The GTX 980 Ti arrives as Nvidia new flagship!

Untitled-4At Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference, on March 17, Jensen launched the new DX12 Level 1, fully-enabled, 8 billion transistor Maxwell flagship GTX TITAN X at $999.  With 3072 CUDA cores and 12GB of VRAM, it is significantly faster than the GTX 980, and much faster than AMD’s aging flagship, the R9 290X.   Well now it is 6AM, on June 1 in Taiwan, and Nvidia is launching their new GeForce gaming flagship, the $649 GTX 980 Ti at Computex!

BTR received a GTX 980 Ti from Nvidia about ten days ago, and we have put it through its stock and overclocked paces with our updated 32-game PC benchmark suite against the TITAN X, the GTX 980, and versus the R9 290X.  Since we had more time to benchmark than usual with the GTX 980 Ti under NDA, we also tested the overclocked TITAN X versus the overclocked GTX 980 Ti, and we have also included GTX 980 SLI and 290X CrossFire.  To round out our evaluation for a total of ten configurations, we added the GTX 780 Ti and the GTX 680 to see how Nvidia has progressed over the past 3 years.

We are testing all of our competing cards on a clean installation of Windows 8.1 using resolutions of 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and at 4K’s 3840×2160.  As befits testing top video cards, we use Intel’s enthusiast Z97 platform with Core i7 4790K turboed to 4.4GHz, and 16GB of Kingston’s 2133MHz Predator DDR3.

Before we give you the results of our performance testing, we want to briefly recap Maxwell architecture, as well as detail the specifications and features of the new gaming flagship, the GTX 980 Ti.

Key Features of the Maxwell GTX 980 Ti

The GTX 980 and the GTX 970 both launched last September as Maxwell GM204 architecture , and both of them are faster than AMD’s flagship, the R9 290X. The GTX 960 is a smaller chip also based on the Maxwell GM206 architecture and it was released in January at the 200 dollar price point.   The GeForce GTX TITAN X, 980, 970, GTX 960, and now the GTX 980 Ti GPUs support all-new graphics features. Nvidia’s Voxel Global Illumination (VXGI) technology allows the new GPUs to render fully dynamic global illumination at playable frame rates bringing more realism and immersion to gamers.  Although it is not real-time ray tracing, it a good step in that direction.  We see Nvidia making a deeper commitment to GameWorks and expanding it to include Virtual Reality (VR), which may be the next frontier in immersive video games.

PC games can also perform and look better with new anti-aliasing modes like Multi-Frame sampled AA (MFAA) which works particularly well with 4K resolution.  MFAA combines multiple AA sample positions to produce a result that looks like higher quality anti-aliasing, but with better performance. From our testing of MFAA, it produces an image that looks very similar to 4xMSAA at only roughly the performance cost of 2xMSAA.RT-images

MFAA is only available to the Maxwell family of GPUs.  We also notice that the Maxwell GPUs have upgraded tessellation engines over the Kepler GPUs. This has allowed them to pull ahead in the latest DX11 games which are mostly heavy in tessellation.  And soon DX12 games will bring even more demanding features, including Ray Traced Shadows.

The GeForce Maxwell GPUs also support Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) which is similar to driver-based SuperSampling.  DSR brings the crisp detail of 4K resolution to 1920×1080 displays.  These Maxwell GPUs retain and improve on features like ShadowPlay, which now support recording at resolutions up to 4K at 60 fps. And with the new G-SYNC displays, gamers no longer have to put up with tearing or stutter as part of the current common gaming experience.

multi-res-shadThe next generation of games will not only look better and run faster on the Maxwell GPUs, they’ll also be more immersive thanks to virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift. With VR Direct, Nvidia has developed a number of advancements for virtual reality reducing latency, improving image quality, and bringing a whole range of new content to VR.

VR frame rates need to be locked to a minimum of 75 fps for fluidity – and they need to be rendered twice, once for each eye.

The GM220 GTX TITAN X versus the GM 220 GTX 980 Ti

The GeForce GTX 980 Ti ships with 2816 CUDA Cores (compared with 3072 in the TITAN X) and with 22 SM units, 2 SM units less than the TITAN X. The memory subsystem of GeForce GTX 980 Ti consists of six 64-bit memory controllers (384-bit) with 6GB of GDDR5 memory; the TITAN X is equipped with 12GB of vRAM.

The base clock speed of the GeForce GTX 980 Ti is 1000MHz and the typical Boost Clock speed is 1075MHz. The GeForce GTX 980 Ti’s memory speed is 7010MHz effective data rate.  These are the same clocks as the TITAN X.

