Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 review
Nvidia has always been right up there on the graphics card foodchain. With solutions not only for gamers but also for creative professionals who work with intensive graphics, 3D or video editing. Now, Nvidia has just launched the GeForce GTX 980, a mighty graphics card with a whole host of new features.
Design and build
The GeForce GTX 980's looks can only be summed up as industrial. The PCI express card is completely clad in a black and silver metal jacket, with a fiberglass finish along sections, protecting the powerful internals. On the jacket is a high speed fan as well as heatsink ribs on the side and a triangular cut duct on the IO panel to dissipate heat. All of these details are designed to follow the same industrial theme set.
At the core of GeForce GTX 980 hums a second-generation Maxwell GM204 GPU consisting of 16 streaming multiprocessors and 64 render output units capable of upto 5 Teraflops and 144.1 GigaTexels/sec at a power consumption of 165 Watts with a transistor count of 5.2 billion in a 28nm die size with a 2MB L2 Cache.
The base clock speed of GeForce GTX 980 is 1126MHz and can go up to a boost clock of 1216MHz when games or applications demand it. GeForce GTX 980 has 2048 CUDA cores and it also comes with 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM with a 256-bit pipeline capable of 7GB per second — useful for loading up games fast, as well as making sure you have very high-resolution textures.
As GeForce GTX 970 too has 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM, the 980 could have done with a gigabyte or two of extra VRAM, especially when you consider the Titan Z has 12GB of VRAM.
Installation and setup
Installation was quite easy, though a fair warning: this card is massive at 10.5-inch in length, so you will need a large cabinet. As compared to GeForce units of past, the new Maxwell technology is extremely power efficient, and GeForce GTX 980 is the most powerful in the new architecture's fleet, requiring a 500 Watt power supply.
To power up the card you will need two 6-pin power connectors. Just plug it in and the GeForce GTX 980 logo lights up in green, too handsome to lock away under the hood of your cabinet.
The GeForce GTX 980 is choc full of new graphical features, one of them being an Anti Aliasing algorithm called MFAA, which switches between various AA modes to do away with jagged edges on graphics smoothing pixels, and is 30% faster than 4x MSAA, currently one of the best modes for reducing aliasing out there today.
Also introduced was a dynamic lighting engine only used by the 980 called VXGI, Voxel Global Illumination, as shown in a nifty moon landing demo, with real time light sources being switched between.
The 980 is also ready for the Virtual Reality headset wave like the Oculus Rift, with VR Direct which makes sure the left eye and the right eye displays are both in perfect sync, thereby cutting down on nausea cause by motion sickness.
For gamers who love streaming on the popular gamestream network Twitch, which has been gaining popularity, Nvidia's ShadowPlay now lets you record and save QHD videos, not to mention you can also record and stream at the same time, while using your microphone to give real time commentary as you play.
Dynamic Super Resolution benchmarks
Rather than benchmark a card we already know is the fastest out there, we focus on one of it's biggest features, called Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) and make that the crux of this review.
Dynamic Super Resolution has been around for a while, a technique otherwise known as Superscaling or Downscaling, which allows you to run higher resolutions on your base resolution display. Therefore, you can run a Quadruple High Definition (QHD) resolution on a regular 1080p (Full HD) display.
Earlier, you had to tweak your system quite a bit based on math calculations of the resolution, so you get the least amount of aliasing. Now, Nvidia has offered 2 QHD resolutions for you to upscale to, so you can run your games, movies, programs at higher resolution. The DSR is, sadly, a Maxwell-only feature.
We tried a host of games as well as normal desktop uses on a HDTV as well as monitor using the upscaled resolutions. GeForce GTX 980 offers you a choice of two resolutions, 3840x2160p and 2715x1527p, both available from Nvidia settings and GeForce Experience panel as well as from within the games themselves. We tested the games on an Intel i5-3580k, 16GB RAM and Asus Sabertooth Z77 motherboard in a closed NZXT Phantom 420.
Desktop mode on a 27-inch monitor in 2715x1527p was quite usable, and though there was a bit of aliasing here and there, it was not too much. However, with Windows Aero enabled on Windows 7, there was a bit of aliasing on the mouseovers. 3840x2160p was a bit extreme as it made icons etc appear very small.
However, both resolutions on HDTV's worked superbly. 2715x1527p on a 40-inch monitor just did the trick, while 3840x2160p made everything too small; However, if you do have a bigger HDTV, about 55-inch plus, this resolution would work perfectly.
In order to push the new Maxwell to the max, we used the highly detailed open world of Chicago. At 1080p with maximum crown, vehicles and rain particles the game ran flawlessly at above 60fps, not even a hint of slowdown. We upscaled it to 1527p and the game was still playable at 30-32fps.
At 2160p (the highest possible currently), the game crawled along at 17fps. However, the image quality got a bit muddled. Since Watchdogs packs very high detail textures into their game already, the upscale and then condensation into a smaller resolution resulted in detail loss. However, the game looked absolutely gorgeous at 1080p and 1527p. All these settings are running in ultra.
Battlefield 4 is now almost a year old, but the Frostbite 3 engine it uses is the most malleable in the gaming world. Its destruction and particle effects is a test for any GPU, and it's old enough to benefit from the upscaling process.
We cranked all settings to ultra and the game was perfectly playable on all three resolutions, yielding in excess of 90+ fps on 1080p, 1527p gave about 53fps and 2160p ran smooth at 32fps. The game looked absolutely gorgeous on the highest resolution, with the textures and graphical fidelity bringing the game on par with what we've seen of games coming out later this year.
Metro: Last Light Redux is a beautiful and dark game, with an almost God-like level of detail in each stage, which will bring most GPUs to a crawl. We got 50fps at 1080p, 34fps on 1527p and just 6fps on 2160p; however, like Watchdogs, this game looks and plays fantastic on 1527p.
On Uniengine's Heaven benchmark, which tests overall performance (including how fast textures load, the Physx engine as well as temperature), we got 62.2fps and a score of 1568 at 1080p, while 1527p yielded an average of 32.7fps. Through all these tests, the card remained cool at about 55-60 degrees.
So what does all that mean?
To summarize the above tests, the Dynamic Super Resolutions increases the quality of your gaming, media, desktop exponentially. However, if you want to use DSR on a daily basis you can use the 1527p setting. The 2160p setting is useful when you have an older title that needs the upscaling without you losing the performance. Not only that, it's especially useful in real-time strategy games like StarCraft II or DOTA 2, which render a larger map space and give a larger area of view.
Those running this card on native QHD monitors will get silky smooth frame-rates, as the GPU is just rendering one frame on the native resolution. So, if you have a 2560x1440p monitor or HDTV, you will see a good performance boost.
Gamers on a budget can go for GeForce GTX 970, which has the same architecture and VRAM but has scaled-down specs. It retails for Rs 28,000, which is almost half of GeForce GTX 980's price.
However, If you are a gamer who has been holding out, saving up for a rainy day, then the 980 is that thundercloud on the horizon. Sure, it may cost a pretty penny at Rs 46,000, which is what most smartphones and consoles cost nowadays. However, you're getting a powerful addition to your PC that not only lets you turn your 1080p monitor or HDTV into a QHD beast, but also has enough pixel pushing power if you're a graphic professional, 3D artist or video editor.