With the release of their 1000 series graphics cards, NVidia introduced the world to Pascal and proved that power and performance didn’t have to go hand in hand. Since that time, EVGA has continually pushed the boundaries of what Pascal can do with its factory overclocked graphics cards. Last year, I looked at the GTX 1060 SC and came away impressed. Today we’re stepping up and taking a closer look at the GTX 1080 SC2, a refresh of the 1080SC which includes EVGA’s new iCX cooling technology in nine separate thermal sensors and dual fan controls. Unlike so much of the marketing of graphics cards past, iCX really delivers.
EVGA’s GTX 1080SC2 has something to prove. Last year, the company received feedback following temperature concerns of some of their users. EVGA made it right, sending out thermal pads to address the issue. But they weren’t content to stop there. From those concerns, the iCX cooling system was born.
iCX is the kind of cooling system that makes you wonder why we haven’t been doing this all along. The new system features nine separate thermal sensors and combines them with asynchronous control of the SC2’s dual fans. Using multiple sensors allows the Precision X OC software to accurately monitor the temperatures of both the GPU and the onboard memory modules instead of just the GPU like other graphics cards. Based on its readings, the card will intelligently adjust the speed of each fan to actively cool both elements independently. This type of advanced monitoring not only works to keep the entire card cooler but also allows for improved overclocking capabilities.
Dual fan control is a feature that seems so small that it could be a gimmick, yet it’s anything but. The Precision software allows for both a “Quiet” and “Aggressive” cooling presets, as well as custom fan curves for temperatures of 0 to 100 degrees celsius. This is coupled, of course, with a heavy duty heatsink that is now perforated with channels to increase airflow and heat dissipation. By honing in on each heat generating element and increasing the fan speed to match, then dissipating with an improved heatsink design and custom backplate, the iCX system is better able to keep temperatures down.
The results speak for themselves. Running at 4k resolution across more than a dozen games, every setting maxed save supersampling and antialiasing, the 1080SC2 hovered between roughly the same all the way up to 18 degrees degrees under our last EVGA 1000 series graphics card, the 1060SC. That hovered right around 60C with standard ACX cooling but at much slower clock speeds and less overall power. The only exception to this was Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I was unable to test with the 1060SC, yet still managed to only approximate its temperatures maxing out at 61 degrees celsius. We rounded out with an average temperature of 54C, a marked improvement consider some games were much less.
Fan noise is certainly audible when ramped up all the way, but it was rare that fan speed ever exceeded 70% on the “aggressive” cooling preset, and were far quieter than my standard CoolerMaster Hyper N520 CPU cooler.
Typically, with a graphics card review, we would jump right into its performance. The 1080SC2 is a refresh instead of a brand new card, which means that its performance and specifications are identical to the non-iCX variant. It is overclocked out of the box, coming primed with 8GB of GDDR5X VRAM clocked at 10000MHz. The GPU itself ships with 2560 CUDA cores with a base clock speed of 1708MHz that boosts up to 1847MHz. It intelligently ramps up and down depending on how demanding your game is, while still only drawing 180W under full load.
If you’ve looked into the original EVGA 1080SC (or any of their 1080 variants), it should come as no surprise that the SC2 is an excellent performer. When it comes to the GTX 1000 series, anything about the 1060 will outpace current games at 1080p resolution at max settings. For posterity and respect that many gamers may be running 1080p monitors at varying refresh rates, we tested a mix of MMORPGs, RPGs, and out-of-genre games at 1080p, 1440p, and 2160p (4K) resolutions to see how the card would perform at each. With the exception of 4K resolution where we disabled anti-aliasing (largely unnecessary at such a high resolution) and supersampling, every graphical setting was set to its highest option. We used in-game benchmarks where available and repeated select sections of each game using the FRAPS benchmarking tool when they weren’t. Here is how it shook out:
As you can see, the 1080SC2 more than handles both 1080p and 1440p resolutions. It breaks a sweat when bumped to 4K particularly with Mass Effect: Andromeda, but still provides playable framerates on each game we tested. 4K may or may not be the future of PC gaming, but it looks absolutely beautiful, and the 1080 is the it possible to play the latest games with few sacrifices in terms of graphical fidelity. The SC2 manages to pull that performance off with incredibly reasonable temperatures, which makes overclocking with the Precision software’s user friendly sliders all the more tempting.
As a gamer running a silent PC case insulated with sound dampening material, safe temperatures and heat throttling are always concerns for me. When I received the 1080SC2, I expected the card to surpass the frames of the GTX 1060. What I didn’t expect was that it would also drop the temperatures a mean of six degrees and a peak of 18! iCX is no gimmick. Given a choice between the SC2 and another air-cooled 1080 at these speeds, it’s a no brainer: the SC2 wins. If you’re willing to overclock yourself, it’s a hands-down winner across the board.
The graphics card tested in this article was provided by EVGA for the purposes of review.
Editor's Note: The test system used for this review includes an i7-7700k at 4.2GHz using a CoolerMaster Hyper N520 CPU Cooler, 16GB DDR4 3200MHz Memory, set in a MSI Z270 Gaming M7 motherboard, and three standard 7200RPM mechanical HDDs.