Print this page

Reviewed: MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X Featured

One of the most anticipated graphics cards of 2016 finally hits the test bench - We welcome the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X to the lab.

There was a lot of hype around the new GTX 1080 from NVIDIA - it uses the new Pascal architecture built at 16nm (down from Maxwell's 28nm), has a massive 8GB of GDDR5X memory and it's fair to say that expectations of 99% of the PC gaming population were very interested to see what the performance was like but also how much this sucker would cost.

NVIDIA talks about VR a lot in their marketing material, especially with the launch of the GTX 1080. VR as an emerging technology is now really starting to gather a lot of momentum but its relevance to the average gamer probably isn't there yet as the headsets and other supporting technology is still a significant investment. What we are most interested in is how well it plays our favourite titles, the newer DX12 games and what magic MSI has managed to perform with the new Twin Frozr VI cooler. The 'Unicorn' of many gamers is a silent high-end graphics card without the hassle of water cooling - this is the closest thing we've seen.


The 'Gaming X' edition of the GTX 1080 from MSI features a custom PCB, the new Twin Frozr VI cooling solution, an 8-pin and 6-pin power connectors, custom LED lighting with an RGB LED on the MSI dragon logo at the top edge of the card and a factory overclock. The MSI Gaming App is also available for this card and we found it more relevant than previous editions with previous graphics cards - more on that later. MSI also included a back plate on the GTX 1080 Gaming X to help with thermals, structural support and good old badass looks. The card is tall - taller than the previous GTX 980 Gaming 4G offering and it's also heavier. Acoustically, it's even quieter than the GTX 980 Gaming 4G - which is no small feat. 

This graphics card is pitched at the most serious gaming enthusiasts who don't see anything wrong with dropping around $1200 on the fastest card available, built with Military-grade components and a near-silent cooling solution. For everyone else, MSI have 'Gaming' editions of the GTX 1070, GTX 1060 and the other previous generation to boot.

The key features that MSI brings to the table with the Gaming X edition of the GTX 1080 are outlined below

Twin Frozr VI Cooler

The Twin Frozr VI uses new TORX fans with a strip on each blade to further enhance the airflow but seemingly reducing the noise at the same time. The design is broken down in the graphic below and it works really well. The card operates with the fans stopped until the GPU starts to get busy - under light loads, the fans would occasionally tick over without making any noise at all on the open test bench. In a closed case, the card is barely audible over ambient room noise when running a game like The Division or a benchmark.


Back Plate, Anti Bending Strip, Quality Thermal Compound

Rugged construction and a higher level of engineering make this a card to grow old with. Back plates help cool the card, protect it from physical damage or shorting and also look much better than a bare PCB. The back plate is nice but as with all back plates, keep in mind that it can make the PCIE release lever a little harder to push down. It's a small inconvenience, far outweighed by the benefits of a back plate.

Memory Cooling plate and PWM heat sinks

Extra measures taken to keep more than just the GPU cool, supporting more stable overclocks and quieter running. The attention to detail and additional engineering effort to further improve the Twin Frozr series was much appreciated in the lab.

Gaming App and Configurable LEDs

The MSI Gaming App can sit on your desktop and/or on your phone. The 3 pre-sets of OC, Gaming and Silent are great and adjust the clock speed of the GTX 1080 to known stable pre-sets so that you can choose how hard you push the card. If you have an MSI motherboard, you can also adjust the CPU in the same app.

There is a monitoring tab that lets you choose from a range of On-Screen Display (OSD) metrics. The LED lighting is controlled through the app which allows for colour changes on the logo LED and effect settings on both the logo LED and the shroud red LEDs. You can also tweak with the Eye Rest settings to fiddle with the blue light levels for more comfortable gaming - we didn't spend much time on this feature but it could be handy for people who spend extensive time in front of their PC or play games at night in an otherwise dark room.



The connectivity consists of 3x DisplayPort and 1x HDMI and a single Dual Link DVI port. This should be sufficient for all gamers with the budget for a $1200 graphics card. 

