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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti review

The best choice for 4K PC gaming at 60fps.

On a platform with near infinite levels of configurability, just how do you demonstrate whether a new GPU really has the power to deliver a quality, native 4K experience at 60 frames per second? In our testing with the new GTX 1080 Ti, we established a very simple test criteria: if the new card's performance at ultra HD matches up to the 1080p prowess of GTX 970 at the same settings, we have a winner. We're perhaps one generational step away from a complete match, but Nvidia's new GPU king gets astonishingly close. In some cases, it's actually even faster - a remarkable turnout bearing in mind the 4x increase in pixel-count.

And for us, that's the comparison that really sets out what this product is capable of. It gives users an idea of 'real world' performance based on an experience many PC gamers can relate to, but there's another important yardstick too - whether Nvidia really has handed in a performance uplift over its last GPU king - Titan X Pascal. Across the years, the tinkering Nvidia has carried out on its 'big chip' Titan products to create consumer-orientated cards has involved halving RAM and cutting CUDA cores, with barely perceptible results. GTX 1080 Ti's cuts are even more of an irrelevance.

In fact, Nvidia has boosted GPU frequency by 50MHz, giving the new card a very slight performance lead over the Titan X Pascal in terms of shader throughput (similar to the Titan, the specced boost clock is way lower than its real-life performance, where it regularly hits over 1850MHz). Memory cutbacks vs Titan this time around are limited to the omission of a single module of Micron G5X RAM, giving the Ti 11GB rather than 12GB. This has the knock-on effect of dropping ROP count from 96 to 88, with a small drop to L2 cache, while the Titan's 384-bit memory bus is cut down to a 352-bit interface instead. Nvidia mitigates this with faster G5X modules with 10 per cent more bandwidth than the Titan's, so even memory throughput sees a very small increase.

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The bottom line is this - the only real difference between GTX 1080 Ti and Titan X Pascal is 1GB of VRAM: memory that will likely remain completely untouched for a long, long time. Nvidia has even retained Titan's integer compute performance in its entirety - even though its gaming applications here are basically non-existent. In effect, Titan X Pascal is now an irrelevance to all potential GPU consumers, whether professional or gaming. In effect, the same product is now $500 cheaper.

GTX 1080 Ti has further improvements too, specifically a redesigned cooling set-up that sees airflow improve by 2x compared to the Titan. We did have issues keeping the more expensive card cool while overclocking, so this is a welcome improvement, but it comes at a cost: the dual-link DVI port on the rear is removed, leaving three DisplayPorts and an HDMI 2.0 output. Out of all the inputs to drop, DVI is the obvious choice - it can't output 4K at 60Hz - but there's still a lot of DVI monitors out there and we hope that this doesn't become a standard for more mainstream-oriented GPUs.

Rich presents his video review of the GTX 1080 Ti. There's a super-abundance of graphics power here - but what's the best way to use it?Watch on YouTube

Side-by-side with GTX 1080 Founders Edition, the new Ti looks and feels identical otherwise, but the good news is that Nvidia doesn't feel the need to charge users any extra for the privilege of owning a reference card this time around. And that's just as well: GTX 1080 Ti might be a cheaper Titan, but $699/£699 is still a massive chunk of change for a graphics card. With that in mind, it's all going to come down to performance, and we had a couple of questions going in. Firstly, does the GTX 1080 Ti really out-perform Titan X Pascal, and secondly, can the card deliver the promised 35 per cent uplift in frame-rates compared to the standard GTX 1080?

We're going to kick off our performance metrics with a look at 4K - where the Ti performs best - but based on our existing Titan X Pascal testing, the previous performance delta with GTX 1080 certainly didn't tally with Nvidia's claims. On paper, the Ti represents a 28 per cent bump in shader performance, but memory bandwidth rises by a much more impressive 51 per cent.

Looking at Nvidia's reviewer's guide, the benchmarks that deliver the biggest improvements are all at 4K, and there's also a tendency to ramp up anti-aliasing. This fully maximises memory bandwidth, producing some terrific gains up against GTX 1080 - but it also results in some very low frame-rates. It's not the way we'd prefer to game or how we'd like to benchmark the hardware. Instead, our tests favour post-process anti-aliasing - lighter on the GPU and more conducive to smoother performance overall. As things stand though, our tests still reveal an average 30.8 per cent uplift in performance. This is entirely in line with what we would expect from a generational leap.

