Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080 Review: Time For An Upgrade

After months of speculation and anticipation, Nvidia’s latest piece of hardware you put in your computer to make things look pretty is here. The GeForce GTX 1080 is much better than the pieces of hardware you put in your computer to make things look pretty that came before it.

Which is great, because introducing a new flagship product that performed worse than the previous one would be hilarious, but also very sad. The GTX 1080 is neither hilarious nor sad (box quotable moment alert).


Technology-wise the GTX 1080 is a major leap forward for Nvidia. The company’s been using a 28 nanometer (nm) fabrication process (fab) for its GPUs since 2012, spanning two generations of architecture (Kepler and Maxwell). A drop to 20nm was planned and then scrapped, and now gaming-grade Pascal arrives in 16nm size. The smaller fab size coupled with the use of FinFET 3D transistor technology makes for a smaller, more densely-packed GPU that runs cooler and is much more energy efficient.

The GTX Titan X, Nvidia’s former flagship graphics card, featured 8 billion transistors packed onto a 601 square millimeter die. The GTX 1080 packs 7.2 billion transistors in a 314 square millimeter die.

Numbers are very important when determining if you should buy a new graphics card. The 1080 has many numbers.

In layman’s terms, the Geforce GTX 1080 is fast. The base clock speed of 1.61 GHz that boosts to 1.73 GHz (and beyond with overclocking) is much higher than anything Nvidia’s put out before. Coupled with 8 gigs of GDDR5x memory running at 10 gigabits per second (not the second generation High Bandwidth Memory that was speculated, but still quite nice), the card is a demon on wheels, only without the wheels. It compresses better. It renders better. It smells slightly better. It even has a better introduction video.

As well it should be. Presenting the card on stage at a special event earlier this month, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang revealed that the Pascal architecture behind the 1080 GTX has been in the works for several years, with a research and development budget in the billions. No company spends that much time and money to hold up a product on stage that sucks.

Nothing is real until Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang holds it up on stage.

If you want incredibly detailed specs on the Geforce GTX 1080, Nvidia has an entire page filled with them. Rest assured that the card is packed with all the technology a growing computer needs and several bits that most don’t even need to worry about yet.


For example, do you need a graphics card capable of handling 4K HDR video content? How about simultaneous multi-projection, which takes geometry data and processes it through as many as 16 different projections from a single viewpoint? It’ll be nice for multi-monitor setups and boost virtual reality performance by up to two times, but it’ll have to wait until more applications support it. Still, nice to have it there.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the new Fast Sync technology, a boon for players of less demanding older games, where all of this extra power isn’t needed. It basically lets the GPU render as many frames per second as it pleases, with the hardware picking and choosing which frames to drop to keep things running smoothly. This allows players of games like Counter-Strike to avoid the latency spike of vsync without the tearing that comes from running without it.


But enough about other people’s potential experience with the Geforce GTX 1080. Let’s talk about mine.


Nvidia sent along the Founders Edition of the 1080 GTX. “Founders Edition” is a fancy way of saying reference card, the basic unit crafted by Nvidia, as opposed to the fancy, fan-festooned, overclocked monsters that third parties like EVGA and PNY will be bringing to the market. Unlike past basic boards, however, the Founders Edition of the 1080 GTX is priced at $699, $100 over the suggested retail price of the card.

Wha? How? Well, the idea is the Founders Edition of the card is a premium quality card, machined exquisitely and cooled via fans and vapor chamber to perfection. It’s capable of being overclocked (I’ve gotten it up to 2GHz fiddling about with the EVGA Precision tool provided to reviewers), but it won’t ship that way.


It doesn’t really make much sense to me as a consumer, but I hear boutique PC manufacturers love the idea of a basic Nvidia-produced card available for the lifespan of the product.

Installation was simple. Unplug my old 980, throw it in the trash, set the trash can on fire, plug in the 1080, affix the single 8-pin power connector that provides all the juice this thing needs (only 180 watts), install the driver and then proceed to play many different games for minutes at a time.


But first, a trip to Unigine’s Heaven Benchmark.

Apparently I need to spend several hundred dollars to upgrade to the advanced edition.

I used Heaven because it is pretty and the music that plays while the benchmark runs provides a lovely backdrop to whatever I am playing on my phone while I wait for it to finish. I ran the benchmark in both 1920x1080 and 2560x1440 resolutions. Note that I had a ton of other stuff running at the same time, which probably skewed the results a little lower, but my results are within a few points of others I’ve seen, so I trust them.


That’s the last time you’ll see 1920x1080 FPS numbers in this review. The Geforce GTX 1080 can run anything out there at standard HD resolution at 60 frames per second or higher. If you’ve no ambitions beyond 1080p, be it multiple monitors, something ultra HD or even a super-wide, then this is more card than you need right now.

Which means I got to hook up the old Philips 4K monitor for this review. I’d set it aside because I didn’t have a video card (or cards, really) that could make proper use of it without sacrificing quality, and what’s the point of going 4K if you’re going to have to turn down the settings?


The better question here is does the GTX 1080 justify this 2160p monitor? It’s time for some numbers. The games in the chart below were taken at the highest settings possible. The data was then entered into Excel, formatted as a chart, pasted into PowerPoint and then saved as an image. Here is that image.


Numbers! People looking for a new graphics card love them, and here they are, speaking volumes about the performance of Nvidia’s latest. What do these particular numbers tell us?

For one, Metro Last Light continues to be a massive dick to graphics cards. At the resolution I said I wouldn’t mention again earlier, Metro Last Light got a frankly staggering 86 frames per second on average. Then it gave the GTX 1080 the finger. If you want to run that game at 4K resolution, check back in another couple of years.


As for the rest, not too shabby, GTX 1080. Each of the games I played and tested at least exceeded the “playable” average of 30 FPS at Ultra HD. Comparatively, I wouldn’t even bother trying with my old GTX 980, which Nvidia loves to compare its latest card to.

I prefer a silky smooth 60 frames per second myself, but it looks like the sacrifices required to get there at 4K wouldn’t be too great, and there’s always that happy medium, Quad HD.


If you’d like to see how the GTX fares against the graphics cards that came before it, along with power efficiency, temperature stats and overclocking stats, check out the review from our pals over at Techspot, who obviously have a multi-million dollar lab environment to work with. I’m just a man sitting in front of a tower case, asking its GPU to love him.

Love me.

The Geforce GTX 1080 loves me a great deal, and I love it back. The numbers are good, but I’m more excited about what’s coming down the line. Simultaneous multi-projection is going to work wonders for VR performance once the software starts supporting it, and I can’t wait for a Vulkan API version of Doom to come along so I can play at a completely ridiculous 200 frames per second.

But that’s then. What about now? Should you line up outside Nvidia’s corporate offices on May 27 to purchase a Founders Edition Geforce GTX 1080? They probably wouldn’t be selling it there, so that’s a no. And even if they were, I’m curious to see what kind of performance the third parties squeeze out of this beast. If there’s a chance an ASUS or MSI could release a version that kicks the reference card’s ass at a similar price point, waiting would be worth it.


Speaking of the Geforce GTX 1080 in general, it’s definitely the next big thing in graphics cards (until the next one comes along). It’s a bit more than a 1080p stickler needs, but those with bigger and better display needs are going to want one or two of these.

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About the author

Mike Fahey

Kotaku elder, lover of video games, toys, snacks and other unsavory things.