Date: Monday , January 22, 2018
At the beginning of a new year, 2018, there is still only one GPU that remains the best for gaming at high resolutions of 4K and 1440p. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti launched almost one year ago in March of 2017. For the past ten months it has simply not been challenged. Though AMD’s Radeon RX Vega 64 was launched in August of last year. Vega 64 cannot compete with the performance of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. Here at the onset of a new year, NVIDIA still very much holds that gaming performance crown.
One factor that has propelled the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti to new heights and allowed hardware and gaming enthusiasts something to enjoy is the clock speed and overclocking potential. NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPUs have a feature called GPU Boost. With GPU Boost the GPU is able to up-scale the GPU frequency based on TDP, board power, GPU voltage, GPU temperature and other factors. When all the factors are right, GPU Boost can boost the actual in-game frequency up from the rated GPU Boost clock frequency in excess of hundreds of MHz above the quoted base and boost clocks. This yields massive performance improvements compared to the base clocks.
The great thing about GPU Boost and how clock speed works with the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is that cooling can directly affect how high GPU Boost allows the GPU to up-scale GPU clock frequency. The better cooling you have, the better GPU Boost works and the better performance you can experience. In addition, better cooling will naturally have the benefit of allowing potential higher overclocks as well. It will provide the room and potential for a high overclock, though the "GPU lottery" often determines the actual overclock achievable.
Speaking of good cooling solutions there are two basic methods of cooling. You have your air coolers which utilize large heatsinks and fans. Many manufacturers, including GIGABYTE offer models of GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s with robust air cooling solutions. Naturally the more complex methods cost more.
The other solution is what’s called liquid cooling, simply, or water cooling is often a term used as well. There are varying levels and types of this solution as well, but the simplest is called AIO or All-In-One liquid cooling. This solution provides a self-contained closed-loop liquid cooling configuration that is pre-installed by the manufacturer. There is no user input or assembly required from the end-user. This method has the benefit of providing the benefits of cooling using liquid, and the benefits of the end-user not having to touch a darn thing to make it work. It’s simply a solution that’s ready to go out of the box.
When it comes to cooling, liquid cooling is the best you can get in a value sense. Other methods like liquid nitrogen are out of the realm for most users. Liquid cooling using an AIO solution provides the most cost-effective, easy, simple, and efficient cooling you can get on a video card today.
This brings us to the GIGABYTE AORUS GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce Extreme Edition video card. This card carries a long name, but it also has pre-installed a custom AIO liquid cooling solution. Before we dive into this video card itself, let’s take a quick look at other GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1080 Ti video cards so you will see where this one lines up.
If you navigate to only GeForce GTX 1080 Ti based video cards you will find no less than nine distinct models of GeForce GTX 1080 Ti offered from Gigabyte. They vary from the basic Founders Edition design to custom air-cooled cards of varying degree to a couple of very interest liquid cooled versions. The two liquid cooling versions we want to point out are GIGABYTE’s Waterforce branded video cards.
One of the Waterforce video card GIGABYTE offers is the AORUS GeForce GTX 1080 Waterforce WB Xtreme Edition video card. This one is noteworthy because it uses a fully customized integrated Waterforce water block cooling system. However, this one is not setup with an AIO solution. With this video card you must have your own radiator and liquid cooling setup to plug this video card into that system. Since it has no fans it is required to plug it into an existing cooling loop.
Moving one step down from the Water Block card is the one we are reviewing today, which is the AORUS GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce Xtreme Edition. Note that this is still the AORUS branding with RGB lighting and still the Xtreme Edition, but instead of just a waterblock this video card uses a closed-loop AIO configuration. With this video card you do not have to already own any water cooling equipment as the radiator, waterblock, pump, and fan is already installed.
First let’s talk about a negative, before we get to the good stuff. Pricing and availability is a big issue right now. We are currently seeing an increase in video card pricing. In fact, the GIGABYTE AORUS GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce Xtreme Edition has never been an inexpensive video card. Looking at its pricing history over the last 120 days shows it around $885, going up to $900, even peaking briefly at $1100. In addition, it has come and gone out of stock, and is currently out of stock at Newegg.
Quite simply, it shouldn’t be that expensive. The MSRP is $819.99, but the video card has never been close to this mark in terms of street price. For comparison, currently the Corsair Hydro GFX GTX 1080 Ti Liquid Cooled video card is up to $849.99 now. It was $799.99 when we reviewed it in September of 2017.
