While I know that the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 isn’t exactly a ‘budget’ GPU by today’s standards, especially with the recent GPU pricing spikes thanks to cryptocurrency and ongoing supply issues. However, once this bubble bursts and prices start to come back down, the 1080 will start to drop in price due to the lack of hardware DXR acceleration. In preparation for the inevitable, let’s take a look at the Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080, and see how it holds up in traditional rasterization performance for a variety of games across a variety of genres! Strap in, because it’s an interesting story to say the least!
The Specs of the GP104 Chip
Let’s start our exploration of the GTX 1080 by taking a look at the power characteristics of the card, and break down what exactly you’ll need if you’re planning on picking one of these cards up. With a rated TDP of 180W, this card is actually not that bad when compared to the latest round of releases from Nvidia. Even compared to the older RTX 2080, this card is much more efficient thanks to the lack of extra fixed function hardware, and an overall lower number of cores. The card’s minimum PSU requirement is rated at 450W, however I would go for at least a 500W unit just to be safe, and leave yourself some headroom for overclocking, too.
Outputs on this model, which is the Founders Edition, include a single DVI and HDMI port, along with 3 display ports. It drives my two monitors via Display Port beautifully, and is more or less the Nvidia gold standard for outputs. It is worth noting as well that this card lacks a USB-C connection on it, as found in the 20 Series, however this also removed on the 30 series, so even a current gen upgrade would cost you this feature. Power connectors are also reasonable here, with this model requiring a single 8-pin PCIe power connector. There are some differences here between vendors, so make sure you check the model you are looking at buying to see if it requires more. This is just the reference model, and it is something that AIBs can alter in their designs.
Our model is fully unlocked, and therefore features the GP104-400-A1 die, meaning we get the full 2,560 active CUDA cores, along with the GDDR5X memory controllers. This translates to 20 Pascal SMs, with a 256-bit Quad Data Rate memory feeding them. Traditional Dual Data Rate (DDR) and its bandwidth-savvy brother GDDR manage to transmit two bits per clock when transferring data on a memory bus. The switch GDDR5X allows for prefetch sizes of 16 bits, as opposed to the standard G5’s 8 bits per clock. In theory, this makes for a 25% increase in performance overall over the traditional GDDR5 configuration found on the GTX 1070. In terms of real-world performance, this means that overall texture detail will load faster on the 1080, while alpha textures found in particle effects will be allowed to saturate more bandwidth. This translates to overall smoother performance in bandwidth-heavy scenes, and also helps to feed more data into and out of the cores, leading to more being processed within a given period of time. The 160 Texture Mapping Units, which soak up a lot of bandwidth on the memory subsystems, are paired with 64 Raster Operation Pipelines, meaning more data can be concurrently tracked and calculated. All of this, combined with the G5X, gives the GTX 1080 more headroom over its competition from the era, and helps to keep this card a bit closer to the current-day competition than other cards of its generation!
Another core spec I think is important to mention is the general feature of Pascal, which limits its performance in a lot of modern-day integer-driven workloads. When looking at Pascal from an architectural standpoint, CUDA cores are essentially a paired Integer ALU and Floating Point capable ALU, where only one ALU could be actively working on data per clock cycle. This means that scheduling had to make decisions that traded integer power for floating point power, and vice versa. With Turing, this was changed, and both the integer and floating-point unit could be active and making calculations during the same cycle. Ampere built on this, however used cluster multithreading to bump floating point performance. This makes perfect sense, as integer instructions are much less frequent in gaming workloads, especially in a graphics card, but the drawback is still present. This puts Pascal at a disadvantage in terms of simultaneously computing mixed data types, but is unlikely to affect performance in a noticeable way outside of benchmarks and ray traced workloads. The card is also quite a bit behind the RTX 3080 when it comes to CUDA core counts, but the clock speeds should allow the 1080 to stay in contention with the lower core count parts.
