During the GeForce GTX 1080 launch event, NVIDIA announced two prices for the card. The new GPU has an MSRP of $599 USD, while a Founders Edition will be available for $699 USD. They did not really elaborate on the difference at the keynote, but they apparently clarified the product structure for the attending press.
According to GamersNexus, the “Founders Edition” is NVIDIA's new branding for their reference design, which has been updated with the GeForce GTX 1080. That is it. Normally, a reference design is pretty much bottom-tier in a product stack. Apart from AMD's water-cooling experiments, reference designs are relatively simple, single-fan blower coolers. NVIDIA's reference cooler though, at least on their top-three-or-so models of any given generation, are pretty good. They are fairly quiet, effective, and aesthetically pleasing. When searching for a specific GPU online, you will often see a half-dozen entries based on this, from various AIB partners, and another half-dozen other offerings from those same companies, which is very different. MSI does their Twin Frozr thing, while ASUS has their Direct CU and Poseidon coolers.
If you want the $599 model, then, counter to what we've been conditioned to expect, you will not be buying NVIDIA's reference cooler. These will come from AIB partners, which means that NVIDIA is (at least somewhat) allowing them to set a minimum product this time around. They expect reference cards to be intrinsically valuable, not just purchased because they rank highest on a “sort by lowest price” metric.
This is interesting for a number of reasons. It wasn't too long ago that NVIDIA finally allowed AIB vendors to customize Titan-level graphics cards. Before that, NVIDIA's reference cooler was the only option. When they released control to their partners, we started to see water cooled Titan Xs. There is two ways to look at it: either NVIDIA is relaxing their policy of controlling user experience, or they want their personal brand to be more than the cheapest offering of their part. Granted, the GTX 1080 is supposed to be their high-end, but still mainstream offering.
It's just interesting to see this decision and rationalize it both as a release of control over user experience, and, simultaneously, as an increase of it.