Today NVIDIA launch their latest GPUs, and in our GeForce GTX 980 Review we take a first look at that card, focusing on key features and performance, as well as a couple of lower priced GTX 970 variants.
GeForce GTX 980 Review – The GTX 980 Reference Card
NVIDIA go with a tried and trusted look for the GTX 980 and while that is a little disappointing because it is always nice to have a new card looking distinct, the fact is that their reference design is top notch. So again here we have a metal heatsink cover with plastic window. Though a plastic window we can see the aluminium heatsink fins and then over to the right a single fan. Turning the card over we do see something new compared to some older cards, a backplate and also visible here are two SLI connectors.
Under the cooler we have a variant of NVIDIAs Maxwell GPU which we first saw, in a much lower specification configuration, on the GTX 750 and 750Ti. On GTX 980 it features 16 Geometry Units, 128 Texture Units and 64 ROP units.
Back to the reference card the top edge also looks very similar to previous models and it retains the GeForce GTX branding which glows green when our system is powered on. Along to the left are two 6pin power connectors which help to provide the card with its 165w. Turning round to the card outputs we see a new design for the perforated area which allows air to exhaust from our system and beside those holes are our outputs. Here we see quite a change from the norm with a single DVI being accompanied by three DisplayPort connectors. NVIDIA do allow multi-screen configurations to create resolutions such as 5760×1080 across varied output types however the card is very much geared to 4K support (including over HDMI 2.0).
In terms of core configuration the Maxwell GPU used on the GTX 980 features 2048 Cuda Cores with a reference speed of 1126MHz. The GPU boost spec is 1216MHz and our memory configuration is 4GB of GDDR5 (1750MHz) on a 256-bit bus. Also worthy of note, as well as the usual NVIDIA support of PhysX, 3DVision and the like is support for DirectX 12 on this GPU.
GeForce GTX 980 Review – Whats the key feature?
We noted above that the GTX 980 is a DirectX 12 card but what else is new? First up NVIDIA have worked to improve their memory compression/caching along with an improved scheduler and datapath organisation . We also have a new version of anti-aliasing in the form of MFAA which NVIDIA note offers no reduction in quality compared to MSAA but with enhanced performance. We also get improvements in the lighting effects available to developers (more realism) but the feature we were most interested in is Dynamic Super Resolution. DSR as NVIDIA call it is managed through GeForce Experience which installs with our driver. The basic explanation of this feature is that our new GTX renders the game we are playing at a higher resolution than required, for example 4K, and then that image is intelligently downsampled to the display we are using (e.g. 1920×1080). There is of course a performance hit in doing this, and NVIDIA note that this makes it unsuitable for more demanding games, but in those where we have performance to spare we gain improved fine detail. Areas of note are grass or using the screenshots below from BF4 have more defined screws on the structure just left of centre.
GTX 980 vs 970 – An overview
Before we look at a couple of GTX 970s, here is a comparison of the two GPUs:
GeForce GTX 980 Review – Gigabyte GTX 970 Windforce – G1 Gaming
For their GTX 970 Gigabyte go with a reasonably familiar looking card which uses a new revision of their Windforce cooler. The three fans used here use a unique design with triangular edges and “3D stripe curve design” which Gigabyte say enhances airflow while reducing turbulence. Underneath the fans we find a set of aluminium heatsink fins and through them run four 6mm copper heatpipes. We note that the front cover of the card is metal and flipping it over we find a metal backplate as well as two SLI connectors.
Powering this card we have a six pin connector along with an 8pin connector and Gigabyte use a 6-phase power design. They also enhance the design in the output area. Here we have the standard 3 DisplayPort connectors, an HDMI 2.0 and rather than a single DVI we get two. Also worthy of note is that Gigabyte say they that only the best GPUs are selected for Super Overclock cards such as this.
Speaking of clocks on this 4GB, DX12 card we have a core set to 1178MHz, boost of 1329MHz and the 4GB of GDDR5 on our 256bit bus is set to 1750MHz.
GeForce GTX 980 Review – Zotac GTX 970 AMP! Omega Edition
Zotac have refreshed their branding for this range of GPUs and we see for the first time on the box a new naming scheme with this being AMP OMEGA Edition. Inside the box we also see a change, product documentation, check, power cable, check, DVI to VGA connector, check… USB connector???? Thats because this card is designed for enhanced monitoring and tweaking via software, something which is managed by USB.
Looking at the card itself it is clear that Zotac have gone all out on the design. This cooler is called IceStorm and uses a metal cover which sits over two 90mm fans which have a multi-angled design for enhanced airflow across the PCB. Aluminium fins also make an appearance as do copper heatpipes and the card has a “Power+” design which is meant to provide enhancements for efficient and stable operation. Also visible in the last image is the USB connector used for the OCPlus fine tuning, one-click overclocking and monitoring.
