As we discovered in our review, Nvidia's Founders Edition GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card sets new heights for graphics performance and smoothness. That card is relatively noisy, however, and it doesn't shut off its fan at idle for silent operation. Those characteristics left us wondering how non-reference designs would handle the GP104 GPU. Gigabyte has at least three takes on the GTX 1080 in its catalog already, and today, we're looking at the company's biggest, baddest air-cooled card so far: the GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming.
When I first saw this thing at Computex, its two-slot-and-change cooler made me raise an eyebrow. It's one of the biggest graphics coolers I've laid eyes on. That huge shroud isn't just for show, though. Gigabyte crams a dense fin array in there with six heat pipes winding through it, and it uses three larger-than-average 100-mm fans to move air over all that metal. As someone whose journey as a PC hardware reviewer started in case testing, I'm a fan of this decision. Larger fans can spin slower and make less noise than their smaller counterparts, all while moving similar amounts of air.
Big fans like those Gigabyte employs here could end up making for a cooler that's lengthier than average, but the company cleverly staggers the height of the middle fan so that the two outer fans can overlap it. This "stack fan" design means the GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming is actually a few millimeters shorter than the GTX 980 Ti G1 Gaming card, and Gigabyte claims it also makes for better airflow over the heatsink. Like any good custom-cooled graphics card these days, the Gigabyte card stops its fans at idle for total silence.
The considerable real estate on the side of this card's cooler lets Gigabyte put an enormous, RGB LED-illuminated "Xtreme Gaming" logo there. If you have a windowed case, nobody will be left with any doubt about your preferred brand of graphics card—or how "Xtreme" you are. Surely this is good for a couple extra FPS. In all seriousness, I do enjoy being able to coordinate the LED colors of my graphics card with the rest of my system.
Four light pipes on the X-brace that holds the cooler's second fan in place light up in RGB LED glory, too, although these will probably be difficult to see in most cases. Folks with a Thermaltake Core wall-mounted enclosure will be pleased, though.
Gigabyte reinforces this giant card with a sturdy aluminum backplate emblazoned with the Xtreme Gaming shield logo you see on the side of the card. The orange stripes and white logo are painted on, though, so builders concerned about color coordination will need to be OK with those shades in their systems.
Field-stripping the Xtreme Gaming card reveals a glorious 12+2 power phase design, fed by a pair of eight-pin PCIe power connectors. Each power plug has an LED above it that'll light up in solid white if a PCIe power connector isn't plugged in. They'll also blink if the card detects a problem with the quality of the power source it's hooked up to. In regular operation, these LEDs stay off.
To carry heat away from the GP104 GPU, Gigabyte uses a large slab of copper that makes full contact with the graphics chip and its surrounding GDDR5X memory. This plate doesn't extend to the power-delivery circuitry, but a group of thermal pads ensure those components are still transferring heat to the aluminum fins of the heatsink. Instead of the straight, uniformly tall fin design of many graphics card heatsinks, the Xtreme Gaming cooler uses a zig-zaggy fin shape that's claimed to increase the surface area and potential heat-transfer ability of the heatsink.
|GTX 1080 Founders Edition||1607||1733||2500||8192|
|Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming (gaming mode)||1759||1898||2553|
|Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming (OC mode)||1784||1936||2600|
Gigabyte uses its custom board and cooler to push the GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming card's base and boost clocks about 9% over the Founders Edition card in its "Gaming Mode" clock profile. The card also has a more aggressive "OC Mode" that adds about another percent of clock speed on top of the baked-in Gaming Mode boost. Gigabyte doesn't ship cards with a "review BIOS," as we've seen with some MSI and Asus cards, so the performance of our sample should be representative of what one would get with a retail card.
The Xtreme Gaming card Gigabyte sent us is the "Premium Pack" edition, meaning it comes with a few extra goodies. Along with its three DisplayPorts and a single HDMI out in its rear cluster, the Xtreme Gaming has a pair of HDMI outs on its front edge that connect to an included 5.25" breakout box. When that box is plugged in, two of the card's rear DisplayPorts are disabled.
This box puts two extra USB 3.0 ports and two HDMI outputs on the front of the PC, making it easy to connect VR headsets without fiddling about in the dark hindquarters of a system. If you have an Oculus Rift, these extra ports are all that's needed to plug and play using the headset. HTC Vive owners will still have to rely on that system's separate breakout box, though, since the Vive has to draw power from a wall outlet to function. Still, this add-on is genuinely useful—it conserves precious VR headset cable length. That's especially important with the room-scale Vive.
The other Premium Pack extras are more niche in their usefulness. Gigabyte includes an Xtreme Gaming-branded HB SLI bridge, a case badge, and a rear bracket for the card's extra HDMI ports, should builders want to route them there for some reason. HB SLI bridges aren't cheap, so that extra and the VR breakout box are genuinely nice to have.
The GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming and its Premium Pack add-ins sell for $699.99 on Newegg right now, the same price as a GTX 1080 Founders Edition card—presuming you can find either of those cards in stock, of course. At least on paper, the Xtreme Gaming card's beefed-up PCB and considerably larger cooler make it seem more appealing than the Founders Edition card. Let's fire up some games and see what it can do.
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