What an exciting time to be a gamer. Next-generation games consoles from Microsoft and Sony are now within touching distance, AMD's new Radeon RX 6000 Series graphics cards ought to be formally revealed in a little over a month, and before all that, Nvidia has gone and unleashed its best graphics card to date, the all-new GeForce RTX 3080.
Performance from the 8nm 'Ampere' GPU is outstanding, and you've no doubt pored over our in-depth analysis of Nvidia's latest architecture and radical Founders Edition card. The question that remains is how do custom-cooled variants fare in the face of such an attractive stock solution? We'll have plenty of opportunity to find out as a long list of partners are bringing their efforts to retail in launch week. Let's get the party started with MSI's GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio.
MSI's interpretation of next-generation graphics is far removed from Nvidia's sleek, stylish and thoughtfully engineered Founders Edition. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Taking a traditional bigger is better approach, MSI's beastie is by no means as elegant as Nvidia's board, yet we can confirm that while the Founders Edition failed the 3DMark Time Spy Stress Test, the MSI Gaming X Trio passes the benchmark without breaking a sweat.
Point is, for all the hype surrounding Nvidia's drastic redesign, don't rule out partner cards just yet. Built like the proverbial tank, MSI's PCIe Gen 4 card spills liberally into a third expansion slot with dimensions of 323mm x 140mm x 56mm and tips the scales at a hefty 1,554g. Put another way, you wouldn't want to drop it on your foot, that's for sure.
Build quality is decent throughout, though perhaps aware of its inability to match the Founders Edition in the elegance stakes, MSI instead attempts to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, resulting in a big and bulky design that you'll either love or hate. The black-and-grey colour scheme works well and blends with most builds, but the RGB lighting isn't the best. The chunky lightbar across the top of the card has an economical feel about it, with the half-a-dozen LED points being clearly visible, resulting in uneven lighting and effects.
Gaming X Trio might not be the sexiest card, yet it's got it where it counts. The thermal design, dubbed 'Tri Frozr 2,' incorporates a trio of Torx Fan 4.0 blowers promising a 21 per cent increase in static pressure, as well as a full-length heatsink interspersed with a series of a thick heatpipes. Ideal for taming the 320W underlying GPU and MSI doesn't skimp on the finer details. All three fans switch off at low load, thermal pads line all of the GDDR6X memory chips, and two further heatpipes beneath the rigid graphene backplate provide additional cooling to the rear of the custom 2oz-copper PCB.
We've spoken about MSI doing things differently to Nvidia's minimalist approach. That juxtaposition is clearly evident in the power department. Whereas the Founders Edition runs off a single 12-pin cable, the Gaming X Trio pulls juice from three eight-pin connectors. Time to dig out that old bag of PSU cables.
This over-the-top approach suggests a decent factory overclock and MSI doesn't disappoint. Right out of the box, boost clock climbs from 1,710MHz on the Founders Edition to 1,815MHz on the Gaming X Trio. The six per cent on-paper increase is welcome, though it's a shame the 320-bit 10GB GDDR6X frame buffer remains stock-clocked at 19Gbps, and if you are partial to a bit of tinkering, you may be disappointed to find there's no secondary BIOS for backup purposes.
With Nvidia having shied away from USB-C, we don't expect to see add-in-board partners making any changes in the output department. In line with the reference mandate, MSI's card provides a trio of DisplayPort 1.4a and a forward-looking HDMI 2.1. Note that the card can drive up to 4K120 or 8K60 from a single cable, meaning there's little concern about bandwidth irrespective of which monitor you're using.
There isn't really a great deal more that MSI could do in its efforts to stand out alongside the eye-catching Founders Edition. Trouble is, having to compete directly with Nvidia puts partners in an awkward spot, and this time around pricing is ultra-competitive. With Nvidia's board arriving at £649, custom-cooled models need to stay close to that mark. Gaming X Trio, sadly, misses the target by some distance with an MSRP of £760. When the Founders Edition looks as good as it does, it's increasingly difficult to justify a premium of over 15 per cent for a super-sized alternative.
It sure is big, and the sheer scale of the board is accentuated when paired with the bundled support bracket. Designed to prevent dreaded GPU sag, the reinforcement arm helps prop-up the 1.6kg card and lessen the strain on the motherboard slot. MSI's implementation manages to achieve such goals, but the black bar isn't pretty (the rubber contact pads in particular stick out like a sore thumb) and makes an already beefy graphics card appear more awkward still.
Not only would Nvidia's card win a beauty contest by a county mile, it also happens to be £111 cheaper. That's some margin, and MSI is going to have to truly nail in-game framerate and cooling performance to be in with a shout. Let's see how the Gaming X Trio compares in the benchmarks.