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Best GTX 1080: 6 cards tested for overclocking and performance

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. 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.

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


What’s the difference between different GTX 1080s?

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.

What’s important in a graphics card?

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:

Where’s Asus and MSI?

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.

GTX 1080 Founders Edition

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Key specs:

You’ll find lots of GTX 1080 Founders Edition cards on the market from various brands. Aside from the box they come in, each one is identical – and normally the cheapest in any given market. There’s a reason why it’s so cheap, however.

Design: Arguably the best-looking GTX 1080 out there, the angular metal construction of the Founders Edition looks seriously cool. The glowing GeForce GTX logo will be a must-have for Nvidia die-hards and the plain black backplate looks superb as well.

Noise and temperatures: With its single small fan the Founders Edition is the noisiest card on test, both at maximum speed and under load, with readings of 67dB and 50dB respectively. While not overwhelming, both will be noticeable from within less noise-proof cases.

The Founders Edition was also the hottest card on test, peaking at 82oC under load, 9 degrees warmer than the Zotac and 30 degrees hotter than the liquid-cooled EVGA.

Performance and overclocking The Founders Edition has the slowest boost clock speed of any card on test at just 1,733MHz, and this is reflected in its benchmark results: it consistently came in 10% slower than the cards that were overclocked out of the box.

I was able to increase boost clock speeds to a consistent 2,050MHz, which puts the Founders Edition in line with third-party alternatives. But the cooling fan is significantly noisier at these speeds – so although you’ll get a hefty performance boost, it doesn’t come for free.

Warranty and extras: It initially looked like buying a Founders Edition card would net you a bit of exclusive street cred, but there remain plenty on the market. In addition, considering it’s still on sale direct from Nvidia, there isn’t actually a  “collectors” reason to buy it.

It’s one of the cheapest GTX 1080s on the market and comes with a fine three-year warranty, but third-party options offer better value.

EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FTW Hybrid

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Key specs:

The only liquid-cooled GTX 1080 on test, EVGA’s effort is impressive, but overkill, for a card clocked fairly conservatively.

Design: As the name suggests, this card features a hybrid cooling system, with one large fan and an integrated liquid-cooling unit that breaks away to a 120mm fan and radiator. You’ll need room in your PC case for this extra fan, but this shouldn’t be an issue in most mid-range cases. It’s an understated design that gives nothing away about the gaming power beneath; the only hint is the LED lighting – but even that glows in a classy white configuration.

Noise and temperatures: Since the radiator fan will be sitting closest to the top, front or side of the case, noise levels here are important. The radiator fan blows at 48dB under load, which isn’t super-noisy, but it’s certainly audible. It ramps up to 50dB when turned up to 100%.

Not surprisingly, the FTW Hybrid was the coolest cat of the bunch, topping out at just 52oC under load. It’s a clear winner here; 9C cooler than the Gigabyte, which was the coolest air-cooled card.

The FTW Hybrid makes the most sense when running in SLI with another FTW Hybrid; in a standard air-cooled SLI configuration you may struggle to keep airflow consistent to the uppermost card. Here, both cards receive equal cooling since the radiator will dissipate heat to wherever you want it to go.

Performance and overclocking: Despite the huge cooling potential, EVGA applies a fairly modest overclock to the FTW Hybrid, shipping it at 1,860MHz and stock 10,000MHz speeds. As a result, its out-of-the-box performance was a little underwhelming.

Stick on an overclock and you’re laughing. The EVGA managed the joint-best overclock of the group at a huge 2,152MHz boost speed. This hugely increases gaming performance, but with next to no increase in noise.

Warranty and extras: EVGA ships the FTW Hybrid with a three-year warranty, which seems a little short compared to its rivals – especially since there’s a lot more that can go wrong with a liquid-cooling unit.

Inno3D GeForce GTX 1080 iChill Air Boss X4

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Key specs:

Inno3D went a little barmy with the iChill Air Boss X4, installing three cooling fans for the GPU itself and a further cooler for the rest of the board and the power supply. But if you’re going to be the boss of the air, more fans means more bossin’.

Design: If you’re tight on space, the fourth fan can be removed, but outlandish fanning is one of the main appeals of this card. The metal outer shell partially shrouds the fans, giving it a bit of a spaceship-like feel. I wasn’t won over by the design, but at least it isn’t ugly.

Noise and temperatures:
It wasn’t the quietest card on test and was up there with the Gigabyte and EVGA cards for noise under load. However, inside a case the 48dB noise won’t cause many issues. If you’re not gaming, the fans won’t spin at all.

The Inno3D was one of the warmer cards during testing, maxing out at 71 degrees during the 3DMark: Fire Strike Ultra test. This isn’t too hot by any means; but it’s significantly warmer than many of its rivals.

Performance and overclocking: Despite the relatively modest stock boost speed of 1,898MHz, the Air Boss managed the second-best performance of the group, sitting just behind the Zotac. This is in part thanks to its healthy 10,400MHz memory speed, which is the second fastest of the group.

A 2,139MHz overclocked speed was a decent result for the Inno3D, making it one of the more overclockable cards of the batch. Fan noise will increase further at this setting, but it’s worth it for that small performance boost.

Warranty and extras: You receive a three-year warranty with the Air Boss, which puts it in the middle of this group. Plus Inno3D ships a soft mouse mat in the box, too.

