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NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 980 bags a performance boost with new drivers!

By Wong Chung Wee & Vijay Anand - 2 Oct 2014

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 performance update

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 performance update

As the slew of GTX 900 series cards from various add-in card partners make their way to the market, there were at least two minor revisions to the NVIDIA GeForce drivers. According to NVIDIA, the new drivers offer better support for the new GPU series. Especially for game titles like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, The Evil Within, F1 2014, and Alien: Isolation. Since our first encounter with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 left us wondering about its sub-par performance, especially against the previous generation, Kepler-based GTX 780 Ti card, so we decided to benchmark the GeForce GTX 980 again with the latest GeForce drivers (as of the time of this re-test).

Certainly we don't expect the newcomer to outclass or run circles around the GeForce GTX 780 Ti as we've discussed in detail about the GM204 core used in the GTX 980 and where it stands. However, we do expect the GeForce GTX 980 to be more competitive. Let's find out!

Will the updated GeForce drivers deliver a much-needed performance boost for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980?


Test Setup

These are the specifications of our graphics testbed:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X (3.3GHz)
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro (Intel X79 chipset) Motherboard
  • 4 x 2GB DDR3-1600 G.Skill Ripjaws Memory
  • Seagate 7200.10 200GB SATA hard drive (OS)
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 RPM 1TB SATA hard drive (Benchmarks + Games)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit

We kept the usual suspects that were recruited for the first encounter with the GeForce GTX 980. Since the latest GeForce drivers, i.e., GeForce version 344.16 was meant for the GTX 900 series cards, we can assume, to a certain degree, the results of the two GTX 780 Ti cards are still valid for comparison with the updated results of the GTX 980. To refresh our memory, for the reference GTX 780 Ti card, we had the ASUS GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB GDDR5. We also fielded a typical end-user GTX 780 Ti card, which was the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 780 Ti Windforce 3x OC. The top-end AMD R9 290X "Hawaii" card representative was the ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC, in order to have a gauge of the GTX 980 performance against rival AMD's best single GPU part.

  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 344.16)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 340.52)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 780 Ti Windforce 3x OC 3GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 340.52)
  • ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC 4GB GDDR5 (AMD Catalyst 14.4)



Again, here's the full list of benchmarks that we'll be using for our assessment:-

  • Futuremark 3DMark 2013
  • Crysis 3
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts
  • Thief
  • Hitman: Absolution

3DMark 2013 was also used for our temperature, power consumption and overclocking tests.


3DMark 2013 Results

For this synthetic benchmark, GTX 980's lead over the GTX 780 Ti was confirmed once again, with a wider performance margin that averaged about 4%. Furthermore, the GTX 980 managed to beat the Gigabyte GTX 780 Ti Windforce card this time! So let's delve into more real-world gaming benchmarks to see if the new GeForce drivers will further the lead of the GTX 980! For reference, the results for the older set of drivers was 10625 and 5473 points respectively - so you can see why we're quite happy with the outcome this time round.


Crysis 3 Results

The GTX 980's performance was boosted by 24- to almost 32% for Crysis 3 with the new drivers! Although the new card trailed slightly behind the reference GTX 780 Ti at the resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, its overall performance was almost on par with the older, Kepler-based card. So that sounds about right from our understanding of the hardware details.



Thief Results

The GeForce GTX 980 managed to beat the GTX 780 Ti by a thin margin, and it was second only the Gigabyte GTX 780 Ti card, which sport an overclocked GK110 GPU. Once more, the results are quite a relief from our previous attempt and we noticed the good performance held true for other games tested too.



Call of Duty: Ghosts Results


Hitman: Absolution Results


The two sets of results confirmed the strengths of the new Maxwell GPU as the GTX 980 has performed on par, and on some occasions, even edged out the GTX 780 Ti. Before the GeForce drivers were updated, the GTX 980's performance was even lowered than the ASUS Radeon R9 290X. Currently, the GTX 980 has put away the poor first impressions, and reclaims its reputation as a decent successor to the outgoing GeForce GTX 780 TI.


