Last week, Nvidia was kind enough to send over a Founder’s Edition of their 1080Ti for us to take a look at. We’ve already examined ZOTAC’s 1080Ti AMP Edition, but a Founder’s Edition is an important benchmark for any GPU generation. More importantly, since many of the major manufacturers have their own branded versions of this exact same model, establishing this baseline gives us a good indication of how each subsequent 1080Ti FE should also perform. So how does performance compare between the Founder’s Edition and aftermarket and is it worth spending the extra money? Let’s find out.
Let’s get into it.
Founder’s Edition GPUs, also known as reference cards, are the baseline from which all graphics cards of that line develop. There are a few differentiating factors, which can be important depending on your situation and goals. The circuit board, or PCB, for example, provides a standard layout and functionality that aftermarket cards often add onto. There are frequently fewer power phases for overclocking headroom and lower standard clock speeds GPU boost overclocks from. Likewise, Founder’s Editions ship with Nvidia’s blower style cooler, which exhausts air out the back of the case instead of bleeding out inside. This comes at the expense of being warmer and slightly louder than multi-fan versions with huge heatsinks.
Some people prefer aftermarket cards, but there are legitimate reasons to opt for a Founder’s Edition. Cost is one, with FEs typically going for $40 or more less than most aftermarkets. Another is form factor; third-party cards are often 2.5 slots, which can make for a tight fit in even normal cases in SLI setups. Last is where all that heat is dumped. A blower style card like the one found on the reference 1080Ti uses a single fan with a heatsink in a chamber, directing all that hot air out the back of the card instead of dissipating upward toward your CPU. As you’ll see in our benchmarks, the performance difference between our last aftermarket card and our 1080Ti FE is so close as to be inconsequential.
The 1080Ti we tested is an impressive bit of tech. It’s a marked improvement from the former 1080 reference card. It features 3584 CUDA cores powering a GPU engine with clock speeds 1582MHz boost speed and a 1480MHz core clock. In practice, Nvidia’s GPU Boost generally kept our sample unit hovering between 1750 and 1810MHz, even when hitting its temperature target of 84C. Built in overclocking with GPU Boost, supported with 7 power phases, is a great feature for those who would prefer not to tweak settings on their own.
Memory-wise, the 1080Ti FE sets the standard by including 11GB of GDDR5X. While the memory bus width is more limited that the vastly more expensive Titan XP at 352-bits, the bandwidth is 4GB/s faster at 484GB/s. This allows the memory to clock slightly higher at 11GHz versus the XP’s 10GHz. The bus width may be a compromise to Titan owners, but the end result is still a card that is slightly faster.
If you do opt for the FE, however, you should be prepared to ditch the DVI-D connector. Accommodating the blower style cooler, Nvidia has opted to include 3x displayports and a single HDMI 2.0b port.
We test our graphics cards in a mix of MMOs, RPGs, and related games to give you an idea of how each card performs in a real world environment. We use the highest possible presets then manually turn every setting and slider to its highest option. Exceptions for anti-aliasing at 1080p and 1440p are noted below. Anti-aliasing is completely disabled at 4K as it is simply unnecessary at such a high resolution. In-game benchmarks are used where available and when not we simulate typical gameplay in as representative and populated an area as possible in repeated loops.
Let’s look at how it held up in our benchmark tests.
Benchmark system: i7-7700K at 4.5GHz, 16GB DDR4 G.Skill RAM at 3200MHz, MSI Z270 Gaming M7 motherboard, Corsair HX1050 1050-watt PSU, Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 case.
As you can see, the 1080Ti is a stronger performer at every reasonable resolution. It goes without saying that 1080p and 1440p are easy accomplishments. At 4K resolution, most games were able to approximate or exceed 60 frames per second and would easily do so with by slightly lowering in-game settings. Remember, we max out our games to push each card to its limits.
What’s especially interesting to see is just how closely it performs to the factory overclocked ZOTAC 1080Ti AMP we reviewed last week. Comparing average framerates at each resolution reveals that the FE actually performed 2% better at 1080p, while only being 1% behind at 1440p (Battlefield 1 removed due to some unexpected test variance), and 3% slower at 4K.
All of this performance comes at the expense of heat. Blower style coolers typically run warmer than aftermarket heatsinks, so seeing the Founder’s Edition run hotter than the open-air ZOTAC is no surprise. Nvidia has tuned the card use a modest and quiet fan curve that rarely ramps over 50%; audible, but hardly obtrusive, even as someone who prefers a quiet computing experience. I do have some concerns about the card reaching its throttle temp more quickly during the summer when ambient temperatures will be hotter without climate control. Nvidia assured me that their automatic overclocking algorithm will naturally lower the boost speeds to keep the card limited to 84C, so it won't overheat. In my testing the card never actually lowered to its standard clock speed in any AAA game and even throttled would only drop into the 1600MHz range for brief flashes.
If 84C is too warm for your taste, there are a couple of things you can do to keep those temperatures low. MSI Afterburner and EVGA Precision both allow you to set a lower temperature limit. You can also set a custom fan curve. By increasing my maximum fan speed to 70%, I was able to to consistently keep the card at or below 80C without sacrificing boost speeds. This made the card much noisier, however, even superseding last week’s ZOTAC.
With performance so close to at least one aftermarket card, your decision to go for a Founder’s Edition versus an open-air GPU will boil down to price and circumstance. With fans in the 40% range, the Founder’s Edition is a quiet powerhouse. If you want to keep things a little cooler, you’re stuck boosting the fan or lowering your temp limit with their requisite sacrifices. The Ti is a card that will push your games to the max at the highest resolutions. If you’re looking for an easy gateway to 4K at 60 frames a second, the Founder’s Edition is a good place to start.