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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition Review

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Category: Video Cards
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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition Introduction:

Announced to the world on May 6, 2016, NVIDIA's New King of the video card world was presented to not only the press, but a large contingent of the gaming public in Austin, Texas. By and large, it really was how many could be fit into the building. OCC was on hand when NVIDIA's CEO proudly introduced to the world his team's newest gaming creation based on NVIDIA's Pascal architecture, the GTX 1080, which we will be looking at today. Also announced on the stage was the next level down in the Pascal product stack, the GTX 1070. More on that one to come in a bit. Announced with this generation of GPU architecture, NVIDIA announced a wealth of supporting technologies that improve the gaming experience for a multitude of user scenarios. Things such as the VRWorks library, positional audio, heavy support for VR, Simultaneous Multi-Projection Engine, High Dynamic Range, Ansel in-game photography, the introduction of GDDR5X, and an all-new high bandwith SLI bridge solution.

To be able to delve deeper into the performance workings of the card, NVIDIA spent a ton of money on the R&D budget to get this card to market the right way. By looking at every interface and data pathway for performance improvements, NVIDIA did this all without hitting the power budget in a heavy handed way. The end result of all this work is a card that promises performance metrics as high as two times the levels of the GTX 980, while running at up to 1.5x the efficiency.

NVIDIA is starting this generation out with the GP104-based Founders Edition GTX 1080. The Founders Edition card is the latest parlance for what has, in the past, been the "reference" design card used to get the brand and model up and running until the board partners tooled up their own cards, at which point the reference design fell by the wayside. Going forward, NVIDIA is going to be selling the Founders Edition card throughout the life time of the product cycle at a $100 premium over the $599 board pricing due to its premium design and build quality. Making the point, NVIDIA built out the card using premium components, a high dollar vapor chamber cooler, more direct trace routes to the memory, unique design elements, and a never wavering commitment to craftsmanship to give the gamer a video card that not only performs well, but does so at never seen single card performance levels.

Touted as faster than Titan X and GTX 980 SLI, the GTX 1080 has some big shoes to fill to hit all the performance points. Let's see what the new "King" is all about.

 

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition Closer Look:

 

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 round 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 GP104 architecture uses four Graphics Processing Clusters of 20 Pascal Streaming Multiprocessors and eight 32-bit memory controllers. In the GP104 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 2560 CUDA cores, 160 texture units, and 64 ROPs. Baseline clock speeds for the GP104 core is 1607MHz with a boost clock of 1733MHz, although it may run higher depending on the power and thermal operating conditions. NVIDIA skipped HBM and went with 8GB of Micron GDDR5X memory for this generation of cards due to the data rate of 10,000MHz running through a 256-bit bus that was achieved through the dedication to improving memory trace layout and pathways. A total of 7.2 billion transistors are packed into a 314 mm² die area. The node shrink allows NVIDIA to pack more hardware in a smaller package that should help with cooling overall.

 

 

This "Founders Edition" GTX 1080 is the card we are looking at today. Founders Edition is the nomenclature used to replace the reference designs of the past. For the move to Pascal, the external visuals change up a bit from the industrial design that has been in use since the GTX 690 was released. Not that the design looks dated, but NVIDIA decided to change it up a bit this time with a faceted aluminum body taking place of the smooth design seen on the Titan X and GTX 980. This look is actually more aggressive and appealing in my eyes. The clear polycarbonate window stays intact to provide a window into the state of the cooling fins and let you know if the dust bunnies are running rampant. A blower style vapor chamber cooler is used to keep the thermals in check. NVIDIA has done the work to minimize fan noise while improving cooling performance. The back side of the PCB sports a full length two-piece heat sink/brace.

The two-piece design is improved over that seen on the GTX 980 and allows for an increase in the maximum amount of airflow into the vapor chamber cooling solution when running in an SLI configuration. Measurements are pretty standard for the form factor NVIDIA has been using at 10.5 inches long using a two-slot sized cooling solution. This allows the GTX 1080 to fit in the widest selection of chassis on the market in motherboards equipped with a 16x PCIe 3.0 slot.

 

 

 

Display connectivity includes a trio of DisplayPort 1.2 certified, 1.3, and 1.4 ready ports, a single HDMI 2.0b port, and a single Dual Link DVI port that support up to four independent displays at one time with six connector nodes. By using this configuration, the GTX 1080 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 has enough free space to allow the airflow to escape the vapor chamber cooling solution and faceted aluminum shroud when the fan speed is set to chill! Much like previous designs, the GTX 1080 sports an intake air channel on the back end of the cooling shroud. Airflow directly from the front of the chassis can be pulled into this channel, helping cool the power circuitry at the back of the PCB. It's a solution that works.

 

 

 

 

For a card promising huge performance, the power connections seem to be out of sync with the performance goals. A single 8-pin PEG connection is used to deliver an additional 150 watts of power to the card for a total max draw of 225 watts. That's a bit over the 180W TDP of the GTX 1080, but gives you a little bit of cushion. NVIDIA recommends only a 500 watt power supply to handle the system and a single GTX 1080. NVIDIA's SLI multi-GPU solution is supported on the GTX 1080. Two cards is the preferred solution, although three and four card solutions are supported, but not recommended. 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 a three card solution with a pair of GPUs handling the graphics, with the third card handling the audio and async compute.

 

 

 

The cooling solution used on the Pascal 16nm-based GTX 1080 is a robust vapor chamber design. This design can carry a 250W load, but the Pascal GP104 core is rated at 180W TDP.  NVIDIA has been effective at managing thermals over the past few architectural changes by using similar blower-based designs. Not only are the thermals managed, but the noise generated by the blower fan has been reduced with smart monitoring and management of the fan profiles. Crafting a premium product was the goal with the Founders Edition cards. Improved trace layout for the GDDR5X memory helped with memory bandwidth, while a jump from a four to five phase dualFET power delivery circuit  optimized for bandwidth and phase balancing. Adding capacitance and optimizing the power delivery circuitry resulted in improved power efficiency of up to 6% over the GTX 980. Peak to peak voltage noise was reduced from 209mV to 120mV, thanks to better circuitry and a fearless commitment to craftmanship, as it were.

 

 

Although the hardware in and of itself is relatively cool, NVIDIA keeps bumping up the ecosytem to deliver a more immersive gaming experience. Let's take a look at some of the new technology that NVIDIA has up its sleeve.




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