Asus Strix GTX 980 Ti OC
Asus (GTX 980 Ti designed by NVIDIA)
June 1, 2015 for GTX 980 Ti
₹64,000 + Taxes
In our GTX 980 Ti review, we saw that the new offering from NVIDIA could potentially outperform its elder sibling, the GTX Titan X when overclocked. Asus have now released their own variant of the GPU with quite a hefty overclock under their Strix brand. We find out if the custom cooler can improve the benchmark set by the stock model.
Specification of the Strix GTX 980 Ti
The card has a ROP count of 96 and comes with 6GB of Hynix GDDR5 VRAM. Core clock is set to 1216MHz, which is an overclock of 21.6% with the boost clock at 1317MHz. The VRAM is clocked at an effective 7200MHz, which is an overclock of about 2.7%. This is quite an aggressive overclock for an out-of-the-box product and goes to show Asus’s confidence in their cooling design.
The rear panel of the card sports a DVI-D port, a HDMI port and three DisplayPort slots though only four can be used at once in a multi monitor setup. The PCB also has a couple of SLI Bridge connectors.
Build Quality and Packaging
Asus does a good job of packaging the GPU in layers of Styrofoam. The box is quite standard with a Strix Branded black cardboard box inside. There is another smaller black box that greets you when you open this, that contains the Manual, Driver Disc (which contains the GEForce Experience installer which then downloads the latest NVIDIA driver), Power connector adapter cables and a Strix sticker to show off your purchase. Below this is a slim Styrofoam layer that you remove to reveal the GPU safely packed in its anti-static cover.
The card boasts a custom cooler design based on the DirectCU III cooler design for the heatsink that has twin 10 mm pipes heatpipes that dissipate heat from the GPU chip to the large cooling fin array. The fins are cooled by a trio of 0dB Wingblade design fans that actuate when the temperature soars above 65-68°C, though Asus have informed us that this has been lowered in the new BIOS that the retail units are shipping with to keep the temperatures in greater check. NVIDIA’s stock cooler design isn’t quite as efficient at cooling the GPU, so a custom design is an interesting prospect.
Asus have moved their manufacturing to a new process called Auto Extreme, which automates the entire assembly process allowing for much greater quality control. This combined with the high quality components they use in manufacturing the cards goes a long way towards achieving premium build quality. This allows for better overclocking performance and fewer faulty cards.
Asus have thoughtfully angled the edge of the cooler near the screw holes so that one can use toolless mounting mechanisms with ease, though the rectangular PCB juts out on one end due to the SLI connectors, adding a bit of difficulty.
In a first for the Strix series, the GPU comes with a glowing red side panel with the Strix logo in white. The colourscheme of the cooler is Black, Red and Grey and looks more like older Asus cards than the Owl like appearance of earlier Strix cards. The top of the PCB also has a black covering with Red highlighting near the GPU chip. Asus have also provided power connector lights atop the recessed dual 8 pin power connectors to indicate if they are connected properly. The cooling vents at the back are rather small and rectangular in shape. The card has dimensions of 30.5cmx15.2cmx4cm, which is quite huge.
We tested the Strix GTX 980 Ti not only for the average Frames per Second(FPS) but also for the 99th Percentile Frame time which tells us about the performance of the GPU within the second. Within the Second testing is useful to understand micro-stutter which can render a game unplayable despite FPS being high. Fraps 3.5.99 allowed us to calculate both.
Since the card is a Top End GPU, we decided to use highest possible settings in our benchmark games and compare with other Top End GPUs. We tried to disable CPU dependent settings or minimise their impact where possible. VSync and frame buffering were disabled for testing. All tests were run at 1920×1080 on a single monitor configuration.
