Introduction, Design Features
[Editors’ Note: Be aware that pricing and features for video cards based on a given graphics chip can vary, depending on the actual card maker. AMD and Nvidia make video “reference cards” based on their graphics processors, which they sometimes send out for review. Third-party partners—MSI, Sapphire, Gigabyte, EVGA, Asus, and many others—make and sell cards that often adhere closely to the design of these reference boards (“stock boards”), as well as versions with slight differences in port configuration, clocking, the amount and speed of onboard memory, and the cooling fans or heat sinks installed. Be sure the specs and ports/connections on any “partner” board you’re looking at match what we’ve reviewed before making any assumptions. Here, we’re reviewing one of MSI’s versions of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, an overclocked, RGB-lit powerhouse version of the card with three fans and some other interesting additions.]
You can buy a high-end graphics card such as the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders EditionAorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Edition, which have the same internal silicon as the more basic reference-design cards, but have elaborate cooling setups that allow for out-of-the-box overclocking, and are often outfitted these days with ornate backplates and RGB lighting.
Many of these overbuilt, overclocked, and audaciously outfitted cards cost substantially more than their more modest counterparts, but often deliver only single-digit performance gains out of the box, compared to lesser or stock-clocked versions of cards with the same internal silicon. But that doesn’t stop eager buyers from snatching them up for their added aesthetics, and perhaps the hope of doing further overclocking to edge frame rates even higher.
The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X Trio definitely falls into the latter category of high-end gaming cards, with its 75MHz boost-clock bump over the standard Founders Edition version of the card, a rainbow-like light bar running across its edge, and a triple threat of fans to keep your high-end gaming rig running relatively cool and quiet. It’s also massive, at about 12.5 inches long and 5 inches wide, so make sure your case is plenty roomy before even looking at this card. And you’ll need a bit of wiggle room in your budget, as well, as this $799 card is $100 more expensive than the least-pricey GeForce GTX 1080 Ti that we could find in stock when we wrote this, and $40 more expensive than the previously mentioned Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Edition, itself far, far from a shrinking-violet GTX 1080 Ti.
In our testing, the MSI card did outpace that Aorus board pretty consistently, making it the fastest gaming-specific graphics card we’ve tested to date. It’s a powerful performer for 4K gaming, or if you have a lesser-resolution monitor with very high refresh rates. But given its high price, is it worth splurging for the MSI card versus the dozens of “lesser” GTX 1080 Ti options that are nearly as powerful?
A lot of that decision will come down to how much you value the card’s design and features. Let’s dig in.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition2016 “Pascal”-based Nvidia Titan X (which is based on the same chip) and the GeForce GTX 1080 it supplanted as the gamer’s flagship card…
The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X Trio shares the same underlying specs as the Founders Edition version of the GTX 1080 Ti, including the 11GB of 11,000MHz memory. But MSI cranks up the core-GPU clock speeds to a top boost clock of 1,657MHz in the out-of-the-box Gaming Mode.
Using MSI’s Gaming App utility, you can ramp up the clock speed to 1,683 MHz in the pre-configured OC Mode, or possibly push things even further on your own. We did the majority of our testing in the standard Gaming Mode, which is the card’s out-of-the-box setting.
Another piece of software associated with this card is MSI’s Mystic Light. This software also lets you control the card’s distinctive RGB lighting bar, which we’ll get to very shortly.
Visually, this is an attractive card that looks better to our eyes than the competing Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Edition, though it also costs a bit more. Gone are the silver-metal angles and slim blower cooler that Nvidia brings to the table with its Founders Edition cards. This thing is very much its own beast—and a big beast at that. You can see it here next to the Founders Edition version of the GTX 1080 Ti, looming like Andre the Giant.
Its lighting aspects are the card’s most striking feature, hard to miss if you install the card in a windowed case. Red lights illuminate the cooler and the edge of the card. But it’s the L-shaped programmable RGB strip that runs along the edge that truly stands out—especially if it’s running a moving rainbow of colors.