Overclocking Results

This re-test confirmed the overclocking capabilities of the GTX 980 and we're glad that it performed even better than it had in our earlier attempt.. The newcomer easily pulled away from the competing cards with relative ease - even at their overclocked states. Against the fastest GeForce GTX 780 Ti in our stable of tested cards, the GeForce GTX 980 was easily over 10% speedier. Put up with AMD's best, it was up to 24% better!



Temperature and Power Consumption Results

The updated drivers did little change for the temperature and power consumption of the GTX 980.




Like a gust of wind to plump the sails of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 card, the updated GeForce drivers did their trick to boost the performance of the new card. Generally speaking, in comparison against the old results, the updated scores showed performance gains of about 4% for the synthetic benchmark, 3DMark (2013). In terms of real-life gaming experience, the average frame rates recorded were lifted by at least 24% For some results, its gains were as high as 60%! Against the previous generation top-end GTX 780 Ti, the GTX 980 showed its mettle and managed to narrow the performance gap. We can safely state that the gaming performance of the GTX 980 is almost on par with the GTX 780 Ti, and this is achieved with a much smaller thermal envelope of 165W; in comparison with the GTX 780 Ti's TDP of 250W.

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 still doesn't take the crown of the fastest single GPU card from the GTX 780 Ti. However, its performance is almost on par with the latter, which is now spot on with our expectation. This is attained through the increased performance-per watt efficiency of the GM204 chip, despite the reduced video memory bus width that affects net video memory bandwidth. With the introduction of the second generation Maxwell architecture in mid to top-tier gaming cards, unlike the GeForce GTX 750 Ti that was meant for budget gamer, we are sure the future of the GeForce GTX 900 series looks bright as its new features like Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) and Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing (MFAA). It will also push for better realism in newer games with Voxel Global Illumination (VXGI) as such photo realism brings about more immersive gaming experiences and the same goes for VR Direct, especially over Ultra HD 4K displays. It may take a while before we get there, but the reintroduction of the new Maxwell GPU will be worth the wait if all its new features are fully tapped upon!

Is it worth it?

At its launch price of US$549, the GeForce GTX 980 is also more cost efficient than the GeForce GTX 780 Ti that debuted at US$699 (and is still fairly expensive at about US$550 to US$600 price range at online retailers like Newegg). For a lower price, the GeForce GTX 980 delivers just as well as the GeForce GTX 780 Ti and is more power efficient to boost. As for AMD's Radeon R9 290X, it currently retails online at US$500 to US$550 (at press time), so clearly the new GeForce GTX 980 wins hands down from performance, power and efficiency point of view. Both the NVIDIA GK110 and AMD's Hawaii chips are far more complex GPUs and it's good to see that a more efficient design on the GM204 is able to hold its own against them.

In closing, just know that the GeForce GTX 980 performs well and costs less than the GeForce GTX 780 Ti. It's because of this performance profile that NVIDIA has knowingly mentioned that the new kid on the block will immediately replace the GTX 780 and the GTX 780 Ti counterparts. This also means that while it's an excellent upgrade option for anyone still using a GeForce 600 series card like the GTX 680, it's not directed at existing owners of the GTX 780 and GTX 780 Ti products. If you happen to own them, then skip the GTX 980 and hold out for a GM200 or GM210 GPU based product in the future which would likely be the true top-end part you've been waiting for.

All things considered, we feel these results better reflect the performance and positioning of the GeForce GTX 980 and we've thus amended our prior ratings to suit it appropriately.

The GeForce GTX 980 had a minor stumble at the start, but its strong finish was what counted at the end of its first race.

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  • Performance 8.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Value 8.5
The Good
Good power efficiency
Highly overclockable
New features like MFAA, DSR
Support for HDMI 2.0
Lower price
The Bad
Performance only on par with GTX 780 Ti
SLI setup required for optimal 4K gaming
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