NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti GPU
June 2, 2015
₹55,249-₹69,999 including taxes (MSRP)
The NVIDIA GTX Titan X launched in April 2015 with a huge price tag, but nobody expected NVIDIA to launch the slimmed down version, the GTX 980 Ti so close on its heels. The GTX 980 Ti is the new flagship GPU based on the same GM200 chip as the GTX Titan X with a significantly lower price tag. We find out in this review what it performs like.
Specification of theGTX 980 Ti
The card has a ROP count of 96 and comes with 6GB of Hynix GDDR5 VRAM. Core clock is set to 1000 MHz and boost clock is 1076MHz. The VRAM is clocked at an effective 7012MHz. The VRAM should be able to overclock decently as should the chip itself if earlier experience with Maxwell parts is anything to go by. Shader count drops to 2816 from the 3072 of the GTX Titan X.
The launch prices for the GTX 980 Ti variants range from ₹55,249 to ₹69,999 including taxes.
Build Quality and Packaging
Our review sample came in a special Black Package that showcased the card much like the one we had seen with the GTX 980 and GTX Titan X. Though this box has no accessories, retail versions should ship with a Driver CD/DVD, Manual and Power Cable adapters.
The card comes in the familiar silver and black casing that is seen in most of NVIDIA’s existing cards like the GTX 980. There is no covering on the top of the PCB however, leaving it exposed to the air. In terms of bling, there is the green backlit GEFORCE GTX logo on the side that can be controlled through the GEForce Experience application. NVIDIA’s stock design isn’t quite as efficient as the custom cooler designs of other manufacturers though it does have excellent build quality. Given our experience with the Titan X, we found that the GM200 chip runs rather hot and exposes the flaws of the current cooling design.
The cooling vents at the back are cut in the triangular honeycomb pattern, which makes for an interesting looking design. The GDDR5 RAM uses Hynix Chips, which are known for being quality overclockers. The card has dimensions of 27cmx11.1cmx4cm, which can make for a tight fit in some small cases.
We tested the 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
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 GTX 980 Ti has a marginal advantage in this game over the G1 GAMING GTX 980 that is curious given the higher Minimum FPS value and the lowest 99th percentile frametime. It loses out to the GTX Titan X though not by much.
There are a lot of spikes and the stuttering was noticeable as the game warped in objects in the distance. The FPS was fluctuating quite a bit. Seems Far Cry 4 needs more optimisation, rather than the GPU needing better drivers if it performs so poorly even on its showcase GPUs.
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.
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 GTX 980 Ti surprisingly matched the GTX Titan X for Average FPS and beat it in the 99th percentile frametime. However, it did dip lower in the minimum FPS. Both cards soundly beat the G1 GAMING GTX 980.
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.
While the GTX Titan X leads in the average FPS, it is beaten by the GTX 980 Ti in both the 99th percentile frametime and the minimum FPS this game, even with the Ultra textures on. The G1 GAMING GTX 980 lags behind both.
Other than the large spike at the start, which was caused by activating 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.
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.
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.
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.
The frametimes are densely distributed with few variations. The FPS graph shows a large amount of fluctuations. However, the card does seem to struggle with rendering Vegetation Alpha in the early part of the benchmark.
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 70% fan speed even at full load, which was tolerable to our ears. However, setting the fans at 100% rpm makes a noticeable din that sounds something like a toy R/C Car.
At idle the card hovered in the 45°-47°C range with an ambient temperature of 33°C, which is quite warm. The card easily went to 85°C under load. While overclocked it would plateau out at 88°C as the fan kicked up its RPM, which is hotter than the stock peak. Owners of this card would do well to look at aftermarket cooling solutions to extract even more performance from it.
The card comes in a 6pin+8pin power connector configuration and is rated at 250W TDP though it barely reaches that when overclocked. 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 mean that the card becomes slightly less power efficient, something that has been a key selling point for the Maxwell chips.
Overclocking the GTX 980 Ti
Using MSI Afterburner, we were able to push the core clock to 1260MHz with boost clock at 1336 MHz, ( in boost mode, it even reached frequencies of 1400MHz) and the Hynix VRAM chips to 1953 MHz (7812 MHz effective). This is a total overclock of 26% over stock for the core clock and about 11.5% for the VRAM. These are impressive figures for overclocking 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 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 18-19 fps on average with a very slightly lower 99th percentile frametime, which is brilliant.
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.
With the GTX 980 Ti, NVIDIA have a really compelling flagship proposition that’s also somewhat reasonably priced. We were surprised at how close it was to the GTX Titan X in performance which only adds to the list of negatives of the latter GPU. The generous 6GB RAM should come in handy when pushing newer games at 4k resolutions.
The ageing NVIDIA cooler design comes with its share of flaws compounded by the rather hot running GM200 chip. This can mean a really hot card running inside the case in the absence of a custom cooling solution. The lack of a heat sheath on top also exposes the PCB to the elements. The stock cooler is a passable design and has a lot of scope for improvement.
The overclocking performance of the card blew us away and we believe this adds serious value to the card given that it can potentially trounce the costlier GTX Titan X once overclocked. The most touted point about the Maxwell parts is the power efficiency, though this card doesn’t quite match its other Maxwell brethren in this area. Despite this, the sweet pricing point of the card and it’s significant performance gain over the GTX 980, both combine to give it tremendous value at the top end of the GPU spectrum. We award this card the iLLGaming Gold and the iLLGaming Editor’s Choice looking at all of its aspects.
We are extremely grateful to NVIDIA for providing us with a test sample for reviewing.
+Good Value for Money
-Stock cooler design isn’t very efficient.