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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Video Card Review

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GeForce GTX 980 Conclusion

IMPORTANT: Although the rating and final score mentioned in this conclusion are made to be as objective as possible, be advised that every author perceives these factors differently. While we each do our best to ensure that all aspects of the product are considered, there are often times unforeseen market conditions and manufacturer revisions that occur after publication which could render our rating obsolete. Please do not base any purchase solely on this conclusion, as it represents our rating specifically for the product tested which may differ from future versions. Benchmark Reviews begins our conclusion with a short summary for each of the areas that we rate.

My ratings begin with performance, where the $549 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 competes against the rest of the market in an unfairly matched comparison. With the launch of GTX 980, NVIDIA will discontinue GTX 780 Ti, 780, and 770. Gamers will most likely compare GeForce GTX 980 to the AMD Radeon R9 290X, because it’s their single-GPU flagship that costs about $499. While there’s a $50 price difference between these two products, there’s a lot more than money separating them. In our DirectX 11 tests the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 unconditionally outperformed every other single-GPU graphics card on the market. Judging by the results, GTX 980 accomplished its goal of 200% performance over GTX 680, while still easily surpassing the AMD Radeon R9 290X and GTX 780 Ti in our benchmark FPS tests without exception.

Synthetic benchmark tools offered an unbiased rating for graphics products, allowing video card manufacturers to display their performance without special game optimizations or significant driver influence. Futuremark’s 3DMark11 benchmark suite strained our high-end graphics cards with only mid-level settings displayed at 720p, yet GeForce GTX 980 still averaged 81.2 FPS between the four tests while Radeon R9 290X averaged 72.1 and GTX 780 Ti averaged 67.8 FPS. In contrast, the GeForce GTX 680 averaged only 44.1 FPS between the four tests. Unigine Heaven 3.0 benchmark tests used maximum settings that tend to crush most products, yet the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 produced a commendable 85.3 FPS at 1920×1080 compared to around 73 FPS for GTX 780 Ti and R9 290X. GeForce GTX 680 was crushed by GTX 980, producing only 46.2 FPS at this resolution.

Using a collection of various DirectX 11 games helped to show other performance disparities, especially when one vendor contributed to game development with optimizations for their product. In Aliens vs Predator, which is used to illustrate simple performance differences, GeForce GTX 980 produced 105.5 FPS compared to only 58.7 for GTX 680. Moderately demanding DX11 games such as Batman: Arkham City produced 122 FPS on GTX 980, while GTX 680 mustered 78 FPS. Battlefield 3, a game co-developed with NVIDIA support, generated 129.6 FPS on the GTX 980 with ultra quality settings, while the R9 290X trailed behind with 113.7 FPS, GTX 780 Ti with 107.0, and GeForce GTX 680 with only 75.4 FPS. Playing BF3 at 2590×1600 resolution, GTX 780 Ti nearly kept pace with GTX 980 while R9 290X lagged behind. Lost Planet 2 is another demanding game co-developed with NVIDIA support, enabling GeForce GTX 980 to maintain a 20 FPS lead over Radeon R9 290X at 1920×1080. The Frostbite 3 engine in Battlefield 4 received AMD developer support for this game sequel, which kept GTX 780 Ti and R9 290X neck-and-neck while the GeForce GTX 980 stepped way ahead of them both at every resolution. Metro 2033 is another demanding game co-developed with AMD support that requires tremendous graphics power to enjoy high quality visual settings, helping to shrink GTX 980’s lead over R9 290X while still nearly twice the performance of GTX 680.

NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-980-Graphics-Card-GPU-Heatsink

Beyond the raw frame rate performance results between NVIDIA products, there’s a incredible difference between the architecture of their GeForce GTX products. If you just look at benchmark results, you’ll see the obvious increase in performance with each new generation. What you won’t see are the major differences in performance per watt, where the energy efficiency climbs from Fermi to Kepler and now Maxwell. With GM204 gamers not only get more graphical processing power, but they get it at half the energy demands, which is to say that Maxwell-based video cards operate with less heat output and are kept under better control by the card’s thermal management system.

