Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 And 980 Review: Maximum Maxwell

Test System And Benchmarks

Benchmarking Hardware And Software

The GeForce GTX 980, 9970, and 780 Ti were tested with the 344.07 launch driver, band all of the Radeon cards were outfitted with the Catalyst 14.7 release candidate for testing.

We selected a variety of newer game titles with high detail settings at a resolution of 1920x1080 in order to give the GeForce GTX 970 and its competitors a solid, real-world workload that this class of card should be able to handle. Frankly, it surprised us with its formidable capabilities.

The factory-overclocked EVGA GeForce GTX 970's core clock was dropped to the 1050/1178 MHz nominal/boost reference specification in order to show what a typical specimen should be able to accomplish. Keep in mind that there is no reference cooler for this card, so all GeForce GTX 970s will be unique in this respect.

Two of the games we're testing have an option to use a Mantle code path, so we're running those benchmarks (Thief and Battlefield 4) with Mantle enabled and disabled to measure the API's impact.

High-end graphics cards require a substantial amount of power, so XFX sent us its PRO850W 80 PLUS Bronze-certified power supply. This modular PSU employs a single +12 V rail rated for 70 A. XFX claims continuous (not peak) output of up to 850 W at 50 degrees Celsius.

We've almost exclusively eliminated mechanical disks in the lab, preferring solid-state storage for alleviating I/O-related bottlenecks. Samsung sent all of our labs 256 GB 840 Pros, so we standardize on these exceptional SSDs.


Test System
CPU
Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E), 3.3 GHz, Six Cores, LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3 Cache, Hyper-Threading enabled.
Motherboard
ASRock X79 Extreme9 (LGA 2011) Chipset: Intel X79 Express
Networking
On-Board Gigabit LAN controller
Memory
Corsair Vengeance LP PC3-16000, 4 x 4 GB, 1600 MT/s, CL 8-8-8-24-2T
Graphics

Reference GeForce GTX 980
1126/1216 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5 at 1753 MHz (7000 MT/s)

EVGA GeForce GTX 970

1165/1365 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5 at 1753 MHz (7012 MT/s)
(underclocked GPU to reference 1050/1178 MHz specification for benchmarks)

Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti
875/928 MHz GPU, 3 GB GDDR5 at 1752 MHz (7008 MT/s)

Nvidia GeForce GTX 770

1046/1085 MHz GPU, 2 GB GDDR5 at 1752 MHz (7008 MT/s)

AMD Radeon R9 280X
850/1000 MHz GPU, 3 GB GDDR5 at 1500 MHz (6000 MT/s)

AMD Radeon R9 290
947 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5 at 1250 MHz (5000 MT/s)

AMD Radeon R9 290X
1000 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5 at 1250 MHz (5000 MT/s)
SSD
Samsung 840 Pro, 256 GB SSD, SATA 6Gb/s
Power
XFX PRO850W, ATX12V, EPS12V
Software and Drivers
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64
DirectX
DirectX 11
Graphics Drivers
All GeForce Cards (except GTX 770): Nvidia 344.07 Launch Driver
All Radeon cards: AMD Catalyst 14.7 RC 1
GeForce GTX 770: Nvidia 340.52 WHQL
Benchmarks
Watch Dogs
Version 1.04.497, Custom THG Benchmark, 90-sec FRAPS, Driving
Arma 3
V. 1.26.126.789, 30-sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Battlefield 4
Version 1.3.2.3825, Custom THG Benchmark, 90-Sec
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Custom THG Benchmark, 40-Sec
ThiefVersion 1.6.0.0, Built-in Benchmark
Grid Autosport
Version 1.0.101.4672, Built-In benchmark
Far Cry 3
Version 1.05, Custom THG Benchmark, 55-sec FRAPS

We'd like to voice our appreciation to Damian and the folks at Memory Express in Canada who helped us with some last-minute equipment requirements in order to perform the benchmarks for this review.  Thanks, gents!

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364 comments
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  • Vivecss
    Wow.......
  • lancear15
    I was waiting for Tom's review to make my final decision, the 980 is definitely going into my current 5960x build! I cant wait.
  • HKILLER
    so how long before you do a round up?i mean this time i've seen some pretty crazy looking cards (Zotac's Extreme AMP! edition looks crazy and the Inno3D too)and EVGA has shown off ACX 2.0 which they claim to be the most efficient GPU air cooler in the world...so many to choose from also EVGA FTW has been nicely overclocked i've seen it performing almost on par with 980
  • realibrad
    byt he way... Last page 2nd sentence after the graph of Avg game performance.

    I was hoping for more performance but the efficiency is quite nice. They just put pressure on the top end and gave us a price reduction, instead of overall performance gains.
  • balister
    Very nice, but I still want to see what the power consumption along with what might be possible with the drop to 20nm (since this is still 28nm).

    Likely, we're going to see a Maxwell Titan equivalent come in the next year or so as these are a x04 much like Kepler with the 670/80s were and we're still going to be waiting to see what the x10 will be with the Maxwell architecture.
  • MANOFKRYPTONAK
    Why didn't you include an overclocking comparison? Why didn't you include the 780, but included the 770? Doesn't make much sense...
  • vertexx
    970 is the real story until the 980ti comes out - what a value proposition with the 970!

