GeForce GTX 1080 Ti At 2.5 GHz+: Overclocking On Air, Water, And LN2

MSI's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z is the company's highest-end graphics card. It sports a massive heat sink and a PCA deliberately designed to facilitate overclocking.

The luxury-oriented Lightning family has been around since the GeForce GTX 260 days, and MSI has broken several world records with its Lightning flagships thanks to some of the most daring enthusiasts.

So, today's mission is to test the GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z's capabilities under air, water, and of course liquid nitrogen cooling. Will the current performance leader do its ancestors proud, or are 12 billion transistors simply too many to overclock aggressively?

In an effort to answer as completely as possible, we're not just testing one sample. Rather, we have four of these rare cards to push as hard as possible.

Specifications

A Big, Beefy Card

While the Lightning family's colors have evolved from grey to black/silver, then to black/red, and most famously to black/yellow, the soul of these cards remains unchanged. And there's still a bolt of lightning to honor the line-up's heritage.

Clearly, this card's dimensions are oversized. But what really surprised us was its mass. By way of comparison, we weighed a few heat sinks (just the sinks; not the cards):

  • Asus ROG Matrix GeForce GTX 980: 680g
  • MSI GeForce GTX 980 Ti Lightning: 800g
  • MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z: 1050g

That's more than a kilogram for nothing but the main heat sink, to which you can add 300g of heat dissipation plates (front and back). In all, you're looking at 1.7kg for the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Lightning Z, making it a record-breaker.

MORE Best Graphics Cards

MORE: Overclocking GeForce GTX 1080 Ti To 2.1 GHz Using Water

MORE: How To: Optimizing Your Graphics Card's Cooling

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  • rbartar
    What are the "Only one or two other models out there can measure up to its design" ?
    -1
  • blppt
    Probably the EVGA FTW3 ELITE GAMING or Kingpin model (also perpetually unavailable). Thats all I can think of off the top of my head.
    -1
  • reimanrules
    Sorry if I come up as ignorant, can you tell me what PCA stands for? Thanks in advance.
    0
  • Defekter_Engel
    I wonder if anyone has tried a closed loop LN2 circuit. Would keep it from changing state from liquid to gas. Downside being it would take a butt-ton of equipment.
    -2
  • TJ Hooker
    @reimanrules pretty sure PCA = printed circuit assembly

    @Defekter_Engel it's the boiling (i.e. changing state from liquid to gas) of the LN2 that keeps it cold. Also, trying to keep it liquid would result in extreme pressure building up.
    0
  • Tim_124
    Vanilla 1080ti’s get to 2050mhz under air, and 2050-2100mhz under water. I’ve read reviews of lots of top of the line 1080ti’s and have yet to see any cards improve on stock performance. Unless the acoustics of the cooling solution are superior there is absolutely no benefit to any of these high end cards. GP102 is the undisputed king of GPU’s, but it doesn’t appear to benefit at all from enhanced power delivery systems. Not worth spending any money on them.
    -1
  • nitrium
    Anonymous said:
    I wonder if anyone has tried a closed loop LN2 circuit. Would keep it from changing state from liquid to gas. Downside being it would take a butt-ton of equipment.

    Wouldn't work. Liquid nitrogen is only cold when it is allowed to evaporate. In a closed loop it actually wouldn't be cold anymore at all - it would simply be at room temperature but with 2200 psi of pressure. Water is far more effective at transferring heat than liquefied (under pressure) nitrogen gas.
    0
  • derekullo
    Evaporation is endothermic.

    Condensation is exothermic.

    Staying the same is thermally neutral.

    Condensing room temperature nitrogen gas to liquid would be an exothermic phase change. (This is what you pay for when buying LN2. Nitrogen gas itself is quite literally all around you, although with some "impurities" like oxygen.)

    Pouring your liquid LN2 into an area with standard atmospheric pressure allows the liquid to evaporate and expand.

    The ideal gas law states that when a gas expands it also becomes cooler.

    On the opposing side when a gas is compressed it becomes hotter.
    (This heat is what supplies our sun with the temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion.)
    -1
  • redgarl
    Anonymous said:
    Probably the EVGA FTW3 ELITE GAMING or Kingpin model (also perpetually unavailable). Thats all I can think of off the top of my head.


    My 1080 FTW died twice in 10 months... these were two brand new cards. Hell no, EVGA PCB quality is far from MSI.
    -2
  • derekullo
    If you want to talk theory then you want a liquid with a super high specific heat or heat capacity that is also liquid at common temperatures to avoid having to deal with internal pressure.

    When talking about closed loops you always need a radiator or some device to remove heat from the system.

    LN2 in the conventional sense does not need a radiator due to it achieving its heat removing properties by evaporation.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_capacity#Table_of_specific_heat_capacities
    https://www.aiche.org/resources/publications/cep/2015/september/cool-down-liquid-nitrogen


    Specific heat is the ability of a material to store thermal energy

    Water: 4.18

    Ammonia: 4.7

    Hydrogen gas: 14.3

    Liquid Nitrogen: 1.08 at 1 atmospheric pressure

    Technically Ammonia has a higher heat capacity than water, but due to ammonia boiling at −33.34 °C you would need to keep the temperature of your closed loop below that which is achievable.

