MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio review: A silent, face-melting behemoth

Big and badass
  • Brad Chacos (PC World (US online))
  • 17 September, 2020 23:00

The GeForce RTX 3080 hits the streets today. Fueled by Nvidia’s next-gen Ampere GPU architecture, it wields enough power to trample its predecessor, the GeForce RTX 2080, by up to 80 percent. Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition showed just how dominant this new GPU is—and how much juice it requires to push that many pixels. The spectacular Founders Edition deploys a new 12-pin connector and unique “flow-through” cooler design to tame the beastly RTX 3080.

But Nvidia’s $699 Founders Edition isn’t the only RTX 3080 in stores today. In an unusual move, a wide range of customized graphics cards by Nvidia partners will also be available on day one, including the $750 MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G on our test bench today. Where Nvidia turned to technical tricks with its Founders Edition, MSI cranks its overpowering card to 11. The MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G overclocks the GPU to 1800MHz, feeds it with a trio of 8-pin connectors, then cools it down with a massive three-slot, triple fan cooler loaded with new technologies and yes, RGB lights. It dwarfs Nvidia’s offering.

Does heavy metal push the custom card past the impressive precedent set by Nvidia’s Founders Edition? Let’s dig in.

MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G: Specs and features

msi rtx 3080 MSI

We won’t spend too much time talking about the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G’s underlying specifications, as they’re largely identical to those of the Nvidia Founders Edition. The special sauce in its custom design. Read our exhaustive GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review for a deeper dive into what’s new in the next-gen Ampere GPU. You can also find more info about how the RTX 3080 stacks up against the previous generation in our GeForce RTX 30-series vs. RTX 20-series spec comparison.

Here’s a high-level look at what’s inside the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G, followed by some discussion on what’s unique to this particular card:

  • CUDA cores: 8,704
  • Boost clock: 1.8GHz
  • Memory: 10GB GDDR6X at 9500MHz
  • Memory bus: 320-bit
  • Memory bandwidth: 760GB/s
  • RT cores: 68 (2nd-gen)
  • Tensor cores: 384 (3rd-gen)
  • NVLink SLI: No
  • PCIe: Gen 4
  • HDMI: 2.1
  • HDCP: 2.3
  • Display connectors: 1x HDMI 2.1, 3x DisplayPort 1.4
  • Power: 3x 8-pin
  • Recommended power supply: 750W

The only major difference at the GPU level is the clock speed, and even that is minor. The MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G comes overclocked at 1,800MHz boost speeds, a mild bump from the RTX 3080’s stock 1,710MHz specification. The 10GB of cutting-edge GDDR6X memory comes clocked at reference speeds, but those are ultra-fast. The name of this card is interesting though: by slapping “10G” onto the end, MSI’s branding might be lending credence to rumors of a 20GB RTX 3080 waiting in the wings.

Another significant change comes in power delivery. Nvidia’s RTX 3080 FE needs a pair of 8-pin power connectors, which then slip into an adapter for the company’s proprietary 12-pin adapter. That leaves the Founders Edition card with scant leeway for its 320-watt total board power rating--the two 8-pin connectors can draw 150W, while the PCIe 4.0 slot itself supplies another 75W. MSI built more power overhead into the Gaming X Trio, outfitting it with a trio of standard 8-pin connections.

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One, two, three 8-pin power connectors.

Unfortunately—and oddly—MSI’s card doesn’t let overclockers push as hard as Nvidia’s card at a software level. While the Founders Edition lets you increase its power limit by 15 percent in overclocking software (like MSI’s awesome Afterburner, which is being updated to support the RTX 30-series), the Gaming X Trio only lets you crank the knob up an extra five percent. We haven’t had much time to tinker with overclocking yet, as we focus on out-of-the-box performance at PCWorld. With the older RTX 20-series GPUs those power limits had a much bigger effect on overclocking performance than simply upping clock speeds.

MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G cooler design

But the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G’s biggest differences lay in its design. Where Nvidia used a funky short PCB with a unique cooling solution, MSI sticks to a traditional board layout for its custom PCB. It’s just really big, unlike the Founders Edition’s standard two-slot design.