The full specifications of the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X are listed below.



MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X

Graphics Engine

NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 1080


PCI Express x16 3.0

GPU Architecture


Memory Type


Memory Size(MB)


Memory Interface

256 bit

Core Clock Speed(MHz)

Boost / Base Core Clock
1847 MHz / 1708 MHz (OC Mode)
1822 MHz / 1683 MHz (Gaming Mode)
1733 MHz / 1607 MHz (Silent Mode)

Memory Speed 

Memory Clock Speed
10108 MHz (OC Mode)
10010 MHz (Gaming Mode)
10010 MHz (Silent Mode)

Memory Bandwidth

320 GB/sec

Processor Units

2560 NVIDIA CUDA® Cores

DVI Output

1 (DL-DVI-D)


1 (version 2.0) 


3 (version 1.4)

Maximum Displays

Digital Maximum Resolution: 7680 x 4320

HDCP Support


VR Ready


DirectX Version Support


HDCP Support


OpenGL Version Support


Multi-GPU Technology

SLI, 2-Way

Card Dimensions(mm)

279 x 140 x 42 mm
1100g (weight)

Power Consumption (W)


Power Connectors 8-Pin x 1, 6-pin x 1
Technology Support

-Simultaneous Multi-Projection
-VR Ready
-SLI HB Bridge Supported
-NVIDIA GameStream™-Ready
-3.0 NVIDIA GPU Boost™
-12 API with feature level 12_1Microsoft DirectX
-Vulkan API
-PCIe 3.0Bus Support
-Windows 7-101, Linux, FreeBSDx86OS Certification

GTX 1080 Features - The Highlights

VR Ready

VR isn't at the top of our list in terms of reasons to buy a graphics card but the requirements according to NVIDIA's website are similar to running at 3024x1680 resolution and anything less than 90 FPS will impact the experience. When gaming on a flat or slightly curved LCD, frame rate drops are subtle and can be annoying but in a VR headset, I'd expect that to be much more irritating and possibly enough to make a person feel unwell. 

The Pascal architecture allows the GPU to render the VR (and other different styles of) resolution in a more native way with less overhead which means better performance. 


NVIDIA state that "Ansel is a revolutionary new way to capture in-game shots and view in 360. Compose your screenshots from any position, adjust them with post-process filters, capture HDR images in high-fidelity formats, and share them in 360 degrees using your mobile phone, PC, or VR headset."

OK, so this is better than a straight screen shot but games need to be compatible to make use of this technology and it's early days. Mirror's Edge Catalyst and Witcher 3 work with Ansel but this is a good start and we look forward to more titles taking advantage of this feature. Sometimes it is really hard to get a screenshot that shows the true situation that you are in during a game and a 360 degree view is a great way to showcase awesome skills or an epic fail.

The 1.24 patch for Witcher 3 includes Ansel support and we had a bit of fun playing with the screen shot tool. Being able to float around a scene is amazing, let alone adjust the resolution and effects. It's like freezing time and moving around to take the perfect photo. Grabbing screen shots has never been so much fun.

Read more here

NVIDIA GPU Boost 3.0

GPU Boost 3 uses a voltage offset to push the GPU that little bit further, effectively safely overclocking itself when needed to a pre-determined point. The MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X has the Twin Frozr VI cooling solution to manage the temps of the GPU, memory and power so they have done the hard work in the factory so end users can overclock via the Gaming App without worrying about driver crashes etc.

Physical Appearance & Build Quality

The first thing I noticed when eagerly unpacking this beast was the weight - it feels every gram of its rated 1100g weight. The back plate gives it a solid and cool (yes, as in thermal 'cool') feel as you handle the card. It looks and feels big - although this wasn't an issue on the test bench, it was more obvious (but still not a problem) when installing the GTX 1080 Gaming X into a case for the practical build. The red plastic on the shroud has an almost metallic finish to it and the textured black plastic on the shroud also looks more futuristic than the design of the GTX 980 Gaming 4G. All of the fins and heat pipes are polished and straight, the back plate has the MSI Gaming dragon textured across it as well. All up, this thing oozes quality.

