NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Review: Does Maxwell Bring Maximum Gameplay?

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by Rob Williams on September 18, 2014 in Graphics & Displays

NVIDIA’s next-gen GeForce series is here, and it brings with it a slew of new features and enhancements worth knowing about. Based on Maxwell, the GTX 900 series delivers much-improved performance-per-watt, with the GTX 980 in particular performing better than the 780 Ti – but with a TDP of 85W less. You read that right. Let’s dig in.

Game Tests: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4

Given the sheer number of titles in the Assassin’s Creed series, it’s a little hard to believe that the first game came out a mere six years ago. You could definitely say that Ubisoft hit the ball out of the park with this one. To date, we’ve never considered an AC game for benchmarking, but given the number of graphical goodies featured in the PC version of Black Flag, that trend now ends.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The saved game starts us not far from the beginning of the game under a small church which can be climbed to synchronize with the environment. To kick things off, I scale this church and rotate the camera around once, making sure to take in the beautiful landscape; then, I climb back down and run all the way to the water (the top of this small church and the water can be seen in the above screenshot).

Note: For some reason, Ubisoft decided to cap the framerate to 60 FPS in Black Flag even if Vsync is turned off. For most games, this would ruin the chance of it appearing in our benchmarking, but because the game is graphically intensive, I’ve chosen to stick with it, as at higher resolutions, reaching 60 FPS is a perk that will belong only to high-end graphics cards.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (1920x1080)

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2560x1440)

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (5760x1080)

In late 2007, with the advent of higher resolutions and more powerful GPUs, I retired the 1280×1024 resolution from our test suite. Fast-forward some five years later, and I had to do the same thing with 1680×1050. Looking at the 1080p results above, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it will soon be time to retire that resolution as well – at least when it comes to high-end cards. In fact, while I was producing the graphs for this review, I debated whether I’d include 1080p results at all. In the end, I decided to, simply to highlight the fact that today’s high-end GPUs are truly overkill for that resolution.

Even at 1440p, the top three cards can guarantee 60 FPS on average, and that’s with the game running with maxed-out detail levels (not counting the special high-end shadow and anti-aliasing options). In our multi-monitor resolution, which involves 6.2 million pixels (4K is 8.3 million, by comparison), the cards are put to better work. With all high-end settings left in tact, the 980 is still able to help us keep ahead of the 50 FPS mark. An overclocked card would no doubt bring us very close to 60 FPS.

Battlefield 4

Thanks to the fact that DICE cares more about PC gaming than a lot of developers, the Battlefield series tends to give us titles that are well-worth benchmarking. Battlefield 3 offered incredible graphics and became a de facto benchmark immediately, so it’s no surprise, then, that BF4 follows right in its footsteps.

Battlefield 4 - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The Singapore level is the target here, with the saved game starting us on an airboat that must be driven to shore, where a massive battle is set to take place. I stop recording the framerate once the tank makes its way to the end of this small patch of beach; in all, the run takes about 3 minutes.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 - Battlefield 4 (1920x1080)

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 - Battlefield 4 (2560x1440)

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 - Battlefield 4 (5760x1080)

None of the four cards featured here has an issue with 1080p, though the fact that the 980 managed to gain 20 FPS over the 780 Ti on the minimum front is quite something. Moving upwards, the men began to be separated from the boys, with the 980 remaining the only card to keep ahead of the 60 FPS mark. Interestingly, the multi-monitor resolution doesn’t sway much from the 1440p results at all – the 980 still delivers 63 FPS.

Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an 'Advocate of the consumer', focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

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