Video Card Test Methodology
We tested using our updated 2015 GPU test bench, detailed in the table below. Our thanks to supporting hardware vendors for supplying some of the test components. Thanks to Jon Peddie Research for GTX 970 & R9 280X support.
The latest GeForce press drivers were used during testing. AMD Catalyst 15.5 was used. Game settings were manually controlled for the DUT. Stock overclocks were left untouched for stock tests.
VRAM utilization was measured using in-game tools and then validated with MSI's Afterburner, a custom version of the Riva Tuner software. Parity checking was performed with GPU-Z. FPS measurements were taken using FRAPS and then analyzed in a spreadsheet.
Each game was tested for 30 seconds in an identical scenario on the two cards, then repeated for parity.
|GN Test Bench 2015||Name||Courtesy Of||Cost|
|CPU||Intel i7-4790K CPU||CyberPower
|Memory||32GB 2133MHz HyperX Savage RAM||Kingston Tech.||$300|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z97X Gaming G1||GamersNexus||$285|
|Power Supply||NZXT 1200W HALE90 V2||NZXT||$300|
|SSD||HyperX Predator PCI-e SSD||Kingston Tech.||TBD|
|Case||Top Deck Tech Station||GamersNexus||$250|
|CPU Cooler||Be Quiet! Dark Rock 3||Be Quiet!||~$60|
Average FPS, 1% low, and 0.1% low times are measured. We do not measure maximum or minimum FPS results as we consider these numbers to be pure outliers. Instead, we take an average of the lowest 1% of results (1% low) to show real-world, noticeable dips; we then take an average of the lowest 0.1% of results for severe spikes.
We conducted a large suite of real-world tests, logging VRAM consumption in most of them for comparative analysis. The games and software tested include:
- Far Cry 4 (Ultra 1080, Very High 1080).
- GRID: Autosport (Ultra 1440, Ultra 4K).
- Metro: Last Light (Very High + Very High tessellation at 1080; High / High at 1440).
- GTA V (Very High / Ultra at 1080p).
- Shadow of Mordor (Very High, 1080p).
- 3DMark Firestrike Benchmark
- GTA V
- The Witcher 3
We already know ACU and Far Cry 4 consume massive amounts of video memory, often in excess of the 2GB limits of some cards. GRID: Autosport and Metro: Last Light provide highly-optimized benchmarking titles to ensure stability on the bench. Shadow of Mordor, GTA V, & Battlefield Hardline (not shown here) are new enough that they heavily eat RAM. 3DMark offers a synthetic benchmark that is predictable in its results, something of great importance in benchmarking.
Games with greater asset sizes will spike during peak load times, resulting in the most noticeable dips in performance on the 2GB card as memory caches out. Our hypothesis going into testing was that although the two video cards may not show massive performance differences in average FPS, they would potentially show disparity in the 1% low and 0.1% low (effective minimum) framerates. These are the numbers that most directly reflect jarring user experiences during “lag spikes,” and are important to pay attention to when assessing overall fluidity of gameplay.
Overclocked tests were conducted using MSI Afterburner for application of settings. All devices were tested for performance, stability, and thermals prior to overclocking to ensure clean results. On the OC bench, devices were set to maximize their voltage ceiling with incremental gains applied to the core clock (GPU) frequency. MSI Kombustor, which loads the GPU 100%, was running in the background. Once stability was compromised -- either from crashing or artifacting -- we attempted to resolve the issue by fine-tuning other OC settings; if stability could not be achieved, we backed-down the core clock frequency until we were confident of stability. At this point, the device was placed on a burn-in test using Kombustor and 100% load for 30 minutes. If the settings survived this test without logged fault, we recorded the OC settings and logged them to our spreadsheet.
Final OCs were applied and tested on two games for comparison.
Thermals were reported using Delta T over ambient throughout a 30-minute burn-in period using 3DMark FireStrike - Extreme, which renders graphics at 1440p resolution. This test loads the VRAM heavily, something Kombustor skips, and keeps the GPU under high load that is comparable to gaming demands. Temperatures were logged using MSI Afterburner.
GTX 980 Ti Benchmark – GTA V at 4K, 1080 vs. 980, Titan X, 290X, etc.
Following our GTA V benchmark, we revisit the game using the 980 Ti to determine FPS output at various settings.
GTA V produces one of the most noticeable differences between the 980 Ti and Titan X – which is really saying something, considering there's an average 4FPS disparity between the two, though 99 and 99.9 percentile framerates are more noticeably gapped. This difference is likely resultant of GTA V's generous utilization of VRAM, a realm where the Titan X holds superiority strictly by capacity.
