Here it is: our first GTX 1080 Ti review. This is the Pascal GPU that’ll undoubtedly represent the best of what NVIDIA has to offer. You may be aware of the TITAN Xp, but at a retail price of well over R20,000, it’s not a realistic option for most people. Moreover, it isn’t much faster than the GTX 1080 Ti – especially one such as the AORUS GTX 1080 Ti which we’re looking at today.
You’ll know by now (and hopefully through personal experience) that virtually all Pascal GPUs from NVIDIA have a similar clock wall. That is, from the GTX 1050 right up to the TITAN Xp, they all roughly reach their limits at 2GHz core clock. That’s no doubt an impressive clock speed, especially given just how dense the die is for this GPU.
Big dies aren’t new to NVIDIA though, and with each passing generation, their harnessing of these immense processors has gotten significantly better. For some context and appreciation of just how far our GPUs have come in the span of a decade and some change, just look at the introduction of the first unified shader GPU – the GeForce 8800 GTX. At the time, this was the pinnacle of GPU performance, carrying a hefty 700 million transistors, give or take. The 1080 Ti by comparison has 12 billion, making it capable of over 30 times the compute performance. No, that’s not a mistake. It’s literally 30 times the maths performance at the same price point.
The AORUS GTX 1080 Ti takes this achievement an extra step forward by providing you with an even faster graphics card. It’s not as vital as it used to be, because unlike in 2006 when the 8800 GTX made its debut, we don’t have titles that push our graphics cards in the same capacity. That doesn’t mean the additional performance isn’t appreciated. 144Hz displays, 3D viewing, VR technology and all sorts of things that are GPU-centric have come to the fore, and those are the technologies that’ll take full advantage of the 1080 Ti. To this end, GIGABYTE has done an admirable job.
The AORUS GTX 1080 Ti, much like the previous GTX 1080 models, forgoes the normal or reference display matrix of the Founders Edition. Instead of three DisplayPort ports and a single HDMI port, GIGABYTE has outfitted their model with three DP 1.4 ports, three HDMI 2.0b ports and a single dual-link DVI port. How you’re able to use all the available display outputs can get rather interesting, but the long and short of it is that not only can it support more displays concurrently than the Founders Edition model, but you also get the benefit of a legacy interface via dual-link DVI, which is still useful for some 120Hz and 3D Vision monitors.
Unique to GIGABYTE is the HDMI port located at the opposite end of the card. This works like an internal connector for your VR headset, so you can plug it into the front of the PC rather than the rear. It obviously complicates the PCB design, but the team behind the AORUS GTX 1080 Ti seem to have managed it quite well. Perhaps few will make use of it, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s there.
Importantly, all the connectors are of the most modern specifications in DP 1.4 and HDMI 2.0b, so you’re ready for current displays and ones that’ll come in future. With so much performance available from the GTX 1080 Ti, perhaps the most logical upgrade to accompany it would indeed be a high-end monitor, one which features variable refresh rates, HDR and UHD resolutions, or a high 144Hz scan rate. The AORUS GTX 1080 Ti, much like all other 1080 Ti models, is more than capable of supporting such displays.
That’s not all a graphics card is these days though. Aesthetics and cooling have come to play a large role in what people purchase. Having an attractive card doesn’t hurt, but more than that it needs to run at a manageable temperature while keeping noise levels to a bare minimum. The AORUS card achieves both, and believe it or not isn’t much louder than the G1 GTX 1080. The fan and heatsink complex is much improved, and as such deals with the increased heat output of the GTX 1080 Ti without issue. It does this at low noise levels too. Even if you decide on a fixed RPM (75% for example), you’ll struggle to hear the GPU fans over any other case fan you’ve got. This is an impressive accomplishment on GIGABYTE’s part, making this the card you want if you’re very sensitive to noise levels.
Next up is the software that drives the AORUS graphics card, its fans and RGB lighting. Over the years we’ve seen a number of programs and applications, like OC GURU in its various iterations. This time we have the AORUS Gaming Engine, themed in the familiar AORUS orange and black colour scheme.
As you can see from the screenshots, it features the typical settings you’d find on any modern high-end graphics card (or any modern GPU for that matter). It covers the basics such as core, memory, power target adjustments and of course, RGB Fusion, which allows you to select from a number of lighting effects and colours. Other than that it’s pretty barren. This is an area where GIGABYTE may need to improve, because as it becomes increasingly challenging to differentiate graphics cards from the various vendors, software is where AORUS may want to strengthen itself, enough so that at the very least it matches the quality of the hardware.
Performance wise, it’s hard to argue against the purchase of the AORUS GTX 1080 Ti. It may not be the Xtreme model, but for the most part and for the vast majority of people, there’s no additional value to be had with that model. With the way Pascal GPUs behave, we’re in a situation where it’s rather difficult to come across a GTX 1080 Ti that isn’t up to mustard. The AORUS takes this foundation and builds upon it in the best way possible, using a robust heatsink/fan complex that has more than proven itself over the years, built with solid electronic components and PCB layout. It’s not going to be suitable for extreme overclockers for a number of reasons, but for gaming (which is precisely and exclusively what AORUS is focused on), it’s perfect.
If from the pictures it looks as if the plastic shroud makes the card larger than it needs to be, you’d not be incorrect. It won’t pose a problem for most people who use a single graphics card, but for those seeking to operate these in SLI the sheer size may result in compromised airflow depending on the size of your motherboard. Be sure to place them as far apart as possible to eliminate any issues, or at least as far apart as your HB-SLI bridge will allow.
On the subject of cooling, special note must be made of the backplate that’s been employed on this model. Besides it making for a more attractive card, it actually serves a real purpose, one that’s rather important but is often overlooked. During operation, what you may not be aware of is that the graphics card radiates heat just about everywhere, and in particular where the VRM is located. This heat, while manageable without the backplate, has to go somewhere and traditionally that would’ve meant being fed back into the PCB, subsequently making the entire GPU very hot.
It’s true that if you had to remove the plate you’d not see a drop in performance, as clocks would by and large remain the same. The issue is that your VRM would become extremely hot, meaning you’d lose efficiency and start using up more power unnecessarily. Moreover, it could limit your memory clock frequencies, as I found during testing. Without the backplate, 1.5GHz on the memory was possible, but produced a number of artifacts which were not present before. This could be an isolated incident, but it’s important that it’s kept on. At the very least, there’s a reason it gets hot to the touch. That’s a clear and obvious indication that it’s dissipating heat from the components and PCB.
If you’re not moved by that argument, then appreciate it for the structural rigidity it provides, as with graphics cards of this girth it’s possible to bend the PCB ever so slightly, warping the card over time.
For the first time, we can truly play games at 4K resolutions at the highest detail settings. No matter the title, the GTX 1080 Ti handles it with power to spare. The challenge now is finding games that can actually take advantage of this power without us resorting to increased antialiasing, which doesn’t really speak to the compute performance of modern GPUs. Just looking at those numbers, it not only offers better performance than the Founders Edition card, but doubles the performance of the previous generation GeForce TITAN X. That is, even in SLI these once-beastly cards would struggle to match a single AORUS 1080 Ti. By any measure, that is truly remarkable.
As it stands, you’re not going to come across a much better graphics card for the money. There may be differences between the various models on the market, but none of those differences make them better in the context of gaming, and that’s what the AORUS card is about.
It won’t get much better than this for this generation. If you’re in the market and can’t make up your mind about which GTX 1080 Ti to buy, start with this one.