Over the years, Nvidia has settled into a now-predictable pattern with its graphics-card launches, which helps explain how and when it comes out with a graphics card like the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition ($699). First, it launches a midsize chip aimed at the top of the current market, and that chip is dubbed “GeForce GTX x80.” (This would be, through the years, the GeForce GTX 680, the GeForce GTX 780, the GeForce GTX 980, and most recently the GeForce GTX 1080.) After that top card rocks the market for a bit, and AMD responds with a competing card, Nvidia launches a graphics card with a chip that is usually almost twice as large—named some form of “Titan.”
Also according to the formula: The Titan represents the pinnacle of its current architecture, and it is wildly expensive, typically costing $1,000 or more. Being cards designed to bridge professional graphics solutions and PC gaming, the various Titans have certainly been superb gaming cards, but too expensive for most gamers and packing features gamers don’t need. So, the next step in the formula: Nvidia then takes the Titan, clips its wings a little bit, and rebrands it as the “GeForce GTX x80 Ti” chip, making it essentially the best possible Nvidia gaming card for the company’s current architecture.
So, in March 2017, history repeats. Such is the case with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. It’s the exact same graphics processor at heart as the current Nvidia Titan X Pascal card ( at Amazon) (the 2016 model based on current “Pascal” architecture), but made for gamers and offered at a substantially reduced price: just $699, versus the Titan X’s list price of $1,200. Nvidia calls it this new card its “Ultimate GeForce,” and judging by the specs, that does not seem like hyperbole.
Before we get too deep into the weeds with our test card, let’s have a look at the specs of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, along with the 2016 Pascal Titan X that it is based on, and the GeForce GTX 1080 it supplants as the gamer’s flagship card.
As you can see from the chart, there are very few core differences between the 2016 version of the Nvidia Titan X and the new GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, but some substantial improvements compared to the GTX 1080. Though the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is expected to perform better than the GTX 1080, the relatively small changes compared to the Titan X are a deviation from standard operating procedure for Nvidia.
In the past, Nvidia has generally given the Ti variants of its cards a small nip-and-tuck compared to the Titan, in order to still leave the Titan an advantage, albeit a small one. This time around, however, Nvidia made those small changes, but it is claiming that it made the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti faster than the Titan X by snipping in some areas and boosting performance in others.
To understand how this is possible, let’s take a look at the differences between the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti and the Titan X. (It won’t take long, promise.)
The Basics: A Look at the GTX 1080 Ti Specs
First off, the biggest difference between the GTX 1080 Ti and both the Titan X and the GTX 1080 is in the GTX 1080 Ti’s memory subsystem. Rather than employing the same 10Gbps GDDR5X memory that it used in both of those previous graphics cards, with the GTX 1080 Ti Nvidia has upgraded it to a faster connection that runs at 11Gbps. (We won’t insert-joke-here about something “going to 11”; Nvidia already did that in its initial presentation materials for this card.)
This is a big deal. More memory bandwidth is important, since the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti has a narrower memory bus compared to the Titan X’s, at 352-bit versus 384-bit. The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s bus is still much wider than the GTX 1080’s comparatively narrower 256-bit bus, however.
Also worth noting: For the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, Nvidia was able to narrow the bus but pump the data faster, bringing the two cards roughly neck-and-neck in the memory-bandwidth department. It’s also very interesting that Nvidia kept the CUDA core count the same between the two high-end GPUs, at 3,584. Typically, Nvidia reduces this figure somewhat when going from Titan to Ti.
The GTX 1080 Ti packs 11GB of this super-fast memory, which is an odd number. It’s 1GB less than the 12GB on the 2016 Titan X but 3GB more than what’s on the GeForce GTX 1080. That’s a significant bump upward in memory for games, and according to Nvidia it should give the card enough headroom to run games at 5K resolution at maximum settings.
This effectively gives this GPU a longer shelf life, as most people aren’t even running games at 4K yet, much less 5K on the few available such panels. Panel availability could obviously change in the next two years or so, but even 4K remains the province of the gaming elite. It’s almost amazing that just one year ago, we thought 8GB of RAM on a video card was a lot, but now it’s not enough in some rarified high-end scenarios.
The only other small change from the 2016 Titan X is that the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti has eight fewer ROPs (render output units). Having fewer can degrade performance, but since it’s only eight out of almost 90 total, it’s not a huge reduction.