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Premium Pack Edition

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Key specs:

Gigabyte wins the prize for the biggest box, shipping its Xtreme Gaming GTX 1080 in a package that’s twice the size of its rivals. There are a fair few goodies inside, which I’ll get to later.

Design: Gigabyte has gone for an over-engineered look, with the two outer fans sitting partially on top of the centre fan. There’s a plastic guard that criss-crosses the fans and also lights up with RGB lighting; this can be configured using Gigabyte’s software.

Despite carefully removing it from its box, the plastic shroud had slightly deformed at some stage and was rubbing against the centre fan. It was easily fixed by giving the silver plastic foundations a poke, but it doesn’t bode well for the long-term build of this card – especially if you’re an enthusiast who changes case or moves your PC frequently.

Noise and temperatures:
The Gigabyte was the second-noisiest card on test under full load, clocking in at 49dB. That’s 1dB less than the Founders Edition and 4dB more than the KFA2. At 100% speeds it reaches 63dB, which puts it in the same territory as the Zotac and KFA2.

The Xtreme Gaming was the coolest air-cooled card on test, heating to just 61oC in the 3DMark: Fire Strike stress test, which is an impressive result.

Performance and overclocking: Out of the box, the Gigabyte was operating on one of its lower-power modes, which meant it was the second-slowest card on test. You’ll need to install the software on Gigabyte’s website to unlock the OC mode, which sets the card to 1,936MHz and the memory to 10,211MHz.

Overclocking this card was fiendishly difficult, and try as I might I couldn’t get it beyond its OC mode setting, which was frustrating.

Warranty and extras: There are numerous extras in the box including stickers, an SLI bridge, a mouse pad, wrist protector and a badge. There’s also an “Xtreme VR Link”, which hooks up to your motherboard and graphics card to add two USB 3 ports and two HDMI ports to the front of your PC. It’s a generous box of kit, and Gigabyte supplies a four-year warranty (note that the fourth year requires you to register your product).

KFA2 GeForce GTX 1080 HOF

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Key specs:

KFA2’s Hall of Fame Edition is the second-cheapest card on test, but with a distinctive design and excellent performance it’s one of the most appealing.

Design: The HOF will fit nicely into an ice-white PC build, with a jagged, frozen-looking design with white fans, shroud and backplate. It’s one of the larger cards on test in terms of surface area, although its heatsink is shallower than most, meaning it’s less annoying to fit it into a compact case.

Noise and temperatures: KFA2’s card was the quietest on test, spinning up to a 45dB noise level under load and maxing out at 50dB with fan speeds at 100%. It is always spinning, though, and doesn’t feature the fan-stop technology with which some other cards are endowed.

At 63oC under load, the KFA2 is the second-coolest air-cooled card on test, just pipped by the icy-cool Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming’s 61oC.

Performance and overclocking: The KFA2 put in a middle-of-the-road gaming performance thanks to its relatively modest 1,872MHz stock boost clock speeds and tiny 10MHz memory speed bump.

Despite its modest out-of-box performance, I was able to coax a 2,152MHz overclock out of the HOF Edition, tied with the liquid-cooled EVGA Hybrid model. The HOF is a cheap product, though, so this may well have been a lucky victory in the silicon lottery.

Warranty and extras: KFA2 provides a measly two-year warranty with the HOF edition. It isn’t a huge surprise given its lower price, but it’s a little disappointing since this does detract from what is otherwise an excellent example of the GTX 1080.

Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 AMP Extreme

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Key specs:

When it was launched, Zotac’s AMP Extreme GTX 1080 was one of the largest graphics cards you could buy. With a meaty 1,911MHz boost speed out of the box, the AMP Extreme means business.

Design: Its styling is unique, with bright yellow highlights on the backplate and a set of LEDs that can display various colours in flashing, breathing or static configurations. It looks great, but it’s huge and extremely heavy. Make sure your motherboard is securely fitted and that you have those thumbscrews for your case handy. You don’t want this thing bouncing around.

Noise and temperatures: Like a few of the cards on test here, the AMP Extreme won’t fire up its fans until the GPU hits 60 degrees. So when you’re not gaming, you won’t hear anything from this card. In fairness, fans these days are so quiet this is becoming a less important feature, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Fire up a game and it starts to whirr, but only at a very quiet 46dB. At full pelt things get incredibly noisy at 65dB, but it’s hard to imagine it ever getting to that point.

Despite its impressive cooling system, the Zotac does become warmer than some of the cards on test here, peaking at 72oC in the 3DMark: Fire Strike Ultra Stress Test. This is a tad disappointing considering the gigantic cooler attached to it, but the healthy stock overclock goes same way towards explaining this.

Performance and overclocking: There weren’t any surprises in the benchmarking portion of my tests, which is always a good thing. The Zotac delivered the best out-of-the-box performance of any of the cards on test here, going toe-to-toe with the Inno3D. The Zotac has the highest out-of-box memory speed at a huge 10,800MHz, a full 800MHz on stock speeds.

I was able to apply a healthy GPU overclock to the AMP Extreme, ramping it up to 2,130MHz. This wasn’t the biggest overclock of the batch, but certainly enough to boost gaming by a few frames.

Warranty and extras: Zotac supplies an amazing five-year warranty with the AMP Extreme, making it by far the most generous on test. This in itself is a reason to buy, alongside with its fantastic design and great performance.