One thing I particularly wanted to bring up in this review is overclocking. I know that not everyone who buys this card is going to want to put more work into either modding or tinkering with settings, but the performance on the table is measurable. When we get to the benchmarks, you will get a better idea as to how this affects things. I’m going to be testing the 1080 with both its stock cooler, and then with my modded water cooler. The stock performance is more indicative of what you get out of the box, as the frequencies don’t get a chance to ramp up thanks to thermal limitations. In fact, if you were to look at the clock speed of the card, you’d see it boost up to around 1800 MHz, which by all means isn’t slow. With our Kraken G12 mod, though, we are able to get that up to and over 2 GHz with ease, along with a nice little memory overclock. This allows for an approximate 14% increase in overall computational throughput on the cores, and the memory overclock will help to keep our cores fed with information. Temperatures during an extended gaming session also weren’t anything to write home about when using the stock cooler, hovering at 70°C and above pretty consistently, with the fan speed ramped up to match. With our water cooling mod, core temps never exceeded 70°C in any workload, and keep in mind we’re running our 2 GHz overclock, as well as only using a 120mm AIO. Temperatures could theoretically be improved through increasing radiator size; the point of diminishing returns depends on which specific card you’re trying to mod, but seems to be anything above a 120mm for this specific card. If you’re checking out a third-party model, then this sort of mod is kind of unnecessary, but the option is still there. I definitely recommend doing this $70 cooling upgrade if you’re looking to get the maximum performance you can out of this card! It also looks kind of cool, and would be easy to paint if you wanted to get into that sort of thing!
Moving away from overclocking, let’s take a look at our testing methodology, as well as the specifications of the machine we’ll be using to test both our stock and water-cooled 1080. All games were tested at 1440p on their ‘High’ presets over a 10-minute gameplay session. The specs for our test machine are that of a relatively high-end system for 2021, with an i9-9900k at the heart of our build. This chip, when paired with an MSI z390-a Pro motherboard, was able to comfortably clock to 5 GHz, and our Corsair h115i was able to keep everything below 80°C. Keep in mind that we’re running an AVX offset of -2, though. All of our tests were also run with my side panel removed, so that I could have easy access to the card. This also represents a best-case scenario, with fresh air being relatively abundant as a result. We’ve got quite a few benchmarks to discuss, so without any further ado, let’s dive into the performance of the GTX 1080, and take a look at how it holds up in 2021!
I started these benchmarks off by checking out Apex Legends, a battle royale game running on a modified version of the Source Engine. Even though we’re running at 1440p, this game performs phenomenally no matter which configuration you go with. In fact, the hybrid mod only gave us an extra 8 frames on average, and you’d still get awesome framerates on the stock cooler. This simply illustrates how the card can perform when pushed to its limits! The grouping of values was also similar between the two setups, indicating that our overclock worked in improving the minimum speed and especially the average speed. It was fun to play in the Titanfall universe on the 1080, and like Titanfall 2 this game is a blast to play thanks to the excellent performance on offer!
Ark: Survival Evolved
Ark: Survival Evolved was playable on the 1080, but the experience wasn’t exactly smooth. Look at the minimum framerates, and you’ll see that it doesn’t show much variance at all, leading me to believe that this game is better played at either lower settings or a lower resolution. In fact, if you turn down the settings to low, you wouldn’t get any of the weird frame skips when dinosaurs spawn on-screen, and the feather animations on most of the creatures won’t cause your performance to tank. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks incredible on these high settings, but the 1080 is simply unable to handle this level of detail. Turning your settings down is recommended, and being smart about which setting you’re tweaking should allow you to keep a lot of the visual identity of the game while still keeping performance within an optimal range!
Black Ops Cold War
Moving onto our second shooter, Black Ops Cold War performed well on the GTX 1080, with an average of 87 FPS when using the stock cooler. Once again, the recorded performance uplift between the stock and modded cards is almost within the margin of error, giving the impression that the game wasn’t performing all that differently. What I did notice however, especially during gunfights, is that the game stuttered less when the overclocked hybrid mod was in place, and even though it’s hard to quantify without a frametime graph, the overall feel of the game was improved by our mod. It’s definitely worth checking out the 1080, whether modded or not, if you’re looking to get into some 1440p Cold War action!
While admittedly a somewhat outdated game, Crysis 3 performed admirably on the 1080, pulling in an average of 96 FPS when using stock settings. Even though the game is getting old, the graphics on display here are beyond impressive, and the fact that this game functioned on consoles at all really shows how much more optimized this game is over its predecessors. This has all evidently paid off, as our 1080 never dropped below 60 FPS, meaning that it’s playable at 60Hz and above. This may even warrant a high refresh rate monitor with G-Sync or Free-Sync built in! It was a blast to reexperience this game from my childhood, and at 1440p and 60 FPS I was able to enjoy the luscious environments in a way I never have before!
