EVGA GTX 1080 SC ACX 3.0 Review
Its now been a few weeks since NVIDIA officially launched their GTX 1080 during that time we have seen plenty of redesigns from board partners. Due to the staggered launch dates between the Founders Edition and these custom cards, many potential buyers have waited before taking a plunge into the $600+ GPU market. There’s good reason for that: the GTX 1080 Founders Edition may be a massively powerful card but it tended to throttle under load and overclocking headroom wasn’t all that great. Hence the expectation for these particular cards is quite high and EVGA’s GTX 1080 Superclocked ACX 3.0 is arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated.
Past generations of EVGA cards have welcomed a long list of options for those who want a basic no-nonsense GPU to enthusiasts with some additional cash to burn and this one is no different. There are two reference-clocked graphics cards, one with a standard blower-style cooler at $609 and another for $619 which has EVGA’s new ACX 3.0 cooler. The $649 GTX 1080 Superclocked ACX 3.0 we’re reviewing today is their mid-tier card and will likely prove to be the most popular since the FTW goes for some $30 more and doesn’t offer substantially higher frequencies. What the FTW does have however is a boatload of other features like fully controllable RGB lighting, dual BIOS chips, an upgraded 10-phase PWM, potentially higher overclocking headroom and dual 8-pin power connectors. Despite boasting all of these expanded capabilities, you’ll notice that all of these EVGA GPUs are actually priced well below NVIDIA’s Founders Edition.
Specifications-wise you’ll wonder why anyone would considering picking up the Founders Edition when they could buy something like the EVGA GTX 1080 Superclocked ACX 3.0 for $50 less. Not only does the SC ACX 3.0 cost $50 less but it also boasts substantially higher clock speeds and an upgraded heatsink. Proof that NVIDIA may have overreached with the Founders Edition is shown off in stark contrast here.
EVGA has increased the GTX 1080’s Base Clock by 101MHz while the Boost Clock receives a 114MHz bump. Meanwhile the GDDR5X memory hasn’t been touched and remains at 10Gbps. All in all I don’t expect these modifications to make much of a real-world gameplay impact but they’re better than nothing and are rolled into a card that’s more affordable than the Founders Edition.
When it comes to onscreen performance the most telling factor with these custom cards will likely be their ability to retain the overclocked frequencies over time. Even though the Founder’s Edition card was able to effectively Boost to just over 1850MHz, it ended up throttling to below 1750MHz as its core temperatures hit 80°C. The upgraded ACX 3.0 heatsink should allow the Superclocked to sidestep that issue and deliver consistently high frequencies by properly leveraging its thermal mass to keep temperatures low.
The design of EVGA’s GTX 1080 cards has given rise to both criticism and praise. I’d classify it as more steampunk than streamlined and I’m not too crazy of the direction being taken here but I use a windowless case so as long as a card performs to expectations, I don’t care what it looks like. Plus, at 10.5” the SC ACX 3.0 is relatively compact so the cooler hasn’t added to the reference card’s length.
The ACX 3.0 cooler is a relatively straightforward affair but there are a number of improvements over its predecessor. There’s fully integrated LED lighting (though the Superclocked doesn’t include fully controllable RGB lighting), a pair of double ball bearing fans, upgraded heatpipes, and a new heatsink design for optimal heat dispersion. Unlike some of the competition EVGA has decided to avoid a direct contact heatpipe base and instead utilized a full coverage copper layout. This may have been an excellent move since the GP104 core is extremely compact which could lead to direct contact pipes actually “missing” key areas that require adequate cooling.
Past the upper heatsink, there’s also a secondary cooling plate that makes direct contact with the GDDR5X memory and MOSFETs. Heat is transferred here via simple heatpads.
One can’t complain that EVGA doesn’t brand their cards in a generic fashion. From the sides to the back to the edges, logos are literally everywhere. You’ll even find some callouts over the SC’s lone 8-pin connector just in case there’s any doubt about which card is installed in your system. Many have pointed to this overt use of logos and what looks like tacked-on bits as being a major turnoff, preventing them from considering EVGA’s latest cards but I don’t mind it. The character they impart upon the ACX 3.0 cooler is unique and that will go a long way towards differentiating this particular GTX 1080 from the competition.
The LED zones on the GTX 1080 Superclocked ACX 3.0 are large, white and extremely bright. They exude a cool blueish light which can’t be controlled or turned off through EVGA's software (you'll need to install NVIDIA's GeForce Experience for the on / off function) which is disappointing when you consider some competing solutions offer those levels of additional control. However, if you are looking towards a more “neutral” build around black and white components, this could be a perfect solution.
Even though there can be some critiques leveled against it, the ACX 3.0 heatsink feels incredibly well built. There are some pieces of plastic but by and large, the use of predominantly metal components leads to a feeling of extreme rigidity and quality. I’m just unsure why some of the logos like the one on the card’s back edge are installed in a different orientation so when the card is installed, they’ll be upside down.
EVGA’s clean, form-fitting backplate is a thing of absolute beauty and it does help cool the read-mounted GDDR5X modules. It does so by the same heatpad interface seen on the front-mounted contact plate.
One thing that does need mentioning is the GTX 1080 Superclocked ACX 3.0 uses NVIDIA’s reference PCB and components. Nothing has been upgraded and you’ll need to step up to the FTW or upcoming Classified versions if something more customized is required. On the positive side, this makes the card compatible with standard water cooling add-ons.
The I/O uses a standard layout with a trio of DisplayPort outputs and single connectors for both HDMI and DVI. EVGA has slightly modified this area with a larger grille to facilitate air movement in and around the ACX 3/0 heatsink but don’t expect all that much hot air to be exhausted directly through this area.
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