Zotac go with a dual 8pin design for power inputs and round at the outputs stick with the standard NVIDIA configuration of DVI, HDMI 2.0 and three DisplayPort 1.2 connectors. Looking next to the specifications of this DX12 and 4K capable card we have a core speed of 1100MHZ, boosting to 1241MHz with the 4GB of GDDR5 set to 1760MHz on a 256Bit bus.
GeForce GTX 980 Review – The ASUS SWIFT PG278Q with G-Sync
Before we talk about the user experience of the new GTX cards we also wanted to take a moment to discuss one other hardware items we have been having a play with while reviewing the new 900 series cards. That is a display from the ASUS Republic of Gamers range, the PG278Q. The key feaure of this screen is that it works with NVIDIA cards to create an environment which offers smooth framerates without tearing which is historically a problem in gaming.
This screen has a resolution of 2560×1440 with 1ms response time and 144Hz refresh rate. There are also plenty other nice features such as plenty of tilt and swivel on the various joints and a USB 3.0 hub built in.
How did we find the experience? In short, the experience was awesome. Crisp, clear, plenty of brightnes and silky smooth gaming.
GeForce GTX 980 Review – Conclusion
NOTE: PERFORMANCE FIGURES CAN BE FOUND AFTER THE CONCLUSION
So what do we make of the GTX 980? First up we were pleased to see NVIDIA stick with their reference design. A revised look would have been nice but in terms of quality it is hard to fault. Looking past those external features we have a GPU which moves their brand forward, bringing in official DX12 support as well as HDMI 2.0 and a number of new features which benefit gamers. Some of those are more behind the scenes, such as the revised memory efficiency but others are more notable such as DSR which offers us a clear (and easy) way to enhance display quality without changing our screen to a more expensive, higher resolution model.
In terms of performance we were pleased to see the GTX 980 performing at the top of the results here, both at 4K and 1920×1080. Worthy of note is that those on overclocked versions of the GTX 780 Ti wont necessarily gain much in terms of framerates from the 900 series however that isn’t the whole story. The 980 manages to reduce power draw significantly over that card while also hitting a more affordable price point. It also signifiantly outperforms AMDs single GPU solutions while sitting far enough away from the 295X2 to not be comparable.
Therefore the GTX 980 wins our gold award. But what about the GTX 970, for that see below…
Starting with Gigabytes version of the GTX 970 we have a card which keeps the build quality high through use of metal shroud on the front and backplate… on the back. A nice configuration of copper heatpipes and aluminium fins work well to keep temperatures at a very competitive level and branding on top which lights up blue when on adds a touch of style.
It is worth noting that the Gigabyte card does offer higher framerates than the Zotac alternative but they are different enough to both be worth considering. For example the Zotac model will likely appeal to those who like to tweak and monitor their card thanks to the enhanced desgn. We also really like the chunky feel of the card and its overall aesthetic.
Bundling the two 970 results together for a moment it is clear that NVIDIA and their partners have a super competitive card here due to its pricing. This is a GPU which tends to outperform the R9-290X while having a lower RRP than the AMD card. In fact the 970 could well be considered for our value award but for the fact few would see a mainstream card as “value”. Instead we went with recommended… in fact make that highly recommended. If you have the money, by all means go for the GTX 980 but with the same features and a significantly lower RRP the GTX 970 is great mainstream GPU.
GeForce GTX 980 Review – Performance
NVIDIA GTX 980
Gigabyte GTX 970 Windforce
Zotac GTX 970 AMP! Edition
XFX R9-290X Black Edition
Gigabyte GTX 780 Ti OC GHz Edition
Installed on a Dimastech EasyXL Test Bench
Intel Wireless AC 7260
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate
ASUS 120Hz/3D Display
Windows 8.1 64-bit
AMD Drivers: 14.7
NVIDIA Driver 344.07
Rome 2: Total War
The test system was built from scratch, a format of the hard drive was performed (NTFS) and then Windows 8.1 was installed. Following the completion of the installation, the video drivers were installed. All windows updates were then installed as were the latest builds of the benchmarking tools. Finally, the hard drives were de-fragmented (where appropriate). For each test, the video drivers were set to default quality/optimizations (unless otherwise stated).
Good Benchmarking Practice
Where possible, each benchmark was performed three times and the median result for each resolution/setting is shown in the tables that will follow. All applications had their latest patches applied and all hardware features the latest BIOS/Firmware.
1920×1080 + Thermals and Power
3DMark FireStrike Extreme
Battlefield 4 1920×1080 Ultra Detail
DOTA2 1920×1080 Ultra
GRID Autosport 1920×1080 Ultra 4xAA
Rome 2: Total War – 1920×1080 Extreme
WatchDogs 1920×1080 fxaa
Battlefield 4 4K-Ultra
DOTA2 4K Ultra
GRID Autosport 4K Ultra 4xAA
Rome 2: Total War – 4K Very High
WatchDogs 4K fxaa