I used the CPU workout that is CS:GO to gauge how much headroom we’re giving the CPU with our GPU overclock. Even though the averages are basically within the margin of error, the maximum framerate shows that we are letting our i9 stretch its legs a measurable amount more, as we were able to achieve a 4% increase over the stock configuration. This translates to higher framerates at points that were previously GPU-bound, and allows our card to pump out a few extra frames here and there. It’s actually kind of interesting to look at, as the data shows that we’re achieving higher framerates overall than without our overclock. This proves our overclock is sticking and actually hitting the targets we’re setting, which just goes to show that this card can pummel CS:GO if you’re a high refresh rate competitive gamer!
Cyberpunk 2077 actually choke-slammed our 1080, bringing the average down to just 31 FPS. Lowering settings would obviously help to increase this, however it is worth noting that our hybrid mod allowed our card to perform better, especially when considering how low these framerates are. Even though the game is still playable, I would personally set the resolution to 1080p and call it a day. You would probably be able to turn some settings to ultra as well, but the performance on offer is just not enough to power this game at 1440p. Even our overclock, which averaged at 34 FPS, shows just how demanding this game is, because we weren’t able to simply brute force it. Either way, this kills the experience you’d otherwise be getting on a last gen console, and like I mentioned, also leaves the door open to lowering the resolution and chasing those higher framerates!
Moving on to Vulkan performance, and Doom Eternal averaged a beyond playable 115 FPS on the GTX 1080. The only thing I thought was worth commenting on here was a strange stuttering effect that would occur at the start of each level. It would freeze for a second, then go right back to being smooth as butter. It’s a strange performance quirk, but our 1080 was able to power through. When overclocked with our Hybrid Mod, we achieved an average of 126, which for some of you rocking 120Hz monitors is the difference between hitting a refresh or not! Enable the dynamic resolution scaler in the settings menu, and the game will lock to 60 FPS, and look good enough to pass for native 1440p, especially in motion. Like all our previous games, Doom Eternal benefitted greatly from lowering the resolution to 1080p, and maxing the game out while remaining above 60 FPS was a real sight to behold!
Far Cry 5
Far Cry 5, an open world first person shooter, performed excellently on the 1080, with the stock card pulling in an average of 95 FPS. The game overall felt fantastic to play, and performed smoothly despite some occasional hitching shown in the minimums. This could even possibly allow for settings to be raised another notch. Even though the overclock didn’t provide that much of a boost, the bump we did see made the game more playable overall, and is definitely recommended if you’re eyeing one of these cards to play through this game. It is evidently an excellent card when it comes to Far Cry 5, and I would happily play this game all day long on the 1080!
Gears of War 5
Gears of War 5, a game built on Unreal Engine 4, is a graphical masterpiece, and is a stunning display of the capabilities of modern computer hardware. With an average of 83 FPS, the GTX 1080 is more than capable of handling this game, however there are some spots where performance can vary. The minimums show this nicely, and the overall spread of the values shows a similar overall profile between the stock card and the hybrid mod. In fact, the hybrid mod allowed the card to render 4 more frames on average, and bumped our maximum up by 5 frames. Once again, I’d say that the mod is a worthwhile investment if you’re looking to play Gears 5, but it’s not a necessary upgrade by any means. It’s overall a fun game, and I’ve been playing through it recently on this hardware, and man it’s a blast to chainsaw Locusts in 1440p 60 FPS goodness!
Grand Theft Auto 5
The now 8-year-old Grand Theft Auto 5 performed well on the stock card, pulling an average of 108 FPS, with the hybrid mod pushing that up to 115 FPS. Looking at the minimums, and I can comfortably say that GTA at 80+ FPS is a killer experience, and the hilarity that ensues is all the more funny at 1440p. I will admit, I’m not a massive Grand Theft Auto fan, but it was amusing to drive around Los Santos and blow stuff up, although the explosions did cause a few multi-second stutters. This only occurred twice during my gameplay session, however outside of that they were unnoticeable, and were well and truly hidden by the excellent performance at hand. GTA 5 could even be playable at 4K on this card, as long as you’re willing to turn down settings or stick to a lower framerate!
Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds
Our second battle royale game, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, is another Unreal Engine 4 title. Like Gears of War, PUBG performs very well given the resolution and settings. Like our previous review, if Fortnite is more your thing, then performance here will look even better, although an average of 123 FPS is hard to argue with! Our hybrid mod also helped our card out by a noticeable margin, with a solid 6.5% improvement in average framerates. Keep in mind that performance would also improve with a drop in resolution or graphics settings, so if you’re looking to game at 144Hz and beyond, the GTX 1080 is happy to oblige, as long as it’s at 1080p.
