MSI GeForce GTX 1080 SEA HAWK X review

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The Sea Hawk model X is pretty terrific card on many levels, it's silent, offers great cooling and performs like a pro. It is nice to see the Hybrid cooler that MSI and Corsair have teamed up on, it works out really well. Initially I had some reservation about the somewhat plain looks though, but after seating the Sea Hawk X inside a dark PC, for whatever reason it just works out really well. As far as I am concerned, MSI nailed it in terms of relative performance, versus temps and low noise levels. The one issue obviously remains the 1080 series pricing. I have seen this card listed at € 849. The proof is in the pudding though, this is top notch gear. Keep it in mind though, all AIB card perform roughly the same aside from a few FPS here and there. Realistically we like to advise you to focus more at your personal needs and preferences like features, price and aesthetics rather than only performance and tweaking as again, the latter two are roughly the same for all AIB partners (albeit this card did tweak the best from all cards we have tested). Nvidia has a complete grip on the tweaking thresholds these days, mainly due to the voltage limiters that kick in. It's not a bad thing as it is a great safety feature to preserve your graphics card, but it does kinda kill the fun of tweaking. In terms of performance and that lovely factory tweak, it's all good. And sure, obviously the card performs exceptionally good as it has a bit of a factory overclock already done for you, covered under its warranty. At default the base/boost clock combo already is nearing the 2 GHz marker, I'd say you are good to go right there at that frequency spot. Remember, any 1080 comes with 8GB GDDR5X graphics memory, and that memory volume kind of makes the product more future proof. We feel 8 GB models are relevant for gaming in the price category.



I've mentioned often and plentiful, at first look the Sea Hawk X card looks a little plain. But often less is better and once you seat the kit inside a nice dark PC, it all starts to make sense - just look at the above photo. Things are kept simple, a MSI / Sea Hawk logo slightly lit in white and then the radiator fan with it's white LEDs just finishes things. The above photo is for reference only, but you hopefully get where I am aiming at. The Sea Hawk as well comes with a back-plate, it's closed. As you can see, I remain skeptical about back-plates, they potentially can trap heat and thus warm up the PCB. But the flip-side is that they do look better and can protect your PCB and components from damage. Consumer demand is always decisive, and you guys clearly like graphics cards with back-plates. 

Cooling & Noise Levels

The reference design (founder editions) of the GTX 1080 are set at an offset threshold of 80 degrees C. Once the GPU gets warmer the card will clock down / lower its voltage etc to try and keep the card cooler, that's throttling and it part of the design. MSI however throws in a Corsair H55 cooler that manages more then well. It is a really good one. Just set that fan RPM of the radiator fan at 60~70% RPM (1200 RPM) and this card remains nearly inaudible. You can expect to hover at the sun 50 Degrees C marker, and that was measured with seriously demanding games. Please do note that temps can and will vary a little based on ambient temperatures, that is the nature of liquid cooling. Always have a little ventilation inside your chassis. So MSI shaved off a good 30~35 Degrees C over reference. As stated, noise wise, we can’t complain about cooling whatsoever. Expect sound pressure values in the 38~39 dBA range at max under load and warm circumstances. That's measured 75 CM away from the PC. This means you can barely hear the card while using it. We have not heard any coil whine with this sample.

Power Consumption

Any GP104 Pascal GPU and thus GP104 based graphics card is rated as having a 180 Watt TDP under full stress, our measurements back that up albeit a notch higher due to the faster clocks and thus voltage usage - we measured just under 200 Watts with regular gaming. Anyhow, at this performance level you are looking at a card that consumes roughly 400~450 Watts for a stressed PC in total, that is okay. We think a 500 Watt PSU would be sufficient and if you go with 2-way SLI say an 750 Watt power supply is recommended. It's definitely more than needed but remember - when purchasing a PSU, aim to double up in Wattage as your PSU is most efficient when it is under 50% load. Here again keep in mind we measure peak power consumption, the average power consumption is a good notch lower depending on GPU utilization. Also, if you plan to overclock the CPU/memory and/or GPU with added voltage, please do purchase a power supply with enough reserve. People often underestimate it, but if you tweak all three aforementioned variables, you can easily add 200 Watts to your peak power consumption budget as increasing voltages and clocks increases your power consumption.


