Nvidia's Pascal architecture marked a new milestone for PC graphics last year, with graphics chips that were considerably faster and more efficient than before, driving smooth frame rates at 4K resolutions, delivering very fast graphics on laptops, and doing so at a price that at the time we found more than justified.
AMD answered with new Polaris GPUs, an impressive family of new Radeon chips that brought great mainstream solutions that most gamers could afford. We recommended (and still recommend) some of the latest Radeons at certain price points, yet unable to compete at the very high-end, AMD offerings failed to generate quite the same amount of buzz as Nvidia's.
You might recall, we awarded the GeForce GTX 1080 our first ever perfect score which was met with controversy. But to be clear, that score was awarded to the GTX 1080 GPU and not the Founders Edition card sold directly by Nvidia which we noted at the time carried an unfortunate price premium.
The jump from the $700 GTX 1080 to the $1200 Titan X was the largest price gap in the series, so it made sense that if Nvidia was to release another part that would slip in there. For over a month we've been expecting a cut down version of the Titan X for somewhere between $700 and $1000, depending on how much gets shaved off. We had assumed Nvidia would simply shut off one or two SM units and call it a day.
However, last week we learned that the GTX 1080 Ti was going to be different than what everyone expected. Instead of a cut down Titan X we're getting a full 3584 CUDA core enabled GP102 GPU. A few ROPs have gone missing which has had a knock on effect for the memory subsystem which sees a memory bus being used. Nvidia has come up with a workaround for this which we will get to shortly.
For now, let’s take a closer look at the GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition graphics card…
GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Specs
Because the GTX 1080 Ti is based on the same GP102 die as the Titan X, we do find an 8-pin as well as a 6-pin PCIe power connector. Other than that, out of the box, the cards look very much the same.
Under the hood you will find a full 3584 CUDA core enabled GP102 GPU made up of an incredible 12 billion transistors. There are also 224 texture units though the ROPs have been reduced by 8%, from 96 to a rather odd 88. This sees the 12GB buffer of the Titan X reduced to 11 GBs, again another odd number. Once again GDDR5X memory is being used and it operates at an incredible frequency of 2750 MHz.
Nvidia says they have been working closely with Micron to improve the signal noise and jitter of their high speed GDDR5X memory. The improvements have allowed Nvidia to hit 11 Gbps on the memory which is faster than the 10 Gbps memory speed of the Titan X and GTX 1080.
The peak compute throughput of the GTX 1080 Ti is also slightly higher than the Titan X due to the Ti's higher Boost clock and memory bandwidth. Although the Ti features a narrower 352-bit memory bus, the higher clocked GDDR5X memory is able to compensate. The end result is an impressive memory bandwidth of 484 GB/s. That’s not far off the performance of first generation HBM.
Officially, Nvidia is claiming that the GTX 1080 Ti will be roughly 20 to 40% faster than the vanilla 1080, given the specs that certainly sounds right. Impressively, the 1080 Ti features the same 250-watt TDP rating as the 980 Ti. It also manages to cram more transistors in a smaller die area of just 471mm2, some 20% smaller for 50% more transistors.
GTX 1080 Ti Fair Price Edition
With the card on hand, I can say it looks almost identical to the GTX 1080 and 1070, and I love the look of these Founders Edition cards. Of course, there's the little Ti nomenclature tacked onto the end of the GTX 1080 label which looks a bit special, even if it isn’t correctly centered -- this one messed with my OCD.
Nvidia also says that the 1080 Ti features improved cooling performance that will provide lower temps while making less noise, so that’s a win win. For those wondering the Ti model weighs 1041 grams while the original 1080 tips the scales at 1029 grams.
The housing of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition features a die cast aluminum body and includes a low-profile backplate with a removable section. This removable section is useful when two GeForce GTX 1080 Ti cards are paired directly next to each other in an SLI system, where the lower card receives less airflow due to the other card being placed directly above it. By removing a portion of the backplate, the obstruction is reduced, which helps to improve airflow.
A copper vapor chamber is used to cool the GTX 1080 Ti’s GP102 GPU. This vapor chamber is combined with a large, dual-slot aluminium heatsink to dissipate heat off the chip. A radial fan then exhausts this hot air through the back of the graphics card and outside the PC’s chassis.
To improve the performance of the GPU cooler, Nvidia engineers have designed a new high airflow thermal solution that provides 2x the airflow area of the GeForce GTX 1080. To accomplish this, the DVI connector that’s traditionally been placed above the DVI and HDMI connections on the card bracket has been removed. Instead, this area is used to provide a larger exhaust for hot air to be expelled from the GPU.
Compared to the GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition board, the GTX 1080 Ti’s power subsystem has been substantially enhanced. If you recall, all GeForce GTX 10 Series GPUs were equipped with a dual-FET power supply on both the GPU and memory, which provided cleaner power to these components compared to prior GPUs. This improved power efficiency, reliability, and overclocking.
For the GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition we’ve incorporated a 7-phase 2x dual-FET power design that’s capable of supplying up to 250 amps of power to the GPU.
As I understand it only this Founders Edition card will become available initially with custom board partner cards to follow a week or two later. The good news for early adopters is that Nvidia has dropped the ridiculous Founders Edition tax, so this reference card will come in at the starting price of $700. That’s 42% less expensive than the Titan X which will remain at $1200.
What’s more, in an unexpected move Nvidia is cannibalizing their own product line to an extent, so the GTX 1080’s MSRP is dropping by $100. Taking the much loved 1080 down to just $500. That’s pretty incredible news and that 16% saving has already been passed onto consumers prior to the 1080 Ti’s release.
Test System Specs
Gaming Benchmarks: Battlefield 1, Far Cry Primal, Civilization VI
Those seeking extreme frame rates in Battlefield 1 will certainly receive them at 1080p with the 1080 Ti as it matched the performance of the Titan XP. This was also the case at 1440p and here Nvidia’s new flagship gaming graphics card pushed well over 100 fps at all times.
At the 4K resolution Battlefield 1 looks as sharp as the edges in a generic ATX case, thankfully though with the GTX 1080 Ti in charge of the rendering work it’s a painless experience. Here we see a smooth 75 fps average while frame rates never dipped below 66 fps. As expected this again puts it roughly on par with the Titan XP, dropping just a few frames behind.
Here at 1080p we run into a rather heavy CPU bottleneck at 1080p. At 1440p the 1080 Ti again roughly matches the Titan XP making it 21% faster than the standard GTX 1080. Not a bad results given frame rates stayed above 80 fps at all times.
Moving to 4K the 1080 Ti tip toes ahead of the Titan XP though with with 2 fps in it the performance is obviously very similar. Again when compared to the standard 1080 we are seeing 20% more performance here.
Civilization VI is a rather CPU demanding game and is therefore quite well known for imposing a CPU bottleneck, here we see the 1080, 1080 Ti and Titan XP capped out at 85 fps. Moving to 1440p the high-end GPU’s are still performance limited.
Event at 4K we find that the higher-end GPUs all deliver very similar results, the good news being that all cards tested are capable of delivering playable performance at this resolution.