Absolute power… is pretty awesome, actually.
By Josh Norem
Editor’s note: IGN is going to be reviewing a lot more GPUs, gaming mice, keyboards, and other hardware in 2017. We’re kicking off our renewed tech coverage with deep dives into some of 2016’s heavyweights. Hit up the comments below for more details, and to give your feedback. We want it.
The launch of the GTX 1080 ($600-$700 on Amazon, depending on the manufacturer) isn’t some nuanced affair about balancing price and performance. This card was launched with the tagline of being “The new king,” making its intent quite clear; it’s designed to dominate, plain and simple. It’s the first GPU from Nvidia made with its all-new Pascal architecture, which promises a quantum leap in performance instead of the incremental gains we’re used to seeing from one GPU series to the next.
There will be two cards firing out of the gate — the GTX 1080 and the slightly detuned GTX 1070 — but first we’re going to examine “the new king” of GPUs to see if it’s worthy of that title.
The GTX 1080 is the first GPU created with the company’s new Pascal architecture, which it built over the past few years using a new manufacturing process that employs vertically stacked FinFET transistors instead of ones that are laid out side-by-side, also known as planar transistors. The process used to make the chips shrunk quite a bit as well, going from 28nm in the previous generation for Kepler (GTX 680/780 family) and Maxwell (GTX 980 family) all the way down to 16nm for Pascal.
This massive shrink in transistor size represents a two-generation leap since instead of going from 28nm to 20nm two years ago Nvidia (and AMD) skipped it and waited for 16nm to come online. This process transition is both massive and unprecedented, and will afford a huge boost in performance and efficiency as the use of smaller transistors allows more to be packed into the same size space. This lets Nvidia practically double performance (in this instance) without changing the size of its die, all while using less power too.
For what it’s worth, AMD is making the same leap this time around with its new Polaris GPUs, except it went down to 14nm FinFET via a different fabrication company than Nvidia uses, setting the stage for a bloody technology showdown.
The GTX 1080 launched in two versions; a first for Nvidia. The company itself created what used to be called a reference design but is now labeled the Founder’s Edition. Nvidia claims it’s a masterpiece of engineering, and thus will cost $100 more than cards from its partners (MSI, Gigabyte, Asus, Zotac, et al.) It’s an odd decision on Nvidia’s part as the cards from its partners typically have more elaborate cooling solutions and can therefore possibly be overclocked higher, but the company claims it needs to offer its version at a premium in order to turn a profit and not upset its partners by competing directly with them on price.
It also has a slight advantage in that it’s a premium blower design that exhausts hot air out of the chassis, and most of the partner card designs typically are just multi-fan that can’t exhaust heat at all, so the blower could be an advantage in a small form factor build.
Compared to the card it’s theoretically replacing, the GTX 980, the GTX 1080 has a bit more of everything. It has 25 percent more CUDA cores, double the memory from 4GB to 8GB (the memory is faster as well), and two billion more transistors. Ironically the GTX 980 Ti, which was more CUDA cores, texture units, and ROPS should also be significantly less powerful than the 1080; a perfect demonstration of the efficiency of Nvidia’s new Pascal architecture.
Despite being much more powerful than the previous generation cards, it needs just a lone eight-pin connector to power it.
Further proof of its efficiency is the fact that despite being much more powerful than the previous generation cards, it needs just a lone eight-pin connector to power it, and its power consumption measured in TDP has only gone up by 15w overall. In addition to offering more power and efficiency, Nvidia has also baked some new features into its Pascal chips as well.
The cliff notes summary of them is that it offers improved performance in multi-display applications including VR via a feature called Simultaneous Multi-Projection (in games that support it), the ability to take high-res in-game screenshots with a free camera you control (also has to be supported by the developer), and a new refresh rate syncing option for high frame rate gamers (esports mostly). Also, it goes without saying that this GPU far exceeds the minimum qualifications for VR, and is one of the best GPUs to buy if you’re planning on donning a headset in the near future.
