The Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti can hit 2.1GHz with water cooling

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Now that Nvidia’s top-end GTX 1080 Ti is in-market, enthusiasts have begun testing, to see just how much performance they can wring out of the core. So far, the GPU has proven to top out around 1.9GHz in best-case scenarios, with a typical boost clock of around 1.6GHz. But how far can that be pushed?

That’s what the folks at Tom’s Hardware wanted to know, so they built a custom water cooling loop to see how far the GTX 1080 Ti can be pushed. Well, that, and because they weren’t particularly pleased with the GPU’s overall noise level under load. Custom water cooling loops aren’t something I’ve gotten to play with very often, but I have built one when I tested the CryoVenom R9 290 just over three years ago (we used the same rig for testing a pair of Asus Poseidon GTX 780s as well).

Like all of Nvidia’s modern graphics cards, the GTX 1080 Ti uses GPU Boost to set its base clock (1480MHz), boost clock (1582MHz), and max boost clock (1900MHz). How high the GPU actually clocks depends on the quality of the chip and the enclosure it’s installed in. Tom’s Hardware and Eurogamer both imply that the GPU can hit a max boost clock of 1850-1900MHz, but it can’t hold it very long. Anandtech reports average clock speeds from 1620MHz to 1746MHz depending on the game.

Building a custom water loop changed that. By drastically lowering the temperature of the GPU, THG was able to significantly increase its average clock rate, allowing it to hit a stable and continuous 2.1GHz. So how did that impact performance?

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The gains here are fairly nominal, to be quite honest. The game’s frame rate definitely improves, but only by ~20% compared with a 50% increase in GPU clock (from 1.4GHz to 2.1GHz). This is just one title and not every game responds equally well to GPU clock increases — there are always cases of games that scale according to several factors, rather than just pushing the GPU harder. Still, an extra 20% in a game running on the most powerful GPU you can buy is no small thing. That’s enough of a frame rate increase to make the difference between smooth and jerky play in corner cases in a more aggressive title.

The other major advantage of water cooling compared with air is that it’s largely silent. You’ll get some very low pump noise and the occasional gurgle. That’s pretty much it, and running your GPU at 40-45C even under full load is pretty cool.

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