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MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G Review

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Category: Video Cards
Price: $709
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MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G Introduction:

The GTX 1080 Ti came out and added yet another performance layer to NVIDIA's product stack right before the launch of the Titan Xp, to add insult to injury. MSI has come to market with not only its Gaming X cards, but with the Armor series to do battle with the competition. And there is plenty of it when you look at all the offerings and the non-stop promotion on social media. The Armor series falls just below the Gaming series on the product stack, but comes with just about all the features that you see on the Gaming X cards that really count and add value from a performance perspective.

The MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G comes equipped with MSI's Military Class IV hardware, Armor 2X cooling using Torx 2.0 dispersion blade fans, and an interesting black and white themed shroud. There are two editions of the MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G: the standard card and the OC Edition card. The latter is what I will be looking at today and comes from the factory with a base/boost clock speed combo of 1531MHz/1645MHz on the Pascal GP102 core. That's about 40MHz lower than the boost clock speed on the top Gaming X card from MSI, but easily within striking distance when you get to the great equalizer called overclocking.

Coming to market, the GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G has all the performance potential to make an impact while not thoroughly killing your budget. Well, not as long as you are looking to run a GTX 1080 Ti card. Let's dig into what MSI has to offer with the GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G.

MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G Closer Look:

When you first look at the front of the package of the MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G, the graphic makes perfect sense. The background image is an image of overlapping scales that mirrors early scale armor, fish scales, or even snake scales. Each in their own right protection for something valuable underneath; much like the Armor 2X cooler does on this card from MSI. Notables on the front panel include the fact that this is a factory overclocked video card and is VR ready. The back side of the package digs deeper into the attributes of the Armor 2X cooling solution used to put the chill on the Pascal GP102 core, such as using Advanced Airflow Control to manage the airflow provided by the Torx 2.0 dispersion blade fans. Digging inside the box, you find the card nestled in a foam enclosure making sure it gets to the end user in one piece.   

 

 

MSI's GTX 1080 Ti Armor is built around NVIDIA's Pascal GP102 core. At first glance, the card looks like a card from MSI's Gaming X series done in black and white. The lack of standout LED features is enough to get a second look at the card. Dominating the front view of the card is the Armor 2X cooling solution. White and black themed motherboards are increasingly seen and this visual fits right in. Actually, the white trim on the black shroud works with any color theme. The back side of the card does not have an aluminum brace for added rigidity, but the card is no flexible flyer thanks to the brace under the cooling solution. The top and bottom views let the user see the size of the cooling solution and the four 6mm heat pipes that carry the thermal load to the fin array.

Like all of the current crop of video cards, this GTX 1080 Ti from MSI is deisgned to be used in a PCIe 3.0 16x slot. At 290 x 143 x 40 mm in size, the GTX 1080 Ti Armor takes up just over two slots worth of chassis space and is not the largest of cards on the market, making chassis fitment a breeze. 

 

 

 

Display connectivity on the MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G consists of a pair of DisplayPort 1.2 certified, 1.3, and 1.4 ready ports; a pair of HDMI 2.0b ports; and a single Dual-link DVI port that supports up to four independent displays at one time with six connector nodes. Using this configuration, the GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G supports 4K displays at 120Hz, 5K displays at 60Hz, and 8K displays at 60Hz by using a pair of cables. Pascal GPUs officially support PlayReady 3.0 (SL3000) and hardware level support of HEVC decode. The I/O panel features a large opening to allow some of the thermal load to exit the chassis via the airflow generated by the Torx 2.0 fans. The back end of the card is open to aid in directing airflow from out of the Armor 2X shroud.

