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GeForce GTX 1080 is a beautiful powerhouse, but you still may want to wait

I want it and I want it now

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Nvidia's Pascal-powered GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card provides a significant bump in graphics power compared to the 980, 980 Ti and Titan X cards, according to Polygon tests and data provided by the card maker.

For instance, the GTX 1080 running The Witcher 3 at maximum settings with HairWorks on showed about a 28 percent increase over the Titan X and 55 percent increase over the 980 while running at 2560x1440 resolution. The card delivers a 33 percent increase over the 980 Ti while running at 1920x1080 resolution.

The 1080 GTX manages this despite having lower memory bandwidth than the Ti and Titan X by using enhanced lossless memory compression powered by the new Pascal architecture. The design of the 1080 is also significantly smaller and less noisy than some of its older competitors thanks to a new manufacturing process and cooling system that uses a radial fan and an advanced vapor chamber. And it does all of this while consuming less power, increasing efficiency about six percent compared to the 980.

That said, in my personal experience upgrading from a 980Ti to a GTX 1080, I didn't notice that significant a difference when running today's games on a single monitor at 1080. Certainly, it wasn't a big enough difference to warrant the $599 to $699 price tag. Upgrading from a 980 might make more sense, but also, judging by the numbers using games at max settings, it seems like a card you can put off buying for a bit.

If you're looking to upgrade and haven't yet made it to the 900 line of graphics cards or you're all about 4K, the 1080 is the obvious choice.

Founder's Edition

The Founder's Edition of the GTX 1080 graphics card (which will run $699 when it hits on May 27) is just as beautiful on the outside as it is in its Pascal-powered guts. Designed in-house by Nvidia, the Founder's Edition has a machine-finished, heat-treated die cast aluminum body and low-profile backplate. A section of the backplate can be removed to increase airflow between multiple 1080 cards when using a SLI configuration. The card has three DisplayPort connections, one HDMI 2.0b connector and a dual-link DVI connector. It can drive up to four displays simultaneously.

There is a lot of neat new software tech and support coming along with the delivery of the first Pascal graphics cards available to consumers. The card offers the ability to render more accurately across multiple displays to provide distortion-free images on flat, surround, curved and spherical screens. It also boasts double the performance for virtual reality headsets by rendering the geometry for both eyes in an image on a single pass.

Much of this is designed in reaction to advances or coming advances in display technology.

One of the more interesting new developments coming with the arrival of the 1080 is Ansel, Nvidia's reworked method for capturing in-game images. Ansel is designed to be your SLR camera inside the games you play.

Ansel: So hot right now

The software suite will allow you to pause a game, detach the camera to move it around, add filters and capture EXR, super high-resolution or even 360-degree images which can then be viewed in VR.

The tech does require game developers to add code into their creations, but Nvidia says the work will be minimal. For instance, according to the company, The Witness required an extra 40, or so, lines of code while The Witcher 3 required about 150 lines of code.

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Super resolution pictures using this technology can ignore the game's native resolution support to capture an image limited only by hard drive space, input/output speeds and the game's maximum level of detail. The super resolution can be combined with super sampling to create crisp, sharp edges.

Using the graphic card's CUDA-based stiching to handle tone-mapping issues, these super high-res screenshots are actually a series of tiled images stitched together. The current limitation for this stitching can provide a 4.5 Gigapixel image with 3,600 stitched tiles.

Ansel supports more than just the 1080 graphics card

Ansel also supports capturing Raw/EXR images that contain full dynamic range for easier manipulation inside programs like Photoshop. Finally, Ansel will include nearly two dozen effects like lens flare, lens dirt, tonemapping, distortion effects and convolution filters.

A game developer can choose to limit what sorts of effects and abilities are supported inside a game. Currently, the only games that will provide support at launch are The Division, The Witness, Lawbreakers, The Witcher 3, Paragon, Fortnite, Obduction, No Man's Sky and Unreal Tournament.

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I wasn't able to test out Ansel this week, but I'm told it will released in June.

The good news is that Ansel supports more than just the 1080 graphics card. It looks like most cards going back to the 600-line will be supported. You can find the full list here.

Of course, the 1080 will support both overclocking and SLI configurations.

Overclocking and SLI

As has been the case for awhile, Nvidia doesn't recommend putting more than two cards in a system, but they still support it through an app that can be downloaded on their site. And Pascal has a dual-link SLI mode that has both SLI interfaces being used in tandem either to feed one high-resolution screen or multiple displays.

When using a SLI set-up for virtual reality headsets, each eye gets its own GPU, rendering them at the same time and delivering faster, better performance.

Overclocking on the 1080 will be powered by Nvidia's latest take on GPU Boost.

GPU Boost 3.0 adds the ability to set frequency offsets for individual voltage points, making it much more efficient at boosting power. The new GPU Boost is also designed to accommodate GPU overclocking scanners.

Nvidia repeatedly warns reviewers that one of the issues they may run into while testing out the graphics card is a CPU bottleneck. Essentially, it's the computer's CPU, not the graphics card which may be limiting the graphic fidelity of your games. That was certainly the case with my computer, which has a i7-2600K intel CPU running at 3.4 GHz, in a few of my tests.

I'm fairly certain that my time spent playing Doom with fully maxed out settings (but V-Sync turned off) "only" delivered an average of about 130 frames-per-second of 1920x1080 resolution limb-rending and head-popping because of my CPU, not the GPU.

But I'm just as certain that I probably wouldn't have noticed the difference between 130 and say, 200.

The Founder's Edition 1080 GTX is a beautiful, powerful, quiet, cool bit of streamlined tech. It's a graphics card, like all the ones the proceeded it, designed for today's future. It's clear its creators envision that future replete with virtual reality, multiple monitors and wall-sized prints of screenshots from your favorite games.

If you're picking up a new card, this is the one you should buy. If you're weighing your need for an upgrade and have a 900-series, you can probably hold out ... but you may not want to.

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