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Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 review

Andrew Unsworth
30 Oct 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
444
inc VAT

The GeForce GTX 980 is a powerful and power-efficient card, but it’s too expensive compared to the great-value GTX 970

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Specifications

GPU: GM204, Memory: 4GB, Graphics card length: 266.7mm

The GeForce GTX 980 is a high-end graphics card that’s based on Nvidia’s potent and power-efficient Maxwell architecture. At the heart of the card is the GM204, the 2nd-generation Maxwell graphics processor that has replaced the venerable Kepler graphics chip used by most of Nvidia’s 700-series desktop graphics cards.

The GTX 980 supports the upcoming DirectX 12 API, as well as new graphical features such as multi-frame sampled anti-aliasing (MFAA) and dynamic super resolution (DSR). MFAA is an anti-aliasing technique that uses the Maxwell hardware to provide higher-quality anti-aliasing, but with the performance cost of a lower-quality technique. Dynamic super resolution, on the other hand, renders a frame at a higher resolution than the desired output resolution and then scales it down, with the aim of making visuals crisper and more detailed than they otherwise would be.

The GTX 980’s reference design certainly looks good, as its metallic flourishes make it similar to the gorgeous Titan. The card is eerily quiet in use, even when playing graphically demanding games. One of the key benefits of the Maxwell architecture is a lower power requirement than previous generation cards, and even though the GTX 980 is more powerful than the GTX 780 it replaces, the new card has a 165W power requirement for the card, and 500W minimum power requirement for the whole system. The GTX 780, meanwhile, has a 250W power requirement for the card and 600W minimum system power requirement. This also means that you may not need to upgrade your power supply if you decide to upgrade to a GTX 980. You’ll also only need two 6-pin PCI-E power leads rather than the one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI-E power leads that we expect a card this powerful to require.

The GTX 980 has 2,048 CUDA cores at its disposal, which are controlled by 16 streaming multiprocessors. This means the GTX 980 has fewer CUDA cores than the GTX 780, but Nvidia claims the Maxwell architecture is able to use the CUDA cores more efficiently. The GTX 980 has 4GB of GDDR5 graphics memory, which is one more gigabyte than the GTX 780, but it has a 256-bit memory interface rather than the GTX 780’s 384-bit interface and lower memory bandwidth of 224GB/s, compared to 288.4GB/s.

PERFORMANCE

The GTX 980 produced an average frame rate of 127.1fps in our Dirt Showdown benchmark at a resolution of 1,920x1,080 with Ultra graphics quality and 4x anti-aliasing, which is much higher than the 88.7fps average frame rate of the reference GTX 780. However, it’s only a few frames higher than we saw from the £275 'Maxwell' MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G, which produced a 119fps average in the same test.

The GTX 980 is still the fastest single-GPU graphics card we’ve seen, however, as demonstrated by its performance in our much more graphically challenging Crysis 3 benchmark. At a resolution of 1,920x1,080 with High graphics quality and 4x anti-aliasing, the GTX 980 produced a storming 77.5fps average frame rate, but even this wasn’t too far from the GTX 970’s frame rate of 72.9fps in the same test.

You’ll have no problem playing games at 1,920x1,080 and the highest quality with the GTX 980, but it’s really designed to shine when playing games at 3,840x2,160. In our Dirt Showdown benchmark at this resolution, with Ultra graphics quality and 4x anti-aliasing, the GTX 980 produced a 57.8fps average frame rate, which is a decent increase on the performance of the GTX 970, which scored a 50fps average in the same test. The GTX 980 also had a higher minimum frame rate than the GTX 970, with 47.3fps compared to the GTX 970’s 37.2fps minimum.

However, the gap between the frame rates closed again when we ran our Crysis 3 benchmark at a resolution of 3,840x2,160 with 4x anti-aliasing and High quality graphics. In this test the GTX 980 produced an average frame rate of 25.5fps, which is very close to the MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G’s 22.5fps average in the same test. We’d expect there to be more distance between the cards when running a tough benchmark such as this, but that wasn’t the case.

There’s no doubt that the GTX 980 is a powerful graphics card that has no trouble playing games at Full HD resolutions with the highest graphics quality, and is capable of playing the most demanding titles at Ultra HD resolutions, albeit with some compromise on graphics quality. The lower power consumption and power requirements of the GTX 980 compared to its predecessor is also commendable. However, the GTX 980 didn’t perform vastly better than the MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G, which is far cheaper. The GTX 980 is a cracking card that any gamer would be happy to own, but at the GTX 980’s current price the MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G is a much better buy.

Hardware
Slots taken up2
GPUGM204
GPU cores2,048
GPU clock speed1126
GPU clock boost speed1216
Memory4GB
Memory interface256-bit
Max memory bandwidth224GB/s
Memory speed1.75GHz
Graphics card length266.7mm
DVI outputs1
D-sub outputs0
HDMI outputs1
Mini HDMI outputs0
DisplayPort outputs3
Mini DisplayPort outputs0
Power leads required2x 6-pin PCI Express
AccessoriesNone
Buying information
Price including VAT£444
WarrantyThree-year RTB
Supplierwww.scan.co.uk
Detailswww.geforce.co.uk
Part codeGF980GTX4GEPB

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