And just one more note before we dive into the benches. All GPUs tested here have been re-benched with the latest drivers from Nvidia and AMD, throwing up some interesting conclusions - first of all, there is a small performance bump across the board and some more significant increases too. GTX 1080 Ti at launch is actually a fair bit faster than Titan X Pascal when the card made its debut - but actually both products now benefit from driver optimisations.

Secondly, Nvidia has clearly put a bit of work into getting Ashes of the Singularity and Hitman DX12 performance up to snuff. Traditionally, AMD sped ahead on equivalent hardware (in this case, GTX 1070 vs R9 Fury X), but no longer. For its part, AMD's R9 Fury X also sees across the board improvement. The Fury's sub-par performance at lower resolutions has been improved in several cases, but it is still the weakest card tested here. Vega can't come soon enough.

It's at 4K where the GTX 1080 Ti really stretches its legs. It's here where the gap between Ti and vanilla 1080 is most pronounced.Watch on YouTube
3840x2160 (4K) GTX 1080 Ti Titan X Pascal GTX 1080 GTX 1070 R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 45.4 42.2 33.0 25.9 23.2
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 76.8 76.2 60.2 48.7 48.8
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 53.3 51.9 40.3 31.9 32.1
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 52.3 51.3 40.3 32.1 33.3
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 55.2 56.1 42.3 33.8 35.1
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 75.9 77.0 60.9 48.4 48.4
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 60.5 61.8 46.2 36.1 34.0
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 64.1 62.8 47.6 37.4 37.6

Assuming a two per cent margin of error in benchmarking, there's very, very little to tell Titan X Pascal and GTX 1080 Ti apart, though there is a pleasant little bump here and there that reflects the additional 50MHz of GPU frequency Nvidia has added to the GTX 1080 Ti. Assassin's Creed Unity, Crysis 3, The Witcher 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider all post increases of 30 per cent or higher up against the standard GTX 1080, while Far Cry Primal and Hitman show more conservative gains in 25 per cent territory. This kind of distribution is standard fare when we move up from one GPU tier to the next, and represents a decent jump in performance - enough to make 4K gaming at 60fps a reality with only minor tweaks in many modern titles.

Unfortunately we didn't have time to re-bench the GTX 1080 Ti's direct predecessor, the Maxwell-based GTX 980 Ti. However, the GTX 1070 is a touch faster and there's simply no competition between the two cards at 4K resolution: gains range from a minimum of 57 per cent to a maximum of 75 per cent, with the average across all eight games coming in at 65.1 per cent.

There's an unspoken rule that GPU upgrades generally work out best when you skip a generation. Perhaps that will also be the case here, but at 4K resolution, the difference between GTX 980 Ti and 1080 Ti is easily apparent - if you're looking to lock at 60fps at 4K, the new Pascal card gets you there with the less fuss and less compromise. Running both GPUs side by side on a 60Hz screen, the difference is easy to see.

GTX 1080 Ti's performance at 4K is sensational. Watch the video review and you'll note that running our test suite with the new product at 4K vs GTX 970, GTX 1060 and RX 480 at 1080p on ultra settings or equivalent shows performance in the same ballpark on challenging titles including The Witcher 3, The Division and Far Cry Primal. Other titles do fall short though - sometimes dramatically so - requiring further compromise. Compared to GTX 1060, the GTX 1080 Ti has around 3.3x the shader power but only 2.5x the bandwidth. A further bump in computational power, plus a more sizeable boost to memory bandwidth via HBM2 looks like the route to ironing out the kinks on more troublesome titles. We'll be fascinated to see what the next Titan revision holds as a taste of the next-gen GPU power to come.

GTX 1080 Ti offers a 27.3 per cent boost over the standard 1080 across all eight titles tested here. Tomb Raider and the Witcher 3 post the biggest increase at just over 30 per cent.Watch on YouTube
2560x1440 (1440p) GTX 1080 Ti Titan X Pascal GTX 1080 GTX 1070 R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 83.3 83.1 65.1 51.8 42.0
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 92.9 94.6 76.0 63.1 64.4
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 108.2 107.4 83.4 66.9 66.1
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 90.9 90.9 71.3 57.8 55.7
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 100.1 100.8 77.3 62.3 58.3
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 127.1 125.5 103.4 83.8 82.9
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 116.7 112.5 89.5 69.7 62.0
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 109.5 107.0 84.1 68.0 61.4