Just note the physical dimensions of the card if you have an ITX build in mind.


This review sample had been reviewed previously but it still looked new. The package had some signs of shipping but the card inside was well protected in the standard MSI way. All connectors were protected by soft red silicon covers and the card was in an anti-static bag inside the protective foam cut-out. 

Test Setup

We tested the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X on our MSI X99S Gaming 7 test rig as listed below for all of the benchmarking and general game-play. We also used the BenQ XL2730Z 144Hz 2560x1440 27" display via DisplayPort using the cable that came with the monitor in the retail box. We also still had the Noctua NH-L9x65 fitted from a previous review but left it there due to the ease of access that it provided for the PCIE release lever.

MSI X99S Gaming 7 Test Bench

The test bench used for this review was the MSI X99S setup with the following specification:

  • Intel i7-5630K
  • 32GB Kingston Savage DDR4 3000
  • MSI X99S Gaming 7 motherboard
  • Noctua NH-L9x65 CPU Cooler
  • ADATA SX900 256GB SSD
  • Western Digital Blue 4TB SSHD
  • Corsair HX850 PSU
  • Samsung Blu-ray drive
  • Logitech G810 keyboard
  • Logitech G900 mouse
  • Logitech Z533 desktop speakers
  • Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver headset

Test Methods

Benchmark testing where we use a scripted or specific benchmark utility that has no user interaction other than setting the graphics properties and hitting 'start'. The utility then gives us a report of the relevant statistics.

We also only graph the average frame rates as minimum and maximum frame rates can be misleading.

The following tests were all reproducible or scripted or in-game benchmarks that are consistently executed without human intervention.

Futuremark Firestrike

We've moved on from the older 3DMark11 benchmarks that still hold relevance for some but the latest benchmarking tests from Futuremark give modern day GPUs a serious belting at the extreme, high end and mid-low end levels. 

In these synthetic benchmarks, we see the GTX 1080 dominate with the Firestrike series.

Firestrike Ultra

Firestrike Ultra is first up and gives a good indication of how '4K-ready' a GPU is.


Firestrike Extreme

Next up Firestrike Extreme is geared to test 2560x1440 gaming capability



Firestrike gives an indication of performance at 1080p



We tested SkyDiver in the interests of completeness but the result is aimed at low end graphics platforms. 


Unigine Heaven 

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 Basic is one of the programs that we run to temperature test the cards and we also do a benchmark run during the process. 


Futuremark TimeSpy (DX12) 

This benchmark taxes graphics cards to see how well they handle the load of DX12.


As expected, the new kid on the block was able to strut its way through the benchmarks whilst operating at a whisper on the test bench. 

Tomb Raider 

For the in-game benchmarking utility, the following graphics settings were used:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, Motion Blur:On, Screen Effects:On, Quality: Ultimate,Texture Quality: Ultra,Texture Filter: Anisotropic 16X, Hair Quality: TRESSFX, Anti-Aliasing: FXAA Shadows: Normal, Shadow Resolution: High, Level of Detail: Ultra, Reflections: High, Depth of Field: Ultra, SSAO: Ultra, Post Processing: On, Tessellation: On, High Precision: On

Although TRESSFX is an AMD feature we had it enabled because gamers will want to enjoy it in this title and we have other benchmarks so it all evens out in the end.



The MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X completely dominates the chart for Tomb Raider.

Batman Arkham City 

The settings used for the Arkham City in-game benchmark were:
1920x1080 & 2560x1440, V-Sync: Off, Anti-Aliasing: FXAA (High), Directx 11 Features: MVSS and HBAO, Dx11 Tessellation: Normal, Detail Level: Very High Dynamic Shadows: Yes, Motion Blur: Yes, Distortion: Yes, Lens Flares: Yes, Light Shafts: Yes, Reflections: Yes, Ambient Occlusion: Yes, Hardware Accelerated PhysX: Normal


The performance improvement wasn't anywhere near what we were expecting here at 1080p and it was only 18% faster than the GTX 980 at 1440p.