Both the bar that runs across the edge of the card’s backplate and the MSI logo that’s cut into the backplate get the RGB treatment here. You can choose between several lighting effects, as well as your choice of a solid color, should you shy away from the spectrum of rainbow options.
And for those moments when you don’t want your graphics card to be broadcasting its existence by beaming photons out the side of your case window, the Mystic Light software also lets you turn off all the card’s LEDs fairly easily. That said, if lights don’t matter much to you, there are significantly less expensive models of the GTX 1080 Ti that will perform nearly as well, but light up a whole lot less.
At 12.5 inches long and 5 inches wide, the MSI Gaming X Trio is actually an inch longer than the Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti we tested earlier in 2017, though its cooler is a little thinner than the one found on the Aorus card. Regardless, you’ll need at least three empty expansion slots for either of these GTX 1080 Ti cards. And if you plan to use the metal reinforcement bar that ships in the box with the MSI Gaming X Trio, like we did below, you’ll need four spare slots.
The bar mounts in an empty slot three slots below the first slot occupied by this dual-slot card. Anchored via screws to the slot, just like you would mount a graphics card, its aim is to support the graphics card above it. The bar comes with some rubber pads on its top edge, to cushion the area where the card above it comes in contact with the bar. As much as we can appreciate the idea of giving a big card like this some added support, the bar feels flimsy when installed, and it doesn’t keep the MSI Gaming X Trio firmly in place. Because the only place the bar gets anchored to your PC chassis for support is at the rear slot area, how much support it can supply to your graphics card is at least partially determined by how rigid the metal is at the back of your chassis.
In short, the support bar is a nice idea in theory, and it definitely does supply some additional support. But we wouldn’t feel comfortable moving our test system around a lot with this card and the support bar installed. And we certainly wouldn’t want to ship a system with this setup installed, bar or no bar. Plus, with all the aesthetic niceties MSI built into the Gaming X Trio, sticking the plain black metal bar underneath detracts from the overall look of your build. All that said, given the vast differences in case sizes and orientations, we’re not exactly sure what else MSI could do to come up with a better universal support bar for a graphics card.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll find a nice brushed-metal backplate on the card, with the obligatory MSI dragon logo. We do like the triple-tone black design here more than the brightly painted designs we’ve seen on some other expensive graphics cards.
On the flip side, the Gaming X Trio’s triple-fan “Tri-Frozr” cooler dominates, with three “Torx 2.0” fans that the company says have steeper blades for generating “22 percent more air pressure,” along with double ball bearings in the fan motors for quieter operation. While much of that is tough to verify without an isolated wind tunnel and precise instruments, we can say that the MSI Gaming X Trio was surprisingly quiet while testing.
Only when we kicked the card into OC Mode for our final tests did we really notice the fan noise start to ramp up.
Nvidia removed the big DVI connector from its Founders Edition design of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. That was done, at least in part, to improve cooling. That card’s blower-style cooler pushes most of its air out the back edge of the card, and a DVI port would impede that flow, at least to an extent. That’s not an issue with this card’s open-air design, so MSI brought the DVI connector back, and swapped out one of the other ports, as well.
The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X Trio sports a dual-link DVI-D connector, two DisplayPort 1.4 connectors, and a pair of HDMI 2.0 ports. Nvidia’s Founders Edition card, by comparison, has three DisplayPorts and a single HDMI.
One last thing to keep in mind if you’re considering this card is its power-connector requirements. You’ll need a pair of an eight-pin PCI Express connectors from your power supply to get this card running, although the company does include a six-pin-to-eight-pin adapter in the box to help on that front. By comparison, the Founders Edition GTX 1080 Ti requires one eight-pin, and one six-pin. So be sure you have those power leads available, and that your power supply can handle the power draw of this card. MSI recommends a 600-watt power supply at a minimum.