The Zotac GTX 980 Extreme ($610) is the most disappointing, saddening attempt at a high-end overclocking device I've ever seen. I've never been so resonantly disheartened by a review product. I've also never seen an aftermarket product perform worse than the reference model while being priced more than 10% higher. The added cost is justified – on paper – by several factors, including a better cooler and higher bin (better GM204).
Testing Zotac's GTX 980 Extreme overclocking card began with excitement and anticipation, rapidly decaying as despair and uncertainty took hold. When the card failed to overclock higher than my reference GTX 980 ($550), I first suspected error on my end – and proved that suspicion wrong – and then went to Zotac with strong emphasis that the BIOS needed a serious overhaul. A BIOS update should have been quick and easy if no hidden problems existed in the hardware, as other video card manufacturers have proven in the past. We published all of this about a week ago, firmly stating that no one buy the GTX 980 Extreme until we could revisit the topic.
We're revisiting it.
Welcome to another edition of our weekend hardware sales roundup. This weekend, we decided to get back to our low budget-minded roots. With the ongoing Great GM204 shortage of 2014 in full swing, I decided to focus on the best deals on low-budget video cards. We found three NVIDIA GPUs and one AMD GPU, as well as a great deal on an Intel upgrade bundle.
We've been playing around with Zotac's GTX 980 Extreme for about a week now. The story of Zotac in this launch cycle is sort of an interesting one. The company has been making mini-PCs (“ZBOX”) and nVidia video cards for many years now, but they've managed to remain in an unremarkable B-list / C-list of vendors in the GPU market. I don't think many would really disagree with the statement that Zotac has historically not been the first company that pops into mind when looking for a new GeForce card. But all of that changed with the GTX 980 and Game24, where we caught our first glimpses of a revitalized effort to capture the limelight.
From a design standpoint, the GTX 980 Amp! Extreme is positioned to be the best overclocking GM204 device on the market, short of adding liquid. It will compete with K|NGP|N on air. The triple-fan setup uses dual flanking exhaust and a single, central intake fan, with a massive copper coldplate mounted to the semiconductor, stemming from which are four heatpipes that feed into an aluminum sink. This will help cool the ~171W TDP device that can theoretically (2x8-pin) consume upwards of 300W (or more) when overclocked correctly. Additional aluminum is available near the somewhat over-engineered VRM, making for what should be cooler phases when placed under load. The problem is just that, though – we can't place the card under load. Yet. We've been trying for an entire week now, and I think we've deduced the heart of the issue.
It feels like we've been linking back to our GTX 980 review relentlessly, and it's going to happen just a few more times this month. NVidia has officially unveiled its GTX 900-series mobile lineup, starting today with the 980M, and indicates a heavy focus on extended battery life when gaming at high framerates.
The news comes after a previous announcement of the company's “Battery Boost,” a notebook technology that eases off the GPU throttle more regularly when driving a portable unit without an AC drop to the wall. NVidia has had its scope on mobile gaming for at least a year now, but seems to be more serious this time; the company opened our briefing with industry growth trends, emphasizing that gaming notebook growth has expounded five times in three years. In light of this, the current leading graphics manufacturer presented the below image – “Closing the Gap” – and informed us that the GTX 980M would retain nearly 80% of the performance exhibited by the GTX 980 desktop video card. Considering that the GTX 680M was closer to 60% of the GTX 680's performance, the gains are noticed and large.
188 years ago, on 9/21, the construction of the Rideau Canal began in Canada. That has absolutely nothing to do with this weekend sales round-up. It is also a pure coincidence that two of our sales items are only $188 – I promise. This week, we feature a GTX 760 for $188, a 10-button laser gaming mouse for $35, an i5-4690 at only $188, and a 27” G-Sync monitor for $600.
NVidia’s GPUs bring all the manufacturers to the yard. The release of GM204 first saw our review of the reference GTX 980 – presently the objective best video card we’ve ever tested – followed-up shortly by coverage of ZOTAC’s new Amp! Overclocking GPU lineup. While at the Game24 unveil event, we managed to catch up with MSI to discuss its SKUs for the GTX 970 and GTX 980 series.
MSI brought their GTX 970 4G “Gaming” video card along, equipped with an updated Twin Frozr cooler using dual 100mm push fans and a somewhat standard heatpipe / heatsink design. Let’s get into the specs.
Following-up on our GTX 980 benchmark and review that went live yesterday, board manufacturers now have their own variations on the new Maxwell cards up for sale. Most of the manufacturers have altered the design in some way: a cooler overhaul, pre-overclocks, heavier-duty capacitors, and additional pins for power are a few of the common changes. Zotac has done all of these with their “Amp! Omega” GTX 970 GPU we got hands-on with.
Zotac’s new GTX 980 and GTX 970 both ship in standard (unmodified GPU specs + aftermarket cooler), Omega, and Extreme editions. The Omega and Extreme GPUs host a suite of OC-tuned hardware features and a slightly boosted clockrate.