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Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 ti review

Tom Morgan
10 Jul 2015
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
550
inc VAT

The GTX 980 Ti is the undisputed top-end gaming champion and will play all current titles at 4K resolutions

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Specifications

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 ti, Memory: 6GB GDDR5, Graphics card length: 267mm

Nvidia might already have one of the fastest graphics cards on the planet in the GeForce Titan X, but it was very much the Bugatti Veyron of GPUs; insanely fast, overkill for almost everyone and ludicrously expensive. Unless you were in serious need of graphics memory, which the Titan X has in spades, it was difficult to justify the incredible £800+ price. Nvidia sensibly left enough of a price gap between the Titan X and the £400 GTX 980 to fit in a card that could compete with AMD's impending Fury X: the GTX 980 Ti.

THE GPU

The 980 Ti is essentially a scaled-down GeForce Titan X, although there's hardly a massive gulf between the two cards. Both use the same GM200 GPU, which is based on Nvidia's energy-efficient Maxwell architecture and manufactured on a 28nm process. Both run at a 1GHz base clock and boost to 1,075MHz. Both have the same 250W TDP, and with effective cooling should prove to be monstrous overclockers.

There are differences, though. Nvidia has reduced the number of CUDA cores from 3,072 to 2,816, lowered the texture units from 192 to 176 and removed a pair of streaming multiprocessors (SMMs), leaving 22 rather than the 24 found in the Titan X. The GTX 980 Ti has 6GB of GDDR5 memory, compared to the Titan X's 12GB, although because both cards use a 384-bit memory bus and clock the RAM chips at an effective 7GHz, they have the same 336GB/sec peak memory bandwidth.

THE CARD

At 267mm long, the 980 Ti is no larger than Nvidia's current top-end graphics cards, and as such should fit inside most ATX cases without needing to remove drive cages. The green backlit logo is a nice touch, illuminating the interior of your case and giving you something to look at if you have a windowed side panel. There's one six-pin and one eight-pin PCI-Express power socket on the front edge of the card as it sits in your case, which should help you keep cables in check. Two SLI connections will even let you run four cards in SLI, if your motherboard (and bank balance) will support it.

Naturally for a card designed to play games at 4K resolutions, the GTX 980 Ti has three DisplayPort 1.2 ports on the back for hooking up to Ultra HD monitors. It also has a single HDMI 2.0 port, meaning you can hook it up to a 4K TV, and dual-link DVI.

The GTX 980 Ti is a fully DirectX 12-compliant card, meaning it can take advantage of more realistic smoke, fire and material effects once developers start using the DirectX 12 API in their games. It also works with Nvidia's G-Sync adaptive refresh technology, meaning you can eliminate screen tear in games when playing on a compatible G-Sync monitor. Add in optimisations for virtual reality gaming, including multi-resolution shading to only render the pixels visible through the spherical lenses of a VR headset, and the GTX 980 Ti is about a future-proof as it's possible to get.

PERFORMANCE

Unlike the Titan X, which was only available as a reference design card, Nvidia is letting its board partners release GTX 980 Ti cards with custom coolers and out-of-the-box overclocks. We've looked at the reference design, complete with Nvidia's standard radial fan blower heatsink. It's surprisingly quiet in use, and managed to keep the GPU core below 60 degrees Celsius throughout our testing.

With the GTX 980 Ti installed in our reference PC, it quickly became clear that no games can trouble the card at 1,920x1,080. Dirt Showdown produced a silky 126.8fps with Ultra settings and 4x MSAA. Even with demanding super sampling anti-aliasing (SSAA) and Ultra detail enabled, we saw incredibly smooth frame rates in both Tomb Raider and Metro: Last Light Redux, at 156fps and 64fps respectively.

Stepping up to 2,560x1,440 wasn't enough to make the 980 Ti sweat, either. Dirt Showdown maintained a fantastic 115.2fps and Tomb Raider stayed strong at 78.1fps. Metro begins to drop below the perfectly playable 60 frames per second, producing 40.7fps, but disabling anti-aliasing boosted this back to 78.1fps.

It's only when playing at 4K resolutions that we begin to see the limits of the card. Dirt Showdown was still a perfectly playable 69.7fps, but Tomb Raider dropped to 30fps and Metro stumbled down to 17.7fps. However, SSAA anti-aliasing isn't realistic at this resolution; it renders the game at double your desired resolution before downscaling it, meaning at 4K games were effectively being rendered at 8K. Switching to the far less demanding FXAA resulted in a much smoother 51.2fps in Tomb Raider, and 37.2fps in Metro: Last Light Redux. Anti-aliasing isn't really required at such high resolutions, so we're confident that almost every game will be playable at 4K on this card.

We overclocked the 980 Ti using EVGA's Precision X utility, and were blown away with how much extra performance we were able to eke out of the card. After adding 250MHz to the core clock and 150MHz to the memory, we managed to get Metro: Last Light Redux to a much smoother 44fps at 4K resolution, and could even play Tomb Raider at 4K with SSAA and the AMD-specific TressFX hair rendering at 47.9fps.

CONCLUSION

Right now, the GeForce GTX 980 Ti is the fastest single graphics card around. The newly announced AMD Fury X reportedly matches it for frame rates at 4K, but we’ll have to wait until we get one in for testing to see if the AMD card's high-bandwidth memory architecture puts it on a level playing field with Nvidia's card at 1,920x1,080 and 2,560x1,400 resolutions too. We'd be more than a little cross if we'd invested in a Titan X, as the GTX 980 Ti isn’t much slower but is almost £300 cheaper.

Like the Titan X, the GTX 980 Ti is overkill for 1080p resolutions. However, anyone with multiple 2,560x1,440 resolution displays or a 4K monitor will reap the benefits. It's a big investment, particularly if you opt for a custom-cooled, overclocked model from one of Nvidia's board partners, but you can rest assured that you'll be able to play the latest games at the highest frame rates for a long time to come.

Hardware
Slots taken up2
GPUNvidia GeForce GTX 980 ti
GPU cores2,816
GPU clock speed1GHz
GPU clock boost speed1,075MHz
Memory6GB GDDR5
Memory interface384-bit
Max memory bandwidth336.5GB/s
Memory speed7GHz
Graphics card length267mm
DVI outputs1
D-sub outputs0
HDMI outputs1
Mini HDMI outputs0
DisplayPort outputs3
Mini DisplayPort outputs0
Power leads required1x 8-pin PCI Express, 1x 6-pin PCI Express

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