Clock Speeds and Specs
This is a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti based GPU and has 11GB of GDDR5X. The default "Gaming Mode" the video card runs at out-of-the-box is 1607MHz Base Clock and 1721MHz Boost Clock. There is software you can install that provides an easy "OC Mode" button that raises the clock speeds to 1632MHz Base Clock and 1746MHz Boost Clock. For a reminder, the Founders Edition stock default clocks on GeForce GTX 1080 Ti are 1480MHz Base Clock and 1582MHz Boost Clock. The memory also is overclocked slightly, in "Gaming Mode" it operates at 11.2GHz and in "OC Mode" it operates at 11.4GHz. Founders Edition default is 11GHz.
Therefore, the "Xtreme Edition" nature of this GIGABYTE video card is that it has a very high out-of-box clock speed compared to the Founders Edition. That should give it a huge edge already over the Founders Edition without even manual overclocking. This is achieved because of the AIO liquid cooling solution and improved cooling throughout.
Speaking of clock speeds, we have to compare the GIGABYTE AORUS GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce Xtreme Edition to another AIO liquid cooled video card we have evaluated, the Corsair Hydro GFX GTX 1080 Ti Liquid Cooled video card. When you compare the default out-of-box "Gaming Mode" clock speeds you will find the GIGABYTE "AORUS GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce Xtreme Edition is clocked higher by default.
The GIGABYTE AORUS GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce Xtreme Edition is clocked at 1607MHz Base Clock and 1721MHz Boost Clock. The Corsair Hydro GFX GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is clocked out-of-the-box at 1544MHz Base Clock and 1657MHz. As you can see the GIGABYTE video card is indeed more "Xtreme" than the Corsair Hydro GFX. This means the GIGABYTE video card should perform faster out-of-the-box with a higher in-game GPU clock frequency compared to the Corsair Hydro GFX video card, despite both of them having an AIO solution.
Now the downside, because the GIGABYTE AORUS GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Waterforce Xtreme Edition is clocked so high out of the box, we wonder how much room it really has for overclocking. In theory, those boost clocks, with this cooling should take us near to 2GHz already. That means we aren’t looking at a lot of room left for overclocking. Looking back at the Corsair Hydro GFX video card we managed to overclock it to 2050MHz consistently, and that’s with a similar AIO liquid cooling solution. Overclock testing will be interesting.
Hardware and Cooling
The GIGABYTE video card also utilizes GIGABYTE’s customized PCB layout and high-end hardware components. This video card utilizes a 12+2 power phase configuration. There are two 8-pin PCIe power connectors required for plenty of power provided to the video card.
The AORUS All-Around cooling solution uses a large front copper base plate and a copper back plate as well on the GPU. By All-Around GIGABYTE is referring to this plus the fact that the other key components like VRMs, MOSFETs, and VRAM are also cooled. The primary copper GPU cooling plate extends to a secondary aluminum plate above the VRMs and MOSFETs with a heatpipe to cool these components. The VRAM also make contact with the copper plate. This means all components have direct contact for cooling.
The pump pumps the liquid cooling through twelve inches of braided tubing to the 120mm aluminum radiator. There is a 120mm fan connected. The fan uses a unique blade fan design for improved air cooling and double ball bearing. You can adjust the fan speed in software upward from the default 33%, however you cannot make it go lower than 33% fan speed.
One advantage of using AIO cooling, instead of a large robust heatsink and fan unit is the size of the video card. This video card is only 10.4 inches in length, which is typical for the Founders Edition length. However, you will need room to attach a 120mm radiator and fan in your case.
Uniquely, GIGABYTE has provided everything and the kitchen sink as it pertains to display options. GIGABYTE is keen on providing VR support with plenty of display options. This video card has three DisplayPort that work in Standard Mode and VR Mode.
There are actually also three HDMI ports on this video card. On the I/O panel you’ll find HDMI1 and HDMI2. On the backside of the video card is another HDMI output. This allows for full use of 3 HDMI and 3 DisplayPort outputs in VR Mode. There is also a traditional DVI-D port for backwards compatibility with older displays. When using the DVI-D only one HDMI port will work, but all three DisplayPort will still function. The connectivity options with this video card are very appealing.
We must also not forget GIGABYTE’s AORUS RGB Fusion capability. The software lets you configure different methods and colors of RGB lighting. The RGB lighting lights up the front cover window to see into the radiator pump, as well as the top of the card with GIGABYTE branding.
Finally, because this is the AORUS brand you get AORUS Care which is 4 years of warranty on the video card.