Hitman Absolution 

The following settings were used in the in-game benchmark:
1920x1080 & 2560x1440, MSAA:8x, Vsync: Off, Quality Setting: Ultra


The MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X was 20 frames per second faster than anything else we have tested to date in Hitman Absolution. This is a big jump from the previous generation of GPUs.

Bioshock Infinite

The in-game benchmark for Bioshock Infinite was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, DX11, All settings maxed out


The above chart shows how the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X smacked Bioshock Infinite around, easily matching the capabilities of our 144Hz display.

Sniper Elite III

The in-game benchmark for Sniper Elite III was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings maxed out


Another example where the GTX 1080 is simply too much GPU power for an older title.


The in-game benchmark for GTA V was run using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, DX11, Tessellation: 3, ShadowQuality: 3, ReflectionQuality: 2, Reflection MSAA: 2, SSAO: 2, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x, MSAA: 2x, TextureQuality: 2, ParticleQuality: 2, WaterQuality: 2, GrassQuality: 2, ShaderQuality: 2, Soft Shadows: 1, UltraShadows_Enabled: false, Particle Shadows: on, Shadow Distance: 1, LongShadows: off, Reflection_MipBlur: on, FXAA Enabled, TXAA Disabled, Lighting_FogVolumes: true, Shader_SSA: true, PostFX: 2, DoF: off, MotionBlurStrength: off


This was the best experience we've had with GTA V. It was buttery smooth at 1080p and 1440p which made the game even more addictive. The benchmark clearly showed what we suspected during the gameplay testing - it's significantly better with a GTX 1080.

Tom Clancy's: The Division

The in-game benchmark for The Division was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings at Ultra with V-Sync disabled


We thought the GTX 980 did a respectable job of playing The Division but MSI's GTX 1080 Gaming X took this to a whole new level with an additional 30 FPS at 1440p and 40FPS at 1080p

Ashes of the Singularity

The in-game benchmark for Ashes of the Singularity was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings at Extreme pre-set


This was our first test with an in-game DX12 benchmark and the result shows a significant margin from the GTX 980 with more than a 50% improvement going to the GTX 1080.

Hitman (2016)

The in-game benchmark for Hitman (2016) was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings at the Ultra pre-set with VSync disables


The DX12 performance of the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X was able to really shine here, completely blowing away everything else we compared it to.

When testing the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X in general gameplay, we had both FRAPS and the GeForce Experience counter running so we could see the frame rate for reference when needed but also to note any material variations. The methodology is to play the game and note the typical FPS, any rendering issues, look for stutter and also keep an eye out for imperfections around colour or missing textures that impede the immersion.

These tests are subjective, less reproducible and much more prone to variation so the results are not compared to other cards. This is a good representation of my experience with the review sample and what you should expect if you went out and bought this card.

All observations were made on the test system used for benchmarks connected via DisplayPort and running at a resolution of 2560x1440/144Hz unless specifically noted in the comments.

First Person Shooters

The Division

Played on Ultra Settings with V-Sync turned off. The reflections, fog, snow and smoke all added to the ambience without killing the gameplay. Frame rates were consistent with the benchmark results of around the 75 FPS mark.

blops3COD: Black Ops 3

Black Ops 3 was consistently 80-85 with all settings maxed out. The gameplay felt really smooth and crisp.

Battlefield 4 cover art
Battlefield 4

BF4 set to Ultra at 2560x1440 was the smoothest we have ever seen.  Typical frame rates were between 110 and 130 FPS with an average indicative frame rate in our game play of around the 122 FPS. In some areas we saw frame rates of up to 148FPS. 

Far Cry 4 box art
Far Cry 4

At ultra settings, we saw a range of about 88-104 with the majority of gameplay giving us a more typical range of 90-95. 