Compared to the GeForce GTX 1080, though, almost everything has changed. Instead of using the GP104 chip in the former flagship, this GPU uses what’s affectionately called “Big Pascal,” which is the biggest die created by Nvidia for this generation of architecture. To understand the difference between GP104 and GP102, we simply have to look at the size of the die. While the GTX 1080’s GP104 is a decent-size chunk of silicon at 314mm squared, the GP102 powering the Titan X and GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is a whole different beast, at 417mm squared. It’s also packing an additional 4.8 billion transistors, making it 66 percent larger in terms of transistor count. That’s a massive leap, making the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti not just a supercharged version of the GTX 1080, but a different chip/beast entirely.
Connections and Design
Other than the changes to the actual chip, the card we received for review should look familiar. It’s the same Nvidia Founders Edition design we saw with the GeForce GTX 1080. Since this card runs a bit hotter, though, due to the enlarged die, Nvidia did improve its cooling characteristics a bit.
First, it removed the DVI connector, then used that space to increase the size of the “airflow area” on the port backplane by a factor of two. This helps the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti run cooler and also quieter, since a cooler-running chip allows the fan to spin slower. Nvidia claims it’s good for about a 5 degrees C difference.
The GTX 1080 Ti has a much larger die, which consumes more power than that of the GTX 1080, so clock speeds were set a bit lower to keep the thermals in check. The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti runs at a boost clock of around 1.6GHz, compared to the 1.7GHz boost clock of the GTX 1080. That said, Nvidia is claiming the GTX 1080 Ti can still overclock quite nicely, going so far as to say it has seen cards hit over 2GHz. (It said the same thing about the GeForce GTX 1080 at launch.) This makes it seem like, despite its out-of-the-box clock-speed deficit, it should be able to reach similar clocks as its smaller sibling.
Despite the slower clocks, the larger silicon spread in the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti requires more power than the GTX 1080. So instead of just a single six-pin PCI Express connector, it has six-pin and eight-pin power plugs.
The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s body also features a removable backplate covering the rear of the main circuit board, similar to the one on the GeForce GTX 1080.
The remainder of the card presents no surprises. There’s an SLI connector up along the top edge, to work with a second GTX 1080 Ti card (should you be so inclined).
Officially, two cards is the limit to SLI these days, and that only with the upper-end Pascal cards. Otherwise, the bottom edge is the usual PCI Express x16 connector.
And the card is the standard two-slot width of the current generation of Founders Edition cards.
Pricing and Versions
The GTX 1080 Ti will be available in both Founders Edition and “partner”-version boards from Gigabyte, Asus, MSI, and the other usual Nvidia suspects. The big difference this time around, compared to the GeForce GTX 1080 launch, is that the price will be the same for both versions. (With earlier Pascal cards, the Founders Edition exacted a premium.) Many consumers naturally will be more interested in the partner boards, since some will offer more advanced cooling setups, with two or three fans.
Alas, availability is going to be a similar story to before, at least in the near term. If you want a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti right at launch time, you’ll be limited to the Founders Edition, as these cards will launch first, with partner cards following shortly thereafter in the month of March (or so we hear).
As we mentioned earlier on, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti will be priced at $699, which is a surprise because, according to Nvidia’s claims, it’s supposed to be faster than the $1,200 2016 Titan X. Our theory is that Nvidia kept the price low to put some strain on AMD, which is about to come to market with its own flagship GPU under the family code-name “Vega.” Now that Nvidia has laid down its hand, AMD will be forced to beat it on price and performance, which seems like a difficult task.
It’s interesting that the company pulled what looks like much the same maneuver with the GeForce GTX 980 Ti, which came out mere days before AMD’s much-anticipated AMD Radeon R9 Fury X . Nvidia certainly does like to pour buckets on AMD’s parade when it can, but then again, we have no idea what the Radeon camp has up its sleeve with Vega, timing-wise. So we’ll just have to wait and see.
As we’ve mentioned in our other recent card reviews, things are in flux these days when it comes to testing cards, because of two emerging technologies.
