When it comes to performance parts it can be argued that GPUs are somewhat sexier than CPUs. Of course in the professional computing world we care more about CPU performance than the general user, but with the rise of GPGPU computing and affordable consumer grade GPUs with thousands of processors new high-end toys are always of interest.
So we were quite excited to hear that Nvidia had released two new high end cards; the GTX 980 as its flagship and the GTX 970 as the upper-midrange model.
The GTX 970
Coming in at just over $300 (depending on the manufacturer) the GTX 970 is probably going to be the more popular of the two, so letís have a look at the specifications of this card first. The GTX 970 is squarely in competition with AMDís R9 290X card, in fact very recently AMD has slashed the price of both the R9 290X and 290 in response to the release of the two cards under discussion here, so you know Big Red is worried about the green team here.
Because there can be so much variation in 3rd party cards, weíll only look at the reference specifications provided by Nvidia, but of course thereíll be plenty of factory overclocked and custom-cooled cards on shelves, so keep an eye out for the best versions of these chips. The 900 series cards have only been out for a few days at the time of writing, so no clear favourite has emerged.
According to Nvidia, the GTX 970 has the following key specifications:
1664 CUDA cores.
Clock speed of 1050 Mhz (1178 boost)
4GB of 256-bit GDDR5
Max resolution of 4096x2160 (4K)
Power draw: 145W
Minimum PSU 500W (2x6 pin power connectors required)
The specifications already look great, but whatís really impressive is how low the power requirements are. A sub-150W card with this sort of horsepower is a real leap forward and is probably one of the best showings for the Maxwell GPU architecture. This probably also the first card that is in any way practical for gaming or other 3D applications on a 4K monitor. We might be witnessing the first steps of 4K into the consumer mainstream, albeit at the higher end of the market.
The most promising thing about the GTX 970 is not that itís much faster than the GTX 770 (the difference is substantial, but not earth shaking), itís that the GTX 970 is faster while using 80W less power at peak consumption. Even the GTX 760 is rated at 170W as stock and it isnít in the same league as the GTX 970. That makes this card a very compelling upgrade for existing machines, since you wonít need a PSU upgrade. As a SLI solution itís even more attractive since there are older 300W cards that wonít match a single GTX 970 which can be swapped for two 970s. The GTX 970 is certainly going to be a star component for building desktop rigs with frankly crazy amounts of GPU power.
The GTX 980
The new flagship card from Nvidia continues the theme of low-power and high performance. According to Nvidiaís reference design the key specifications are as follows:
2880 CUDA cores
A base clock of 875Mhz (928Mhz boost)
3 GB of 384-bit GDDR5
Max resolution support of 4096x2160 (4K)
Power consumption of 165W ( requires a 600W PSU and 1x 8-pin and 1x 6-pin connector)
Everything thatís been said about the GTX970 counts in this case as well. In fact, both have the same GPU, with some processor units disabled on the 970. The performance gap between the two card is admittedly not small, but the the price difference is even greater at about $250. Still, this card outperforms the old GTX 780Ti by a noticeable margin while cutting the power consumption down from 250W to 165W. Many users (with the available cash) could whip out their 780Ti and replace it with two 980s with only a relatively small jump in power consumption. For those hellbent on having a flagship card for whatever reason the GTX 980 is the card to have, but (and itís a big but) for an extra $100 over the asking price for a single GTX 980 you could have two 970s. Thatís a pretty hard deal to pass on in our opinion.
Bells and Whistles
Raw performance and power consumption are not the only factors that should be taken into account here. The 900 series cards also bring support for DirectX 12 and a whole list of new tricks, such as a new voxel-based lighting technology and another technology that Nvidia claims can make 1080p displays appear similar in quality to 4K displays. In our experience new features such as these arenít usually worth making a purchase by themselves when no one is implementing them in software yet, but since the 900 series cards can stand on performance terms alone they certainly are nice to have.
The initial impressions and reviews of these two cards over the first few days of their release have been very positive and it seems a safe bet to recommend them. Especially the GTX 970. If you currently have a power hungry card like the 780Ti we recommend getting two 970s and replacing that single card with a SLI solution, if your other hardware allows for it. That should double your GPU performance for almost the same money as a GTX 980. We canít wait to start putting together test builds using these new cards. Keep an eye on the TitanUS Facebook page for new Intel and AMD workstations using the GTX 970 and 980, theyíre sure to be worth a look.