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.

A look at the TITAN X, Overclocking, and noise

The GTX 980 Ti is good-looking card although Nvidia’s industrial design has not changed much since the GTX 690, three years ago.

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We can see that there is one dual link DVI port, three HDMI 2.0 ports. and a DisplayPort in this view of the stripped down GTX 980 Ti board.

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Here you can see the GTX 980 Ti with its blower fan.  It is a very decent cooling system but it is barely sufficient to cool either the TITAN X or the GTX 980 Ti under overclocked full load without becoming audible.  It was far more effective for GM204 or for a near silent original Kepler TITAN as its fan didn’t need to spin up as high as it has to now with the full GM 220 or even with the slightly cut down GM220 GPU the GTX 980 Ti uses.Untitled-4

This series of professional pictures is by Nvidia.  We simply didn’t have time for our own pictures, concentrating on performance testing with multiple configurations instead. And here is the aluminium cooler:Untitled-7

 

And here is the GTX 980 Ti with a view of the PCIe connectors which are set up for SLI, as well as for Tri- and for Quad-SLI.  There is a 6-pin plus an 8-pin power connector which is useful for overclocking.Untitled-2

Above is also a look at the edge.  The GeForce logo lights up and can even be set up to provide a light show to match your mood or the music.  Here are the connectors:

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The other side is just a raw PCB.  The GTX 980s backplate looks much nicer than the raw PCB of the TITAN X, but evidently it was impractical to design one for the GTX TITAN X.

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The chip itself is quite large but Nvidia didn’t share a photo of it..

newSLIbrSLI and Tri-SLI

The GTX 980 Ti is set up for SLI as well as for Tri- and Quad-SLI.

The specifications look extraordinary with solid improvements over the GM204 GTX 980.

Let’s check out performance after we look at our test configuration on the next page.

Test Configuration – Hardware

Test Configuration – Hardware

  • Intel Core i7-4790K (reference 4.0GHz, HyperThreading and Turbo boost is on to 4.4GHz; DX11 CPU graphics), supplied by Intel.
  • ASUS Z97-E motherboard (Intel Z97 chipset, latest BIOS, PCOe 3.0 specification, CrossFire/SLI 8x+8x)
  • Kingston 16 GB HyperX Beast DDR3 RAM (2×8 GB, dual-channel at 2133MHz, supplied by Kingston)
  • GeForce GTX 980 Ti, 6GB reference clocks and overclocked, supplied by Nvidia
  • GTX TITAN X, 12GB, reference clocks and overclocked, supplied by Nvidia
  • Two GeForce GTX 980s, 4GB reference clocks, supplied by Nvidia
  • GTX 780 Ti, 3GB, reference clocks, supplied by Nvidia
  • GTX 680 2GB, reference clocks, supplied by Nvidia
  • PowerColor R9 290X PCS+, 3GB at uber reference speeds and clocks; fan at 100% max to prevent throttling.
  • VisionTek R9 290X, 3GB at uber reference speeds and clocks; fan set to 100% max to prevent throttling
  • Two 2TB Toshiba 7200 rpm HDDs; one for AMD and one for Nvidia.
  • EVGA 1000G 1000W power supply unit
  • Cooler Master 2.0 Seidon, supplied by Cooler Master
  • Onboard Realtek Audio
  • Genius SP-D150 speakers, supplied by Genius
  • Thermaltake Overseer RX-I full tower case, supplied by Thermaltake
  • ASUS 12X Blu-ray writer
  • Monoprice Crystal Pro 4K

Test Configuration – Software

  • Catalyst 15.5 Beta used for the 290X, and 15.4.1 Beta drivers mostly used for 290X CrossFire (with the very newest games updated with 15.5).  High Quality; all optimizations off, use Application settings.
  • Nvidia GeForce 352.86 WHQL drivers for the GTX 980 and GTX 980 SLI.  352.90 Launch drivers used for the other Nvidia cards except TITAN X launch drivers mostly used for the overclocked figures only. High Quality, prefer maximum performance, single display.
  • vSYNC is off in the control panels.
  • AA enabled as noted in games; all in-game settings are specified with 16xAF always applied; 16xAF forced in control panel for Crysis.
  • All results show average frame rates except as noted.
  • Highest quality sound (stereo) used in all games.
  • Windows 8.1 64, all DX10 titles were run under DX10 render paths; DX11 titles under DX11 render paths.  Latest DirectX
  • All games are patched to their latest versions

