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Nvidia GeForce GTX 980ti arrives, ready for 4K gaming

Tom Morgan
1 Jun 2015
Nvidia GeForce GTX 980ti lead
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Nvidia's new mainstream flagship GPU launches ahead of AMD's Radeon R9 390x

Nvidia has officially reavealed the GeForce GTX 980ti, the company’s newest flagship mainstream graphics card, at its Computex trade show press conference in Taiwan.

The 980ti is essentially a cut-down version of the ultra-high end Titan X GPU. Both cards are based on the GM200 GPU, with the same 1ghz base clock and 1,075mhz boost clock, although the 980ti has fewer stream processors (2,816 versus the Titan X's 3,072), fewer tesselation units (24 vs 24) and fewer texture units (176 vs 192). The 980ti also has a 6GB frame buffer on a 384-bit memory bus, whereas the Titan X has 12GB. That being said, it's impressive how little Nvidia has compromised on the 980ti, which is otherwise incredibly similar to the £800+ Titan X for almost £300 less.

Nvidia says the combination of memory and raw performance make the 980ti the ideal card for single-GPU gaming at 4K resolutions, even at Ultra settings. According to the company’s pre-release benchmarks, games like Grand Theft Auto 5 are playable at a smooth 60fps, while The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and Project Cars will average around 47fps with detail settings turned up to the max. Early benchmarks indicate this is almost on par with the Titan X, and in some cases actually faster.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980ti in case

The 980ti is also a native DirectX 12 card, meaning it can be used to access low-level API calls that help keep CPU overheads low when rendering complex lightning or shading effects such as flames or smoke. Access to DirectX feature level 12_1 also allows for conservative rasterization, which should help developers create more realistic shadows, free from aliasing and jagged edges without adding significant overheads to the CPU or GPU. 

Despite significant performance increases over previous generation cards, the 980ti won't draw any extra power to achieve it, thanks to its energy-efficient Maxwell architecture and 28nm manufacturing process. It should draw a maximum of 250W, but provide around 2.3x the performance per watt of a GTX 680. You'll only need one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI-E power cable to run the card too, giving it the edge over AMD's high-end R9 290X.

Virtual reality gaming has been a major focus for Nvidia lately, and the 980ti is no exception. It will be one of the first cards to support Nvidia's new multi-res shading technology, which takes into account how the distorted lenses of a VR headset don't need high-resolution images in the periphery of our vision. Essentially lossy compression for pixels, NVidia is claiming a 1.3x to 2x performance increase with Multi-red shading enabled. Gameworks VR is a proprietary tech that developers will have to add to their games in order to support it, much like PhysX or HairWorks today, but any performance increases in incredibly demanding VR rendering will surely be welomed by the developer community.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980ti ports

The reference board has dual-link DVI-I, three DisplayPort 1.2 ports and a single HDMI 2.0, making it ready for multiple 4k displays. The DisplayPorts naturally support Nvidia's G-Sync adaptive sync displays, which can now be used in Windowed mode as well as full-screen.

Today’s announcement will likely come as a blow to AMD, as it has yet to reveal its latest generation high-end graphics cards. The company is pinning its hopes on high bandwidth memory (HBM), which is more efficient than GDDR5 vRAM and capable of higher bandwidth, although the fledgling technology will restrict the R9 390x and other first generation cards to a maximum of 4GB of RAM - potentially putting them on the back foot versus the 980ti's 6GB buffer. We'll have to wait until the 390x arrives before we crown a new performance champion though.

Nvidia expects the first reference cards to go on sale this week, while board partners will likely have cards equipped with third party coolers and overclocked GPU cores in a matter of weeks. Prices are expected to start from around £550, significantly less than the Titan X, although we'll have to wait for AMD to reveal the R9 390x to see how the two compare. We're hoping to get our hands on a card later this week, so will be sure to bring you a final verdict once we've had a chance to put a GeForce GTX 980ti through its paces.

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