Here at TBG, we love to push video cards to the limit, and at a certain point, that means you end up overpowering standard cooling setups. As enthusiasts, we wondered whether liquid cooling a GPU can provide as many, or perhaps more, benefits than liquid cooling a CPU. We've certainly explored CPU cooling in the past, and because we've seen high-end video cards use ever-increasing amounts of power over the years, we decided it was time to liquid cool one to see whether we could push performance to the next level. To do so, we purchased two EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition cards at retail, and then upgraded one with an EVGA Hybrid liquid cooler to put the two cards to the test. We've previously benched our two cards running at 4K running in SLI, so you might want to check out that article if you're interested in SLI, although we'll be touching upon that briefly in this article as well.
The product we have on the bench today is the EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Hybrid Cooler, part number 400-HY-5388-B1. Truth be told, we decided a few months ago not to bench this product at all, because EVGA discontinued it only a week after its introduction. Had we known EVGA would discontinue the cooler, we certainly would not have paid $160 at retail for it, as we're not in the business of reviewing phantom products. Furthermore, the GTX 1080 Founders Edition has also been unofficially discontinued, so we got doubly-burned here. But due to the numerous requests we received from viewers of our YouTube review of the cooler, we've decided to go ahead with this benchmarking article in the "interest of science." And in reality, EVGA has replaced the cooler we tested with a very similar product, its Hybrid SC cooler, part number 400-HY-5598-B1, which has the added benefit of working on a wide range of EVGA's GTX 1080 Ti cards, not just the Founders Edition. Furthermore, EVGA now sells its complete EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC2 Hybrid Gaming Video card, so there's still plenty we can all learn about liquid cooling to make the time invested in this article worthwhile. To eliminate any chance of bias, we purchase all of our video card samples at retail. If you decide to purchase either of these products after reading this review, we'd really appreciate if you use the links we provide in this article to help us recoup some of the costs associated with producing this review!
Here are the specs of the system we used for benchmarking:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-6900K, overclocked to 4.2GHz
- Motherboard: Asus X99-Pro/USB3.1
- Video Cards: 2x EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB Founders Edition
- Liquid Cooler: EVGA GTX 1080 Ti Hybrid Cooler, #400-HY-5388-B1
- SLI Bridge: EVGA High-Bandwidth SLI Bridge 1-Slot
- RAM: Corsair 4x8GB Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200
- SSD #1: Samsung 950 Pro M.2 512GB
- SSD #2: Samsung 850 Evo 1TB
- Case: SilverStone Primera PM01
- Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 1000 PS
- CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H100i v2
- Operating System: Windows 10
- Monitor: LG 27UD68-P 27-Inch 4K
Above you can see a photo of the Hybrid card in our system. To learn more about how to actually modify your card with a Hybrid cooler, please check out our Founders Edition disassembly video and especially our Hybrid cooler installation video, which we've embeded below for your convenience:
Below you can see a photo of our standard Founders Edition card installed in our benchmarking system. The most obvious difference is the lack of hoses protruding from the side, but there are other differences as well. Because the Hybrid card uses a 120mm radiator and fan, it displaces an existing exhaust fan in our case. The Founders Edition allows us to stick with the standard 140mm exhaust fan that our case had pre-installed, which means that overall system cooling may in fact be better in a stock configuration.
To eliminate system bottlenecks as much as possible, we used our X99-based benchmarking system, which features an Intel Core i7-6900K processor was overclocked to 4.2GHz. For our testing, we're using one synthetic benchmark and two games, all running at a native 4K resolution: 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra, The Witcher 3, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. If you want a wider variety of game benchmarks for the GTX 1080 Ti, we have those right here. The goal of this article, however, was just to discern what affects a cooler makes on stock and overclocked performance, and to do so we only needed to run a few game benchmarks. All game data was collected in actual in-game runs, which often provide totally different (and obviously more relevant) results than canned benchmarks. We used FRAPS to collect data for three 30-second samples of each benchmark on each video card setup.
To really push our coolers, we overclocked them to their maximum potential, and we also collected temperature, noise, and power measurements. Remember, our two test samples are both using GTX 1080 Ti GPUs, so a lot of the differences are going to be seen outside of frames/second measurements, as we'll show shortly.
OK, time to move on to the results!