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition (left) next to MSI's Gaming X Trio (right)

Seriously: It’s hard to overstate how massive this card is. The Gaming X Trio is roughly 13 inches long, three slots thick, and so wide that I can’t screw its bracket into the case by hand—my fingers can’t reach. Instead, I had to secure the card using a thin screwdriver. It’s so hefty, MSI includes a metal support bracket in the box that you can screw in underneath the Gaming X Trio to help hold it up.

MSI also devoted a lot of engineering attention to reinforcing the Gaming X Trio’s structure. It built a “rigid metal anti-bending strap” into the half of the card that holds the GPU itself, solely to help everything stay strong. Likewise, the full-length backplate is made from graphene composite rather than traditional plastic or metal. MSI’s press material touts graphene as being 100 times stronger than steel, and says the backplate is 4 times stronger than a plastic backplate, while also being 20 times better at heat dissipation.  

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The MSI RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio's backplate uses a graphene composite.

All that reinforcement holds up an impressive cooling solution, which MSI dubs “Tri Frozr 2.” The MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G embeds a trio of swooping Torx 4.0 axial fans in its (plastic) shroud. MSI claims the redesigned blades generate 20 percent more air pressure than the last-gen Torx 3.0 fans at the same 35-decibel noise level. Better yet, they shut off completely when not under load, so the card remains silent while you’re browsing your desktop.

Those fans push air through a gargantuan heatsink. The fins include tiny “deflectors” designed to add yet more surface area for cooling, as well as guide the incoming air in specific directions. Rather than sticking to hard edges for the fins, MSI equipped the Gaming X Trio with “Wave-curved 2.0” fins, which helps to reduce noise levels, the company says. It’s got not one, not two, but five heatpipes snaking throughout, as well.

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That's a lot of fins! The black metal between the heat sink and the fins on the left side of the card is the metal "anti-bending strap."

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You can see the heatsink "deflectors" between the heat pipe studs.

That’s not all. The MSI Gaming X Trio features precision-machined core pipes over the GPU itself to maximize the contact between the RTX 3080 chip and its heatsink. The company also uses “an abundance of thermal pads” over the board’s components, and created the PCB with 2 ounces of thickened copper to help with heat dissipation and reliability. MSI took steps to protect against the higher power demands of the RTX 3080 as well, building additional fuses into the PCB.

Sure, that’s a lot of marketing lingo, but here in the real world, all that stuff works. The MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G stays cooler than Nvidia’s Founders Edition under load, and while you might see this gigantic graphics card in your case, I never once heard its fans over my CPU liquid-cooler or case fans, even when stressed to the max.

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Light 'em if you've got 'em.

Speaking of seeing the card, the Gaming X Trio includes a thin RGB light strip on the edge of the card, accent lights in the shroud, and the MSI logo on the side of the card also illuminates. You can tweak them using MSI’s “Mystic Light” RGB controls via the company’s Dragon Center control app.

MSI is also upgrading its fantastic Afterburner overclocking and GPU monitoring app to support the RTX 30-series. This includes the “OC Scanner” tool, which scans your graphics card across a variety of voltages to apply an automatic overclock tailored to your specific GPU’s capabilities. I was able to play with the upgraded version of Afterburner a little bit before this embargo lift. While the OC Scanner worked as advertised, the real-world results weren’t game-changing.

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Port report: The MSI Gaming X Trio matches the Nvidia Founders Edition's 1x HDMI 2.1, 3x DisplayPort 1.4a loadout.

The automatic overclocking adds only 42MHz to the card’s core clock speeds, and 200MHz to its memory clock speeds. In practice, the performance uplift was negligible, adding about three frames per second to gaming performance results at 4K resolution. Not three percent; three frames. Nvidia’s automatic overclocking API is known for staying conservative, so you might be able to squeeze more juice out of the card manually. Still, it’s not an auspicious start for people hoping Ampere will let you push overclocks to blistering new levels. The lack of a dual-BIOS switch may also irk overclockers.