The 32 Game benchmarks & 2 synthetic tests

  • Synthetic
  • Firestrike – Basic & Extreme
  • Heaven 4.0
  • DX9
  • The Witcher 2
  • DX10
  • Crysis
  • DX11
  • STALKER, Call of Pripyat
  • Max Payne 3
  • the Secret World
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Hitman: Absolution
  • Tomb Raider: 2013
  • Crysis 3
  • BioShock: Infinite
  • Metro: Last Light Redux (2014)
  • Battlefield 4
  • ArmA 3
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Thief
  • Sniper Elite 3
  • Watch_Dogs
  • GRID: Autosport
  • Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor
  • Alien Isolation
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity
  • Civilization Beyond Earth
  • Far Cry 4
  • Dragon’s Age: Inquisition
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  • The Crew
  • Evolve
  • Total War: Attila
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
  • Project CARS
  • the Witcher 3 

Before we get to the GTX TITAN X performance charts, let’s look at overclocking, power draw and temperatures.

Overclocking, Power Draw & Temperatures

Overclocking the GTX 980 Ti is just as easy as overclocking any other Maxwell GPU with the same features.  We were able to overclock our evaluation sample, adding +220MHz offset to the core with complete stability over all 32 games, even though we did not adjust the voltage nor our fan profile.  None of the games required us to either add voltage or drop the overclock one notch as we had to do with the TITAN X’ +200MHz offset for a few of our benchmarks.

We finally settled on a +220MHz offset to the core clocks and +500MHz offset on the memory clocks with very good stability, higher than the (almost) +200 offset to the core and +400MHz memory offset we achieved with our TITAN X.  Our GTX 980 Ti also ran slightly cooler although the fan spun up slightly higher than with our TITAN X.

Using maxed-out Heaven 4.0 looped in a window at 2560×1440, with all settings at stock values (Power and temperature targets are always maxed out), the Peak Boost that we observed was 1177MHz to 1202MHz.  Even with temperatures in our testing room approaching 80F, temperatures never reached over 87C under full load, and the fan was somewhat audible at 3350 rpm under full overclocked load.  Voltage for the GTX 980 Ti ranged from 1.162 to 1.193V, somewhat higher than the TITAN’s 1.13V to 1.143V over a full range of clocks.

Adding +220MHz to the core brought the peak base clock up to 1119MHz and it stabilized there when the temperature exceeded 80C.  Our stock boost clock reached 1419MHz although it generally stabilized at 1397MHz – higher than the TITAN’s overclocked boost. The fan needed to ramp up to 3300 rpm to keep the core temps below 86C.  The highest temperature blip we observed was 87F as the fan spun up to 3350 rpm.  Boosting the memory clocks +500MHz brought the temps up to our maximum ovserved, although the fan needed to ramp where it became more audible although it is not loud nor irritating as it is with the reference 290X cooling fan.

We finally settled on +220MHz offset to the core and +500MHz offset to the memory as stable for our overall benching and games that we tested on a series of warm Summer-like California days.

Noise

Like the GTX TITAN X, the GT X980 Ti is reasonably quiet for a high-end flagship card and in stark contrast to the reference version of the R9 290X.  The GTX 680 and the reference GTX 770 are already quiet for powerful cards, but the GTX 980 along with the GTX 780/Ti are noticeably quieter although our GTX 980 Ti is noisier under full load.  The automatic fan profiles worked well and they needed no tweaking even while benching using our maximum overclocks.

It appears that Nvidia has especially tuned the GTX 980 Ti to be less quiet than their other recent high-end cards, but not at the expense of cooling.  It will be interesting to see what cooling designs their partners may implement.

