Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 Mini Review

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Ay .. close but not quite a cigar? The ZOTAC GTX 1080 Mini looks great, terrific really and offers excellent game performance, no doubt there either. However, the smaller form factor does pose a negative trend when it comes to cooling as, yeah, that remains a bit iffy to be brutally honest. When gaming you'll often be in the 70 Degrees C range and at one point we even peaked to 77 Degrees C. Given a smaller cooler that's all fine by itself as long as the card will remain silent, and that it isn't. At IDLE the fans keep spinning. Once the card heats up under gaming then you'll hear a very decent amount of airflow coming from the fans and that cooling fin surface area. We measured 41~42 dBA, which is a number we hardly see anymore these days. Now that doesn't make the card loud, but definitely moderately audible. Next to that, this ZOTAC card also exhibits coil whine, in high FPS games obviously the most. The whine is at an audible level. The thing is, for a card in this price category these things should not happen. Also for a dual-fan cooling solution that is still 21cm in length we feel that the cooling performance is a bit on the low side. The temps and fan noise levels I can live with, the coil whine however is bit of a buzz-kill (pardon the pun).



As stated, the looks are fine, maybe terrific even. A nice black PCB, we get a back-plate and the two fan dual-slot cooler actually looks nice as well. For something called 'mini' however you'd think you'd receive something in mini-ITX terms and form factor. This card really isn't that as it sits in-between a normal sized card and thus that mITX form factor. The PCB is 17cm (mITX), but then the cooler extends that number by another 4cm bringing it to 21cm. But sure, looks wise, I mean, still this is not a bad looking card at all.

Cooling & Noise Levels

The reference design (founder edition) of the GeForce GTX 1080 is set at an offset threshold of just over 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's part of the Nvidia design. This GeForce GTX 1080 MINI from ZOTAC doesn't have that problem as the temps remain below 80 Degrees C under full load. That means a maximum boost frequency is at your disposal at all times. As stated, the cooling performance is close to its maximum though, you can expect to hover at the ~75 Degrees C marker if you have a really GPU intensive game. Please do note that you always need proper ventilation inside your chassis to achieve that number. Expect sound pressure values in the 41~42 dBA range at max under load, under warm circumstances. 

Power Consumption

GP104-A1 Pascal GTX 1080 GPUs are rated as having a 180 Watt TDP under full stress, our measurements show it to be a bit higher in the 195 Watt range, that still remains an okay low value. 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. 

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.


With a mini-ITX card you would not expect any overclocking, but the card has reserve left though. Due to the many limiters and hardware protections Nvidia has built in, all and any cards will hover roughly at or just over 2 GHz on the Boost marker. Now, the one factor that can actually positively influence the Boost speed a little is maintaining a low temperature as the GPU will then throttle less. And that did show as we could boost to ~2050 MHz, that is stable. 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 for it if you are seeking that last bit of extra performance. The fact remains that the card is tweaked out of the box, and we'd advise to stick to these values.



Last Words

When you purchase a card that is called MINI, you expect it to be that. The Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 Mini however is still 21cm in size. Perhaps a better naming would have been 'compact' as that Mini denominator, we feel, refers too much to the Mini-ITX form factor at 17cm. No big deal though as it is still compact, the looks of the card are terrific, the performance is spot on. And sure, you can tweak the card pretty good towards that all too familiar 2 GHz domain as well (on the dynamic Boost frequency). The card under hefty stress does run in the ~75 Degrees C range, again not an issue whatsoever as this is the GTX 1080 we are talking about. Where the product seems to fail a bit are the noise levels. You are looking at 41~42 dBA under gaming load, this means you'll hear airflow coming from your PC at roughly 75cm distance. That still isn't a big deal, but a GTX 1080 at 25cm length can be 100% silent these days. And that really is the basis of comparison. Why would you forfeit on the more compact product if a card that is a bit longer eliminates all cooler performance issues?

Also a bit of a missed opportunity is that the card in desktop idle mode doesn't place its fans into a passive mode (0-dB). They keep on running which is something you hardly see anymore these days. What I find annoying though was the fact that this card suffers from coil-whine. At roughly a meter away from the PC, with a high-FPS game, you can hear the whine coming from the card, and yeah, that anno 2017 I'm afraid is simply not done or acceptable to the Western consumer anymore. I know and understand that in the Asia region people hardly care about 42 dBA and a bit of coil whine, but in the EU and USA we sure do. This GeForce GTX 1080 is a nice choice for the ones that game in the 1920x1080 up-to 2560x1440 resolution domain. ZOTAC has done a nice job with the design, looks and the more compact aesthetics. The cooling is adequate yet a bit borderline. Small or not, tweaking remains an option and you will reach a ~2.0 GHz Boost clock frequency quite fast. For the GDDR5X memory you should be reaching anything from 10.5 to 11 Gbps (effective data-rate) quite easily as well. Performance wise these cards are great as hey, it is a 1080. And yeah, they are downright cute matching a compact PC build. The one thing holding people back would be pricing I guess, that would be roughly € 550 / USD. So there you have it, it is a nice product, we can absolutely recommend it, it does come with some perks but also quirks.

 - H.

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