Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition Review

 
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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition Review

Highlights

  • Nvidia’s recommended pricing for reference cards is Rs. 63,000
  • Performance is claimed to be 35 percent higher than that of the GTX 1080
  • Partner companies will launch reference cards & ones with custom coolers

Even when the powerhouse GeForce GTX 1080 was released in the middle of 2016, we knew there would be a "Ti" version halfway into its lifecycle. That's how Nvidia has operated for at least its past three product generations. This strategy allows it to hedge against any surprises AMD might pull out of its hat, and also keep things fresh for those who have the money to spend.

The top-end "Ti" cards are usually slightly cut-down versions of the insanely powerful Titan products that are based on physically larger and more powerful GPUs. Those cards are aimed more at professionals in the content creation and data visualisation than at gamers, and are therefore absurdly expensive. That doesn't stop them from being absolute beasts at gaming, though, and so it isn't hard to see the appeal of a "Ti" model that offers almost all the performance of its equivalent Titan model at a greatly reduced price.

With this current generation of graphics cards, Nvidia has no competition at the top, and therefore no real reason to launch a new flagship (let alone cut the price of its previous one). AMD won't be launching its next-gen Vega-based cards for a few months, so maybe this is Nvidia's way of intimidating its only competitor. Either way, we as buyers get more for our money, so we aren't complaining.

 

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti architecture and specifications
Nvidia's product names don't necessarily tell you what's going on behind the scenes. The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti might seem like just a variant or even a higher clocked version of the GeForce GTX 1080, but in reality, the piece of silicone at its heart is completely different. The GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 are siblings, based on a chip codenamed GP104 - the lower priced model just has a few sections disabled and runs slightly slower for a proportionate reduction in power. The GTX 1080 Ti is a similarly cut-down version of the beefier GP102 GPU, which we first saw in last year's Nvidia Titan X.

The Titan X's GP102 has 3,584 execution units called CUDA cores grouped into 12 clusters called Streaming Multiprocessors. and 12GB of high-speed GDDR5X RAM. Surprisingly, GTX 1080 Ti has the same number - none have been disabled. The difference lies in how these clusters connect to the GPU's cache. While the Titan X has 96 ROPs (Raster Operation Pipelines) and 3MB of L2 cache, the GTX 1080 Ti loses one-twelfth of that capacity, going down to 88 ROPs and 2.8MB L2 cache. That's also why the new card has 11GB of GDDR5X RAM on a 352-bit bus instead of the 12GB of its bigger sibling on a 384-bit bus.

Reducing one-twelfth of one subsystem's functionality really doesn't seem like enough to differentiate two products, especially if one is priced at $1200 and the other at $699. Making things more peculiar is the fact that the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti actually runs a little faster than the Titan X: the GPU base and boost speeds are 1480MHz/1582MHz vs 1417MHz/1531MHz, and the memory is clocked at 11Gbps vs 10Gbps resulting in memory bandwidth of 484GBps compared to 480GBps.

Speaking of memory, Nvidia says that the GTX 1080 Ti uses the fastest ever GDDR5X RAM, thanks to manufacturing process improvements made since the first card to use it, the GTX 1080, was released last year. Unfortunately, we don't have a Titan X card to test alongside the GTX 1080 Ti, but we'd be surprised if there really was that much of a difference between the two when it comes to gaming - the difference between 11GB and 12GB is purely academic. Nvidia's own published materials show that very few of today's games can use more than 8GB of VRAM, and that too only if running at 5K resolution or beyond.

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition
The graphics card that we see here is pretty much identical to the Founders' Edition models that Nvidia has released before. It has a faceted matte silver aluminium shroud and a single blower-style fan. The GeForce GTX logo on the top lights up in green when the card is powered up. There's a simple black backplate for stability, but you can take off a part of it if airflow is a problem.

Beneath the shroud is a copper vapour chamber. Nvidia says that this is a new design that covers twice as much surface area as before, thanks to the removal of the legacy DVI port on the rear panel. This should improve heat dissipation and prevent the fan spinning up as often or as much. We've never had a problem with noise when using previous Founders' Edition cards, but improvements are always welcome.

There are SLI fins on the top, and you'll need Nvidia's High-Bandwidth SLI bridge to link up to two cards. You'll find one HDMI 2.0b and three DisplayPort 1.4 outputs on the rear panel. DVI didn't have the bandwidth to carry 4K signals at high refresh rates anyway, but there's a DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter in the box for those who need to connect an older monitor for whatever reason. Those who use VR headsets might have to swap cables because there's only one HDMI port.

The GTX 1080 Ti's rated TDP is 250W, and you'll need one 8-pin and one 6-pin PCIe power connector. Nvidia has also redesigned its power circuitry, and the new GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition features 7-phase FETs. Unlike with the Titan X, partners such as Asus, MSI, and Zotac will be able to release their own cards with custom coolers, clock speeds, and other tweaks, so don't be surprised to see overclocked cards with more robust power specifications.

Nvidia seems to have realised that its Founders' Edition cards are perceived as vanilla options, just as stock cooler models were before the idea of branding them came about. The company has wisely decided not to charge a premium anymore, and so this card carries the same Rs. 63,000 ($699) price tag as custom cards will start at.

