The New King Of High-end: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Review

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Angled View
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by Rob Williams on May 31, 2015 in Graphics & Displays

In advance of the launch of AMD’s next-generation Radeons, NVIDIA has decided to give gamers another compelling reason to consider GeForce. Its latest card is called the GTX 980 Ti, and its performance comes a lot closer to TITAN X than GTX 980. It sports 6GB of VRAM, costs $649, and could make AMD’s job a lot harder.

Introduction

With AMD rumored to launch its next-generation GPUs soon, I suppose there’s no better time than the present for NVIDIA to strike with a card that could act as a swift kick to the red team’s chest. NVIDIA’s latest is called the GeForce GTX 980 Ti; it slots just under the TITAN X, and costs $649.

Based on what we knew last week, I had taken a guess that the 980 Ti would be priced at $749. Now that I’ve put the card through its paces, I still would have guessed $749 if I wasn’t told different. With its 980 Ti, NVIDIA really wants to make a statement.

Considering this is just the start of the review, I am putting an awful lot of hints as to what I think of the card on the table, but believe me, it’s worth looking through all of the results. AMD side, the 980 Ti even harms the appeal of NVIDIA’s own $1,000 TITAN X to some degree. Again… this card is a statement.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Side View

Statement or not, I am sure the card’s aesthetics won’t surprise anyone. Once again, NVIDIA’s latest high-end card uses the same cooler that other recent cards have, and that’s not a bad thing. I haven’t seen too much bad said about the look of these cards, so NVIDIA is continuing to make sure everyone has a chance at owning one (well, those willing to shell out enough money for one, that is.)

NVIDIA GeForce SeriesCoresCore MHzMemoryMem MHzMem BusTDP
GeForce GTX TITAN X3072100012288MB7000384-bit250W
GeForce GTX 980 Ti281610006144MB7000384-bit250W
GeForce GTX 980204811264096MB7000256-bit165W
GeForce GTX 970166410504096MB7000256-bit145W
GeForce GTX 960102411262048MB7010128-bit120W

The TITAN X has close to 10% more cores than the GTX 980 Ti, but as we’ll see throughout the performance results, that doesn’t make it 10% faster. Both cards share a lot of the same specs, but even then, that 10% core boost doesn’t do a whole lot. What sets TITAN X apart, then, is its mammoth 12GB framebuffer, and tying into that, one thing that sets the 980 Ti apart from the non-Ti is a 50% VRAM boost. I feel very confident in saying that unless you’re running triple 4K monitors, 6GB of VRAM is going to prove sufficient for a while.

With a 6GB framebuffer, it’s inevitable that people are going to question whether or not the final 500MB is crippled. In talking to NVIDIA, I was told that no… it’s a solid 6GB partition. That being the case, it’s hard to not imagine that at the root, this card is just a TITAN X with some tweaks made. Does that mean that the extra cores could be unlocked through a BIOS flash? I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

On the topic of performance, NVIDIA considers its 980 Ti to be a direct follow-up to the 780 Ti, which was a follow-up to the GTX 680. As seen below, NVIDIA says that the 980 Ti is almost 2x faster than the GTX 680 at 1080p, while it’s closer to 3x at 4K.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Performance Comparison Versus Previous Generations

It might be hard to find in stores, but the official GTX 980 Ti packaging can be seen below. You’ll be able to score this if you purchase the card directly through NVIDIA, although I’m told that some Best Buy locations may have it as well.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Official Packaging

Ever since the GTX 980 launch, NVIDIA has provided similar boxes for its highest-end GPUs:

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Maxwell Series High-end Packaging

Here’s the latest card with its bigger brother, TITAN X. I’d assume that the GTX 980 Ti uses the exact same cooler as the GTX 980, unlike the TITAN X, which uses a vapor chamber cooler.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - With GeForce TITAN X

Just a moment ago, I mentioned that the 980 Ti could use the exact same base as the TITAN X, and if the back of the cards are anything to go by, that really does seem to be the case. The only significant difference that I can spot is that the 980 Ti lacks the memory chips on the outside PCB – to be expected given the VRAM has been halved to 6GB.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Card Back, With GeForce TITAN X

For ports, the 980 Ti includes a single DVI, single HDMI, and triple DisplayPort.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Video Connectors

Like its 250W big brother, TITAN X, the 980 Ti also requires both an 8-pin and 6-pin connector.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti - Power Connectors

There’s a lot more I could talk about here, but given a tight timeframe, I’ll have to save some for later. So without further ado, let’s tackle our testing methodology, and then dive right into performance results.

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