Nvidia is well into the release of its Pascal chips, and the company is clearly not shying away from delivering high-end power for gamers who want every graphical trick set to max.
At the top of its 10-series lineup is the GeForce GTX 1080. This is the luxury video card for most sane people — although you can get the $1,200 Titan X if you want to make no sacrifices. And, as you might expect, the GTX 1080 delivers beastly performance at $600 (or $700 for Nvidia’s own Founder’s Edition version). It is absolutely the card to consider if you’re looking to build a powerful rig or wanting to upgrade to something that can easily handle all of today’s games as well as VR.
What you’ll like
Can handle many games at 4K
High-end PC gaming is in a weird transitional period. Publishers and developers have sorta maxed out the visual fidelity that they’re willing to invest in, and that means even Nvidia’s low-end GTX 1060 can handle nearly every game on the market at Ultra settings and 60 frames per second on a full HD 1080p monitor.
But 4K is here to the rescue. This resolution quadruples the number of pixels onscreen and results in a crisper, more realistic image than ever before. And the GTX 1080 can actually render many games at 4K and 60 FPS while set to Ultra. In my testing, I was able to get Doom (2016), Rocket League, and Overwatch over that mark. Games like Fallout 4, Hitman, and GTA V were close enough that when paired with a (still expensive) G-Sync monitor that eliminate screen tearing, everything looked like it was running at a solid 60 FPS. Even The Division, which has an unforgiving benchmarking tool, looked great at 4K on the Nvidia G-Sync-capable display while only putting out an average FPS of 42.
I knew going into the 1080 that it wouldn’t deliver a solid 4K60, but I’m happy with how well it handles that resolution. And I play in 4K in Overwatch, Rocket League, and other multiplayer games, and that gives me a small advantage at making out details at a distance. Having a card that can deliver that kind of performance in a large portion of the games I play the most justifies the 1080 to me.
Quiet and power-efficient
I’m testing the Founder’s Edition GTX 1080. In the rig I’m using, I’m coming off a GTX 980 Ti, which is a great card that required a whole lot of power. Nvidia lists it as drawing 250 watts of energy. With the 1080, it has cut that to 180. That’s a big innovation in the 14nm process that powers the Pascal chips — they produce more with less juice.
That also includes more power with less heat. The 1080 I have rarely climbs into the high 80 degrees centigrade range. When it does, the cooling fan quietly dissipates that heat. This means that my system — in a Fractal Design R5 case — is just as quiet as it was when I was using a hybrid liquid after-market cooler on my GTX 980 Ti.
The GTX 1060 and AMD’s Radeon RX 480 are the new entry-level VR cards. They work well most of the time, but you’ll see them occasionally stumble to keep up with the most demanding scenes. The GTX 1080, however, never struggles. I tried both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive games, and the card kept me locked at 90 FPS in every experience I booted up.
I tested the card on the same system as I had earlier examined RX 470 and 480 on — with an Intel Core i5-4690K, 16GB of G.Skill DDR3 memory, and Z97-Pro motherboard.
The 1080 blows away even the GTX 980 Ti and anything in the 400-series from AMD in our 12-game test. Each game was set to 1080p, Ultra settings, and 4X MSAA.
Here’s a look at how the 1080 performs at a number of resolutions across a variety of games. As you can see, it gets over 60 FPS at 1440 in every single case.
What you won’t like
Still not enough for solid 4K at 60 frames per second
The GTX 1080 is powerful, but it’s not the 4K60 card you were maybe hoping for. While I’m happy that I can get over that hurdle in some of my favorite multiplayer games, single-player adventures often ran much closer to 45 frames per second. I’m still happy with these results because I understood the limitation of the card, but you need to know what you aren’t getting with the GTX 1080.
May actually be overkill for many people
If 4K is something you’re a long way away from investing in because those monitors are still relatively expensive, you may not need the 1080. Yes, it is powerful enough to get you through the next few generations of games, but I think the 1070 and possibly even 1060 are going to do fine as well if you’re going to play on a 1080p screen.
We’re already seeing with games like Doom that developers want to deliver incredible visuals that run well on just about any modern card. And I think that’s the new norm as publishers aim to maximize their return on investment. In a world like that, the GTX 1080 is perhaps a little much.
Despite any concerns about overkill, I think the 1080 is the right high-end card at the moment. Few GPUs match its power, and the one that does (Titan X), is crazy expensive and may not even really get to the solid 4K60 that you want. I also think that if 4K is your goal, we may be getting to a point where a lot of performance improvements start coming on the hardware side. This is because both Sony and Microsoft are going to try to squeeze 4K rendering from underpowered consoles like the PlayStation 4 Neo and Xbox One Scorpio in the next year. To get the 4K they want, both companies are likely planning to deploy visual tricks that gives us a kind of faux 4K that the human eye can’t distinguish from actual 4K.
But you’re getting what you pay for with Nvidia. This is a high-quality chip that will get you amazing performance in a quiet, well-built package .
The GeForce GTX 1080 is out now. Nvidia provided a sample card to GamesBeat for the purposes of this review. This post originally appeared on VentureBeat by Jeff Grubb. Follow him on Twitter: @jeffgrubb.