Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Graphics Card Roundup

MSI GTX 1070 Gaming X 8G

MSI managed to build a reputation for itself with the Gaming series, and its GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X 8G strives to live up to high expectations set by those predecessors. The coming employs a conservative default clock rate and a good-enough, low-noise cooler.

There's a higher-end family called Lightning in MSI's portfolio, so it remains to be seen how much the manufacturer held back to create the more mid-range Gaming X version. At the same time, this also isn't MSI's entry-level GeForce GTX 1070. That distinction goes to the simpler Armor 8G and Aero 8G.

We're testing a press sample of the Gaming X with a non-standard firmware, as it turns out. In this version, the OC mode is active by default, resulting in a ~20 MHz-higher core and GPU Boost clock rate. In practice, the differences between this card and the retail one are negligible, so we didn't re-flash the BIOS for our tests. Instead, we switched back to the standard mode via vendor-supplied software. Thus, the GPU's frequency in our benchmarks is still equivalent to the retail model.

Technical Specifications

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Exterior & Interfaces

MSI's fan shroud is made of relatively thin plastic, though it's mounted on a large frame for improved stability. Weighing in at 1080g, this card isn't particularly light. It's 28.4cm long, 13.5cm tall, and 3.5cm wide, similar to most dual-slot cards. The rotor blades of the double ball bearing fans have a diameter of 95mm.

The back of the board is covered by a single-piece plate with some holes for ventilation, but it doesn't contact the PCB through thermal pads and consequently does nothing for cooling. Unfortunately, this backplate makes it necessary to plan for an extra 5mm of clearance behind the card, which may be relevant in multi-GPU configurations.

Using the card without its backplate proved difficult due to integrated spacers. Furthermore, the screws attaching the backplate have threaded portions that are too short to secure the frame and VRM cooler once the plate is gone. That's why we had to abstain from running the card without its backplate, limiting our view during the IR temperature testing.

The top of the card is dominated by an illuminated MSI logo and three visible heat pipes (two 6mm and one 8mm). Six- and eight-pin auxiliary power connectors are positioned at the end of the card and rotated by 180°. MSI's black and red color scheme should be familiar by now, similar to the card's shape.

An open end reveals horizontally-oriented fins, which channel airflow towards the card's front and back. This is an advantage since a lot of heated air exhausts out the slot cover. What remains isn't directed out the top, close to your CPU. Although we like centrifugal coolers able to blow everything out the back, this is a next-best solution.

The slot plate features five display outputs, of which a maximum of four can be used simultaneously in a multi-monitor setup. In addition to one dual-link DVI-D connector, the bracket also hosts one HDMI 2.0b port and three DisplayPort 1.4-capable interfaces. The rest of the slot plate is dotted with openings for airflow.

Shedding that often-unused DVI connector would have made room for even more ventilation, which may have helped the cooling solution's effectiveness. Ah well.

Board & Components

A glance at the board reveals a well-arranged layout. It uses eight Samsung K4G80325FB-HC25 modules, each able to store up to 8Gb (32x 256Mb). Each chip operates at voltages between 1.305 and 1.597V, depending on the selected clock frequency.

The 8+2-phase power subsystem relies on the sparsely documented µP9511P for PWM control. However, unlike Nvidia's Founder Edition card, the controller is placed on the front rather than the back. Since this controller can't communicate directly with the VRM's phases, MSI utilizes gate drivers to talk to the dual-channel MOSFETs. And because MSI is using dual- rather than single-channel MOSFETs, it can use space on the PCB more efficiently. The company also goes with Super Ferrite Chokes, which are a bit classier than what you typically find on reference designs.

Two capacitors are installed right below the GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X's GPU to absorb and equalize voltage peaks.

Power Results

Before we look at power consumption, we should talk about the correlation between GPU Boost frequency and core voltage, which are so similar that we decided to put their graphs one on top of the other. This also shows that both curves drop as the GPU's temperature rises.

After warm-up, GPU Boost frequencies fall as low as 1962 MHz under load. This is mirrored by our voltage measurements. While we observed up to 1.062V in the beginning, just like Nvidia's Founders Edition, that value drops to 1.05V later on.

Combining the measured voltages and currents allows us to derive a total power consumption we can easily confirm with our instrumentation by taking readings at the card's power connectors.

As a result of restrictions imposed by Nvidia, whereby the lowest attainable frequencies are sacrificed to hit higher GPU Boost clock rates, the power consumption of many factory-overclocked cards is disproportionately high when they're idle. This one can only go as low as 253 MHz. The following table shows what impact that has on our measurements:

Idle Multi-Monitor17W   
Browser Games103-127W
Gaming (Metro Last Light 4K)181W   
Torture (FurMark)177W

These charts go into more detail on power consumption at idle, during 4K gaming, and under the effects of our stress test. The graphs show how load is distributed between each voltage and supply rail, providing a bird's eye view of load variations and peaks.

Temperature Results

As it pertains to cooling, MSI has a lot to offer. Its sturdy frame covers almost all of the PCB not already covered by heat sinks for the VRMs.

Thermal pads between the memory modules and frame, along with the voltage regulators and cooling plate, provide the interfaces needed to transfer heat away from those areas. However, we would have liked thinner and more efficient design, since fan speeds (and thus airflow) are rather low.

The massive cooler has horizontally-oriented fins as well as four nickel-plated 1/4-inch (6mm) copper heat pipes, plus an 8mm one. The direction they face is more or less irrelevant since they consist of sintered composite material, relagating unreliable axial grooves or meshes to ancient history. MSI furthermore relies on a massive nickel-plated heat sink.

A rather restrictive 149°F (65°C) temperature target does result in the fans reacting faster with a shorter start-up time. But this is unfortunately foiled by their throughput and maximum required speed.

Since we couldn't test the GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X 8G without its backplate, we had to take our measurements with that cover in place. On the bright side, one of the plate's ventilation openings is right above a memory module positioned between the VRMs and GPU. The measured 176°F (80°C) is acceptable.

Temperatures actually dropped during our stress test, since the card throttled back its clock rate, lowering power consumption.

Sound Results

Since the temperatures during our gaming and torture workloads are similar, the observed fan speeds are about the same as well. The start-up behavior and well-implemented hysteresis, which prevents multiple on/off cycles once the fans start spinning, is clearly visible.

In addition, the start-up speed is chosen in such way that the fans will certainly continue to start reliably, even as they age. The same goes for when the fans turn off.

When the card is idle, there is no noise thanks to its semi-passive mode. Naturally, there's no need to take acoustic measurements.

Running at full load barely raises the noise level to 33 dB(A). This value doesn't go any higher, even during our torture test. The card is so quiet that we were able to measure >5 kHz frequencies coming from the voltage regulators, which most people would barely be able to hear. It's only when the GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X 8G cranks out frame rates in the hundreds that you hear the VRMs chirp a little louder.

It seems like the cooler is almost overkill for its job. On the other hand, we prefer being safe to sorry. MSI obviously does a good job.