The GTX 1080's performance bump vs the standard 1080 drops a few percentage points across the board at 2560x1440 resolution. Across the eight titles tested here, we peg it at 27 per cent - although this differential is likely to widen if you're a fan of heavy anti-aliasing solutions such as super-sampling or MSAA. The average here is held back by only relatively small increases in performance in Ashes of the Singularity and Hitman (20 per cent and 23 per cent respectively) - and certainly in the latter, our tests suggest that the GTX 1080 Ti is actually so fast that performance is limited in some scenarios by the CPU, not Nvidia's hardware design. Bearing in mind that we test with an i7 6700K overclocked to 4.6GHz, this is quite an achievement.

It's testament to just how fast GPUs are becoming that the GTX 1080 Ti is capable of running one of the Witcher 3's most demanding scenes pretty consistently at over 100 frames per second (but we're still not going to invoke HairWorks!) while titles that absolutely soak graphics power - like Assassin's Creed Unity and The Division - remain well north of 60fps. GTX 1070 and 1080 remain our 'go to' cards for 1440p gaming, but the additional overhead on offer here is still covetable.

While the raw numbers show the GTX 1080 Ti performing best at 4K, intermediate resolutions between 1440p and ultra HD should show superb results from GTX 1080 Ti - out of all the tests carried out here, only The Division posts a lowest recorded frame-rate under 60fps. This is a point worth bearing out - many PC engines now include high quality upscalers, which can come in handy for stabilising performance on 4K displays. An 85 per cent resolution scale, for example, resolves at 3264x1836, with 90 per cent offering 3456x1728. Both look excellent on ultra HD panels, owing to the extreme pixel density these screens offer - especially in the desktop space.

Yes, of course you can game with GTX 1080 Ti at full HD resolution. However, even an i7 6700K overclocked to 4.6GHz holds back the Ti here.Watch on YouTube
1920x1080 (1080p) GTX 1080 Ti Titan X Pascal GTX 1080 GTX 1070 R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 124.8 121.7 99.3 81.0 66.8
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 98.8 99.8 85.5 71.2 75.5
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 161.6 159.1 129.1 106.7 102.3
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 125.3 127.3 98.6 81.6 73.7
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 134.4 132.3 107.7 90.4 75.9
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 153.3 152.1 133.4 112.6 106.4
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 173.3 167.0 133.9 107.7 86.5
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 138.9 136.8 114.6 95.1 79.2

We're including these 1080p results for a couple of reasons - but we simply can't recommend GTX 1080 Ti for gaming at what is now a relatively low resolution. GTX 1060 and 1070 make much more sense for full HD gameplay - beyond that, you're leaving a lot of performance on the table by using anything more powerful. However, users of 120Hz 1080p displays may be looking to this product to deliver gameplay performance more in line with their screen refresh, so the numbers are worth running. And with the average frame-rates here settling well above 100fps in many cases, it might seem like a good pairing - but the raw benchmarks do not reflect the reality of what it actually feels like to game like this.

In short, many of our test titles lose a big chunk of their performance very suddenly, at any given point. Typically, the more the CPU has to calculate - for example, intense physics in Crysis 3 or a detail-packed vista in Far Cry Primal - the more we see the processor becoming the limiting factor, resulting in a sudden lurch downwards with in-game frame-rates.

Some games do scale better than others: for example, dropping down from the ultra to the high preset on Frostbite titles can help stabilise performance beyond 100fps, but otherwise, minimums are often in 80-90fps territory, even with a modern overclocked i7. In this scenario, we'd rather stabilise at the lower frame-rate and eliminate the stutter - and put simply, this does not require a card with the raw brute-force offered by the GTX 1080 Ti.

Perhaps not surprisingly then, the average performance uplift vs GTX 1080 is at its lowest here - just 23 per cent across all eight titles, and a reasonable chunk of that could be extracted from the vanilla GTX 1080 by overclocking. Two titles in our suite do buck the trend to a certain extent - The Division with all of its graphical features ramped up reports a 27 per cent bump vs GTX 1080, while Rise of the Tomb Raider hits 29 per cent. CPU scaling in DX12 with the latter is actually quite impressive - it's one of the few titles where a six or eight-core i7 can log a big increase in performance over a quad, so it's nice to see a resultant bump in performance with GTX 1080 Ti.

