Lo and behold the next-generation of pixel pushing hardware from the Green corner. Nvidia finally launched their new 900-series range of desktop GPU’s last month. The new, Maxwell-based cards slice power summation right down the middle while delivering some stellar performance at a rather reasonable price. While it’s easy to look at the card with the bigger number, the real deal here is the GTX 970.
The GTX 970 is where most third-party manufacturers are going to be focusing their time and effort, because there’s no doubt this card is going to sell like techy hotcakes. Asus revealed their new Strix card design with the over-the-top 6GB GTX 780, and have opted to use the design for their versions on the 900-series cards. The Asus GTX 970 Strix is a monstrous card with a few reasons why skipping the reference design is always the best idea.
Out of the box, you’ve got an overclocked 970. Asus cautiously (and curiously) doesn’t touch the memory clock, but the core clock has received a little bump up to 1,114MHz from the stock 1,050MHz. It’s a tiny overclock and definitely not a good measure of what the 970 can reach in the right hands, but it’s still a considerable upgrade. It’s weird that Asus left the memory clocks alone, but it’s no secret that the 900-series cards excel in the overclocking department. Even without glancing over voltage bumps.
One aspect that you can’t help but glance over is the Strix cooling design. On the GTX 970, this massive cooling solution is absolute overkill, but there’s a lot of method to Asus’ madness. The Strix is a phenomenally designed system, especially for those craving whisper-silent systems. The two massive front fans don’t start spinning until temperatures exceed 65°C, after which they keep things cool at a quiet 1200 RPM. This means video playback and light gaming is virtually silent, with the heatsink and cooling pipes doing all of the leg work before the fans need to break a sweat.
It works hand in hand with Maxwell’s incredibly efficient power dissipation and performance, something I saw an early glimpse of in the GTX 750Ti. This card definitely gets a bit warmer, but it certainly doesn’t sky rocket like previous architecture sometimes tended to do. The design also doesn’t draw that much juice from your power supply. The GTX 970 has a low, low TDP of 145W, and the Strix design only requires a single 8-pin connection. That becomes a little more impressive when you see just how well performance stacks up with such a low power draw.
Metro: Last Light
Metro: Last Light’s benchmark tool is an absolute killer. It’s a great test for pushing cards to their limit, and it really tested the GTX 970. The card held up beautifully at 1080p, and even admirable at a higher 2K resolution. It gets close to managed at 4K, but there just isn’t enough juice in one card to manage smooth gameplay at that size.
Batman: Arkham Origins
The Unreal Engine isn’t exactly the most taxing piece of tech around, but it’s still interesting to see how well cards scale with the engine at higher resolutions. In that regard, the GTX 970 doesn’t disappoint. It comfortably pumps out a silky smooth framerate at even 4K, allowing you to see Batman in all his bicep glory at the highest pixel density.
Crysis 3 still brings the mightiest cards to their knees, especially when cranking up the resolution in involved. It’s the true 4K test out there right now, and the GTX 970 buckled a little when things got too intense. It’s still perfect for 1080p and definitely manageable at 2K, but anything higher becomes a little bit unplayable.
Despite the patches, Watch_Dogs is still terribly optimized on PC. That doesn’t make it a good playing experience, but it’s still a decent testing ground, especially for newer cards with increasing GDDR memory. The 4GB on the GTX 970 don’t go to waste here, and you can easily max out Watch_Dogs with a smooth 60 frames at 1080p, something the 780Ti struggles with. At higher resolutions things start getting a little slower, but it’s still reasonably impressive at even 4K.
There’s no doubt that the GTX 970 is a powerful, powerful card. The main criticism of the 900-series, however, is that it’s not a quantum leap forward in terms of performance, with Nvidia focusing more on power efficiency instead. That’s not entirely wrong, but that doesn’t mean Nvidia has released cards that can’t trump their insanely powerful 780Ti. In fact, the smaller GTX 970 puts up quite a fight against the former flagship. Pitting Asus’ GTX 970 against the GTX 780Ti Matrix Platinum (probably the strongest 780Ti around) delivers some interesting results.
These aren’t confined to Metro either. In most of the tests I ran, the 780Ti Matrix only outperformed the GTX 970 by an average of 6-8 frames, which is a large plus on the Maxwell’s report. That’s because the GTX 970 currently retails for R5999,90, while the 780Ti Matrix goes well over R11 000. With two 970’s in SLI, these comparisons would fall well in favor of Nvidia’s new chips, meaning the GTX 970 delivers a ton of bang for your buck.
Even measuring it up to its bigger, GTX 980 brother, the 970 looks like the better deal. Right now the GTX 980 goes for just over R10 000, offering only around a 15% performance gain at stock speeds. That’s not a massive leap for a R4000 difference, and again a GTX 970 SLI solution would blow a single 980 out the water, while costing just a little more. The economics behind the GTX 970 make it the most attractive GPU on the market right now, even if it’s not the single most powerful one out there.
Last Updated: October 2, 2014