Role Playing Games


Elder Scrolls Online cover
Elder Scrolls Online

ESO was interesting and underwhelming in that the frame rates were only marginally higher than the MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G. Being an online game with a crappy Australian ping, variable in-game weather and inconsistent player activity, this is one of the most subjective games to try and test.

We saw results of 75FPS outside and over 100FPS inside as general indicative frame rates. There were periods of better frame rates and the occasional dips as well which indicated that there was more than just the GPU grunt determining the results.



The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 punishes graphics cards in a big way. Well, it punishes "other" graphics cards in a big way. The GTX 1080 literally made this feel like a new game to me and I was loving the experience of playing Witcher 3 at 2650x1440 on the Ultra pre-set and seeing 60-65FPS.

I ended up switching from the XL2730Z 144Hz TN panel to a 27" 1440p IPS 60 Hz display and really enjoying the colours and smoothness of the experience.

Fallout 4 cover art
Fallout 4

Fallout 4 has a drab colour palate but the textures and lighting are still something special. We enjoyed seeing the God Rays set to their highest and the other settings at the Ultra pre-set at 2560x1440 smashing out 88-121 FPS with a regular reading of 98FPS.


The newer XCOM 2 title has a lot of cut-scenes in it but the gameplay areas yielded a typical frame rate of 60-65 with the graphics settings to the highest pre-set.

The GTX 1080 gave a new lease on life to many recent and older titles, allowing us to play them at 1440p with smooth frame rates and all the eye-candy enabled, the way the developers intended them to be played. We switched the display between the fast XL2730Z display and a 60Hz IPS panel with superior colour reproduction and really appreciated the experience that the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X delivers. 

The acoustic profile of the Twin Frozr VI cooler is also worth noting - it doesn't distract from the game being played and was almost silent when gaming. The test bench just pumped out the frames making barely any noise, when installed in the Fractal Design Define R5 case, the result was as close to silent gaming as I've experienced - there was a little noise but it wasn't obvious and we had to make a conscious effort to pick it out of the ambient room noise. The Define R5 isn't a typical case in that it has sound dampening material and some very quiet fans but it does go to show what you can create if a super quiet rig is your goal.

This also raises the question of value - how much is a card worth if it makes you enjoy some of your previously played titles all over again? This will of course depend on your titles and the graphics card that you are upgrading from but we found the move from a GTX 980 on the test bench to the GTX 1080 (both MSI Gaming cards) to be a significant upgrade generally speaking.

Acoustic and Thermal Results

Whilst there was some coil whine in the menu screens and some high FPS benchmarks, it was probably the best card we have tested in recent memory with regard to the coil whine phenomenon. 

The Twin Frozr VI cooler is so quiet that we struggled to get a consistent reading during testing over ambient room noise. During the Futuremark TimeSpy Demo, we managed to record a stable 21dB(A) at a distance of 30cm from the open air test bench. The previous Twin Frozr V cooler was already a champ in our minds and we were wondering if the MSI design team would be able to top it but the results speak for themselves. It's quiet, effective and has more lighting bling - so, yes, it is better than the last one. 

When we moved the test bench into a Fractal Design Define R5 case, the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X was silent unless playing an intense game or running benchmarks, at which point it was barely audible from less than a metre away. 

The card itself stays under 71C but doesn't vent much air out the back of the card due to the 3xDisplayPort, 1 DVI and 1 HDMI video ports. This means that the majority of the exhaust ends up inside the case. With slow but steady case airflow, the case ambient temperature was easy to manage which meant that the CPU and GPU coolers didn't have to work too hard.

Power consumption for the whole X99S test system was ~107W at idle and ~304W when running Unigine Heaven. 

Practical Build

We transferred the X99S test system to the Fractal Design Define R5 chassis, keeping all components except the Optical Drive (to be honest, I couldn't be bothered moving it and we never use it anyway). The MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X went in the case without any dramas, hardly made a peep while running and gave us the quietest high-end system we've used. The only regret was that the Define R5 we have here has a solid side panel (i.e. no window) so we couldn't see the card inside. Everything lined up perfectly with the rear PCIE slots and we didn't notice any flex in the card despite it weighing over 1Kg.