To test the GTX 1080 we pulled some data from our sister site Computer Shopper, which tested it on a system featuring the following specs:
- Intel Core i7-4770K CPU
- 16GB DDR3 memory
- Gigabyte Z87X-UDH5 Socket 1150 mobo
- OCZ Vector 180 SSD
- 850-watt Thermaltake Toughpower PSU
The card was tested at both 3840×2160, 2560×1440, and 1920×1080 resolution, and we’ve compiled the results into the following charts.
(Thank you to IGN sister-site Computer Shopper for supplying the GTX 1080 benchmarks).
Despite running at a 70w deficit compared to the GTX 980 Ti, the GTX 1080 is between 20 and 40 percent faster across the board.
Going into this review there was never any question about whether or not the GTX 1080 would be faster than the GTX 980 Ti or GTX 980 (or Radeon Fury X for that matter), but instead, we wondered exactly how much faster it would be. Now that the smoke has cleared we can clearly see the performance improvements Pascal brings to the table, which are significant, to put it mildly.
Despite running at a 70w deficit compared to the GTX 980 Ti, the GTX 1080 is between 20 and 40 percent faster across the board, depending on the game. That performance delta was firm across both 4k resolution and at 2560×1440, though at 1920x1080p the difference between the two flagship GPUs was smaller, averaging about 15 percent or so due to the fact that the CPU can become a bottleneck at lower resolutions. There is really no reason to get a GTX 1080 if you’re running a 1080p monitor unless it’s a 144Hz model and you want ultra-high frame rates.
Overall though, the GTX 1080 offers quite a boost from the 980 Ti, which is remarkable as it uses a “Big Maxwell” chip with a die size of 601mm (squared) compared to the 1080’s comparatively tiny 314mm (squared). When it comes to the GTX 980, which the 1080 is actually replacing, there really is no comparison at all. Typically when we move from one generation to the next, such as the GTX 780 to the GTX 980 we’ll see a 20 to 30 percent difference in performance, but not this time around. Thanks to the two-generation leap for Pascal the performance increase is in the neighborhood of around 65 to 80 percent, across both 4k resolution and 2560×1440. That’s pretty sweet, and also allows for 60fps gaming at 2560 resolution, which the GTX 980 was not capable of doing, so it’s a massive upgrade.
We didn’t get a chance to cover overclocking in-depth, and though Nvidia showed off a card running at 2,144MHz at the card’s launch that hasn’t been very common in the wild. Our Founder’s Edition card was able to get just slightly beyond 2GHz, but you’re dealing with the silicon lottery so results will vary.
Overall, the GTX 1080 is a massive triumph for Nvidia and GPU performance in general. We can spit out a list of clichés about how it raises the bar, shifts paradigms and breaks the mold, and it’s true for each and every one. Don’t bother with the Founder’s Edition though as it’s more expensive than the partner cards with little to no benefit. Even if you are running a small form factor build and need a blower-style cooler, Nvidia’s partners make similar designs for far less money.
- Fastest GPU ever
- Overclocks nicely
- Founder’s Edition price is oddly high
- Only two-card SLI supported
The GTX 1080 is available from a variety of manufacturers, with prices typically ranging from $600-$700. These benchmarks specifically focus on Nvidia’s own internally manufactured GPU. As mentioned, you can expect slightly higher benchmarks for the 1080 variants for sale from EVGA, MSI, likely at a lower price point. Prices may vary, but below are a few of the best current purchasing options:
- EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition, 8GB GDDR5X
- MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition Graphic Card
- ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition
Nvidia’s new Pascal GPU exceeds expectations and has literally no competition in the upper echelon of GPU performance. Though it can’t quite hit 60fps at 4k in every game, it comes closer than any other single GPU ever has, and isn’t too insanely priced either. It’s the best of the best when it comes to sub-$1,000 GPUs and should have quite a long shelf life.