With the release of Metro: Exodus and the latest patch to Battlefield V, ray tracing and DLSS support is finally beginning to expand. If you’re considering upgrading to the Nvidia 20-series, don’t pull the trigger until you really know what you need to buy! Today, we’re looking at an exciting card from Gigabyte, the RTX 2080 XTREME WATERFORCE 8G. Its factory overclocked and offers up 4K60 gameplay while staying quiet and cool thanks to its built-in liquid cooler. But for $899, is it worth the extra over a standard RTX 2080? Join us as we find out.
- Graphics Processing
- GeForce RTX™ 2080
- Core Clock: 1890 MHz (Reference card: 1710 MHz)
- RTX-OPS: 63
- CUDA Cores: 2944
- Memory Clock: 14140 MHz
- Memory Size: 8 GB
- Memory Type: GDDR6
- Memory Bus: 256 bit
- Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec): 448 GB/s
- Card Bus: PCI-E 3.0 x 16
- Digital max resolution: 7680x4320@60Hz
- Multi-view: 4
- Card size: L=290 W=131.05 H=40.41 mm
- DirectX: 12
- OpenGL: 4.5
- Recommended PSU: 650W
- Power Connectors: 2x 8 Pin
- Output: 3x DisplayPort 1.4, 3x HDMI 2.0b, 1x USB Type-C TM (support VirtualLinkTM),
- SLI support: 2-way NVIDIA NVLINKTM
- AIO Liquid Cooler
- Tube length: 395mm ± 1.5%
- Radiator: 240 mm
- Fan: 2x 120 mm
- Accessories: AORUS metal sticker, Quick guide, 4-year warranty registration, I/O guide, Driver CD, Installation, Screws & Pads
- RGB light: Front, Side, Back, Fan
If you’ve been around the PC gaming world for a while, then you already know that the card we’re looking at today is something a little more special than your average GPU. Built into this already powerful GeForce RTX 2080 is an all-in-one water cooler. In fact, it’s not all that different from what you might already use on your CPU but has an even greater effect. While you might be able to strap a two-spire three-fan tower onto your processor to make it competitive with a water cooler, the same can’t be said of a graphics card. The XTREME WATERFORCE is simply the coolest-running card we’ve ever had in the office, as well as the quietest.
If you read our review of the Nvidia RTX 2080 Founders Edition, then you already know what to expect under the hood. It features the same 2944 CUDA cores unlocked and 8GB of GDDR6. It runs at 14140MHz on a 256-bit bus, giving the WATERFORCE a total bandwidth of 448GBs. Compared to the reference 2080 design, it runs quite a bit faster, with a clock speed of 1890MHz out of the box, 90MHz faster than Nvidia’s factory overclocked Founders Edition. It’s also able to process 63 RTX-OPS, boosted from the 57 on reference.
I won’t go into too much detail on the inner-workings of the new Turing architecture since you can already read all that here. Like all RTX 2080s, however, it features the same three-core structure which changes the game on rendering as we know it. We have the Turing SM to handle shading duties, the RT core to power ray tracing, and the AI-enabling tensor core which can deliver what I believe is the most meaningful advancement of this entire generation: DLSS.
DLSS has been slow in coming but we can finally see it in action outside of a demo. Suffice it to say, Battlefield V’s implementation of Deep Learning Super Sampling proves that enabling Ray Tracing effects doesn’t have to destroy performance in the way it did in the beginning of the generation. Through the power of AI, the WATERFORCE is intelligently able to render the game at lower resolutions and then upscale it without a meaningful loss in quality. If you’re considering this card, or any 2080 or Ti, then DLSS is the killer feature you need to know more about and join me on the front lines asking developers for wider support. This tech needs to be everywhere, but I digress.
The RTX 2080 XTREME WATERFORCE 8G isn’t content to just deliver a watercooled 2080 experience, however. Gigabyte has crafted one of, in my opinion, the prettiest cards on the market. The RGB illumination is bright and gorgeous across the front window and AORUS logo. The dual 120mm fans on the radiator are also RGB enabled which enhances the look of the whole system. Taken with the sleek, fully enclosed shroud, it really does look stunning.
In my test system, I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the card in action due to the lack of a vertical mount. We’ll be using it in a sponsored RGB power-build next week where you’ll be able to see it in action, however, so stay tuned for more.
All of this can be customized, either using Gigabyte’s AORUS Engine software. Having used different versions of Gigabyte’s software suite over the years, I’m impressed at how fully featured it’s become. Not only can you customize all of your lighting, you can also control your overclock parameters and monitor your card’s performance in real time. If you use other Gigabyte components, it helpfully houses all of that information together so you won’t be stuck with multiple software suites to manage.
Along the back, we also have plentiful inputs. Here we have three HDMI 2.0b ports, three DisplayPort 1.4, and a USB Type-C VirtualLink connector. If you’re running multiple displays, the flexibility here is very welcome and the maximum resolution of 7680x4320 gives you a lot to work with.