Fortunately, the RTX 3080 is incredibly fast as-is. Onto the benchmarks.

Next page: Our test system, gaming benchmarks begin

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Our test system

Our dedicated graphics card test system is a couple years old, but packed with some of the fastest complementary components available to put any potential performance bottlenecks squarely on the GPU. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the cooler and storage ourselves.

  • Intel Core i7-8700K processor ($300 on Amazon) overclocked to 5GHz all cores
  • EVGA CLC 240 closed-loop liquid cooler ($105 on Amazon)
  • Asus Maximus X Hero motherboard
  • 64GB HyperX Predator RGB DDR4/2933 ($355 on Amazon)
  • EVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply ($352 on Amazon)
  • Corsair Crystal 570X RGB case, with front and top panels removed and an extra rear fan installed for improved airflow
  • 2x 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSDs ($70 each on Amazon)

The overclocked 5GHz Core i7-8700K performs as well as the stock Core i9-10900K in games. For more info on why we’re stick to a PCIe 3.0 system with an Intel chip rather than an AMD Ryzen system with PCIe 4.0 to take potential advantage of the RTX 3080’s PCIe 4.0 connector, read our GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review. (In a nutshell, Nvidia says fast chips make a bigger difference than PCIe 4.0 in performance.)

We’re comparing the $750 MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G against Nvidia’s $700 GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition, of course. We’ve also included results for a bunch of prior-gen Founders Edition cards: Nvidia’s $800 GeForce RTX 2080, $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti, and the older $700 GTX 1080. (MSRP prices for the 1080 and 2080 started at $100 less, but Nvidia charged a premium for the FE models.) Because so many owners of the $700 GTX 1080 Ti decided to skip over the lackluster performance increase in the similarly priced RTX 2080, we’re also including the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti SC2 in our roundup. Our GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition died years ago, the only Nvidia GPU ever to expire in our hands. AMD has never offered a Radeon GPU that competes at this level, with the Radeon VII falling slightly behind the RTX 2080 and GTX 1080 Ti.

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We test a variety of games spanning various engines, genres, and graphics APIs (DirectX 11, DX12, and Vulkan). Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the highest possible graphics presets unless otherwise noted, with VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync disabled, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX. We’ve also enabled temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) to push these cards to their limits. We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test. We tested the older cards using Nvidia’s publicly available 452.06 Game Ready driver, and the RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio and Founders Edition models using a 452.16 driver provided early to reviewers.

MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio gaming benchmarks

With its mild overclock, the MSI RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G comes out ahead of Nvidia’s Founders Edition, but just barely. As such, we’re simply going to present these graphs with minimal commentary until our final analysis at the end of this review. For more in-depth comparisons about how the RTX 3080 stacks up versus prior-gen graphics cards, or a deeper look into once again, check out our original Nvidia RTX 3080 FE review.

These RTX 3080 cards are monsters at 4K and 1440p, and they’re fast enough that you can enable ray tracing and DLSS while still playing at those lofty resolutions.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Yep, Sony exclusives are hitting the PC now. Horizon Zero Dawn hit Steam with some performance issues, but the most egregious ones have been mostly cleared up thanks to hard work from the developers, and the game topped the sales charts for weeks after its release. It also seems to respond somewhat to PCIe 4.0 scaling, which will make this an interesting inclusion when we shift to a PCIe 4.0-based system in the future.

Horizon Zero Dawn runs on Guerrilla Games’ Decima engine, the same engine that powers Death Stranding. Ambient Occlusion can still offer iffy results if set to Ultra, so we test with that setting at Medium. Every other visual option is maxed out.

hzd Brad Chacos/IDG

Gears Tactics

Gears Tactics puts it own brutal, fast-paced spin on the XCOM-like genre. This Unreal Engine 4-powered game was built from the ground up for DirectX 12, and we love being able to work a tactics-style game into our benchmarking suite. Better yet, the game comes with a plethora of graphics options for PC snobs. More games should devote such loving care to explaining what flipping all these visual knobs mean. You can’t use the presets to benchmark Gears Tactics, as it intelligently scales to work best on your installed hardware, meaning that “Ultra” on one graphics card can load different settings than “Ultra” on a weaker card. We manually set all options to their highest possible settings.

