Review: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 – One card to rule them all

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Earlier this month, NVIDIA introduced two of its latest high-end gaming graphics cards, the GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070. Based on the latest Pascal GPU architecture, both cards have an SRP of US$699 and US$499 respectively. While the flagship GTX 1080 went on sale over the weekend, the GTX 1070 will be available from June 10.

First, let’s try to understand what goes beneath the hood of the GTX 1080.

Make no mistake. This is the fastest graphics chip on our planet yet in terms of pure, unbridled Hertz. The GTX 1080’s base clock is 1.61GHz and with turbo boost clock of 1.73GHz. During our test, we managed to overclock it to 2GHz easily too, hinting much about this card’s overclocking potential. Other specifications of the Pascal GP104 GPU include its 7.2 billion transistors, 20 streaming multiprocessors with 128 cores each, 2560 CUDA cores, and 64 ROPs and 160 texture units. Specs for specs, the GTX 1080 is more powerful than the GTX 980 Titan.

NVIDIA has also talked up the potential of the GTX 1080’s brand new GDDR5X 10Gbps memory, of which it has 8GB on board. The G5X memory, made exclusively by Micron, is the fastest non-HBM memory used on a graphics card, and NVIDIA’s own delta colour compression allows up to 8:1 memory compression in some instances, a doubling of the same potential from last generation’s Maxwell cards like the GTX 980.

Anyway, that memory compression, as well as the faster overall memory bandwidth, means games require massively less resources than the previous card. According to NVIDIA, Pascal is 11% more efficient in Star Wars: Battlefront, for example, and 21% more efficient in Battlefield 4.
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The card also features Fast Sync, which benefits less demanding older gamers where all of the GTX 1080 extra power isn’t needed. What it does is that it basically lets the GPU render as many frames per second (or FPS) as it pleases – with the hardware picking and choosing which frames to drop to keep things running smoothly. What this means for gamers is that it allows them to play games, such as Overwatch, and avoid latency spikes without the tearing (of V-sync) that comes from running without it. Of course, if you’re already using a gaming monitor with G-Sync, you won’t really get much out of it.

Amazingly, despite all of these power, the GTX 1080 operates at a low 180w. Compare this to the 500w that the GTX 980 Titan runs on, and it’s not hard to feel even more impressed with the card.

But how does the card fare in the real world? NVIDIA sent along a Founders Edition of the GTX 1080 our way, so let’s talk about my experience over the past week with it.

Wait, what exactly is a “Founders Edition”? A Founders Edition is basically a fancy name for a reference card that’s crafted by NVIDIA without all of the overclocked bells and whistles that you’d find from third-party cards. Like ASUS’ own monstrous Republic of Gamers (ROG), for example. That’s not to say NVIDIA’s own is a slouch (as mentioned earlier, it’s pretty easy to overlock it to 2GHz). The Founders Edition is also priced at an SRP of US$699, nearly half the price of the GTX 980 Ti’s. NVIDIA told us that they are merely acceding to requests by enthusiasts as well as PC manufacturers such as Alienware and HP, who love the idea of a vanilla NVIDIA-crafted card made available.

I play tested the card on two different high-end gaming monitors from ASUS ROG – a 27-inch 4K and the other being a 34-inch Ultra-wide screen monitor. Both also featured G-Sync. The GTX 1080 can run anything out there at standard 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second or higher. If you have no ambitions beyond 1080p (and at Ultra settings), be it multiple monitors, something ultra HD or even a super-wide, then this is more card than you need right now. The more economical GeForce GTX 1070 might be a better option then.

The better question here is does the GTX 1080 justify either UHD 3840p monitor? In my rounds, I have thrown games like the new Doom, Ashes of Singularity, The Witcher 3 and Overwatch. Each of the games I played and tested at least exceeded the “playable” average of 30 FPS at Ultra HD – although at 4K the card did seems to sweat a bit. Comparatively, I wouldn’t even bother trying with my old GTX 980. I have a suspicion that come post-launch, NVIDIA will work on better drivers that will optimize the GTX 1080’s performance further.

If you’d like to see how the GTX fares against the graphics cards that came before it, along with power efficiency, temperature stats and overclocking stats, you can check out the review and benchmark numbers from HardwareZone.com.

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I won’t deny it. I love the GeForce GTX 1080 and I believe the Pascal GPU is a huge game changer for PC gaming: it’s power is matched by its remarkable wattage efficiency, and an incredible value at price-for-performance. And yet the GTX 1080 isn’t even a complete story.

Simultaneous multi-projection is going to work wonders for VR performance once the software starts supporting it, and I can’t wait for a Vulkan API (the spiritual successor to the aged OpenGL API) version of Doom to come along so I can play at a completely insane 200 frames per second at 1080p.

In completing my review, the question most commonly asked will be, “should I upgrade to one”? The GTX 1080 is without a doubt the biggest thing in gaming graphics cards now, but is a bit of an overkill if you’re only sticking to 1080p (the card’s 1080 number isn’t a reference to that resolution, if you haven’t gotten it by now). However, if you have or is planning to upgrade to a bigger, better and/or ultra-wide display, then you are going to want one or two of these babies.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080

  • Excellent price-for-performance
  • Game changer for PC gaming
  • Low energy consumption
  • Excellent build quality and attractive design
  • Good overclocking headroom

  • Founders Edition (basically a reference design) now cost a premium

THE VERDICT: ★★★★★

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Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip is an industry veteran with more than 15 years of experience. When not spending time on his gaming PC and consoles, he can be found in Hyrule solving ungodly puzzles and collecting gems.