Let’s head to our performance charts.

 

Performance summary charts & graphs

Here are the summary charts of 32 games and 2 synthetic tests. The highest settings are always chosen and it is DX11 when there is a choice; DX10 is picked above DX9, and the settings are ultra or maxed.  Specific settings are listed on the Main Performance chart.  The benches were run at 1920×1200, 2560×14400, and at 3840×2160.

All results, except for FireStrike, show average framerates and higher is always better. In-game settings are fully maxed out and they are identically high or ultra across all platforms.  We see some very impressive results with the GTX 980 beating the R9 290 that are simply eclipsed by the GTX TITAN X and the GTX 980 Ti.

The Big Picture

TheBigPicture

The Crew, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, and Metal Gear Solid V each have a hard cap on the framerate at 60fps which is why we used maximum setting only at the highest resolutions for the fastest cards.  Evidently there are issues with Nvidia drivers and Wolfenstein.

There is a lot of information on the big picture, so here are three sub-charts.  First, let’s just compare the top 4 cards.

Chart-topcards

It is an absolute blowout and the R9 290X is left in the dust by the GTX TITAN X and the GTX 980 Ti.  Even the GTX 980 is significantly slower than the new Ti and the TITAN X. There are no games out of 30 where the Radeon even manages to tie the GTX 980 Ti although it does come close to the GTX 980 in a couple of games.  With both cards at stock, the TITAN X is overall about 3-6% faster than the GTX 980 Ti in most of the games we tested, although the results are even less decisive when both cards are overclocked further.

Now, let’s look at overclocked results of the GTX 980 Ti versus the TITAN X and compare their performance to GTX 980 SLI and R9 290X Crossfire.Chart-OC

It is amazing to see that a single overclocked GTX 980 Ti or a TITAN X can hold its own with AMD’s flagship cards in Crossfire, or even with GTX 980 SLI.  And there are a few games where ‘only’ 4GB of vRAM does hold back performance or even refuses to run at 4K with high details and AA.  No overclocked watercooled 290X will manage to make up the deficit.  We hope that AMD has a strong reply in a successor to the R9 290X.

Finally, let’s compare the GTX 980 Ti and the GTX 980 to the former Kepler flagships, the GTX 780 Ti and to the GTX 680, released just over 3 years ago.chart-older

The GTX 680 with its 2GB of vRAM is showing its age when it attempts to play the very newest games at high detail settings.  We did not even bother to test the newest games at 4K with the GTX 680 as it is very painful playing with frame rates in the low teens. Far Cry 4 refused to start because of the ultra settings that were left over from the previous card, and short of a game reinstall, we could not get it to run.  Wolfenstein evidently has issues with GeForce drivers and all resolutions were a slideshow, and The Crew would crash to desktop before fully loading.  The GTX 780 Ti is still holding up well although Kepler has less features and a weaker tessellation engine than Maxwell.

We tested only with HairWorks On in the Witcher 3.  For future benchmarking, we will test with it On and Off like we do with PhysX in Metro Last Light Redux.

Let’s head for our conclusion.

Conclusion

Untitled-6Our GTX 980 Ti did very well performance-wise comparing it to the the GTX 980 where it brings much higher performance. We are totally impressed with this high-performance Maxwell GM220 flagship chip that has such outstanding overclockability and a good price considering its ultra performance at 4K.  It slots well above the GTX 980 and far, far above the R9 290X or the GTX 980, and it offers more advantages since it is priced at $650, about what a pair of GTX 970s would cost for SLI.

We see good overclockability with quietness at stock voltage and fan profile from the reference design GTX 980 Ti and we look forward to Nvidia’s partner designs. Although GTX 970 SLI at approximately 700 dollars may be a better value overall than the $999 GTX TITAN X, it’s probably not such a good value compared with the $650 GTX 980 Ti.

