Home Product Reviews Graphics Cards MSI GTX 1080 Gaming Z Review – MSI’s flagship put to the test!
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MSI GTX 1080 Gaming Z Review – MSI’s flagship put to the test!


MSI’s current GeForce 10 series lineup features more GTX 1080 graphics cards than you can poke a stick at. On hand today is the GTX 1080 Gaming Z 8G using the latest Twin Frozr VI cooler from MSI. This is the company’s most extreme air-cooled option, so I’m pretty keen to check it out.

There are three Twin Frozr VI models which are called the Gaming 8G, Gaming X 8G and Gaming Z 8G. The standard Gaming model apparently misses out on the RGB lighting and operates at the reference clock frequencies.

Then we have the special X and Z models, both of which feature fancy lighting and come factory overclocked. You might assume that the X version is the more extreme of the two but that isn’t the case, the Z actually comes at the highest clock speeds.

But before we check out the clock speeds let’s take a look at the 1080 Gaming Z 8G board design and cooler. The latest generation Twin Frozr features Torx 2.0 fans, Zero Frozr-Stay, Smooth Heatpipes and Airflow Control Technology…

Having been very impressed with Twin Frozr VI implementations on MSI’s RX 470, RX480, GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 graphics cards we are expecting good things from this flagship 1080 model.

Unlike some of the extreme cards we’ve seen from the likes of Gigabyte and Gainward this MSI model isn’t a triple slot card. Instead we have a 42mm wide dual-slot card and despite that it still manages to squeeze in two large fans on top of a rather big heatsink, which is supported by a squad of six nickel plated copper heat-pipes. These heatpipes have been smoothed to ensure maximum contact with the copper base plate, which has also been nickel plated.

MSI tells us that a premium thermal compound has been applied to ensure optimal heat transfer from the GPU to the baseplate. It looks like pretty standard stuff but then I guess you can’t really tell how ‘premium’ a thermal compound is by just looking at it, so we will have to take their word on it.

Covering the heatsink is an impressive red and black themed fan shroud that becomes even more impressive once the card’s been powered up. Once active the embedded LEDs make this graphics card come to life. The lighting can be controlled with the MSI Gaming app and there’s a few pretty cool effects on offer here.

The shroud just overhangs the PCB taking the card to a total length of 279mm, so pretty standard stuff for a GTX 1080 graphics card. However, what isn’t standard is the height; this thing standards 140mm tall thanks to a super-sized PCB that we’ll take a look at now.

On the rear of the card we find a full size black back plate which features some neat looking cut outs along with a cool silhouette of a dragon. There is a Gaming Series logo as well, which is LED backlit and looks pretty cool.

Removing the bulk of the cooling we find two additional heat spreaders covering the GDDR5X memory as well as the VRM area, so that’s great to see.

With the 1080 Gaming Z 8G stripped completely naked we get a good look at the massive PCB and how MSI has designed this graphics card. As is often the case with high-end MSI graphics cards their Military Class IV grade components have been used. This is another marketing exercise for the most part but there’s still some good stuff here such as the Super Ferrite Chokes.

Speaking of chokes, we find a 10+2 phase design onboard which, when coupled with an additional 6-pin connector, will be able to keep the GTX 1080 fed with enough power to maintain those 2.1GHz overclocks.

Before we push the 1080 Gaming Z 8G as far as possible let’s check out the factory overclocked settings. Out of the box the card operates at a base clock of 1733 MHz with a boost clock of 1873 MHz, which is an 8% factory overclock. Using the MSI software gamers can switch to an OC mode setting which improves the base clock to 1771 MHz for a boost of 1911 MHz. Of course thanks to Nvidia’s unpredictable GPU Boost 3.0 technology the card will likely run higher than 1911 MHz for the most part.

For quick and easy overclocking gamers can refer to the MSI Gaming App which allows for quick switching between the various operating modes. Gamers can also control the LED lighting here as well and it’s possible to enable on screen overlay information as well. Then for the serious overclocking MSI has their separate AfterBurner utility. AfterBurner’s a program I often use for GPU overclocking but it’s nice to actually use it to overclock an MSI card.

With AfterBurner we increased the voltage percent to plus 100 and the power limit to 126 percent. This allowed the core clock to be increased by 85 MHz and the memory clock by 545MHz. GPUz tells us this is a 1863 MHz base clock and a 1996 MHz boost clock.

Of course due to Nvidia’s GPU Boost 3.0 we know the card can run faster than the suggested boost clock, if kept under the thermal and power targets. During our testing the boost clock hovered between 2150 MHz and 2180 MHz which is very impressive. So then I guess it’s time to see how it performs! To the benchmarks!…


Battlefield 4

Out of the box the Gaming Z is much like the other high-end 1080 cards we have already looked at, matching the Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming and Gainward’s Goes Like Hell. Overclocked it is much the same story, here the Gaming Z averaged 64fps to match the Gainward GLH.

Far Cry Primal

It is much the same story in Far Cry Primal, the Gaming Z proves that is has what it takes to hang with the massive over-sized cards from Gigabyte and Gainward.

Star Wars Battlefront

Wrapping up the gaming benchmarks is Star Wars Battlefront and it is again the same story here. That said the Gaming Z did pull a frame ahead of the Gainward GLH once overclocked though that is of course in the margin of error, even with our three run average.

Power Consumption

The Gaming Z isn’t particularly power hungry when compared to the Founders Edition card with a total system consumption of 271 watts. Overclocked it was quite a bit more efficient that the Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming, consuming a similar level of power as the Gainward GLH card.


Impressively the Gaming Z is the coolest GTX 1080 we have tested yet with an out of the box load temperature of just 66 degrees. That is a single degree cooler than the huge Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming and 2 degrees cooler than the Gainward GLH. Overclocked the Gaming Z and Xtreme Gaming both ran at just 68 degrees, so impressive stuff once again.


The MSI Gaming Z is yet another excellent GTX 1080 offering that provides top-notch performance without making a big fuss about it. Even when overclocked this graphics card runs extremely quiet and wasn’t audible over my case fans, which I have so say are already very quiet to begin with.

As far as I am concerned the Gaming Z ticks all the right boxes and in my opinion is just as good as the Gigabyte Xtreme gaming, a graphics card I like dearly. Unfortunately like the Xtreme Gaming the Gaming Z comes at a serious price premium, in fact, more so.

While base model 1080’s are selling for as little as $630 US the Xtreme Gaming will set you back $700 for the Premium Pack model. The MSI Gaming Z is even worse at $720 US, pricing it alongside the Asus ROG Strix OC. Of course at these prices what is an extra $20, that’s barely a 3% bump. Still at almost 15% more than the base models such as the Gigabyte G1 Gaming you have to wonder if these ‘premium’ cards are worth the premium.

Oddly MSI’s own GTX 1080 Sea Hawk card costs $10 less than the Gaming Z at $740 US and I have to imagine this is a better more extreme option for enthusiasts.

Downunder the Gaming Z costs $1130 while the liquid cooled Sea Hawk is just $10 more. The Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming is slightly more competitive at $1100 though keep in mind 1080’s do start at $970.

Overall the MSI GTX 1080 Gaming Z is a mighty impressive graphics card, I just feel the pricing is a little inflated right now and that doesn’t just apply to MSI. What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments.

Matt Knuppel Matt is a tech enthusiast, gym owner, and very part time gamer. In between making tech videos, he can be found watching the UFC, NBA, and AFL, as well as at music festivals and deep down rabbit holes on reddit.


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