Fun fact: The GeForce RTX 3080 FE is the only graphics card that doesn’t generate a “Your GPU can’t handle this” warning when enabling Glossy Reflections, and only the 3080 and the RTX 2080 Ti lack that warning for Planar Reflections. Told you these cards are monsters.

gears tactics Brad Chacos/IDG

Metro Exodus

One of the best games of 2019, Metro Exodus is one of the best-looking games around, too. The latest version of the 4A Engine provides incredibly luscious, ultra-detailed visuals, with one of the most stunning real-time ray tracing implementations released yet. We test in DirectX 12 mode with ray tracing, Hairworks, and DLSS disabled for our basic benchmarks.

metro exodus Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: Benchmarks continue

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Borderlands 3

Borderlands is back! Gearbox’s game defaults to DX12, so we do as well. It gives us a glimpse at the ultra-popular Unreal Engine 4’s performance in a traditional shooter.

borderlands 3 Brad Chacos/IDG

Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade is a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test using the Vulkan renderer, which is faster than DX12.

strange brigade Brad Chacos/IDG

Total War: Troy

The latest game in the popular Total War saga, Troy was given away free for its first 24 hours on the Epic Games Store, moving over 7.5 million copies before it went on proper sale. Total War: Troy is built using a modified version of the Total War: Warhammer 2 engine, and this DX11 title looks stunning for a turn-based strategy game.

total war troy Brad Chacos/IDG

F1 2020

The latest in a long line of successful racing games, F1 2020 is a gem to test, supplying a wide array of both graphical and benchmarking options, making it a much more reliable (and fun) option that the Forza series. It’s built on the latest version of Codemasters’ buttery-smooth Ego game engine, complete with support for DX12 and Nvidia’s DLSS technology. We test two laps on the Australia course, with clear skies on and DLSS off.

f1 2020 Brad Chacos/IDG

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider concludes the reboot trilogy, and it’s utterly gorgeous. Square Enix optimized this game for DX12, and recommends DX11 only if you’re using older hardware or Windows 7, so we test with DX12. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses an enhanced version of the Foundation engine that also powered Rise of the Tomb Raider and includes optional real-time ray tracing and DLSS features.

sotr Brad Chacos/IDG

GTA V

This DX11 game that isn’t really a visual barn-burner like the (somewhat wonky) Red Dead Redemption 2, but still tops the Steam charts day in and day out, so we deem it more worthy of testing. RDR2 will melt your graphics card, sure, but GTA V remains so popular years after launch that upgraded versions of it will be available on the next-generation consoles. That’s staying power.

We test Grand Theft Auto V with all options turned to Very High, all Advanced Graphics options except extended shadows enabled, and FXAA. GTA V runs on the RAGE engine and has received substantial updates since its initial launch.

gta v Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: Rainbox Six Siege, power and thermal benchmarks

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Rainbow Six Siege

Like GTA V, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege still dominates the Steam charts years after its launch, and it’ll be getting a visual upgrade for the next-gen consoles. The developers have poured a ton of work into the game’s AnvilNext engine over the years, eventually rolling out a Vulkan version of the game that we use to test. By default, the game lowers the render scaling to increase frame rates, but we set it to 100 percent to benchmark native rendering performance on graphics cards. Even still, frame rates soar.

rb6 Brad Chacos/IDG

Power draw, thermals, and noise

We test power draw by looping the F1 2020 benchmark at 4K for about 20 minutes after we’ve benchmarked everything else. We note the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter, which measures the power consumption of our entire test system. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion. 

