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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Video Card Review

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Closer Look: GeForce GTX 980

GeForce GTX 980 is a top-end discrete graphics card for high-performance desktop computer gaming systems, available for $549.99 (MSRP) online. NVIDIA has built the GeForce GTX 980 specifically for hardware enthusiasts and hard-core gamers wanting to play PC video games at their maximum graphics quality settings using the highest screen resolution possible on multiple displays. It’s a small niche market that few can claim, but also one that every PC gamer dreams of enjoying.

Like the GeForce GTX TITAN it’s modeled after, GeForce GTX 980 is a dual-slot video card that measures 10.5″ long and 4.4″ wide. Nearly identical to GTX TITAN and the GTX 780 series, GeForce GTX 980 also shares support for the following NVIDIA technologies: GPU Boost 2.0, 3D Vision, CUDA, DirectX 11, PhysX, TXAA, Adaptive VSync, FXAA, 3D Vision Surround, and SLI.

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In addition to an improved NVIDIA GPU Boost 2.0 technology, GeForce GTX 980 also delivers refinements to the user experience. Multi-Frame Sampled AA (MFAA) joins FXAA and TXAA, while adaptive vSync technology results in less chop, stutter, and tearing in on-screen motion. Adaptive vSync technology adjusts the monitor’s refresh rate whenever the FPS rate becomes too low to properly sustain vertical sync (when enabled), thereby reducing stutter and tearing artifacts. NVIDIA MFAA is an anti-aliasing technique produces perceived higher-quality effects while maintaining the performance penalty of lower-quality post processing. TXAA offers gamers a film-style anti-aliasing technique with a mix of hardware post-processing, custom CG file style AA resolve, and an optional temporal component for better image quality.

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Fashioned from the NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN and GTX 780 series, engineers adapted a slightly tweaked design for GeForce GTX 980. The cards look virtually identical, save for the model name branded near the header. A single rearward 60mm (2.4″) blower motor fan is offset from the cards surface to take advantage of a chamfered depression, helping GTX 980 to draw cool air into the angled fan shroud. This design allows more air to reach the intake whenever two or more video cards are combined in close-proximity SLI configurations. Add-in card partners with engineering resources may incorporate their own cooling solution into GTX 980 after the initial launch cycle has passed, however there seems little benefit from eschewing NVIDIA’s cool-running reference design.

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GeForce GTX 980 offers a dual-link DVI (DL-DVI) connection, full-size HDMI 2.0 output compatible with 4K displays, and three total DisplayPort 1.2 connections. Add-in partners may elect to remove or possibly further extend any of these video interfaces, but most will likely retain the original reference board engineering. Only one of these video cards is necessary to drive triple-displays and NVIDIA 3D-Vision Surround functionality. All of these video interfaces consume exhaust-vent real estate, but this has very little impact on cooling since the 28nm Maxwell GPU generates much less heat than past GeForce processors, and also because NVIDIA intentionally distances the heatsink far enough from these vents to equalize exhaust pressure.

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As with past-generation GeForce GTX series graphics cards, the GeForce GTX 980 is capable of two-card “Quad-SLI” configurations. Because GeForce GTX 980 is PCI-Express 3.0 compliant device, the added bandwidth could potentially come into demand as future games and applications make use of these resources. Most games will be capable of utilizing the highest possible graphics quality settings using only a single GeForce GTX 980 video card, but multi-card SLI/Quad-SLI configurations are perfect for extreme gamers wanting to experience ultra-performance video games played at their highest quality settings with all the bells and whistles enabled across multiple monitors.

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Specified at only 165W Thermal Design Power output, the Maxwell GM204 GPU inside GeForce GTX 980 represents NVIDIA’s most efficient and most powerful graphics processor. Since TDP demands are dramatically reduced, GTX 980 runs cooler during normal operation and has move power available for Boost 2.0 requests. NVIDIA has added a “GeForce GTX” logo along the exposed side video card which glow green using LED backlit letters when the system is powered on. GeForce GTX 980 requires two 6-pin PCIe power connectors for operation, allowing NVIDIA to recommend a modest 600W power supply for computer systems equipped with one of these video cards.

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By tradition, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX series offers enthusiast-level performance with features like multi-card SLI pairing. More recently, the GTX family has included GPU Boost application-driven variable overclocking technology – now into GPU Boost 2.0. The GeForce GTX 980 graphics card keeps with tradition in terms of performance by producing single-GPU frame rates second to only GeForce GTX TITAN. Of course, NVIDIA’s Maxwell GPU architecture adds proprietary features to both versions such as: 3D Vision, Adaptive Vertical Sync, multi-display Surround, PhysX, MFAA and TXAA post-processing effects.


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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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