Just over a month ago, NVIDIA introduced their latest graphics card, the GTX 1080. Soon after, they unveiled the GTX 1070. What’s significant is that they were the first 16nm GPUs released to the world. The GPU market had been making use of the TSMC 28nm process for just over four years, which to date had been the longest period in history without a manufacturing node shift.
After what seemed to be an eternity, we finally have a modern manufacturing process, which brings with it vast improvements at a silicon level, allowing for products like this GTX 1080 and the rest of the family. The technical merits of switching to such a process node are not of any relevance to this review, but suffice to say we have a GPU that has a low TDP while still offering massive performance. In fact, the GTX 1080, despite being a direct replacement for the GTX 980, offers such compelling performance that it has displaced the GTX 980 Ti, the TITAN X and AMD’s Fury X as the fastest single-GPU solution on the market. Across all tests, synthetic and otherwise, it is superior.
The Founders Edition models, previously known as the reference models, come in at 180W TDP, higher than the outgoing GTX 980 which had a nominal TDP of 165W. Logic would dictate that the power efficiency has decreased over the previous generation, but the truth is contrary to that. Unlike the outgoing GTX 980, the GTX 1080 features 7.2 billion gates, a whole two billion more than its predecessor. Despite the higher density, the GP104 is physically smaller at only 314mm^2 compared to the 398mm^2 GM204 it replaces. That’s testament to the advancements made in the manufacturing process.
NVIDIA has taken full advantage of these savings. Part of why the core density has increased despite the near identical design and architecture is because NVIDIA added four more SM units (streaming multi-processor units). Each features the familiar 128 shader cores as before. That means the total core count within the GPU has increased to 2,560 from 2,048 previously. In addition, we have an increase in the texture units to 160 from 128. All that is good and well, but not enough to bring about the massive performance gains the GTX 1080 offers without the memory bandwidth to feed the GPU.
To that end, the GTX 1080 features the first commercial application of Micron’s GDDR5X memory. Pioneered by Micron, this memory type has been added to the JEDEC specification and as such, there’s nothing preventing other memory vendors from manufacturing GDDR5X chips as well. At present, the only vendor supplying such high speed DRAM is Micron and the GTX 1080 makes use of it to achieve these high bandwidth figures.
Via an eight-channel hybrid GDDR5/GDDR5X controller, the GP104 core clocks the memory at a scorching 10GHz operating frequency for an effective 320GB/s bandwidth figure across the 256-bit wide memory bus. That’s significantly higher than what the GTX 980 had at its disposal. Thanks to improved data-compression techniques (Maxwell Compression), bandwidth is further improved by up to 1.7 times that of the GTX 980. At least, these are the figures NVIDIA is claiming. With such efficient data compression, it’s unsurprising that even at 4K resolutions the GTX 1080 manages to match and exceed the theoretically superior GTX 980 Ti at those bandwidth-dependant resolutions.
There are several other technologies, some introduced via software and others via a combination of software and hardware, that have helped the GTX 1080 secure its place at the top of the GPU performance food chain. The dreaded and often misunderstood asynchronous shader issue that seemed to plague the previous generation offerings has been addressed (or at least alleviated) via what looks to be a fast context-switching mechanism. Unlike with AMD hardware, which allows concurrent execution of pixel and thread instructions, the new GTX family can switch between the two instruction types exceedingly fast, to the tune of 100 microseconds. As a result, at a high level this looks as if the processing of such data is being undertaken in parallel. That means NVIDIA has a working hardware and software solution for whatever issue may have plagued the previous hardware. The performance thus far in the AOTS benchmark (not included here) reflects this advancement.
There’s plenty more to the GPU, but I’ll leave that for another piece, perhaps in our GTX 1070 coverage. What’s important to take away here is that, because of the process and the reworking NVIDIA has done within the GPU, the GP104 core runs at unusually high clock rates. In fact, in some instances on this particular GIGABYTE model, the clock speed reaches 1,964MHz. Prior to the GP104, GPUs needed liquid-nitrogen cooling to reach such frequencies. Today we can do so easily, courtesy of the GP104 GPU and more importantly the GIGABYTE WINDFORCE 3X cooler that keeps temperatures at bay.
The cooler alone may not seem important, but it’s vital to the performance figures recorded. When using the reference / Founders Edition blower-style cooler, the high boost frequency of the GTX 1080 tends to decrease after a while, from over 1,800MHz right down to 1,700MHz and even 1,674Mhz levels. This is a result of heat build-up, but the WINDFORCE 3X cooler takes care of that and allows the G1 Gaming to maintain its 1,964MHz clock speed for longer periods.
When left on auto, the fan profile is a little conservative and as such may allow temps to rise to levels which ultimately lower the clock speed, but using GIGABYTE’s Xtreme Gaming tool, you should be able to set a more aggressive profile that will guarantee you maximum performance at all times without excessive fan noise. Depending on the ambient temperature and operating environment, a 50% to 55% fan setting is hardly audible, but will keep the GPU cool enough to deliver the kind of performance recorded here.
As with all things these days, GIGABYTE features RGB LED lighting on the GPU which you can configure to your liking. If that kind of thing appeals to you, then you’ll be more than happy with the solution GIGABYTE has provided as it’s fully customizable and getting it to match whatever colour scheme you have is child’s play.
Finally, I must mention that NVIDIA did a fine job regarding the display output options available for the GPU. The GTX 1080 features cutting-edge support for HDMI 2.0b and DisplayPort 1.3 with provisional support for DP 1.4. With these output options, the graphics card is able to support full 4K resolutions at 120Hz with HDR support. In theory this could go up to 144Hz, but there’s no specification of the sort at present. Still, it’s good to know the bandwidth is there should such a display show up in future.
As it stands, the G1 Gaming is one of the finest examples of the GTX 1080 available. The price is fair and the performance exceptional. Regardless of what GTX 1080 you buy, you’ll be sitting with the fastest GPU on the planet. If you go with the G1 Gaming, you’ll receive even better performance at better temperatures. On sheer performance alone, the G1 Gaming is deserving of the Dream Machine award and is a must-buy.