The first of these is DirectX 12 (DX12), which is just now coming on the scene. There are very few real-world benchmarks for it. Still, DX12 will likely be the standard graphics API in the future, and this card was designed to last for a few years, if not longer. So it’s important to know if a card can handle DX12 well before buying. We tested the Pascal Titan X with the newest DX12-capable games we had on hand, including Hitman (the 2016 edition) and Rise of the Tomb Raider, as well as Futuremark’s 3DMark DX12 benchmark, Time Spy. We tested a load of games using DirectX 11, too, because that API will still be in wide use for at least another year, and probably much longer.
The other angle is virtual reality (VR) support. A few VR-focused benchmarks are emerging, including FutureMark’s VRMark. But given we haven’t had a chance to test other cards for their VR abilities yet, for now we’re going to stick with the requirements from the headset manufacturers, HTC in the case of its HTC Vive, and Oculus with its Oculus Rift. At the moment, baseline VR support for those headsets starts with the AMD Radeon RX 480 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 ($652.04 at Amazon) . Since the GTX 1080 Ti is much more powerful than either of those cards, it should have no problems handling VR titles for years to come.
And so, on to the benchmarks. First, you’ll note that we’re comparing the GTX 1080 Ti only to the Nvidia Titan X and GeForce GTX 1080 in the charts to follow. Due to time constraints, we could only retest the GeForce GTX 1080 with current drivers for this go-around, and that was clearly necessary for this review. The Nvidia-supplied driver (version 378.148) allowed the GTX 1080 Ti to run much faster at 1080p and 1440p than the previous cards we tested using what are now old drivers (but that were new when we tested them). Driver updates from the middle of last year to now showed some really large discrepancies between the GTX 1080 Ti and other cards, especially at lower resolutions, that newer drivers resolved. So we retested the GTX 1080 alongside the GTX 1080 Ti. Sadly, we could not re-test the 2016 Titan X, as we had the card on loan at the time of our review, but it wasn’t that long ago; we tested it with drivers current of December 2016.
Though there are certainly people with GTX 1070s that are probably eyeballing the GTX 1080 Ti, the real competition for this card is just the GeForce GTX 1080 and the Titan X, so those are the only two we’ll be reporting here. If you’re curious about how the GTX 1080 Ti compares to any current AMD card, even the Radeon R9 Fury X, we’ll spoil it for you; there is no competition. That could change soon, once AMD launches its expected high-end “Vega” competitor to the Pascal cards in 2017. However, details are still scarce on actual Vega hardware, so we’ll have to wait and see if AMD can give Nvidia a run for its money. Until then, the extreme high-end portion of the market is strictly Nvidia’s playground, as you’ll see below.
3DMark Fire Strike Ultra
We started off our testing with Futuremark’s 2013 version of 3DMark, specifically the suite’s Fire Strike Ultra subtest. Fire Strike is a synthetic test designed to measure overall gaming performance. Ultra is meant to simulate the stresses of game graphics rendering at 4K.
In this first test, we saw the Titan X holding a slight advantage over the GTX 1080 Ti, but it’s so small that it’s well within the margin of error. They are essentially tied, and that’s great news for gamers with $700 burning a hole in their pockets. Compared to the GTX 1080, though, the Ti version knocks it to the ground to the tune of a 33 percent advantage on the Graphics Subscore. Nvidia claimed the Ti version was 35 percent faster than the GTX 1080, so it looks like no fudging of numbers there.
We also tested the cards with the lesser 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme and Fire Strike subtests, and we will reproduce those results below without comment, as they are well below the kinds of loads it would make sense to subject this card to. The relative dynamics are much the same as with Ultra.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Let’s start our game testing with some older games. Here, we fired up the 2013 reboot of the classic title Tomb Raider, testing at the highest detail preset (“Ultimate”) and three resolutions.
Moving onto the real world using actual games, we can see the Titan X and 1080 Ti perform the same at 4K resolution, with just 0.2 frame per second separating them. The Titan X also holds a micro-advantage at 2,560×1,440, but again not enough to back up any claims about it being faster.
Compared to the GTX 1080, however, the GTX 1080 Ti version managed only an incremental boost of 9.5 percent at 4K, which falls short of expectations. It did hit the target at lower resolutions, though, as the GTX 1080 Ti card was just over 30 percent faster than its predecessor at both 1440p and 1080p resolutions.
Next, we rolled out the very demanding real-world gaming benchmark test built into the older title Sleeping Dogs.
