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Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 And 980 Review: Maximum Maxwell

Temperatures And Noise

Temperatures During Normal Operation

Lower power consumption should result in lower GPU temperatures under load, which in turn should necessitate a simpler and quieter cooling solution. That’s the theory anyway, so let’s have a look at the GeForce GTX 980 in reality. We’re focusing on its behavior in a closed case, given the number of reader requests we've received about this topic.

Interestingly, we’ve identified a method to confirm what our sensors tell us and to spice up our usual temperature graphs a bit in the form of the PI450 by Optris. This piece of equipment is an infrared camera that was developed specifically for process monitoring.

It supplies real-time thermal images at a rate of 80 Hz. The pictures are sent via USB to a separate system, where they can be recorded as video. The PI450’s thermal sensitivity is 40 mK, making it ideal for assessing small gradients.

No Biggie: 15 Minutes at Idle

Let’s first take a look at the system’s state after the motherboard and graphics card warm up for 15 minutes at idle. We keep the chassis' side panel closed during this test, of course, only opening it briefly to snap a quick picture with our infrared camera.

Barbeque: 1-Hour Demanding Gaming Loop

Our second scenario changes the infrared picture significantly, really driving home differences between each graphics card's cooling solution. We begin with Nvidia's reference GeForce GTX 980.

The direct heat exhaust (DHE) cooler does its job and exhausts thermal energy from the case. The hottest part of the card’s shroud is above the voltage converters, which can hit 90 degrees Celsius or more inside of an enclosure. There’s really no thermal impact on the motherboard, though. It heats up mostly due to its own voltage converters and platform controller hub.

On Gigabyte's GTX 970 WindForce OC, the voltage converters are in the same spot (on the left) as the reference card. Consequently, the hottest spot is in the same place. Gigabyte’s board is a bit shorter than that of the reference design, too.

It’s plain to see that there’s a different cooling solution at work here. The motherboard gets its share of waste heat due to the graphics card’s axial fans, positioned above the cooler's fins. These temperatures don't endanger the motherboard in any way, though they can affect overclocking of other components in your system, particularly if you use multiple cards in SLI.

The factory-overclocked Gigabyte GTX 980 WindForce OC sports a redesigned board as well. The voltage converters are located to the right of the GPU, where they were located in the past. It’s easy to spot them in the infrared picture. Greater power consumption results in a higher measured temperature.

Overall, Maxwell’s cooling solutions don’t pose any problems in a closed case, which a lot of enthusiasts will be glad to hear (since that means slower-spinning fans and a quieter PC).

Temperatures During Gaming LoopOpen Bench TableClosed CaseVRM
Gigabyte GTX 970 Windforce OC61-62 °C64-66 °C91 °C
GeForce GTX 980 Reference80-81 °C (Limit)80-81 °C (Limit)98 °C
Gigabyte GTX 980 Windforce OC60-61 °C64-65 °C93 °C


Our noise measurements are performed using a calibrated high-end studio microphone positioned perpendicular to the middle of the graphics card in question at a distance of 50 cm. This distance, in conjunction with the microphone's very strong cardioid directionality, represents a compromise between avoiding noise due to fan turbulence and avoiding ambient noise, which can never be completely eliminated. We like to perform our noise measurements at night for this reason.

So how do the GeForce cards perform, acoustically?

Noise Level (Open Bench Table)IdleGaming Loop
Gigabyte GTX 970 Windforce OC31.8 dB(A)41.8 dB(A)
GeForce GTX 980 Reference31.4 dB(A)43.6 dB(A)
Gigabyte GTX 980 Windforce OC30.4 dB(A)40.2 dB(A)

The bottom line is positive when it comes to noise as well. No matter if you’re looking at Gigabyte’s card or the reference model, Maxwell can be cooled safely and quietly without resorting to liquid cooling during gaming.