Still, the two cards are very similar in output. The GTX 980 and R9 290X output the same average FPS (depending on how you test the game – different scenes provoke trade-offs), but the 980 offers higher 1% and 0.1% metrics.
Either way, it's clear that none of these cards – sans the SLI solution – is particularly suited for GTA V at 4K with ultra settings (AA off; Advanced Graphics off). By lowering grass quality and a few other items that we defined in our GTA V performance optimization guide, 50 to 60FPS could be achieved at 4K with either the TiX or 980 Ti. There is no strong case to be made in favor of the TiX, though the 980 Ti wins-out in price.
The gap shrinks at 1080p with max settings (AA off; Advanced Graphics maxed). The TiX and 980 Ti are effectively identical in performance, with the GTX 980 trailing closely – but at a noticeable gap – behind the two.
GTX 980 Ti Benchmark – The Witcher 3 at 4K, 1440, 1080
The Witcher 3 is an abusive game when it comes to system performance. Our original Witcher 3 benchmark called the game “poorly optimized,” but patches 1.03 and 1.04 substantially improved performance. These charts use the latest patch and exhibit boosted performance over launch day. Our optimization guide can be found here.
No card is particularly stunning at 4K, but there is a vast difference in performance between the 980 and 980 Ti. The TiX and 980 Ti are, again, unnoticeably similar.
Dropping foliage viewing distance would improve framerates to a point of near playability at 4K; other options could be reduced for further gains, but the Witcher will play best at 1440p on these high-end devices.
GTX 980 Ti Benchmark – Metro: Last Light at 4K, 1440, 1080 vs. 980, Titan X, etc.
Metro is one of the most consistent benchmarks we've ever used. In this case, the same holds true – there's no noticeable difference between the TiX and 980 Ti, but the GTX 980 trails a marked 10FPS behind in average output. This 10FPS gap is the difference between a playable game and reducing settings, and should be noted.
GTX 980 Ti Benchmark – Far Cry 4 at 4K, 1440, 1080 vs. 290X, Titan X, 980, 970
More of the same, here.
GTX 980 Ti Benchmark – Shadow of Mordor at 4K, 1440, 1080
Again, the gap between AMD's R9 290X ($280) – which has poorer frametimes (1% / 0.1% lows) than the other cards – and the GTX 980 trail noticeably behind the 980 Ti. The TiX and 980 Ti are effectively identical.
GTX 980 Ti Benchmark – GRID: Autosport at 4K, 1080
GRID finally produces a visible disparity between the TiX and 980 Ti, something we re-tested a few additional times for parity. The GTX 980 to 980 Ti gap is also noticeably larger than elsewhere. For GRID, a GTX 980 is still a passable solution for 4K / Ultra.
Overclocking the GTX 980 Ti (And Thermals) – Still to Come
UPDATE: Our overclocking results are now live. View the accompanying GTX 980 Ti overclocking article here.
At the time of this review our GTX 980 Ti is undergoing extensive burn-in testing for overclocking attempts. This review will be updated with overclocking results once we are confident that they have achieved stability – likely within a few hours of initial publication.
Conclusion: The GTX 980 Ti is a Fiercely Priced 4K Card
NVidia's GTX 980 Ti is interesting. At $650, it's only $100 away from where most GTX 980s will soon rest – or $150 from MSRP – and that makes it an appealing purchase. The performance delta between the 980 and 980 Ti is large enough that there are noticeable gains in higher resolution gaming, but that also doesn't relegate the 980 to the trash – it's still a viable gaming solution for most users. At 1080 especially, the GTX 980 would be a better buy of the two, just looking at pure value and famerate output.
The Titan X never offered a particularly compelling argument for purchase, something further emphasized by our Titan X vs. SLI 980 testing (with the GTX 980s costing about the same). The card is a single-GPU powerhouse with an impressive amount of VRAM, but that VRAM just isn't put to use in modern games that we're aware of. For nearly all reasonable gaming use cases, the GTX 980 Ti is a substantially better purchase and offers comparatively unbeatable value for high-resolution performance.
AMD is slated to announce its impending GPUs in an official capacity at some point in the immediate future – there's a press conference at Computex on Tuesday, which sounds promising – but as of now, the company can't touch nVidia's single GPU performance. The 295X2 is not present for testing, but wouldn't be a linear comparison anyway given the two GPU approach to processing.
The 980 Ti doesn't invalidate the GTX 980 and owners shouldn't feel “buyer's remorse” for a purchase, though some manufacturers may offer step-up programs should an upgrade be desired. As far as we're concerned, the GTX 980 remains a powerful, cost-efficient card, but builders with slightly more cash should seriously consider the upgrade to a Ti if building for 1440 or 4K.
- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.