 

 

NVIDIA's SLI multi-GPU solution is supported on the MSI GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G. Two cards is the preferred multi-GPU solution with Pascal-based cards. Three and four card solutions are supported, but are not the best multi-GPU solution. To improve bandwidth between GPUs, NVIDIA has linked the two SLI bridge connections on the PCB to work in a high bandwidth mode to handle the data throughput with the Pascal architecture. To handle this bandwidth, NVIDIA has put together a trio of SLI bridges supporting 2, 3, and 4-Way configurations. That being said, the best solution for VR gaming is going to be a three card solution with a pair of GPUs handling the graphics output, with the third card handling the audio and async compute functionality.

Power connectivity on the GP102-based GTX 1080 Ti FE was a combination of an 8-pin and 6-pin connection to deliver up to 225 watts from the power supply with an additional 75 watts from the PCIe slot. MSI ups the power ante by using a pair of 8-pin PEG connections to bring the total power input up to 325 watts for this 250 watt TDP card. MSI's PSU recommendation is a 650 watt PSU for the card and system. Based on my test results, this recommendation still leaves some additional overhead on the PSU.

 

 

Pulling the Armor 2X cooling solution off the core and PCB allows me to get a better look at the rest of the card. Airflow through the Armor 2X cooler is allowed to flow directly over an aluminum plate that covers some of the G5X memory and the majority of the Military Class IV VRM components. This aluminum plate functions as both additional cooling for the card, as well as a means with which MSI strengthens the card to prevent any flex of the PCB. This way MSI can prevent damage to the trace layouts that could render the card inoperable. MSI continues the use of Military Class IV components Certified to MIL-STD-810G standards for top stability and quality. MSI uses  Hi-C CAP, Solid CAP, and New SFC components in this all-digital 8-phase power circuit.

 

 

Under the black and white shroud on the Armor 2X is the cooling solution for this card. For a GTX 1080 Ti, it appears thinner than what I have seen on the Gaming series cards. That being said, this heat sink uses four 6mm heat pipes in a direct contact configuration to maximize thermal transfer from the core to the heat pipes and out to the aluminum fin array. Inside the fin array, the airflow is directed towards the areas where the heat pipes pass through the fin array to help indirectly cool the VRM and memory.

 

 

MSI uses its Torx 2.0 fans that are manufactured by Powerlogic. Based on the part number of PLD10010S12HH, this is a sleeve bearing fan measuring 100mm in diameter and 10mm thick. What is special about these fans is that they use a total of 14 blades of both the traditional and dispersion blades to improve airflow through the Armor 2X cooling solution. By improving airflow at a lower fan speed, MSI can reduce the noise signature of the Armor 2X cooling solution significantly. Zero Frozr Technology allows the fans to remain idle when the GPU temperature stays below 60 °C, further dropping the noise signature.  

 

 

NVIDIA's latest Pascal architecture is built around roughly the same GPC architecture that we have been seeing since Fermi. Enhancements were made at each generational shift through Kepler and Maxwell. The big changes for this go around is the move to the 16nm FinFET process and inclusion of the Simultaneous Multi-Projection Engine being incorporated into the Polymorph engine. The Pascal 16nm GP102 architecture uses six Graphics Processing Clusters of 28 Pascal Streaming Multiprocessors and 11 32-bit memory controllers. In the GP102 iteration of the Pascal architecture, each GPC ships with a dedicated raster engine and five SMs. Each SM contains 128 CUDA cores, 256 KB of register file capacity, a 96 KB shared memory unit, 48 KB of total L1 cache storage, and eight texture units. This configuration results in a total of 3584 CUDA cores, 224 texture units, and 88 ROPs.

Baseline clock speeds for the GP102 core used in the GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G are 1531MHz with a boost clock of 1645MHz. This card may run higher based on the power and thermal operating conditions. 11GB of 11Gbps rated Micron GDDR5X memory is used on this card and is being pushed to deliver further enhancements while running through a 352-bit bus. A total of 12 billion transistors are packed into the 471 mm² die area of the core.

 

 

Testing is the only way to see what we as the end user get with a card of this caliber. Let's find out what MSI has to deliver with the GTX 1080 Ti Armor 11G.




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