CPU: Intel i7-4790k @4GHZ (4.4GHz Turbo)
Motherboard: Asus Maximus VII Hero
RAM: 2x8GB G.Skill TridentX 2666MHz 12-13-13-36
PSU: Corsair TX650 650W
SSD: Samsung 840 Evo 1TB (For OS and Benchmarks)
HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1TB, Seagate Barracuda 2TB, 2xWesten Digital Red 3TB (Storage)
OS: Windows 8.1 x64
NVIDIA Driver: 347.09 for G1 GAMING GTX 980
NVIDIA Driver: 347.88 for GTX Titan X
NVIDIA Driver: 352.90 (Beta)/353.06 for GTX 980 Ti
NVIDIA Driver: 353.30 for Strix GTX 980 Ti
AMD Driver: 15.7 for Strix Radeon R9 Fury
While this system may not look like a purpose built test rig, we decided to use a normal usage PC so as to better reflect real world scores of the card. The games were also tested with a few applications like Antivirus, Browser, VOIP tool and others running in the background to get a realistic usage scenario. All HDDs were thoroughly defragmented prior to usage and SSDs were optimised for maximum performance. Due to lack of equipment, we were unable to conduct acoustic and power testing. Since this is a new test rig, we are lacking a comparative benchmark database for it, as it will be built up as we get more cards for testing.
3Dmark is an artificial Benchmarking tool whose Firestrike Test is very thorough on DirectX 11cards powering High-end PCs. The full test run for Firestrike includes 2 GPU only tests, a CPU dependent Physics Test and a Combined Graphics and Physics Test. The Tool is also useful for stress testing a GPU when run on loop. Given that we are looking for the Performance of the Card itself, one should look at the Graphics score and the FPS for Graphics tests 1 and 2. We also tested the card for the Firestrike Ultra setting that tests for 4K performance. The Physics and Combined tests are CPU dependent, which is the limiting factor of our test rig.
Battlefield 4 uses the Frostbite 3 engine to push the visual processing boundaries of current hardware. Since Mantle is only for AMD cards, we ran the DX11 version with the highest possible settings. The game offers no benchmark tool, so we used areas from the first single player campaign mission for the FRAPS run.The Strix GTX 980 Ti shatters all the previous benchmarks in this game across all criteria and makes us rethink on continuing with this game as part of our benchmark suite.The FPS spikes intermittently in the run and the frametime graph is also densely packed with a bit of periodic spiking that is too insignificant to be noticed as microstutter. The initial part of the run does have some marginally larger spikes but there was no visible effect in the run.
Company of Heroes 2
Relic’s Company of Heroes 2 is a tough nut to crack for quite a few GPUs, though it’s dependent on CPUs to a great degree as well. We used highest possible Settings with Physics turned off and Low AA for the short 45s benchmark run the game offers.The Strix GTX 980 Ti manages to outperform both the GTX Titan X and the stock GTX 980 Ti in the average FPS and 99th percentile frametime in this game, but curiously seems to dip lower than both in the minimum FPS.The frametimes are quite tight with the stray spikes. The FPS also remained easily playable and visually provided quite a smooth run, except for that one large spike in the middle as the scene changed.
Far Cry 4
Far Cry 4 adds even more visual effects to the DUNIA engine of Far Cry 3 and it has some NVIDIA specific effects like God Rays and realistic Fur as well. This makes for an absolute visual treat when all settings are cranked up to the max like in our 2 minute benchmark run.The Strix GTX 980 Ti was benchmarked at slightly different settings as compared to the other NVIDIA cards, with SMAA instead of TXAAx4 to show the actual gap between the AMD GPU and the NVIDIA GPU in an NVIDIA Gameworks optimised game. The results are quite obvious.The spikes show the presence of stuttering when the game engine rendered NVIDIA Gameworks effects like Soft Shadows on a large area of the scene. There were corresponding FPS dips but not as huge, as one might think though there was some noticeable stuttering.
GRID Autosport is the next game in the GRID series from Codemasters that has specific effects reserved for Intel GPUs, which makes it great to judge the performance of NVIDIA and AMD cards as it provides an even playing field. We used the highest settings and used game’s benchmark in a 2 minute run.This game was curiously favoured by the stock GTX 980 Ti over the GTX Titan X, but the Strix GTX 980 Ti set the bar even higher across all criteria.The graph is tightly packed in the frametimes with no major spikes, though there are regular spikes that aren’t too large to disturb gameplay. Even the fps looks quite stable.
