The NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti Performance Review
Last week NVIDIA pulled the covers off of their newest creation: the GTX 1080 Ti. Following in the footsteps of the surprisingly popular GTX 980 Ti, it is meant to push the high cost TITAN X out of its flagship role while offering both better performance and a lower price point. Considering the complete lack of competition in the $500+ gaming GPU category, this step to lower costs may be surprising to some, but we can’t forget that AMD’s Vega is supposed to launch sometime this year and NVIDIA may be proactively adjusting their product stack accordingly.
There’s also the metric of time, which has been rapidly ticking away as NVIDIA waited for some response from their competition. It may not feel like a long time but the GTX 1080 was released 10 months ago, the TITAN X seven months ago, and the GTX 980 Ti has been around for nearly two years. That may be a blink of history’s eye, but an eternity in GPU years. Now with NVIDIA’s focus shifting to Volta and – if rumors are to be believed – the GTX 1080 Ti being held back since November as a hedge bet against Vega, it was high time for this new model to get launched.
The GTX 1080 Ti is basically a TITAN X which has been massaged in an effort to heighten yields and slightly lower end user costs. As such, it too uses a 16nm GP102 core with the Pascal architecture, with the full assortment of 3584 CUDA cores and 224 texture units. The differences lie in more nuanced areas since even though the primary core structure is fundamentally the same as the TITAN X’s GP102, this iteration has one less 32-bit memory controller, one less ROP partition, and a bit less L2 cache.
As with all of NVIDIA’s GPUs dating back to Kepler, those three elements need to be scaled in a parallel fashion to avoid possible performance issues down the road. To insure optimal memory subsystem performance, each of the GTX 1080 Ti’s eleven memory controllers is paired up with a single GDDR5X IC, granting it a total of 11GB of video memory. According to NVIDIA, this will become a key differentiating factor for future games as more buyers look towards 4K and even 5K screens.
At a raw specifications level, the GTX 1080 Ti is supposed to have enough horsepower to surpass the expensive TITAN X in gaming scenarios. To put that into context, NVIDIA’s latest flagship could nearly double up on the GTX 980 Ti’s performance, while offering potentially 40% higher framerates than the GTX 1080. This might indeed the most potent Ti version ever.
Achieving TITAN X-beating performance meant increasing base / boost clocks, while also increasing the GDDR5X frequency to 11GHz to compensate for the narrower 352-bit bus. The end result is higher overall bandwidth and supposedly better in-game performance, while still maintaining a TDP of 250W. But make no mistake about it: this is still one hot, power hungry card which will require at least a 650W power supply and plenty of good ventilation within your case.
Pricing plays heavily into this equation as well. At $699 USD, the GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition certainly won’t be affordable for the majority of gamers, and it is about $50 more expensive than the GTX 980 Ti was when it was released back in 2015. However, its inclusion into the NVIDIA lineup has pushed the GTX 1080 into a lower $499 bracket, making that versatile card a bit more affordable. Ironically, this $699 price point is exactly where the GTX 1080 FE was sitting not that long ago. It also goes without saying that the TITAN X will now move into EOL status.
NVIDIA is also doing away with their ill-advised practice of selling the Founders Edition for a premium, but come launch this will be the only version of this card available, with board partners’ iterations arriving a few weeks to a month afterwards. Our conversations with retailers point towards strong availability come launch, but given how long people have waited for the GTX 1080 Ti, there’s bound to be a lot of pent-up demand as well. It will be interesting to see what that means for the long-term stock situation.
Other than the logo emblazoned on its shroud, the GTX 1080 Ti itself is essentially indistinguishable from other Founders Edition cards. It is 11 ½” long, uses a milled aluminum shroud with an integrated illuminated GeForce logo, and there’s a full coverage backplate to dissipate additional heat.
The only major difference between this and other NVIDIA GPUs is the lack of a dedicated DVI connector on the rear I/O area. Instead, NVIDIA is using the space for additional ventilation, and the Founders Edition will ship with a DisplayPort to Dual-link DVI adapter. Board partners are free to design their cards with that “missing” connector, but I can understand where this is coming from; if you are spending $700 on the GPU, you’ll likely have a DisplayPort-equipped monitor.
What you can’t see with your bare eyes is that NVIDIA has thoroughly revised their internal heatsink design - it now has double the surface area - while also updating the PWM to a more advanced 7-phase all-digital layout. But will this lead to lower temperatures or lower fans speeds when compared against the TITAN X? Experience tells us that blower-style coolers aren’t known for their silence, but hopefully these revisions will help.
One of my biggest disappointments is the dearth of suitable competition for inclusion within this review. For the first time that I can remember, the charts in a launch-day GPU article will consist of products from a single manufacturer; that being NVIDIA. While this situation is certainly indicative of how far ahead the GeForce product lineup is right now, any healthy market needs competition. So while the GTX 1080 Ti is certainly exciting, and will deliver phenomenal performance across the board (seriously, do you expect anything less?), I find myself hoping that its doppelganger from AMD is right around the corner.
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