    Good stuff here - but you guys were a bit slow on this one. Tom's Hardware is the first site I visit every morning. But with the delay of this article, I've been all over the net this morning on other sites that got their stuff out sooner.
  • daveys93
    Will there be a follow-up article about overclocking these cards? Other sites are showing results that both of the new cards are capable of 1500+ MHz on air (aftermarket coolers and even a few with stock coolers), which is a massive overclock. Looks like NVIDIA left the door open for some decent voltage increases, but many results have been in the 1450-1500 MHz range at stock voltage. I am a big fan of the thoroughness of Tom's articles so I am very interested in seeing overclocking results and analysis from this site.
  • nikolajj
    I need this...
  • tobalaz
    I want a 970, wow!
    That's some flat out insane price / performance ratio right there!
  • cleeve
    671978 said:
    Why didn't you include an overclocking comparison? Why didn't you include the 780, but included the 770? Doesn't make much sense...


    Same answer to both... no time.

    We literally got the 970 for testing yesterday. The 980, we got the day before. We barely got the article out by this morning.

    For those of you who want more info, we'll be spending more time with the GeForce GTX 980 and 970 in the weeks to come, don't you worry. ;)
  • BigMack70
    Since we know this is only the mid-size Maxwell chip (just like GK104 vs GK110), shouldn't this article title be "Medium Maxwell"?

    I'm waiting for the real Maximum Maxwell myself. Unimpressed with these xxx04 launches from Nvidia.
  • EnkiduW
    Wonder what dual 970's would look like, the price is not that bad...
  • MANOFKRYPTONAK
    Why didn't you include an overclocking comparison? Why didn't you include the 780, but included the 770? Doesn't make much sense...
  • vertexx
    1765452 said:
    Wonder what dual 970's would look like, the price is not that bad...


    http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/NVIDIA/GeForce_GTX_970_SLI/

    Depending on resolution, dual 970's are roughly equal to the 295x2 at only 2/3's the price.
  • Novuake
    Performance aside, which OBVIOUSLY is stellar for current price/performance consideration.

    The features that Nvidia has been rolling out constantly has been quite impressive, while many of them do not appeal to me at all, the sheer amount and in most cases quality of them is insane.

    Well done Nvidia. Let's see what AMD responds with, my next main gaming machine purchase as of now are 2 x Nvidia GTX970.

    EDIT : Im sure that its a good upgrade to my 2 x HD7950s :D
  • Novuake
    21257 said:
    671978 said:
    Why didn't you include an overclocking comparison? Why didn't you include the 780, but included the 770? Doesn't make much sense...
    Same answer to both... no time. We literally got the 970 for testing yesterday. The 980, we got the day before. We barely got the article out by this morning. For those of you who want more info, we'll be spending more time with the GeForce GTX 980 and 970 in the weeks to come, don't you worry. ;)


    Thank you! That answered a question I had in a previous GTX980/970 tease on the live news feed.

    Do you guys have this problem often with Nvidia? You always seem to have fewer Nvidia board partner variaty and slower review releases on Nvidia GPUs.
    More so than other websites.
  • vertexx
    554342 said:
    21257 said:
    671978 said:
    Why didn't you include an overclocking comparison? Why didn't you include the 780, but included the 770? Doesn't make much sense...
    Same answer to both... no time. We literally got the 970 for testing yesterday. The 980, we got the day before. We barely got the article out by this morning. For those of you who want more info, we'll be spending more time with the GeForce GTX 980 and 970 in the weeks to come, don't you worry. ;)
    Thank you! That answered a question I had in a previous GTX980/970 tease on the live news feed. Do you guys have this problem often with Nvidia? You always seem to have fewer Nvidia board partner variaty and slower review releases on Nvidia GPUs. More so than other websites.


    My bets are that no NVidia GPUs on the best GPU's for the $$ for the past several months earned Tom's a slight delay in the delivery of these GPUs. :ouch:
  • Novuake
    1293856 said:
    My bets are that no NVidia GPUs on the best GPU's for the $$ for the past several months earned Tom's a slight delay in the delivery of these GPUs. :ouch:


    Nah, doubt Nvidia is that petty.

    More publicity is exactly that, more publicity.

    Tom's has been around a long time and is trusted by A LOT of people.
    Doubt Nvidia would compromise the user base.
  • Nossy
    Nvidia and Intel are so way ahead of AMD...
  • oxiide
    671978 said:
    Why didn't you include an overclocking comparison? Why didn't you include the 780, but included the 770? Doesn't make much sense...


    Agreed that overclocking would have been interesting to see. But would including the 780 have added anything to this? The GTX 970 is already faster than an R9 290X.

    The 770, at least, allows us to see the direct improvement from one x70 card to its replacement. Especially when they're approximately the same price.
  • Novuake
    Just read some of the benches again, dear lord those number at that price. Can not get over it...

    Now lets see if they can satisfy my overclocking needs.

    Hurry up with that portion Cleeve!
    When can we expect it?
  • legokill101
    and just to add on while I am very excited about the better price/performance and performance per watt I would honestly say that while the increased efficiency is great, most enthusiast run a single gpu in a full atx case with ample airflow and because of that, I feel like features and price/performance, tend to dictate most purchases of gpu, not performance for watt (which isn't to say its not a good thing)
  • Novuake
    118801 said:
    Nvidia and Intel are so way ahead of AMD...


    Don't count AMD out of the GPU world yet, they still need to respond with their release.

    As for AMD CPUs, I have given up in the enthusiast market, but still have high hopes for low cost and low power APUs bringing affordable gaming to mobile devices.