Overall gaming performance

Do you really need a card as beefy as the GeForce GTX 1080 really is though? Well, that depends on a rather abstract external factor, your monitor(s) and in specific the resolution you play your games at. If you game at a resolution of 1920x1080 (Full HD) then no, not really. However, more is better and with technologies like DSR (super-sampling) and Ultra HD the raw horsepower this card offers certainly isn't distasteful. Also, with with surround gaming (three monitors) the GeForce GTX 1080 will just make a lot of sense, especially with the new simultaneous multi-projection feature build into the rendering pipeline, that probably is one of the most innovative features Nvidia has added that I have seen in a long time. From 1080p to Ultra HD the GeForce GTX 1080 hauls the proverbial toosh compared to whatever other single GPU based graphics card you can name in existence. Obviously it is the fastest kid on the block. This much performance and graphics memory helps you in Ultra HD, hefty complex anti-aliasing modes, DSR and of course the latest gaming titles. I consider this to be among the first viable single GPU solutions that allows you to game properly in Ultra HD with some very nice eye candy enabled. However, I was kinda hoping to be closer to 60 FPS on average with the GTX 1080 in Ultra HD. But that will probably take the future Big Pascal (Ti / Titan). As always, drivers wise we can't complain at all, we did not stumble into any issues. And with a single GPU there's no micro-stuttering and no multi-GPU driver issues to fight off. Performance wise, really there's not one game that won't run seriously good at the very best image quality settings. Gaming you must do with a nice 30" monitor of course, at 2560x1440/1600 or Ultra HD. Now, we can discuss the advantages of an 8 GB framebuffer, but hey, you can draw your own conclusions there. At least you won't run out of graphics memory for the years to come right? So in that respect the card is rather future proof. SLI then, we have to mention this. Starting with Pascal the primary focus for Nvidia in terms of multi-GPU setups is that they will support 2-way SLI, but really that's it and all. One last remark on performance. You will have noticed that in some games this higher clocked product is a good 10% faster where in other just a few percent. That's Nvidia's limiters at work for you. All card under very hefty load will be limited in a way more narrow bracket. Whereas games that leave enough breathing room can advance on that GPU and score better opposed to some other games.


Due to the many limiters and hardware protections Nvidia has built in all and any cards will hover roughly at the 2 GHz on the Boost marker. Now, the one factor that can actually positively influence the boost speed a little is temperature as the GPU will then will throttle less. And that did show as we could boost to 2150 MHz, but that realistically was borderline stable though. On 3DMark Firestrike with this card tweaked for example it may hover at 2050~2100 MHz, while in Rise of the Tom Raider (2016) you will be close towards 2.1 GHz. The reality is that Nvidia monitors and adapts to hardware specific loads, e.g. an application that is nearly viral like on the GPU will have the effect of the GPU protecting itself by lowering clocks and voltages. The opposite applies here as well, if a game does not try & fry that GPU, it'll clock a bit faster withing the tweaked thresholds at your disposal. Tweaking is fun, but definitely more complicated anno 2016. The memory can reach 11 Gbps effectively fairly easy. So if you can find a high enough stable tweak, definitely go or it if you are seeking that last bit of extra performance.



The Sea Hawk X is a cool graphics card, literally. It is very nice to see that during hefty game-play just are gaming at say 47 Degrees C on the GPU. Overall the sky is the limit, you'll have nice tweaking headroom, the performance is just lovely and the looks as stated in a somewhat dark themed PC could be truly terrific. We do have to admit though that all GTX 1080 cards and SKUs all perform really close to each other and that does bother the more enthusiast class expensive SKUs. Still there definitely is enough market for products like shown today. The Hybrid design Corsair cooling solution works out really well in terms of silent performance and cooling levels. Overall you purchase a card that offers you tremendous gaming performance, and combined with extra TLC from MSI and Corsair it has been improved to an even better level. The new Pascal architecture proves its agility and the die shrink to 16 nm FiNFET shows low power consumption due to lower voltages and obviously the high clock-speeds and that GDDR5X memory offer the complete package that the GTX 1080 is. If you stick to the WHQD 2560x1440 domain this is the card that will last you years to come combined with that lovely 8 GB of graphics memory. For long-term Ultra HD usage (high FPS) however the answer still needs to be found in two cards. But hey, if WHQD is your domain then the GeForce GTX 1080 is a rather future proof product with that proper and fast 8GB GDDR5X graphics memory. The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Sea Hawk X 8G is overclocked, yet relatively mildy. That tweak by itself will not be the decisive factor for the purchase as the perf increase is not that relevant. The cooler GPU temps do give it a little more edge in the overall Boost frequency though. For those with a big wallet and the desire to go liquid cooling the easy way, well look no further, the Sea Hawk X has reached your destination -- very much recommend.

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