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The MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming Z
We're able to review the GTX 1070 today because MSI sent over its spiffy GTX 1070 Gaming Z card. Behold:

This GTX 1070 is the highest-end card in the company's lineup. It uses a dual-fan "Twin Frozr VI" cooler to keep the GP104 chip in check, and it's got LED accents scattered across its surface to please buyers' inner 13-year-olds. In all seriousness, though, we think the card looks quite sporty. Those red lightning-bolt-ish things that surround the forward fan light up when the card is powered on.

The back side of the GTX 1070 Gaming Z is almost entirely covered with a metal backplate. The dragon crest embedded in the plate is backlit by RGB LEDs for easy color-coordination with other lighting in a build, and the MSI logo on the side of the card is similarly bedazzled. You can see the six-pin and eight-pin power connectors this card needs to do its thing from this angle, too.

MSI got in hot water a while back for sending reviewers graphics cards with a special BIOS that activates an "OC mode" clock profile by default. Our card is flashed with such a BIOS. Most custom graphics cards built these days feature several such clock speed profiles that can be selected in a proprietary companion utility, but reviewers don't generally install that software. For what it's worth, MSI's rationale for sending reviewers cards configured this way is that it doesn't want the press to miss out on the full performance potential of its products.

We're mostly neutral about this practice, since the clock speed differences often amount to a few percent at best. Still, folks who go out and pick up an MSI GTX 1070 will want to install the MSI Gaming App and enable the card's OC Mode if they're looking for performance identical to what we measure in this review. We've detailed the changes that OC Mode produces in the following table. We've also tossed the GTX 1070 Founders Edition card in for comparison.

  GPU
base
clock
GPU
boost
clock
Memory
config
Memory
transfer
speed
PCIe
aux
power
Peak
power
draw
E-tail
price
MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming Z (gaming mode) 1632 MHz 1835 MHz 8GB GDDR5 8.1 GT/s 1x 6-pin, 1x 8-pin 150W $469.99
MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming Z (OC mode) 1657 MHz 1860 MHz
GeForce GTX 1070 Founders Edition 1506 MHz 1683 MHz 8GB GDDR5 8 GT/s 1x 6-pin 150W $449.99

 

As we begin to field-strip the GTX 1070 Gaming Z, you can see the RGB LED backlight for the MSI crest and its associated connector. Otherwise, all that's back here is a matte-black PCB. You can get some sense of how unusually wide the PCB on this card is by taking a look at how far it extends past the mounting bracket—we're talking Asus Strix GTX 980 Ti proportions here.

Taking off the heatsink reveals five heatpipes running over a flat base plate. MSI also applies finned heatsinks to much of the card's power circuitry. A flat metal plate transfers heat from the GDDR5 RAM ringing the GP104 GPU. You can also see the generous dollop of "premium thermal compound" MSI applies to the chip itself.

Removing these auxiliary heatsinks and cleaning off the thermal paste gives us a better look at the Gaming Z card's 10-phase power-delivery subsystem, the GDDR5 memory, and the GP104 GPU itself. To send power to those VRMs, MSI uses a pair of PCIe power connectors: a six-pin and an eight-pin plug. The GTX 1070 Gaming Z also offers a DVI ouput, three DisplayPort 1.3 outputs, and a gold-plated HDMI 2.0 connector.

Overall, MSI makes the Gaming Z card feel worthy of its $469.99 price tag, and that's no surprise. We've enjoyed the company's custom GeForces for quite some time. MSI's GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G card was a perennial feature of our System Guides when that card was current, and we think the GTX 1070 Gaming cards continue that tradition.

Along with the Gaming Z, MSI also offers a couple milder GTX 1070s. The GTX 1070 Gaming card has a simpler backplate, and its 1531-MHz base and 1721-MHz boost clocks are less aggressive than the top-end model's. This card also doesn't have the multiple clock profiles of MSI's fancier 1070s. The Gaming X card keeps the simple backplate of its less-expensive cousin, but it pushes clocks to 1582-MHz base and 1771-MHz boost speeds in its "gaming mode." Ticking the "OC mode" checkbox pushes those clocks to a 1607-MHz base and a 1797-MHz boost.

All of these cards appear to use similar PCB designs and coolers, so the question of which one to select comes down to your budget and desired clock speeds. The GTX 1070 Gaming card sells for $439.99, while the Gaming X card is $449.99 and the Gaming Z sells for the aforementioned $469.99. We suspect the Gaming card could probably be overclocked to match or beat its more expensive cousins, but folks who don't want to mess with Afterburner could be forgiven for dropping the extra $10 on a Gaming X. The additional $20 for the Gaming Z card gets you extra bling and slightly higher clocks still. We think it's hard to go wrong with any of these cards, so let your wallet decide.

Now that we've seen the GTX 1070 Gaming Z, let's see what the cut-down GP104 GPU can do.