NVIDIA Founders Edition Cards - Yea or Nay?

Many of you have heard about the NVIDIA Founders Edition video cards for the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 cards, but what is it really all about? The short answer is it is the new reference card, but the story goes much deeper than that. However no messaging at all came from NVIDIA on this.


So there we all were watching the NVIDIA live stream announcing the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 video cards Friday night and we all got to see these slides.

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This was the first time I have seen NVIDIA use the name "Founders Edition" in reference to a video card. (Seems like there should be an apostrophe in there (Founder's Edition), but we will leave that discussion for the HardForum grammar Nazis.) And that was all that was said about it. To paraphrase no one, "MSRP for 1080 and 1070 are this, and Founders Edition cards cost $100 and $70 more." And the show went on. There was absolutely no explanation or messaging attached to this new card model and it left a lot of us confused. Actually, out of couple hundred tech journalists and analysts from all over the world, I am not sure any of us truly understood this new Founders Edition. Talking to a couple of NVIDIA employees after the live stream event was over, I was told, "it is the reference card." Pushing a bit further for more information got me nowhere in having a better understanding.

So WTF is a Founders Edition?

To put it succinctly, when I was told it was a "reference card," this is 100% correct. The Founders Edition cards are video cards built and sold by NVIDIA to its Add-In-Board partners, etailers and retailers such as Best Buy, and I was even told that soon NVIDIA will sell Founders Edition card directly to the end user through GeForce.com. (We will see if that comes to pass or not.)

In the past years NVIDIA has never attached any branding to the "reference cards" outside of the specific GeForce models represented, but that is now changing.

Craftsmanship, Craftsmanship, Craftsmanship

"Craftsmanship" was a recurring centerpiece of the GTX 1080 announcement, and quite frankly, I could not figure out why. This is messaging that we have never seen from NVIDIA before about a new video card.

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NVIDIA's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang spent a lot of time talking about craftsmanship. He discussed the advancements that had gone into the cooling solution as always, but he spent time talking about power components and circuitry down on the PCB. The GTX 1080 Founders Edition this time also has a vapor chamber cooling system. To my recollection, I have not heard him discuss these types of qualities in the "reference card" in my 18 years of listening to him.

The next day, when we confirmed what a Founders Edition is, spending all this time on craftsmanship makes some sense.

Craftsmanship = Price

I would suggest that all HardOCP readers are very familiar with reference edition cards from NVIDIA. NVIDIA has been producing great looking and well performing reference cards for some time. We are also very well accustomed to these reference cards being available for purchase at the time of launch, and sometimes well after launch, for NVIDIA specified MSRP. These reference cards being available for purchase has to do with what NVIDIA called its NVTTM program (NVIDIA Time To Market). NVTTM cards make it possible for NVIDIA AIB partners to have some inventory ready for sale at launch date. These NVTTM cards of course have the "reference cooler" installed. All of these NVTTM cards are also built by NVIDIA, usually either by Foxcon or Flextronics, that also happen to build a lot of NVIDIA's professional workstation Quadro cards. All of these cards built by NVIDIA are put together with exacting standards in terms of PCB quality, power component and other circuitry quality, cooler quality, sound profile, and packaging. I have literally been told for years, that NVIDIA either breaks even or loses money on NVTTM/reference cards sold into the market.

Founders Edition for the life of the GPU

While NVIDIA is already selling "reference cards" for the lifespan of the GPU, with sales of those cards seemingly limited to Best Buy from what I can tell, NVIDIA did explain that these new Founders Cards would be for sale during the lifespan of the GPU to the general public and AIB partners.

Some of the big push for this product line seems to have come from Kelt Reeves, owner of Falcon Northwest. He was not shy at all in telling me that he had actively lobbied for this Founders Card product line. His position is this: he wants a video card product that does not change at all in terms of quality or specfication over the life of the GPU. Also Kelt explained that closed face coolers that only exhaust at the I/O shield end of the card are a must for all of his specialty SFF system builds. If you look at it from the perspective of FalconNW or the likes of Maingear, having a product that they can qualify once and sell for years is very important. Also, going back to the craftsmanship aspect, Kelt explained that he very much wanted Founders Edition quality builds in every one of his systems. It simply takes away a lot of concern about quality. Also, I would assume from our conversation that he will be purchasing these cards directly from NVIDIA and not an AIB partner.