This isn’t a worst-case test; we remove the Core i7 8700K’s overclock and specifically choose a GPU-bound game running at a GPU-bound resolution to gauge performance when the graphics card is sweating hard. If you’re playing a game that also hammers the CPU, you could see higher overall system power draws. We saw over 500W of whole-system power draw in some scenarios. Consider yourself warned.

power Brad Chacos/IDG

The RTX 3080 cards draw substantially more power than their predecessors did—even the $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti. It’s worth it for this level of performance, in our opinion. MSI’s Gaming X Trio sips just slightly more than the Founders Edition model, which makes sense considering its slight overclock, RGB lighting, and three spinning fans.

We test thermals by leaving GPU-Z open during the F1 2020 power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end.

temps Brad Chacos/IDG

Here’s while all the heavy metal and fancy fans on the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G shine. While Nvidia’s graphics card manages to stay cool enough and significantly quieter than its Founders Edition predecessors, MSI’s custom RTX 3080 runs even chillier. It’s almost silent even under heavy load. You can hear it a bit, but in practice, the liquid CPU cooler and case fans in our test system easily drown it out. This is an exceptional showing by MSI’s thermal engineers.

Next page: Should you buy the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio?

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Should you buy the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G?

The MSI Gaming X Trio is a terrific option if you’re looking for a high-end, heavily customized GeForce RTX 3080.

Better yet, the price isn’t outrageous, as MSI charges a mere $50 premium for its substantial cooling solution and customizable RGB lights. The company even tosses a free support bracket into the box to help keep it from sagging in your system. Custom cards with heavy-duty cooling solutions like this can sometimes cost $100 or more over GPU’s baseline price, though MSI’s card lacks luxurious extras such dual-BIOS switches or controllers for your case fans. The Gaming X Trio feels like a relative bargain. Well, as much as a $750 graphics card can feel like a bargain.

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The MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G offers previously unheard-of levels of 4K and 1440p gaming performance, trouncing the previous-gen RTX 2080 by up to 80 percent in some games, and the previous-gen $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti flagship by 25 to 30 percent. It’s so fast, you can play ray traced games with DLSS enabled at 1440p and even 4K resolution, eradicating the resolution compromises required when activating the cutting-edge lighting effects on RTX 20-series cards. And it does so while running cool and effectively silent.

The Gaming X Trio rocks. It should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a custom RTX 3080. However, don’t shop for any RTX 3080 if you’re gaming at 1080p with visual settings cranked. This card is so fast that most games become wholly CPU- or engine-bound at that resolution, negating its monstrous performance advantage.

MSI’s behemoth isn’t a slam-dunk over Nvidia’s own RTX 3080 Founders Edition, though, mostly on account of its size. Like we said in the beginning: This is a gargantuan graphics card in every possible dimension. You’ll need a lot of room in your case to squeeze it in, and a trio of 8-pin power connectors to run it. Nvidia’s Founders Edition manages to squeeze into a more standard two-slot design thanks to its short, custom PCB and unique “flow-through” cooling design. Nvidia also graced its Founders Edition with a more premium-looking wrap-around metal aesthetic, versus the Gaming X Trio’s aggressively “gamer” vibe and plastic shroud.

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition (left) next to MSI's Gaming X Trio (right)

Nvidia set a very high bar with the RTX 3080 Founders Edition. It’s not as cool nor as quiet as MSI’s offering, but it’s cool and quiet enough—and Nvidia priced its card at the RTX 3080’s $699 baseline MSRP. The Gaming X Trio’s extra girth didn’t translate into noticeably higher frame rates either. MSI’s card comes with a 900MHz overclock that doesn’t effectively move the needle versus the Founders Edition’s stock performance, and attempting to automatically overclock the GPU using MSI’s Afterburner software only eked out another 42MHz. The Gaming X Trio’s trio of power connectors offer more headroom if you do plan on overclocking your RTX 3080, though.

Bottom line: These are both remarkably designed, tremendously powerful graphics cards. You’d be happy with either one. Smaller size or better cooling? Pick your poison, and enjoy the blisteringly fast frame rates either way.

Like Nvidia’s Founders Edition, the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio 10G easily earns our Editors’ Choice award. While complete pricing for RTX 3080 partner cards have yet to be revealed as I write this, I suspect few heavy-metal flagships will manage to match its $750 price point.