    The issue with ammonia comes with ammonia's acidity slowly corroding most metals along with its toxicity to most forms of life.

    Depending on how much ammonia is in your loop it could be highly hazardous if your house were to lose power and your loop was unable to sustain the pressure of all the ammonia flashing to gas.

    Hence why consumers don't use ammonia for cooling.
    (Industry might for some obscure purpose, but other chemicals are much safer)

    As for hydrogen:
    It requires a massive amount of energy to make it a liquid, -252°C or 21 kelvin.

    This means super insulting your pipes as well.
    We can't have room temperature air causing convection/conduction to occur against our 21 kelvin pipes.

    On top of that any leaks you might have require the evacuation of the neighborhood.

    I couldn't find the specific heat of liquid hydrogen, but it's best to not try to find it lol.


    Now we full circle back to liquid nitrogen;

    Cooling nitrogen to its liquid state, -196 °C or 63 Kelvin, requires a lot of energy.

    We again need to super insulate the pipes against heat transfer.

    Liquid nitrogen also has a specific heat 1/4 that of water.

    This means that it will heat up much faster than water causing your radiator to work even harder to cool it back down to a liquid state.

    You can make a closed liquid nitrogen loop with a highly specialized radiator such as one implementing a peltier heat pump, but the thermal properties of liquid nitrogen make it highly inefficient.

    This makes liquid nitrogen only suitable for short term record-breaking through its heat transfer through evaporation
    -2
  • blppt
    "My 1080 FTW died twice in 10 months... these were two brand new cards. Hell no, EVGA PCB quality is far from MSI."

    And I've never had any EVGA card fail on me, and I've bought various models going back to the GTX280. Like with anything, YMMV.
    0
  • EquineHero
    I'm pretty sure nobody here gives a poop except for bored people with nothing better to do
    -4
  • antishill
    Anonymous said:
    I wonder if anyone has tried a closed loop LN2 circuit. Would keep it from changing state from liquid to gas. Downside being it would take a butt-ton of equipment.


    Did you ever study any physics? Does Boyle's law and the ideal gas law make any sense to you? If you think the typical water cooling plastic loop going to contain all that LN2, good luck, hopefully the stuff doesn't explode into shrapnel. BTW for reference, even the steel tanks for holding LN2 have escape/relief valves, and it is actually constantly losing N2 to the atmosphere as they boil off, and if they didn't you have a explosive bomb.
    -1
  • ddferrari
    Anonymous said:
    Vanilla 1080ti’s get to 2050mhz under air, and 2050-2100mhz under water. I’ve read reviews of lots of top of the line 1080ti’s and have yet to see any cards improve on stock performance. Unless the acoustics of the cooling solution are superior there is absolutely no benefit to any of these high end cards. GP102 is the undisputed king of GPU’s, but it doesn’t appear to benefit at all from enhanced power delivery systems. Not worth spending any money on them.

    Well, you said it yourself: the benefit of higher end cards are the cooling solutions. This allows for less noise and less (to zero) throttling from high temps, which absolutely affects performance. The FE editions have been shown time and again to run hot, noisy and throttle as a result.

    I bought an Aorus 1080 Ti Xtreme for several reasons:
    1) The Windforce system which has an excellent performance history
    2) A 4-year full warranty after registration- one year more than anyone else and twice the length of some (like Zotac's 2 yr)
    3) Has a very aggressive but stable factory OC
    4) It has RGB lighting and a nice backplate
    5) Came with a $50 AAA title - not all did at the time.

    Well worth the extra $50 (was $749 when I bought it) over vanilla for all the extras. I felt this card was the best value out there, all things considered.
    0
  • ddferrari
    If you want to talk theory...

    TL;DR

    First of all, you're showing off. No one likes that, ever.

    Secondly, remind me to run if I ever get stuck next to you at the dinner table.
    0
  • Zaporro
    Anonymous said:
    What are the "Only one or two other models out there can measure up to its design" ?


    Asking the right questions, i hate when articles throw empty phrases like this. If there was a reason why author decided to state that "only one or two other models can measure up to its design" then how difficult was it to tell us exactly which ones?

    Or maybe MSI wouldnt be satisfied when other products would be advertised in their "sponsored?" article. Or maybe author simply made it up and there is nothing special about Lighting Z and he simply wanted to butter it up.
    0
  • numach
    Interesting... but so incredibly impractical, lol. The older I get the more I ask "why?". Still cool to see people test like this though.
    0
  • deesider
    A closed-loop cooling system that uses an evaporating gas to cool and a condenser to reform the liquid - it's called a 'refrigerator'.
    0
  • mac_angel
    I've had 4 Asus Strix 1080ti OC cards. All got pretty much the same as your clocks on water while running on air. No mods, not even changing the TIM
    0