Yesterday, there were several news stories posted on TechpowerUp and others claiming that ASUS and MSI were sending out review samples of GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 graphics cards with higher clock speeds than retail parts. The insinuation of course is that ASUS was cheating, overclocking the cards going to media for reviews in order to artificially represent performance.
Image source: Techpowerup
MSI and ASUS have been sending us review samples for their graphics cards with higher clock speeds out of the box, than what consumers get out of the box. The cards TechPowerUp has been receiving run at a higher software-defined clock speed profile than what consumers get out of the box. Consumers have access to the higher clock speed profile, too, but only if they install a custom app by the companies, and enable that profile. This, we feel, is not 100% representative of retail cards, and is questionable tactics by the two companies. This BIOS tweaking could also open the door to more elaborate changes like a quieter fan profile or different power management.
There was, and should be, a legitimate concern about these types of moves. Vendor one-up-manship could lead to an arms race of stupidity, similar to what we saw on motherboards and base frequencies years ago, where CPUs would run at 101.5 MHz base clock rather than 100 MHz (resulting in a 40-50 MHz total clock speed change) giving that board a slight performance advantage. However, the differences we are talking about with the GTX 1080 scandal are very small.
- Retail VBIOS base clock: 1683 MHz
- Media VBIOS base clock: 1709 MHz
- Delta: 1.5%
And in reality, that 1.5% clock speed difference (along with the 1% memory clock rate difference) MIGHT result in ~1% of real-world performance changes. Those higher clock speeds are easily accessible to consumers by enabling the "OC Mode" in the ASUS GPU Tweak II software shipped with the graphics card. And the review sample cards can also be adjusted down to the shipping clock speeds through the same channel.
ASUS sent along its official statement on the issue.
ASUS ROG Strix GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 graphics cards come with exclusive GPU Tweak II software, which provides silent, gaming, and OC modes allowing users to select a performance profile that suits their requirements. Users can apply these modes easily from within GPU Tweak II.The press samples for the ASUS ROG Strix GeForce GTX 1080 OC and ASUS ROG Strix GeForce GTX 1070 OC cards are set to “OC Mode” by default. To save media time and effort, OC mode is enabled by default as we are well aware our graphics cards will be reviewed primarily on maximum performance. And when in OC mode, we can showcase both the maximum performance and the effectiveness of our cooling solution.Retail products are in “Gaming Mode” by default, which allows gamers to experience the optimal balance between performance and silent operation. We encourage end-users to try GPU Tweak II and adjust between the available modes, to find the best mode according to personal needs or preferences.For both the press samples and retail cards, all these modes can be selected through the GPU Tweak II software. There are no differences between the samples we sent out to media and the retail channels in terms of hardware and performance.Sincerely,ASUSTeK COMPUTER INC.
While I don't believe that ASUS' intentions were entirely to save me time in my review, and I think that the majority of gamers paying $600+ for a graphics card would be willing to enable the OC mode through software, it's clearly a bad move on ASUS' part to have done this. Having a process in place at all to create a deviation from retail cards on press hardware is questionable, other than checking for functionality to avoid shipping DOA hardware to someone on a deadline.
As of today I have been sent updated VBIOS for the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 that put them into exact same mode as the retail cards consumers can purchase.
We are still waiting for a direct response from MSI on the issue as well.
Hopefully this debacle will keep other vendors from attempting to do anything like this in the future. We don't need any kind of "quake/quack" in our lives today.