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition usage and performance
We tested the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti on our brand new AMD Ryzen test rig. While gaming was one of the Ryzen's very few weak points, we're testing exclusively at 4K and AMD says that potential CPU bottlenecks even out, allowing any GPU to show what it can do. Nvidia provided us with driver version 378.78 for testing prior to its public release. When comparing scores with those of the GeForce GTX 1080 we tested last year, please note that the test bench used was quite different. The specifications are as follows:

  Component
CPU AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
Motherboard MSI X370 Xpower Gaming Titanium
RAM 2x8 GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000
Graphics card Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition
SSD 250GB WD Blue SSD
CPU cooler Noctua NH-U12S SE -AM4
PSU Corsair RM650
Monitor Asus PB287Q
OS Windows 10

Starting with the ever-faithful 3DMark, we see the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti simply slicing through all test runs. While the GTX 1080 Founders' Edition scored 5,075 and Asus' Strix GeForce GTX 1080 scored 5,200 in the Fire Strike Ultra run, our brand new GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition posted a massive 6,814. In the new DirectX 12 Time Spy test, we got a score of 8,829. For the sake of comparison, AMD's Radeon RX 480 posted 2,637 in Fire Strike Ultra and 4,067 in Time Spy.

Things continued in much the same vein with the rest of our tests. We saw the GTX 1080 Ti casually stomping all over its predecessor as well as the competition. Unigine Valley gave us an average of 83.3fps running at its maximum resolution of 2560x1440 at Ultra quality - however, it's worth noting that there was a huge variance between the minimum of 20.2fps and the maximum of 144.8fps. Star Swarm, an intense space battle simulation, managed 78.96fps.

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We ran through a number of games that have built-in benchmarks. These scores are generated over a consistent run, so they can be compared between GPUs and test platforms. Starting with GTA V, we logged 100.085fps on average, with very few noticeable glitches and a solid average frame time of 9.99ms.

Metro: Last Light Redux can really push a system to its knees, and we recorded only 30.33fps with noticeable tearing at 4K with the Very High preset and all independent quality settings pushed up to their max (except for antialiasing at 4X). Needless to say, this game can scale better with its settings turned down.

Ashes of the Singularity is a modern DirectX 12 title, and we got an average of 53.3fps when running at its Crazy quality preset at 4K. Going down to the High preset increased our score to 63.4fps. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided gave us 47.9fps with a minimum of 39.4fps and a maximum of 60.2fps at its Very High preset when using DX12. We also ran Rise of the Tomb Raider in DX12 mode and got an average of 62.89fps witih a minimum of 37.32fps and a maximum of 96.70 using the Very High preset

We then sat down and played through a few games manually, logging frame rates and times using FRAPS whenever possible. This allows us to see how much each title stresses the test bench, and how high the settings can be pushed before the overall experience begins to get compromised. With a GPU like the GTX 1080 Ti at our disposal, we decided to max out every possible option and then work our way down from there, if needed.

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of today's most beautiful and demanding games. We used the Ultra graphics preset and High post-processing preset with no FPS cap. We ran, swam, and rode a horse around a village and logged an average of 51fps but noticed quite a few torn frames. The average frame time was 19.8ms and that went down to 24.3ms (lower is better) at the 99th percentile. We would need to tweak the settings just a tiny bit to smooth this over, but gameplay was still enjoyable.

We expected the older Far Cry 4 to play as smooth as butter, but it did put up a tiny bit of resistance at 4K using its Ultra preset. We averaged 69fps with slightly uneven frame pacing in a few spots. We stayed below the 16.7ms mark with an average of 16.6ms, which only dropped to 19.4ms at the 99th percentile.

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Doom (2016) is one of the lightest games in our portfolio, and makes even low-end cards look great. We wanted to see how it would do so we took it for a spin at 4K using the Ultra preset and Vulkan renderer. The game's built-in reporting tool showed 85-100fps on average in the Foundry level, and play was perfectly smooth.

Throughout our test period, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition card ran cool and quiet. There was a slight fluttering sound when the fan spun up or down, but otherwise nothing more than a distant hum. If even that much sound is too much, you might want to consider third-party cards with more elaborate multi-fan cooling solutions.

Verdict
We're more than happy with the performance we've seen from the Founders' Edition card, and if past trends continue, we'll see partners including Asus, Zotac, and MSI squeeze even more juice out of the same GPU with their custom coolers. Nvidia doesn't sell its own branded graphics cards in India but the reference models from all third parties will be identical to the one we've tested. Sources in the industry tell us that only reference cards will be available at launch time, with custom SKUs coming in only after a few weeks or months, but on the bright side, at least some of them will sell at Nvidia's recommended price of Rs. 63,000.

That price is probably the best part of this launch. Nvidia doesn't have any competition at this level right now and could easily have priced the GTX 1080 Ti a step higher than the GTX 1080, or even rested on its laurels till such time as it really needed to whip out a competitor. However, Nvidia chose to launch the new GTX 1080 Ti at the same price as the GTX 1080, when it launched in late May last year. In India, the Rupee price is actually Rs. 250 less.

AMD now has a higher bar to reach if it wants to be competitive with its Vega products this year - and we're looking forward to covering this battle as it unfolds. Till then, this is a great time pick up that top-end graphics card you've been itching for. You'll get more for your money with a GTX 1080 Ti, or alternatively, you'll save quite a bit by picking up a GTX 1080 Founders' Edition card for somewhere near its new recommended price of Rs. 45,000.

Don't even bother with the Nvidia Titan X, which sells for well over a lakh - whatever marginal improvement there might be just isn't worth it, even if you need compute power for jobs other than gaming. The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is more than enough for pushing 4K at around 60fps, and that carries over to smaller high-refresh-rate monitors and even VR headsets.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders' Edition
Price:
Rs. 63,000

Pros
Excellent performance for 4K gaming
No price increase compared to the GTX 1080
Runs cool and quiet

Cons
None

Ratings (Out of 5)
Performance: 5
Value for Money: 5
Overall: 5

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Jamshed Avari

Jamshed Avari has been working in tech journalism as a writer, editor and reviewer for over eight years. He has reviewed hundreds of products ranging from smartphones ... More

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