Test System: i7-8700K at 5GHz, ASUS Maximus X Hero Z470 Motherboard, 32GB ADATA XPG D41 DDR4-3200 DRAM, 1TB Samsung 970 PRO NVME SSD, 1TB WD Black NVME SSD, 1TB WD Blue 2.5” SATA SSD, 1TB Crucial MX500 2.5” SATA SSD, 10TB WD Gold HDD, Corsair HX-1050 1050-watt PSU, Fractal Define R6 Case (open top panel)
The core focus of our benchmark testing is two-fold. First, we want to know what kind of thermal improvements the WATERFORCE offers over the air-cooled version Founders Edition from Nvidia. Second, we want to see how those thermal improvements impact the overall performance of the card.
As we discussed in the prior section, the audience for a water-cooled GPU is fairly specific. Of the three camps of potential buyers - enthusiasts, silence lovers, and users with limited airflow - we suspected users with choked airflow would find the most benefit to a card like the WATERFORCE 8G where a normal card would begin to thermal throttle. We broke from our usual procedures and actually tested the 2080 FE and 2080 XTREME WATERFORCE 8G twice, once in a normal case with lots of breathability and again in a case with a second card directly underneath it to restrict airflow. Let’s begin with high airflow results.
Starting with temperatures, right away we can see the Gigabyte WATERFORCE card has a major advantage. It peaked out at 57C in a case with open airflow. These are expected results based on our experience with watercooling but still impressive to see borne out.
When it comes to performance, none of the cards encountered any thermal throttling. Looking specifically at the Founder’s Edition RTX 2080 compared to the WATERFORCE, we can see that the results are very close. Again, this is expected. The Founder’s Edition features a factory overclock of 1800MHz. The Gigabyte 2080 XTREME WATERFORCE 8G is clocked slightly higher at 1890MHz. As a result, we see a few frames of improvement but nothing major. Note though, that a standard RTX 2080 is clocked to 1710MHz and the WATERFORCE will offer a greater improvement there.
We start to look at airflow constricted scenarios, however, things change abruptly.
By simply placing a second card underneath the first, not even engaging SLI/NVLink, the temperatures on the Founders Edition spike well into thermal throttling territory. On a personal level, I am uncomfortable with my cards running above 80C for extended periods of time, so conducting these tests caused me no small amount of stress, despite the fact that they will throttle down to protect themselves from heat damage.
And throttle it did. In fact, in an air limited scenario like the one above, and likely what many users with expansion cards (like an Elgato capture card), second GPUs, and small cases encounter, the 2080 spent most of its time clocked down to ~1650MHz after it got up and running. Let’s see the impact that had:
For conciseness, the chart above looks only at the two 2080s and puts 1440p and 4K all into one chart. Because the Gigabyte RTX 2080 XTREME WATERFORCE 8G never had to thermal throttle, it consistently produced higher frame rates in every single game we tested it with. In fact, using Nvidia’s new auto-overclocking functionality, the card was able to run stably at just over 2GHz, which is extremely impressive.
Is it worth the extra cost?
What it really comes down to is whether or not the built in AIO is worth the addition $200 over the entry level RTX 2080s on the market right now. If you’re an enthusiast who just appreciates how cool it looks, that depends on how much you value aesthetics. If you just want something quiet, I’d say no. It is much quieter but in my personal opinion, I’d deal with a little extra noise and reinvest that money into another component. But, and this is a big but, if you’re dealing with heat or airflow issues in your current system and looking at this as an upgrade, it absolutely, 100% is.
In fact, I’m dealing with that exact issue with my SLI’d 2080 Tis, so let me break down the real world impact of not getting a card like the WATERFORCE when heat is an issue. Imagine spending $700 - 1200 on a video card. It runs great. After a while, you notice that you’ve lost 10-15 FPS but chalk it up to differences in what’s happening in the game. Then you load up a hardware monitor and notice the card that should be running at one speed has actually downclocked itself and stayed downclocked. That 10-15 FPS, what in some cases is the difference between an entire rung down in GPUs, is because your card can’t breathe. Even mounting a nice Noctua fan right at the back of the cards to blow cool air in between didn’t fix them. The only solution was to ramp up the fan curve so much that they were too loud to stream or podcast with and, without a headset, were grating.
Not something you want with a card you spent so much money on, but that’s exactly my situation on my personal rig. My top 2080 Ti runs like a $500 cheaper 2080. In these tests, it’s reductive, but anyone who buys the air cooled 2080 and checks some benchmarks is going to feel robbed.
You might also be wondering about installing your own aftermarket cooler. It’s possible, but take my word for it, unless you have hours to spend and don’t mind voiding your warranty, don’t bother. Nvidia has made their reference cards extraordinarily difficult to disassemble. Aftermarket cards may be easier, but by the time you factor in the separate cooler, the bracket to supply cooling to the rest of the card, and the time it takes to put your new frankenstein GPU together, you’ll be close to the cost of the WATERFORCE anyway. In my opinion, it’s just not worth going with a DIY solution this generation.
So yes, without question, if airflow is a concern, the Gigabyte GeForce RTX 2080 XTREME WATERFORCE is well worth the extra $200, especially when you consider that it’s quieter, has extra inputs, and looks downright gorgeous. Whether or not you need it is another matter, but if you do, this is a safe bet to get the high-end performance you’ve dreamt of.
- Looks fantastic
- Runs quiet
- Temps never broke the 50s and never thermal throttled
- Definitely worth the extra cost if you have a low airflow case or PC expansion cards
- Still quite expensive
- Ray tracing and DLSS support is still developing
The product described in this review was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.