We've gathered six of Nvidia's finest GTX 1080s and tested them for performance, overclocking, noise and design.
The GTX 1080 wowed the gaming world when it arrived on the scene earlier this year. Since then, all manner of rivals and cheaper options have come along, but nothing has quite matched the GTX 1080 for outright power – unless you consider the Titan X a consumer card.
The time has come to look at the third-party market and understand the differences between the custom models on offer and the Founders Edition that launched back in May.
Here, we're looking at five third-party options and the Founders Edition, rating them for heat, noise, overclockability and that all-important, super l33t design – well, most of those things.
All the third-party cards on test here were supplied by Overclockers UK.
Video: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 review
The results of testing multiple versions of the same GPU can be a bit random. The so-called silicon lottery means that two identical cards – let alone two from different manufacturers – can have very slight technical differences that can skew benchmark results by a percentage point or so. This means rating GPUs definitively for pure top-end performance and overclockability is extremely unwise.
For the buyer, however, there are some key differences that explain the slight price differences between models. The silicon lottery, as mentioned above, becomes less of a problem the more you pay for a graphics card because the manufacturer will have hand-picked the best GTX 1080 chips off the production line. While every GTX 1080 chip is capable of the bare minimum performance stated by Nvidia, those endowed with lucky silicon are actually capable of quite a lot more.
The Zotac GeForce AMP Extreme on test here, for example, is guaranteed to come out of the box with a 178MHz overclock that lesser GTX 1080s might not be able to handle consistently. In buying a higher-spec card, you’re guaranteeing a minimum performance that’s higher than that of rivals. Buy a cheap rival and get lucky, and you could get just as good overclocking performance – but there’s a chance you won’t be able to.
Despite the silicon lottery, measuring out-of-box performance is important. If you have absolutely no interest in overclocking, the performance you’ll get without installing any software or messing with voltages is what you’ll get.
Our testing methodology includes three games running at 1440p resolution at their highest settings, as recommended by the always-handy Nvidia GeForce Experience software. We tested Hitman, Rise of the Tomb Raider and a single-player excerpt of Battlefield 1. For simplicity we've only included a graph for Battlefield 1, but the results there were representative of the other two games.
We'll also measure the sound of each GPU's fan at 100% and the regular speeds you'd expect when running a game using a decibel meter. It's here that we'll also check how hot each card becomes while gaming.
We'll try to stretch a generous overclock from each card's GPU and memory to see where instability kicks in.
We'll consider the extra tools, software and bonus goodies you get with each card. While extras shouldn't be a crucial consideration, when deciding between two similarly-priced rivals this might swing things one way or the other.
Finally, manufacturer warranty is a big deal. If a company is confident enough to include a multiple-year guarantee with its kit, that's a sure-fire sign that the product has been tested fairly rigorously. It will also ensure that you get a little extra peace of mind with your wallet-emptying £650-plus purchase.
One important note is that graphics card pricing – like the rest of the components world – can be pretty wild. We won't be conducting a performance-per-pound analysis of each card, since by the time you read this, pricing might have changed considerably. Still, there are some cards here that will always be more expensive than their "budget" rivals, so the higher-end GPUs will be scrutinised with a little more prejudice.
Each card was tested using the same version of Nvidia's Windows 10 drivers in TrustedReviews' open test bench. The rig itself consists of the following components:
Sadly, Asus and MSI's GTX 1080 review stock had depleted and both were unable to supply units for this group test. As two major vendors, we hope they'll be able to supply units in the near future, enabling us to add them to this roundup.
6 / 6
5 / 6
4 / 6
3 / 6
2 / 6
1 / 6
There’s quite a difference between the various GTX 1080s on the market. While performance may be within a hair’s breadth of one another, noise, temperatures, overclocking and warranties all vary hugely.
Picking a winner is hard, but the Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 AMP Extreme mixes great performance, relatively low noise and a great warranty to just beat its rivals. Coming a close second is the KFA2 GeForce GTX 1080 HOF: its cheap price, good performance and quiet operation make it very attractive. It’s a shame its warranty is so short.
Thanks again to Overclockers UK for supplying the cards used in this test.