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Zotac GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega Edition Review: The Big Gun

Zotac's GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega edition boasts a large aftermarket cooling solution enabling an aggressive factory overclock. How does the board perform right out of its box? How about after we try to push it even harder?

A Big Gun Limited By A Small Magazine

Zotac's GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega edition card stirred up mixed feelings. Its hardware is undeniably impressive, giving us the impression that it was designed by engineers who want to push past the reference GeForce GTX 980's limits. It's built solidly, looks great and comes with the highest factory overclock we can find at the $580 price point. You get all of that for $30 more than the entry-level GeForce GTX 980s out there. Based on those attributes, it looks like a no-brainer.

But power users are sure to be disappointed by a 111% power target ceiling. Considering that the reference card can be cranked up to 125%, such a limitation is almost offensive. It's clear that the hardware team poured its heart into crafting enthusiast-class hardware, so the software-imposed redline makes no sense to us.

When we asked Zotac about the low power limit, we were told "...the Zotac GTX 980 AMP! Omega is using a custom PCB solution that differs from the reference GTX 980 board, which allows us to provide a stable higher factory clock setting without reducing the lifespan of the components of the graphics card". That tells us the company is concerned about giving the hardware a long life span, which is fine. But it doesn't sync with the AMP! Omega's aggressive hardware design. Perhaps the product is hamstrung to keep it from competing with Zotac's more expensive AMP! Extreme edition card, though from what we understand that product is also limited to the same 111% power target. Could it be an Nvidia-mandated restriction?

On the software end, we certainly wish that Zotac's Firestorm utility had interface labels that made sense, and that it didn't suffer from odd limitations. It's usable once you learn to launch it as an administrator and understand its quirks, but it's not intuitive. While Firestorm's issues are irritating, they'd be more tolerable if the software could somehow circumvent that overclock-hampering 111% power ceiling. Serious enthusiasts are left with a choice to either live with this barrier or install a warranty-voiding custom BIOS that might destroy the card. It's an especially tragic situation because the hardware makes you think it has so much untapped potential.

As bothersome as this state of affairs might be, we know the vast majority of gamers are not extreme overclockers. For folks who fancy a custom GeForce GTX 980 design that stands out, or even armchair overclockers who stick with the aggressive Quick Boost presets, Zotac's GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega edition is one of the best $580 graphics cards we've ever seen. We have no reservations about giving this card a recommendation on those grounds. But anyone who enjoys squeezing out a maximum overclock through good old fashioned trial and error will be frustrated by what we feel to be an artificial cap.

  • chimera201
    "which allows us to provide a stable higher factory clock setting without reducing the lifespan of the components of the graphics card"

    Almost everyone needs a GPU upgrade in less than 3 years. Who cares about the lifespan if it is more than 3 years?

    Reply
  • wh3resmycar
    i'm currently using the 970 version of this card. sweeeeeetttt
    Reply
  • MeteorsRaining
    It's ridiculous to see this card doesn't provide the actual OCing experience one hopes for. Out of the box OC is good, but one simply doesn't expect it to be enough, atleast not for the card in the OCing segment of the brand. This was supposed to be a OCer's card, it failed on those terms. Too many software-bound restrictions. But yes, the hardware does look quite appealing.
    Reply
  • ralanahm
    did you try the nitro boost switch to see if that unlocks the locks. I would hope for a fw or software update.
    Reply
  • mapesdhs
    Not impressed with the Zotac at all.

    I bought an EVGA 980 ACX 2.0 (1266 base clock, 1367 boost), it scores 14260 for
    the Firestrike test just at default settings, it's a proper 2 slot card, much quieter
    (the fans don't turn on until the GPU goes over 65C) and from what I've read will
    oc better. Also, in the UK the EVGA card is 35 to 40 UKP cheaper; I can't imagine
    why anyone would buy the Zotac.

    Don, did you try using Afterburner instead for the oc tests?

    Ian.

    Reply
  • jasonelmore
    So zotac goes and over engineer's the hell out of a 980, adding LN2 dip switches, Voltage Readouts, Beefed up power delivery, High performance inductors, and then what do they do?

    They lower the TDP by 11%, when compared to the Nvidia Reference Model. Whats the use of LN2 features if your going to handicap the voltage cap?

    My reference 980 hit 1.5ghz with ease. 1st try overclock actually. And reference board is using the cheapest coils and inductors money can buy.
    Reply
  • WithoutWeakness
    What is the point of this monstrosity of a card? It has an oversized PCB and massive 2.5-slot open air cooler and isn't any faster, cooler, or quieter than Nvidia's reference design. GM104 is only a 165W chip and Zotac designs this huge overkill cooler and it's no better than Nvidia's rear-exhaust design AND takes up 3 slots? What a joke.
    Reply
  • SirKnobsworth
    I'm skeptical that the 980 needs such a beefy cooler, even when overclocked.
    Reply
  • The original Derfman
    Seriously people, you sound like the kind of people that would buy a $100,000 muscle car, then bitch that you can't turn it into a formula dragster and still drive it on the street. This card is seriously overclocked already and yet people still want more, with an intact warranty. Spoiled much?
    Reply
  • coolitic
    Apparently I can't rate posts if I don't disable adblock.

    Toms is really pissing everyone off.
    Reply