NVIDIA Improves Performance and Efficiency With GTX 980 and GTX 970 Cards

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980NVIDIA surprised the PC graphics last night with their launch of their latest high end consumer graphics card the GeForce GTX 980. Much of this has to do with the fact that the price is going to be significantly less than the GTX 780 Ti that it will be replacing but the card is able to do so by being far more efficient akin to what AMD did recently with their Radeon R9 285. The basic chip technology hasn’t really changed that much for the past four years in the graphics market but the way that it is used certainly has. NVIDIA demonstated this when they launched the GTX 750 Ti at the beginning of the year. In fact, the GPU for the GTX 980 and the more affordable GTX 970 are both based on the second generation of the Maxwell chip that powered the GTX 750 Ti. So what exactly does this new graphics card bring with it?

Faster Performance With Less

In general, the more cores or stream units that are in the graphics processor, the higher performance you will get. The problem with adding more units is that it increases the overall size of the GPU. Instead, AMD and NVIDIA are looking to do more with the cores that they are putting into their GPUs. This is reflected by the fact that NVIDIA has reduced the total number of CUDA Cores in the GTX 980 compared to the GTX 780 Ti. Here is a small chart showing some of the differences:

GTX 980 GTX 780 Ti
CUDA Cores 2048 2880
Texture Units 128 240
ROPs 64 48
Core Clock 1126MHz 875MHz
Memory Clock 7GHz 7GHz
Memory Bus 256-bit 384-bit

As we can see, there was a reduction of nearly thirty percent in the total number of CUDA cores in the GTX 980 and almost half as many texture units. What we do see though is a nearly corresponding percentage increase in the base clock speed of the GTX 980 and fifty percent more ROPs to make up for reduction. In addition to this, we see the memory bus drop to a 256-bit bus which means overall memory bandwidth has decreased but the amount of VRAM jumps up to 4GB instead of 3GB.

But what about the actual real world performance in applications and games. In terms of gaming performance, the GTX 980 looks to be roughly at least 10 percent faster than the GTX 780 Ti card. In fact, if you are looking at gaming at 4K resolutions, then GTX 980 seems to have better overall performance than the GTX 780 Ti because of the extra VRAM to properly handle the larger frame buffer. This is easily a card that allows ultra details at 2560×1440 resolutions and is equal too or even betters the R9 290X when it comes to 4K resolutions.

The GTX 970 is different because it actually does offer slightly more CUDA cores with double the ROPs and slightly less texture units at roughly the same base clock speed as the GTX 770. Performance evaluations have not been done with it yet to get an idea of its relative performance of the GTX 970 to the GTX 770 it will replace.

Better Power, Temps and Noise

NVIDIA has been doing a lot to reduce the power and corresponding temperatures and noise in their graphics cards. This has been a major issue with the high end cards in particular that required special blowers or multiple fans to keep the temperatures down from their excessive power consumption. Let’s just compare the TDP (thermal design power) levels for the previous GTX 780 Ti, 250W, to the new GTX 980, just 165W. This is a huge drop in the total thermal design of the chip. This reduction means that the GPU will produce less heat and require less airflow in order to keep it at operating temperatures.

In fact, at idle and under load, the new GTX 980 graphics card is using less overall power than the GeForce GTX 770 graphics card. This is extremely impressive when you consider that the card is producing faster graphics than the GTX 780 Ti. Now the temperatures when it is under load at still going to be around 80 Celsius which is the thermal limit of most cards. The difference is that the fans don’t have to work as hard to keep it at that temperature and as a result, it produces less noise (under 50dBA). This is still quite audible compared to the rest of a computer but is still a nice reduction.

Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR)

Gamers have often looked at things like anti-aliasing as a means to get an improved image quality out of their games. This is a process that essentially blends surrounding pixels to try and smooth out jagged edges. There have been a variety of different methods to do this with NVIDIA even introducing MFAA with the GTX 980 but it is Dynamic Super Resolution or DSR that is actually more interesting.


Example of Rendered image at standard 1080p (left) and with DSR (right) – Click for more detail

Most people use a 1920×1080 display for their computer but the graphics processors generally can render images at much higher resolution. This is from the fact that graphics performance is being scaled up now to things like 4K displays that run at four times the resolution (3840×2160). So, if you happen to have a lower resolution display, DSR essentially renders that game at a higher resolution and then scales it down to the lower resolution. During this scaling process a Gaussian filter is then applied to smooth out the image such that it can result in an image better than what is achieved with anti-aliasing.

Some might ask why you would want to do this. After all, rendering a game image at 4K resolution is a significant performance hit when compared to just running it at a lower resolution with a high level of anti-aliasing. The benefit comes from the fact that any game can support this method where as AA support varies from game to game. This is particularly good for playing older games and improving the visual quality. The feature is simply enabled using the GeForce Experience software or through the NV Control Panel.

Pricing and Availability

We have seen that just about everything in the GTX 980 is an improvement over the GTX 780 Ti graphics card but the pricing is what was the real shocker. The list price of the GTX 780 Ti graphics cards prior to the GTX 980’s release was around $699. NVIDIA is setting the pricing for the new GTX 980 to be around $549. This is amazing as the card provides ten percent better in performance but is costing consumers twenty percent less than the previous card. The GTX 970 card is also priced at $329 compared to the $399 for the previous GTX 770. Even if you aren’t looking at NVIDIA cards, this is pushing the street pricing of current AMD and NVIDIA cards down.

Both the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 cards were available for sale today but finding them is going to be another matter. Most retailers have already sold out of their initial stocks. There will likely be some cards sold above retail prices for a while until NVIDIA is able to increase the supplies to retailers.

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