This scene from Crysis 3 is easily repeatable and incurs a heavy, sustained load on the GPU - good for testing overclock stability and for measuring power draw. We retain our Core i7 6700K here, but disable its overclock.
GTX 1080 Ti GTX 1080 Ti OC Titan X Pascal GTX 1080 GTX 1070 Titan X Maxwell R9 Fury X
Peak System Power Draw 384W 410W 384W 303W 263W 361W 385W

The GTX 1080 Ti's power consumption falls directly into line with Titan X Pascal, despite the small frequency boost and faster memory modules. Coincidentally, it's also on par with the old 28nm-based Radeon R9 Fury X - with the new GeForce card offering a 70 per cent boost in performance on aggregate. Also noticeable is that there's only a small increase in power consumption compared to the last-gen Titan X Maxwell, despite a big leap in gameplay frame-rates. The new cooling arrangement certainly pays off, with 1080 Ti able to stay cooler under load, significantly so when pushing beyond factory clocks.

Overclocking in our test area adds 26W to the tally - our efforts in boosting out-of-the-box performance sees a reasonable increase of 170MHz to the core clock, which sees the GTX 1080 Ti's GP102 processor hit and often exceed 2GHz. This is a stunning achievement bearing in mind the size and complexity of the processor.

However, memory overclocking potential is minimal - at least with the sample we have. We could only retain stability with a 150MHz boost to G5X clocks - a far cry from the 600-700MHz we could extract from our GTX 1080 and Titan X Pascal. We'd suggest that the move to 11gbps modules has significantly reduced OC headroom here, and we wouldn't be surprised if the faster G5X in GTX 1080 Ti is simply of cherry-picking the best of the current modules and applying a factory overclock.

Regardless, Titan X Pascal can achieve higher memory throughput when overclocked compared to GTX 1080 Ti, but we've never been able to get the Titan's GP102 core to hit 2GHz before, giving the new card a small edge here. As things stand, the end result from our efforts is a general uplift of 10 per cent to gameplay frame-rates - clearly the days of the stupendous overclocking we saw from the Maxwell cards is a thing of the past. We no longer see stunts on par with GTX 970's ability to overclock beyond GTX 980 stock performance, but at the same time, if the aim here is to stabilise 60fps target performance at 4K, that additional overhead could prove useful.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti: the Digital Foundry verdict

The sudden jump from 2.5K desktop displays to ultra HD 4K screens created an overwhelming challenge for GPU manufacturers - the sheer pixel-count could not be matched by scalability in performance from what was then top-of-the-line graphics hardware. Indeed, right up until the launch of GTX 1080, we had real trouble running the latest games at ultra HD without undue compromise in visual settings, reduced frame-rates - or both.

Titan X Pascal and GTX 1080 Ti build on the vanilla 1080's excellent performance, adding the additional overhead required to get the job done on a range of the latest games. It's possible to enjoy full native 4K resolution with 60fps gameplay on the likes of Forza Horizon 3, Battlefield 1, Gears of War 4, Titanfall 2 and Watch Dogs 2 with only minimal tweaking - and the experience is nothing short of epic.

In this sense, the 31 per cent performance uplift we measured here translates into a feeling of much more when you're actually sat at your PC playing games on a 4K display. It's so much easier to hit the 60fps threshold, and in many cases, sustaining this super-smooth frame-rate requires no more tweaking than achieving a 1080p60 lock when gaming with GTX 970. Some titles do prove more troublesome though and we suspect that upcoming Nvidia products with HBM2-level memory bandwidth may well be the final piece of the puzzle required to truly get the job done.

But in the here and now, the GTX 1080 Ti is the best GPU companion for maximising gameplay results on a 4K display. However, while ultra HD costs have tumbled (40-inch UHD TVs make for great desktop displays), the price premium remains very high, even with the massive price-cut compared to Titan X Pascal. However, as always, we should consider these products as previews of the more mainstream products to follow a year or so download the line. 2015's Maxwell-based Titan X spawned 2016's far cheaper GTX 1070, after all. The notion of this level of power in a £350 GPU a year or so ahead is tantalising to say the least.

The arrival of PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio will also inevitably result in smarter rendering approaches, which may open the door to less capable PC GPUs handing in perfectly good 4K experiences, even if pixel count isn't - strictly speaking - a native 4K. But if we're looking to run those console-level 4K titles at full-fat 60Hz, we're still going to need raw power, and for now at least, the GTX 1080 Ti is the only card worth considering.

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