Metro Last Light Redux
4A Games have really cranked up the eye candy in Metro Last Light, and the Redux version comes with even more improvements to visuals. The game looks beautiful in its cramped corridors as well as its open outdoor environments and cranking up the settings can easily bring a GPU to its knees in the menu screen itself. We used the highest settings available except for SSAA that was set at 2x to accommodate a few other cards we tested. The game has no inbuilt benchmark, so we chose a particular area to conduct out tests run in for a time of 2 minutes.The stock GTX 980 Ti matched the GTX Titan X in this game, but the Strix GTX 980 Ti beat them both by a significant margin.The game stays consistent for the most part and the spikes are not significant. There was no noticeable stuttering where the spikes occurred. The FPS stays pretty consistent too.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Monolith have used some fancy effects to add some visual appeal to the dreary land of Mordor. Shadow of Mordor also uses PhysX for particle effects. The rain though doesn’t quite look natural and the game requires up to 6GB VRAM for using its Ultra HD textures. Curiously, it scales the game based on the screen’s natural resolution instead of offering resolution options. We used the highest available settings for the inbuilt benchmark, which runs for less than the standard 2 minutes of our other benchmarks.Nothing comes close to the Strix GTX 980 Ti in this game in any of the criteria.Other than the large spike at the end, which was caused by deactivating the benchmarking in FRAPS, there are no noticeable spikes and the game did not stutter a bit. The FPS curve is relatively smooth.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Ryse pushes the newest iteration of the CryEngine to its limits as claimed by Crytek on the PC. It doesn’t have a benchmark mode, so we ran a fixed scenario for 2 minutes. The settings were set to the highest possible. This game scales the game as per the resolution of the screen instead of offering resolution options.We consider this game to be the great leveller and yet the Strix GTX 980 Ti was able to significantly outperform all of the other cards while keeping the game playable.There are a few spikes but the 99th percentile graph, which is pretty tight otherwise. The FPS graph does waver a bit though it stays constant in parts.
Thief (2014) is a game that boasts support for AMD’s Mantle and its TrueAudio tech. It is a graphical showcase and has a built in benchmark, though the run time is less than our standard 2 minutes. We set all settings to the highest possible.While the Strix GTX 980 Ti has the top score in average FPS and 99th percentile frametime it curiously matches the stock GTX 980 Ti on the minimum FPS.The Frametime graph is tightly packed for much of the run though there’s some spiking in the early part as the game started its own benchmark. It wasn’t noticeable as stuttering however. The FPS graph doesn’t show huge fluctuations except for a couple of dips.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Tomb Raider (2013) introduced us to a new Lara with fabled TressFX hair that behaves a lot more realistically than the pre-rendered mop we were used to. However, the card does not seem to cope well with this technology and we had to drop it in our test run. We used highest possible settings with TressFX on. The Test run was shorter since the benchmark tool offered by the game runs for less than out 120s target time.The Strix GTX 980 Ti simply dominates the benchmarks in this game despite the handicap posed by the TressFX technology.The frametime graph is pretty densely packed with a few spikes here and there. The FPS graph is very smooth, though appearing slightly serrated.
Total War: Rome II
Total War: Rome II is another CPU heavy game that offers significant visual goodness. It offers a benchmark tool that focuses more on GPU power though and that is what we used for our test run of 120s. We set the game to Extreme and Unit Size to Small so as to reduce the impact of the CPU. Unlimited Video Memory was off so the game could scale down visual settings if it reached a bottleneck.This CPU heavy game doesn’t bother the Strix GTX 980 Ti much other than with the Vegetation Alpha that has always been a thorn in the side of NVIDIA GPUs that causes it to lose to the Strix Radeon R9 Fury in the Minimum FPS.The frametimes are densely distributed with few variations. The FPS graph shows a large amount of fluctuations.