Once again, the Titan X and the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti are so close you could cover them with a hand towel. At 4K, there’s just 1.3 frames per second separating them, and at 2,560×1,440, they’re also a mere 1.5 frames per second apart. Comparing the GTX 1080 Ti to the vanilla GTX 1080 at 4K, though, all is right in the world as there is a near-38-percent difference between them, almost as if Nvidia tuned the new card to be exactly that much faster. That delta narrows a bit at lower resolutions, though, hitting 28 percent at 1440p and then 17 percent at 1080p.
The popular title Bioshock Infinite isn’t overly demanding, but it’s a popular one with stellar good looks. In its built-in benchmark program, we set the graphics level to the highest preset (Ultra+DDOF).
In Bioshock, we finally start to see the GTX 1080 Ti hold a small advantage over the Titan X, but not at 4K, as we assumed. At super-high resolution, they are still tied, but at 2,560×1,440, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti was able to hold a roughly 5 percent advantage, which is what we figured it would be capable of, given their similar specs. Compared to the GeForce GTX 1080, though, the GTX 1080 Ti card was 34 percent faster at 4K, 24 percent faster at 1440p, and just 19 percent faster at 1080p.
Next up was Hitman: Absolution, which is an aging game but still plenty hard on a video card.
These results were a little unusual, in that the only place we saw the GTX 1080 Ti hold a good-size advantage over the 2016 Titan X was at 1,920×1,080, where it was a surprising 20 percent faster and the Titan X was limited by other factors. The two cards were essentially tied at 4K and 1440p. However, like clockwork, the GTX 1080 Ti was faster than its predecessor at 4K resolution by, you guessed it, a touch more than 35 percent.
Far Cry Primal
Next, we moved to a more recent game, released in 2016. Ubisoft’s latest open-world first-person hunting game is one of the most demanding titles we use, thanks to its lush foliage, detailed shadows, and otherwise incredible environments.
Since we weren’t able to re-test the Titan X with Nvidia’s very latest drivers, it is possible that these results are skewed a bit in the GTX 1080 Ti’s favor. That said, it wasn’t able to outpace the Titan X at 4K, and its advantages at 1440p and 1080p are suspect, as the Titan X was, for reasons we could not diagnose, capped at 83fps on this test at those resolutions. However, we can compare it with greater certainty to the GTX 1080, and it was a respectable 30 percent faster at 4K, and 22 percent faster at 1440p.
Grand Theft Auto V
One of the most popular game franchises on the planet, Grand Theft Auto needs no introduction. Version V took a lot longer than many expected to land on the PC. But when it finally did, in early 2015, it brought a number of graphical improvements and tweakable visual settings that pushed the game far beyond its console roots.
This test shows signs of being CPU-limited at the lower resolutions, despite the fact that all cards were tested on our robust Intel Core i7-4770K-based testbed. Not surprisingly, the Titan X and GeForce GTX 1080 Ti were close at 4K resolution, but the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti overtook its big brother at both 1440p and 1080p. It was able to top the Titan X by a substantial 19 percent at 1440p, and 16 percent at 1080p. It’s possible its faster memory really comes into play at these lower resolutions. Also, the GTX 1080 Ti was a notable 32 percent faster than the GTX 1080 at 4K resolution.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft rises once again in the early 2016 iteration of Square Enix’s long-running action franchise. As our hero works to unfold an ancient mystery (and reveal the secret to immortality) ahead of the ancient and deadly Order of Trinity, she traipses through a slew of complex atmospheric environments, from arid tombs to the frigid Siberian wilderness. A dynamic weather system, and the complexities of Lara’s wind-tousled hair, add to the game’s visual complexity.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (ROTR DX11 Very High)
This is another game that made us wish we could re-test the Titan X with the newest drivers, as its results show it underperforming more than we’d expect. Comparing the GTX 1080 Ti to its baby brother, though, we see a big improvement. The GTX 1080 Ti was 27 percent faster at 4K, going from a reasonably playable 48fps to a very solid, smooth 61fps. If anything, that is the reason some GTX 1080 owners might upgrade to this card, as it can hit 60fps here at 4K resolution, something the GTX 1080 isn’t always capable of doing in demanding games like this one.
The newest game in the Hitman franchise finds Agent 47 turning over a new leaf, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery as a teacher at a school for underprivileged children. Just kidding, of course; he kills loads of people in this one, just like the rest. It does offer gorgeous graphics in both DX11 and DX12 varieties, though. We’ll tackle the former (DX11) first.