GPU Boost 3 has changed the way the new GTX 1080 and 1070 cards are overclocked so we needed to grab the latest version of MSI Afterburner to overclock the GTX 1080. As this is a pre-overclocked card, our expectations were not overly optimistic. With the fan running at almost full speed, we were able to hold a steady core speed of 2076MHz which gave us an average performance increase of about 8-10% in the synthetic benchmarks. Interestingly, this 'extra' overclock made no real difference under the in-game benchmarks.


Gaming Royalty doesn't come cheap - in fact this is the most expensive card we've ever tested with a street price of $1179 AUD. The performance was great, the card was damn near silent and the build quality excellent but it's really hard to say that any GTX 1080 is really 'worth' the street price. The thing is that these are selling at the street price so people are buying them but the frames per second of the legacy titles we tested don't justify the price gap from the GTX 980. DX 12 and newer titles might support the price difference over the next few months as more DX12 games are released, as may new VR titles but it really is too early to tell.


We have seen forum discussions and had the same chat ourselves about how you could probably buy 2 lesser GPUs for a cheaper price and get similar or even better performance to a GTX 1080. This may be true in some situations but running multi-GPU setups doesn't always work out how you might expect. Not all games play nice with SLI or Crossfire, there is additional heat, noise and power draw to deal with as well. Personally, I have an older rig running with SLI GTX 670 cards and I would avoid multi GPU despite having only a few minor SLI profile issues in the past.

Final Thoughts

Testing this card was a pleasure - no doubt about it. We re-played games with everything set to the maximum settings and genuinely felt that it was a card that generally offered compromise-free gaming at our preferred resolution of 2560x1440. Whilst we really wanted to test this with 4K resolution, we couldn't line up a display but we will be looking to release a separate article in the near future. 

The acoustic and thermal performance of the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X should be applauded. A loud graphics card is a distraction no matter how many frames per second it's smashing out - MSI has given us the best of both worlds with outstanding performance at a whisper. The Twin Frozr VI cooler continues the tradition of constant improvement from MSI that we first noted when reviewing the Twin Frozr IV cooler on the GTX 760 HAWK. It was surreal to observe the test bench components in the Fractal Design Define R5 case running The Division at 1440p on the Ultra pre-set with basically no system noise from the actual PC.

Whist the aesthetic of black and red really works with the 'MSI Gaming' series branding, the RGB LED logo is difficult to use in any other colours than red or white so as not to clash with the red coloured shroud or red LEDs around the right fan. It's no big deal and it looked right at home on the MSI X99S Gaming 7 test bench. It will be interesting to see how RGB LEDs impact on future designs of the Gaming series cards and if MSI release a more colour-agnostic series of graphics card in the future. The new metallic finish on the red part of the cooler shroud is a nice change and the overall appearance of the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X is impressive. 

We thought MSI really missed an opportunity for awesomeness by omitting a back plate on their GTX 980 Gaming 4G and we were very pleased to see the back plate included on this product. It looks great, protects the card and helps with heat management.

The elephant in the room is price - there is no such thing as a 'Cheap GTX 1080'. The price isn't a negative for the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X, in fact the street price of $1179 is very competitive, relatively speaking. This is an enthusiast level card that a small percentage of gamers will buy and a large percentage of gamers will only have as a 'wish list' item.

The NVIDIA GTX 1080 is a beast of a GPU and MSI has really done it justice with a premium custom PCB, cooler, components and software tuning application. The MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X is a great package for the enthusiast PC gamer. We absolutely loved it.

If you're going to buy a GTX 1080, this one will not disappoint.


MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X



Beastly Performance
Extremely Quiet to the point of silence in the right case
Outstanding build quality
Practical, stable and intuitive Gaming App utility


crossExpensive (but in line with other GTX 1080 cards)


EditorsChoiceAward TheSilenceAward

Last modified onMonday, 29 August 2016 22:29

Related items

Latest from Phil

© 2013 Copyright pcgamers.net.au all rights reserved.