Rainbow Six Siege
A new title to our test suite, Rainbow Six Siege performed very well, and with these runs through the built-in benchmark, it’s easy to see that the card shreds through this game. Since the GTX 1080 is younger than the game itself, this is all kind of to be expected. I know this game, like CS:GO, has a ton of competitive high refresh rate gamers who count on every frame to be perfect. While Rainbow Six Siege doesn’t run as well as Counter Strike, this game seems to be similarly more CPU-driven, especially at 1440p and beyond. Even 4K was possible here, thanks to the Reconstruction filter! It actually looks stunningly close to a native image, and it shaves a lot of time off the render budget since you’re not rendering every single pixel in the frame. It works well both technically and visually, and I have to give props to Ubisoft for this implementation. This gives our 1080 a chance to compete with the big boys, without actually having to render the same frames!
Call of Duty: Warzone
Coming to the end of our test suite, Call of Duty: Warzone performed well enough to earn an endorsement for gaming at 1440p. Even though it’s not enough to drive a 120Hz display, with an average of 83 FPS, and minimums coming in at above 30 FPS, the game never dropped to unplayable levels. It is worth noting, however, that the minimums actually occurred during the drop-in phase of the match, and like in PUBG, they weren’t sustained throughout the entirety of the game session. Verdansk was a blast to experience in 1440p, and it was nice being able to see players at a greater distance than I normally would. The gunfights did not cause frame drops or stutter, and the overall engine seems to scale well no matter which graphics card you’re playing with. The fact that I can go into a game against console players and use higher refresh rates is also kind of fun, especially when, like me, you’re not good at the game, and nobody has aim bot-like accuracy.
Overall, the GTX 1080 is a powerful graphics card that packs tons of computational power in something the size of a PCI-e card. However, even if the card is powerful, is it really worth looking into or even buying in 2021? In short, I’d say yes for sure, but I would wait for now. At the time of writing, that being late April 2021, then it’s not worth buying any newer cards, such as Ampere- or RDNA 2-based cards. However, when looking on the used market, the GTX 1080 can be found for around $350 – 400, which isn’t as bad as some of the newer cards, but it can definitely be found for less on eBay. What’s funny is that the 1080 is actually worse at crypto mining than the GTX 1070 when comparing raw Hash rates, thanks to the GDDR5X, which isn’t as efficient when running in standard Dual Data Rate mode. This means that miners are actually ignoring these cards, fortunately for us, and as time goes on the prices will continue to come down. If you’re watching in late 2021 or beyond, then the GTX 1080’s price should have stabilized, meaning you’ll run a higher chance of actually finding a decent deal.
In terms of overall computational power levels, the GTX 1080 offers performance roughly on par with the RTX 2060 – a 6 GB card utilizing the newer Turing microarchitecture – but ahead of its generational competitor, the RX Vega 64. Even though Pascal lacks many of the newer fixed function hardware circuits that makes ray tracing possible, what it offers is strong FP32 compute, at the cost of everything else. If you need raw teraflops to power through video encoding, then the onboard NVENC encoder makes this card a stellar choice, though Turing and Ampere offer an updated and more feature-rich implementation. For strictly gaming, this card is easily one of the best for tackling games at 1440p, and although the performance can sag a bit at times, the overall trend shows the GTX 1080 to still be a very strong choice for gamers if value is your only concern.
However, I would only recommend picking one up once they’re back under the $300 mark. Be sure to stay vigilant for deals as time goes on! As of late April 2021, the GTX 1080 is too expensive to earn a recommendation, but once prices drop, it’s worth pulling the trigger on one of these cards. It’s a rasterization powerhouse, and has fast enough on-board memory to be somewhat competitive with lower-end GDDR6 configurations. However, the lack of hardware accelerated DXR and AI algorithms might be a turn off for some. If you’re simply looking to play games, and aren’t planning on turning on Ray Tracing, then this card is an awesome purchase. If you’re a video professional, however, then the 8GB of VRAM might be a bit restrictive when editing at resolutions higher than 4K It’s a very well-rounded graphics card, and I’m excited to see the prices come back down, as this will leave this card open to inclusions in more budget-oriented systems, and will also become more widely available on the used market as people upgrade to newer hardware!
This is an exciting time to get into PC gaming, and the performance on offer from both the Green and the Red teams is mind blowing, albeit incredibly expensive. Despite its age, Pascal, which is marketed as the GTX 10-Series, is still relevant almost 5 years later and is powerful enough to drive both content creation and gaming. And if Ampere is anything to go by, I can’t wait to see how Pascal holds up to Nvidia’s next generation Hopper, as this will be a fight to watch very closely!