Our acoustics testing consisted of trying to determine how noticeable the noise output from the card was, when kept in a case at 1m distance with the side panel closed, as it might be in a real world scenario. Noise is a very relative characteristic that depends not only on the person hearing, but also on the background noise of their surroundings. During the course of our testing, we found that the card barely went over 50% fan speed even at full load, which was silent to our ears. However, setting the fans at 100% rpm makes a noticeable din that sounds something like an industrial blower.
At idle the card hovered in the 46°-52°C range with an ambient temperature of 33°C, which is rather warm. The card barely breached to 80°C under load. While overclocked it would plateau out at 84°C as the fan kicked up its RPM, which is the same as the stock peak. We were quite surprised by this as this a step higher than the under 80°C temperatures we have been accustomed to with Asus’s DirectCU II cooler designs.
The card comes in an 8pin+8pin power connector configuration, and is rated at 250W TDP. The card requires a good PSU for overclocking. The extra power as compared to the stock design increases the overclocking headroom of the card. However, this does come at the cost of power efficiency that has been a key selling point for the Maxwell architecture.
Overclocking the Strix GTX 980 Ti
Using MSI Afterburner, we were able to push the core clock to 1275MHz with boost clock at 1376MHz and the VRAM to an effective 7960MHz. This is a total overclock of about 5% over the factory values but notably an overclock of 27.5% over the stock values on the core clock, which beats the maximum we reached on the stock card. The VRAM overclocks by 10.5% over factory values and 13.5% over stock values. This was borderline stable and was achieved by increasing Power limit to 110%. To keep the temperatures in check, it is a good idea to set the fan to 60-70% from the outset, especially when the ambient temperatures are higher. All our tests however, were conducted in the stock configuration.
We ran 3DMark to check improvements in the overclocked performance and the graphics score increased from 15863 to 16390.We also ran the benchmark offered by the game Thief to get a real world idea of the performance gains. We used the Very High settings for our runs that concluded in less time than our standard 120 second runs. One must note that Thief is slightly unreliable as a benchmark due to inconsistency in results across various runs. That said we got an improvement of about 2-3 fps on average with a very slightly lower 99th percentile frametime and a significantly higher minimum FPS, which is decent.
Asus has overhauled its GPU Tweak utility and it now looks much sleeker and integrates X-split for streaming. It also comes with a 1 year premium subscription of X-split. With NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience, the card can support features like Shadowplay and game streaming. NVIDIA has also purposed this application for keeping its drivers up to date and ships only the installer for it with the GPU, expecting the consumer to download the latest driver. The card’s LED strip can also be controlled to display some cool effects. The new card also lets one use a technique called Dynamic Super Resolution that can be used to enhance the visual quality of shoddy console ports.
The Strix GTX 980 Ti is an aggressively overclocked version of the GTX 980 Ti which beats the more expensive GTX Titan X out of the box at three fourth of the price. Our previous review of the GTX 980 Ti showed how close it came to the GTX Titan X in terms of performance and the huge overclocking potential it had. Asus has exploited this well and must be lauded for their cooler design that allows us to push this chip even further.
Asus’s cooler design seems to be pretty efficient and does a good job of keeping the temperatures down when it matters. We do have some misgivings about the actuation temperature of the 0dB fans for the hot temperature conditions in India with the card reaching 85°C when overclocked while ambient temperatures soared to 35°C. However, Asus have assured us that the products being shipped to market will have a new BIOS to keep the temperatures under check. The reimagining of the Strix branding comes off as rather attractive while remaining pretty functional when it comes to assembling the PC.
The overclocking performance of the card shows that the chip can be pushed a bit more with a custom cooling design, though with the already aggressive factory overclock, there’s little headroom left. Power Efficiency takes a backseat in this quest for performance however. On pure performance alone, the card scores quite high on the Value for Money chart though it already utilises a large amount of the overclocking potential of the chip. The pricing point makes it a rather tempting offering in comparison to other custom GTX 980 Ti variants in the market and the GTX Titan X. We award this card the iLL Gaming Gold and Editor’s Choice based on its performance and value.
We are extremely grateful to Asus for providing us with a test sample for reviewing.
-Mediocre Power Efficiency