First, check out the GM220 block diagram of the fully enabled 8-billion transistor Maxwell GM220 with 24 SMX units and 3072 CUDA cores as expressed in the TITAN X:

TITAN_X_Block_Diagram_FINAL

Two SMX Units have been disabled in the GTX 980 Ti and the CUDA cores represented in the two SMXes are likewise non-functional.  Here is the SM diagram for the GM220.

TITAN_X_SM_Diagram_FINAL

Untitled-3One key difference is the 12GB of vRAM used in the GTX TITAN X, compared with 6GB used in the GTX 980 Ti.  This means that the TITAN X will not run out of video memory at 4K with multiple displays.  And that’s about it.

From looking at the specifications, we can predict that the TITAN X will be up to about 5% faster than the GTX 980 Ti, but the Ti should be able to overclock higher and have a slightly lower power usage and put out a bit less heat, partly due to having half the vRAM.

The display/video engines are unchanged from the TITAN X to the GTX 980 Ti, and the overall double precision instruction throughput is 1/32 the rate of single precision throughput in both GPUs as well as in the rest of the Maxwell line up.  The GTX TITAN X is primarily built for extreme GeForce gaming, usually involving a multiple cards driving multiple 4K displays, and at $1000 it is by no means a budget card.  Price conscious video gamers previously most likely choose a pair of GTX 970s instead.  For the enthusiast, however, a single or a pair of $650 GTX 980 Tis have sufficient vRAM to power a 4K display, even with high details and with plenty of AA for SLI, something a 4GB card will have trouble driving.

The price of GTX 980 Ti is set to start at $649 and will also include a bundled copy of Batman: Arkham Knight. Since the GTX 980 Ti is a new addition to Nvidia’s product lineup, the original GTX 980 is moving to occupy the $499 spot.  Here is Nvidia’s line up with the GTX 980 Ti filling in as the GTX “Gaming Flagship”.   These starting prices are in US dollars.

TITAN X: $999
980 Ti: $649
980: $499
970: $329
960: $199

The GTX 980 Ti has a TDP of 250W and it uses one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCIe connectors.  The TITAN X also has a TDP of 250W.  Common to both cards, Display outputs include one Dual Link DVI, one HDMI 2.0 connector for use with the latest HDTVs, and three DisplayPort connectors.  There is no backplate on the TITAN X nor on the GTX 980 Ti as there is with the GM204 GTX 980 because the GM220 is a much warmer-running GPU. Even a removable black plate cover is impractical on the reference design because of the screw length.

The TITAN X and the GTX 980 Ti continue the tradition of Nvidia’s original TITAN Industrial Designer look, the difference is the TITAN X is expressed in black matte painted aluminum while the GTX 980 Ti uses silver.  They both use a copper vapor chamber combined with a large aluminum dual heatsink to dissipate the GM220’s heat.  Unlike its competitor, AMD’s R9 290X, the TITAN X and GTX 980 Ti are reasonably quiet, reaching only about 3500 rpm under full load and topping out with a peak temperature of 87C under the very warm Summer-like conditions of our testing lab.

As usual, we have had to run our 290X late at night to prevent its throttling and we run 290X CrossFire with both fans at 100%.  We found no such throttling issues with the TITAN X nor the GTX 980 Ti, even when ambient temperatures surpassed 80F in our testing lab!

Specifications

Here are the specifications for the GM204 GTX 980:

980-specsNow let’s look at the TITAN X:

Specs titan

Finally, check out the GTX 980 Ti specifications

980-ti-spec

There were quite a few changes between the GTX 980 and the GTX TITAN X, but only a slight difference between the “X” and the new “Ti”.  Everything that applies to Maxwell’s GM204 also applies to Maxwell’s GM220 and it may also be worth checking out our September GTX 980/970 launch article.

How does the GTX 980 Ti compare with its rival, AMD’s R9 290X?

It doesn’t.  Although the GTX 980 is mostly faster than the 290X, TITAN X is simply in a class above the 290X and even over the GTX 980. Since the GTX 980 Ti will be close to the TITAN’s performance, we can expect it will be about 30 to 50% faster than the GTX 980 and also significantly faster than the 290X.   We are going to look at the performance of 30 games to compare the TITAN X with the GTX 980 Ti and the R9 290X.  We will also compare overclocked TITAN X and overclocked GTX 980 Ti performance results to also compare with 290X CrossFire and with GTX 980 SLI.

However, before we do performance testing, let’s take a closer look at the GTX 980 Ti and check out overclocking and noise.

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