers have altered the design in some way: a cooler overhaul, pre-overclocks, heavier-duty capacitors, and additional pins for power are a few of the common changes. Zotac has done all of these with their “Amp! Omega” GTX 970 GPU we got hands-on with.
Zotac’s new GTX 980 and GTX 970 both ship in standard (unmodified GPU specs + aftermarket cooler), Omega, and Extreme editions. The Omega and Extreme GPUs host a suite of OC-tuned hardware features and a slightly boosted clockrate.
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