Appearance is a much more subjective matter, especially since this particular rating doesn’t have any quantitative benchmark scores to fall back on. NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX series has traditionally used a recognizable design over the past two years with GeForce GTX TITAN and GTX 780 series. Keeping with an ‘industrial’ look, GeForce 980 uses identical matte silver trim for accents and differentiates itself with an imprinted model number. Since GeForce GTX 980 operates so efficiently and allows nearly all of the heated air to exhaust outside of the computer case, the reference cooling design does an excellent job managing thermal load for the GPU. While fashionably good looks help lure consumers, also keep in mind that this product seriously outperforms all the competition while consuming less power, generating far less heat, and producing very little noise during operation.

As the industry leader, construction is one area NVIDIA graphics cards continually shine. Thanks in part to extremely quiet operation paired with more efficient Maxwell GM204 processor cores that consume less energy and emit less heat, it seems clear that GeForce GTX 980 continues to carry on this tradition. Requiring only two 6-pin PCI-E power connections reduce power supply requirements to 600W, which is practically mainstream for most enthusiast systems. Additionally, consumers have a top-end single-GPU solution capable of driving three monitors in 3D Vision Surround with the inclusion of Ultra 4K-compatible HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 2.1, and digital DL-DVI video outputs.

As of launch day (18 September 2014), the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 graphics card is expected to sell with a starting price of $549.99 (MSRP), which is $50 LESS than the AMD Radeon R9 290X and also $150 less than when the (now discontinued) GTX 780 Ti debuted a year ago. Many versions of GeForce GTX 980 are available for sale online, priced at $534.99 (Amazon B&H Photo). Keep in mind that hardware manufacturers and retailers are constantly adjusting prices, so expect these numbers to change a few times in the months after launch. For the money, you’re getting top-end frame rate performance, but there’s still plenty of value delivered beyond that as the additional NVIDIA Maxwell features run off the charts. Only NVIDIA Maxwell graphics cards can offer Multi-Frame Sampled AA (MFAA), Voxel Global Illumination (VXGI), 4K NVIDIA ShadowPlay, and Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR), which join previously released features such as FXAA, TXAA, G-SYNC, GPU Boost 2.0, 3D Vision, and PhysX technology.

In conclusion, GeForce GTX 980 is the energy-efficient version of GTX TITAN with a decisive lead beyond what AMD’s Radeon R9 290X can produce. Even if it were possible for the competition to retool and overclock R9 290X to reach similar frame rate performance, which it’s not, temperatures and noise would still very heavily favor GeForce GTX 980. There is a modest price difference between them, but quite frankly, the competition doesn’t belong in the same class and will likely see major price reductions to remain relevant. In contrast, GTX 980 practically doubles what GTX 680 was capable of without the same demands on energy. GeForce GTX 980 delivers performance beyond expectations, while Maxwell GM204 offers a myriad of proprietary technologies that dramatically improve efficiency, enhance the user experience, and challenges game developers to build even more realism into their titles.

Pros:

Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award Logo (Small)

+ Crushes AMD Radeon R9 290X
+ Outstanding DX11 video games performance
+ Supports MFAA, FXAA, and TXAA
+ Supports Voxel Global Illumination (VXGI)
+ Triple-display and 3D Vision Surround support
+ Cooling fan operates at very quiet acoustic levels
+ Features HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, Ultra 4K support
+ Very low power consumption at idle and heat output under load
+ Upgradable into dual- and triple SLI card sets

Cons:

– Very expensive enthusiast product

Ratings:

  • Performance: 10.0
  • Appearance: 9.00
  • Construction: 9.50
  • Functionality: 10.0
  • Value: 7.00

Final Score: 9.1 out of 10.

Excellence Achievement: Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award.

COMMENT QUESTION: Who do you support: NVIDIA or AMD?

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3 comments

  1. Argos

    Thanks for this review. I am glad I waited a bit longer with building my new system. This card seems beyond belief. Every time I think it can’t get any better and then this monster card appears.

  2. Caring1

    I hardly think it “crushed” the R9 290X, however it did thrash the GTX 680, so it makes sense to upgrade if you have an older Nvidia card.

  3. Chris

    It isn’t that much faster than the 780TI. The big attraction is that the power consumption is much lower (more OC headroom) and the lower price.

    I think it may be worth waiting to see what AMD has to offer this generation and for “Big Maxwell” to arrive.

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