Dissecting the GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition

For as many generations back as I can remember, NVIDIA has built reference designs for nearly all new GPUs as they were released. The purpose of a reference card is two-fold: 1) provide guidance for add-in card partners to create their designs and 2) to enable better time to market and products for consumers and reviewers. Over the years, both AMD and NVIDIA got better and building these reference cards, turning them from low-rent parts just meant to get the ball rolling to some of the best individual cards on the market. When NVIDIA launched the GTX 590, they started care more about the design of the PCB and the cooler than ever before, and that was even more apparent with the GTX 690.

With the GTX 1080 they are clearly taking that mentality up a notch, moving from calling it a reference design to the Founders Edition and actually charging MORE for it than the starting MSRP of the product line as they announced it. If you like the style that NVIDIA has put in previous reference designs, I think you’ll like what they have done here.

The GTX 1080 Founders Edition is built out of die cast aluminum body that takes the color scheme that started with the GTX 690 and makes some minor tweaks. The text on the GTX 1080 is now reflective silver and the silver body is angular and polygonal, with NVIDIA attempting to push the idea of tessellation a bit as well.

NVIDIA is still going with a blower style cooler with the radial fan in the back drawing air in and push it across the memory and GPU and out the back of the case. Despite the added noise that single fan designs like this can have over multi-fan designs from other vendors, the benefit is that air is pushed OUT of the system rather than just being moved around. For SFF builders this is a better solution many times.

Up top, the GeForce GTX logo still lights up green and can be controlled through the various software options that NVIDIA has supported in the past.

Only requiring a single 8-pin power connection with its 180 watt TDP (note that the GTX 980 uses two 6-pin connectors with a 165 watt TDP), the GTX 1080 will be able to run in nearly any dedicated PC gamers’ computer without a power supply upgrade.

The backplate is a slim design, meant to not interfere with other products installed in your system. The rear half of the backplate can be removed if you are going to run two cards in SLI directly next to each other, allowing more air to flow into the fan of the card on top.

Though the SLI connectors look the same, the bandwidth across them, and the adjoining IO on the GPU itself, are improved. When paired with the new SLI HB, this means better support for higher resolution displays and Surround for multi-GPU gaming.

NVIDIA is sticking with what it knows and likes on the display output side of things: three full-size DisplayPort, one full-size HDMI port and a dual-link DVI connection as well.

Overall I really like the design of the GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition from NVIDIA. It adds just enough flair and style to last generation’s look to stand out and the build and quality in your hand just feels solid.

Removing the shroud on the cooler (we used some NVIDIA sourced images for this) shows us the heatsink itself as well as the radial fan.

The GP104 GPU is significantly smaller than the GM204 part used by the GeForce GTX 980, and the GDDR5X memory doesn't appear different to the naked eye on this board design. One interesting spot on this design is the second 8-pin power connection headers pointed ninety degrees to the right. Either NVIDIA was over-designing for the Founders Edition or another GPU that is more power hungry may be coming down the line.

So what do we make of the whole Founders Edition move by NVIDIA? Clearly, despite NVIDIA’s stance to the contrary, this is a rebranding and repositioning of the reference design they would have had on the market anyway. In general I have no problem with NVIDIA charging a higher price for a card of their own design than partner’s card will sell out and it is likely a move to appease the partners that have supported NVIDIA this long. NVIDIA will be selling this card directly on its website and in the channel, a move that hasn’t really been done before unless you count the Titan X and Titan Z products. This can’t make the likes of EVGA, ASUS, MSI and others feel good; many of the early adopters will jump on the NVIDIA provided options and cut the partners out of the process.

My only gripe with the idea of the Founders Edition is that it will be the only card available on May 27th, and thus the lowest price you’ll find the GTX 1080 that day is for $699. Considering that NVIDIA’s CEO stood on stage and told the world in a live stream that the price of the card was $599, that seems disingenuous at least. As long as we get cards in that $599 range within a 2-3 week time period from board partners with their own coolers, it will be hard to hold a grudge. Any longer than that though and NVIDIA risks losing the good will they have with this product launch.

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