Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 - fastest card ever of the year

It's... so... fast!

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Very very fast!

Cons

  • Expensive

Bottom Line

Nvidia’s first long-awaited Pascal-based graphics card truly is a beast in every sense of the word, smashing performance records while veritably sipping on power

Would you buy this?

Special Offers

High-bandwidth SLI bridges

Nvidia’s making some big changes to the way it handles multi-GPU support in the wake of DirectX 12. Starting with the GTX 1080, Nvidia will offer rigidly constructed high-bandwidth bridges dubbed SLI HB, which occupy not one, but both SLI connectors on the graphics card to handle the high flow of information flowing between the cards.

dsc00636 Brad Chacos

To match that design—and presumably to cut engineering costs on 3- and 4-way configurations that few people use—Nvidia’s graphics cards will officially support only 2-way SLI going forward, though 3- and 4-way configurations will be unofficially supported with help from an Nvidia tool you’ll have to download separately.

It’s a massive shift, and one we explore in more depth in a separate article about the GTX 1080’s SLI tweaks.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition

The SLI changes don’t matter in this review, as we have only a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition to test. Confusion reigned in the wake of the Founders Edition’s hazy reveal, but in a nutshell: It's what Nvidia used to call its reference design. There’s no hefty overclock or cherry-picked GPUs whatsoever. Here’s the twist: While the MSRP for the GTX 1080 is US$600, the Founders Edition costs US$700.

While there’s no doubt a bit of an early adopter’s fee going on here—the Founders Edition is the only GTX 1080 guaranteed by Nvidia to be available on May 27—the pricing isn’t as crazy as it seems at first blush.

Nvidia’s recent GeForce reference cards are marvels of premium engineering. The GTX 1080 continues that trend, with an angular die-cast aluminum body, vapor chamber cooling that blows air out of the rear of your machine, a low-profile backplate (with a section that can be removed for improved airflow in SLI setups), and new under-the-hood niceties like 5-phase dual-FET design and tighter electrical design. It screams “premium” and oozes quality, and the polygon-like design of the metal shroud is more attractive—and subtle—than early leaks indicated it would be.

dsc00777 Brad Chacos

The GTX 1080 (bottom) sports a more angular design than the GTX 980 (top). All the angles are more noticeable under direct light.

But previous-gen Nvidia reference cards were paragons sold at a loss only during the first few weeks around launch in order to kickstart adoption of new GPUs. Nvidia plans to sell its Founders Edition cards for the GTX 1080’s lifetime. That lets Nvidia faithful buy directly from the company and allows boutique system sellers to certify a single GTX 1080 model for their PCs over the lifetime of the card, rather than worrying about the ever-changing specifications in product lineups from Nvidia partners like EVGA, Asus, MSI, and Zotac. In fact, Falcon Northwest owner Kelt Reeves told HardOCP that he actively lobbied Nvidia to create these cards for just that reason.

You’ll probably be able to find graphics cards from those board partners rocking hefty overclocks, additional power connectors, and custom cooling setups for the same US$700 price as Nvidia’s Founders Edition once the GPU starts rolling out en masse. In other words, the Founders Edition probably won’t be a worthwhile purchase going forward if sheer price-to-performance is your major concern. But that US$100 premium is steep enough to keep EVGA and its ilk from getting pissed about the newfound direct competition from Nvidia, while still allowing Nvidia to satisfy system builders.

But enough chit-chat. It’s time to see how badass this beast really is.

Testing the GTX 1080

As ever, we tested the GeForce GTX 1080 on PCWorld’s dedicated graphics card benchmark system, which was built to avoid potential bottlenecks in other parts of the machine and show true, unfettered graphics performance. Key highlights of the build:

Along with upgrading the test system to Windows 10, we also updated our list of benchmarking games with a healthy mix of AMD Gaming Evolved and Nvidia-centric titles, which we’ll get into as we dive into performance results.

To see what the GTX 1080 Founders Edition is truly made of, we compared it against the reference US$500 GTX 980 and US$460 MSI Radeon 390X Gaming 8GB, and also the US$650 Radeon Fury X and US$1,000 Titan X. Because the GTX 980 Ti’s performance closely mirrors the Titan X’s—and Nvidia made a point to repeatedly compare the GTX 1080 against the Titan X—we didn’t test that card. Sadly, AMD never sent us a Radeon Pro Duo to test, so we can’t tell you whether the GTX 1080 or AMD’s dual-Fiji beast is the single most powerful graphics card in the world.

But the GTX 1080 is easily, hands-down, no-comparison the most powerful single-GPU graphics card ever released—especially when you overclock it.

Ignoring the auto-overclocking tools in the Precision X beta, I was able to manually boost the core clock speed by 250MHz and the memory clock speed by an additional 100MHz. Depending on what was going on in a given game’s given scene, and how Nvidia’s GPU Boost technology reacted to it, doing so resulted in clock speeds ranging from 1,873MHz to 2,088MHz. Yes, that’s clock speeds in excess of 2GHz on air, with no voltage tweaks.

In other words: Buckle up. This is going to be a wild ride.

Next page: The Division and Hitman benchmarks

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Read more on these topics: nvidia, gpu
Show Comments

Essentials

Mobile

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?