In today's world, energy efficiency is a virtue. We're building more efficient lightbulbs, more efficient cars and even more efficient computer hardware. A trend we've been seeing for a long time, though, is that graphics cards have started eating more and more energy in order to maintain performance increases, but now it seems that the tides are turning. Recently, Nvidia launched its GeForce GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti graphics cards, and today it is launching the enthusiast-class GTX 980 and 970 graphics cards.
Both of these cards are based on the new Maxwell architecture, which is built to deliver more performance while using much less power. They are based on the GM204 GPU, with the GTX 980 carrying a total of 2048 CUDA cores over 16 SMMs and the GTX 970 carrying 1664 CUDA cores over 13 SMMs.
On the GTX 980, the GPU runs at 1126 MHz base with a boost clock of 1216 MHz, while the GTX 970 runs at 1050 MHz with a boost clock of 1178 MHz. Both of these cards come with 4 GB of GDDR5 memory that runs at an effective speed of 7.0 GHz over a 256-bit memory interface. Power consumption for the boards has also been significantly reduced compared to past enthusiast graphics cards, with the GTX 980 doing its work with a TDP of only 165 W. That's a solid 30 W lower than the GTX 680 (Kepler).
The GTX 970 has an even lower TDP, coming in at just 145 W.
However, a new architecture with a more efficient design isn't the only new thing about the GTX 980 and GTX 970. The graphics cards also come with a handful of new features, including new methods of Anti-Aliasing and support for the upcoming VR Direct, Voxel Global Illumination, DirectX 12 and more.
Of course, for both the cards, partners will be building their own custom PCBs and cooling solutions, but Nvidia did provide a reference design. This reference card looks a lot like the previous-generation cards, and that's because it is based on the same NVTTM cooler with a similar PCB layout.
There are a couple of subtle differences, but aside from the added backplate, exhaust grille, and power connectors, not much has changed. Perhaps this may seem like it's not something to get excited over, but the NVTTM cooler is known to be one of the best reference GPU coolers ever built, and why fix it if it ain't broke? We expect that the GTX 980 will be available in reference variants and custom variants, while we expect that few, if any GTX 970s will be sold with the reference cooler installed.
Nvidia has also updated the display outputs, gearing the GTX 980 and GTX 970 with a single Dual-Link DVI port, a single HDMI 2.0 port, and three DisplayPort 1.2 ports. The HDMI 2.0 port is particularly interesting, as it is the first implementation of HDMI 2.0 on a display source and capable of driving a 4K resolution at 60 Hz, rather than the measly 30 Hz that HDMI 1.4 managed.
Naturally, none of the above matters if pricing is out of whack, but the good news is that it isn't. The GTX 980 carries an MSRP of $549, while the GTX 970 will go across the counter for $329. This bumps the GTX 760 down to $219.
For more in-depth Maxwell launch coverage, check out our full review.