Pros

  • TDP and power draw is superb at 220W for such a large high-performance GPU.
  • Overclockability is excellent – GPU Boost works as advertised
  • The reference design cooling is quiet and efficient; the card and well-ventilated case stay cool even well-overclocked on a hot Summer-like day.
  • It is possible to use two to even four of these cards for extreme Quad-SLI performance.
  • 3D Vision 2 and PhysX enhance gaming immersion and Nvidia has made PhysX available free of charge to devs.  And more affordable VR becomes possible with the GTX 980 TI.
  • GameWorks brings new features to gaming.
  • New MFAA allows for high performance than MSAA, without jaggies
  • DSR allows 4K crispness to come to 1080p
  • New ShadowPlay allows live streaming uploads to 60fps for 4K resolutions
  • G-Sync displays reduce and eliminate stuttering while retaining the advantages of minimizing tearing.
  • The GTX 980 Ti along with the TITAN X are the fastest single-GPU video cards. And the aftermarket GTX 980 Tis may overclock better than the TITAN Xes for considerably less money.   At $650, a GTX 980 Ti will represent a better value for most gamers than the TITAN X at 1000 dollars.

Cons

  • There is no backplate; not even a removable optional plate for non-SLI users.
  • The cooler is a little weak for the overclocked GM220 and it would be good to get a new reference design from Nvidia after 3 years.

 

The Verdict:

  • If you are buying the ultimate flagship video card right now and looking for the highest performance, the GTX TITAN X is no longer the only choice.  For $650, or about $350 less, the GTX 980 is slightly below halo status, but built to run in the fastest systems.  At this point, a pair of GTX 970s will probably no longer be chosen by the more budget conscious since SLI will come with the issues that are common to multi-GPU systems that are not inherent to a single card.  Also, a GTX 980 TI’s 6GB of vRAM appears to be the sweet-spot for 4K gaming; 4GB is insufficient for high details and added MSAA.
  • We would like to award the GTX 980 Ti the BabelTechReviews “Kick Ass” Award.  It is nearly as powerful and much less expensive than a GTX TITAN X.  The TITAN X should be picked for multi-monitor 4K gaming over the GTX 980 Ti by virtue of its 12GB of vRAM, and possibly for upcoming VR applications.  The GTX 980 Ti will be fine for just about every other intensive gaming situation, even at 4K.

We do not know what the future will bring, but the GTX 980 Ti brings a superb top-performer to the GeForce gaming family.  With great features like GameWorks and the GeForce Experience, you can be assured of immersive gaming by picking this card for 1080P, 1600P, 4K, or even higher 5K resolutions including for Surround, 3D Vision Surround, and especially for VR.

If you currently game on any other video card, you will do yourself a favor by upgrading. At less than half the performance of a GTX 980 Ti, the GTX 680 class of card with only 2GB of vRAM is starting to show its age when playing the very latest games. Even a GTX 780 Ti is about 1/3rd slower than a GTX 980 Ti.  The move to a GTX 980 Ti will give you better visuals on the DX11 and DX12 pathways and you are no doubt thinking of SLI or of even Tri- or Quad-SLI if you want to get the ultimate gaming performance.

AMD offers their own set of features including Eyefinity, GCN 2.0, and Mantle. However, Hawaii is relatively old and less power-efficient architecture and AMD has already had to drop pricing on the reference and stock-clocked R9 290s when the GTX 970 was released.  AMD and their fans are pinning their hopes on a 390X successor to the 290X which would have to make up a lot of ground to be competitive with the GTX 980, nevermind with the GTX 980 Ti or with TITAN X.

Besides new cards, the other major thing that AMD currently lacks is a good multi-GPU solution.  Hawaii GPUs run hot, and reference versions are the only reasonable choice (except expensive water cooling) for multi-GPU, but the noise that is produced by more than one 290X reference card is intolerable for most gamers.  Aftermarket open-design 290Xes are fine for single GPU, but there is too much heat produced by more than one card that will quickly overwhelm the cooling abilities of most cases.

Stay tuned, there is a lot coming from us at BTR.  Don’t forget to check out BTR’s tech community!  You can feel free to comment there or in the comments section on the main site.

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