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Asus' ROG Strix GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card reviewed

Pascal gets a chance to soar

If there's one constant in life as a PC builder, it's that Asus knows how to build a high-quality video card. The Strix GTX 980 Ti OC Edition took home a coveted TR Editor's Choice Award in our GTX 980 Ti roundup, so I was excited to see what Asus had in store for its next generation of graphics cards when the ROG Strix GTX 1080 flew into the TR labs.

For the arrival of the GTX 1080, Asus opened a clean CAD file and rethought both the function and style of its high-end graphics card for a post-Pascal world. That clean-sheet thinking has resulted in a few changes for Asus' new breed of aven predators. The Strix brand is now part of the swanky Republic of Gamers family. The most visible result of that change is a move from a brash red-and-black design language to a subtle gray-and-black palette. The Strix cooler's shroud is now accented by angular outcroppings that spread across the underside of the card's cooler like some kind of bionic wings.

Those neutral colors serve as a perfect backdrop for the RGB LEDs embedded within the Strix's cooler shroud. Six fissures in the shell of the cooler let those LEDs shine through. Those full-spectrum LEDs also illuminate ROG logos on the side of the shroud and on the card's backplate. While a lot of thought clearly went into these LEDs, it's a shame they'll be hidden in 99% of regular PC builds. Show-offs will want to use a case like Thermaltake's Core P3 or Core P5 to use the Strix's LEDs to maximum effect.

These lights don't improve the Strix card's performance, but I'm still pleased that I can coordinate the card's lighting with the other RGB LEDs in my system and on my peripherals. Even in a typical ATX case where the LEDs around the card's fans won't be visible, the ROG Strix card still offers a sharp-looking touch of color on its backplate with a laser-cut ROG logo.

The most unique feature of the ROG Strix GTX 1080 hides under the front edge of the card's PCB. Asus includes a pair of four-pin fan headers that allow system fans connected to the Strix to respond to the graphics card's temperature fluctuations. Hallelujah.

You see, I'm a huge stickler about firmware fan control, and being able to tie system fan speeds to a variety of component temperatures is one of my favorite things about the better motherboards out there. Even Asus' motherboard firmware doesn't allow builders to set the graphics card temperature as a control variable for system fan speeds yet, though. For systems where the graphics card is likely to be the biggest heat generator (like small-form-factor builds), I've had to rely on third-party fan controllers like NZXT's Grid+ v2 for that kind of control. With the ROG Strix GTX 1080, that all changes.  

The fan headers on the Strix card take some DNA from Asus' best-in-class fan-control mojo. They can control both four-pin (PWM) and three-pin (DC) fans, and the headers automatically sense the type of fan that's connected for plug-and-play simplicity. The fans connected this way are controlled by the same fan curve that governs the graphics card's fans, however, so they can't be configured independently or individually. They'll also shut off at idle, which might be an issue in powerful systems with only a couple of fans. Be careful.

Though Asus doesn't include a breakout box for VR hardware like some Gigabyte and EVGA cards do, it still offers a degree of VR-friendliness in its port cluster. Asus trades one of the GTX 1080's three standard DisplayPorts for another HDMI 2.0 out. This two-and-two split between HDMI ports and DisplayPort outs means that Rift and Vive owners can plug in their headset alongside another HDMI monitor or TV without an adapter. For folks who want to show off their VR exploits in real time, that extra HDMI out might be handy.

To keep the GP104 GPU chilly, Asus uses a new version of the DirectCU cooler we've seen on many of its cards in the past. This cooler uses five copper heatpipes—only three of which touch the GPU itself—to carry heat away from the chip. From this angle, we can also see the six- and eight-pin PCIe power connectors that feed the card's eight-plus-two power-phase setup.

  GPU base
core clock
GPU boost
GTX 1080 Founders Edition 1607 1733 2500 8192
Asus ROG Strix GTX 1080 1670 1809 2500
Asus ROG Strix GTX 1080 OC Edition 1759 1898 2500

The ROG Strix GTX 1080 comes in two flavors: the "ROG Strix-GTX1080-A8G-Gaming" and the "ROG Strix-GTX1080-O8G-Gaming." The main difference between the cards is one of clock speeds. The A8G card is clocked at 1670MHz base while the O8G card pushes further with a 1759MHz base clock and an 1898MHz boost speed. Both cards are clocked significantly faster than the 1607MHz base and 1733MHz boost speeds of Nvidia's GTX 1080 Founders Edition.

Confusingly, Newegg sells the A8G card under its full Asus model name, while the O8G is sold as an "OC Edition." Buyers should be careful to make sure they're getting the Strix card they want. The A8G card sells for $709.99, and the OC Edition sells for $719.99. That's not much more to pay for a significant increase in factory clock speeds. Both cards are priced far in excess of Nvidia's seemingly wishful $599.99 suggested price for custom GTX 1080s, though. Let's see what those dollars buy us when the bits hit the DirectX queues.