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ASUS GTX 980 Matrix Platinum Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
ASUS’ Republic of Gamers Matrix graphics cards may be one of the most desirable series around and there’s good reason for that. They have advanced features, upgraded components, high out-of-box clock speeds and typically feature some incredible overclocking headroom. This is why enthusiasts have been waiting for ASUS to bring the Matrix namesake over to NVIDIA’s Maxwell lineup and that’s exactly what has finally happened with the GTX 980 Matrix Platinum.

The GTX 980 lineup from ASUS is relatively straightforward with a reference-based card sitting in the lowest $549 tier and the shockingly-good STRIX OC just above that with a mere $20 premium. The Matrix Platinum takes over flagship status at an understandably high price of $650USD or a staggering $720CAD but considering the competition’s comparable cost structures, ASUS’ asking price seems right in line with expectation. With that being said, EVGA’s Classified, Zotac’s AMP! Extreme and MSI’s upcoming Lightning will likely put up a fierce fight for supremacy. the “standard” GTX 980 Matrix will likely hit a cost slightly lower than that.

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While the raison d’être of the GTX 980 Matrix Platinum is delivering awesome overclocking headroom, its base clock speeds are certainly nothing to sneeze at. It offers a Base Clock that’s some 115MHz higher than the reference card and beats the STRIX OC by 63MHz. Meanwhile, the sustained Boost frequency is similarly increased to rates that are 126MHz and 101MHz better than the reference and STRIX OC respectively. Like all other overclocked GTX 980’s there isn’t any boost to memory frequencies but we nonetheless expect some incredible performance from this card.

Currently, the Matrix Platinum may be one of the fastest GTX 980’s available but its Boost Clock of 1342MHz is narrowly edged out by cards like Zotac’s AMP! Extreme and EVGA’s Hydro Copper and Classified. The EVGA Superclocked series boasts the exact same clock speeds so ASUS’ offering isn’t anything particularly unique on the out-of-box performance front.

ASUS has waited for a good time to launch their flagship GTX 980 since availability for all GTX 980’s has finally improved. Where finding one used to be nearly impossible and wait lists were long, supply has finally caught up to demand despite the higher sales that typify the Christmas shopping season. But while this card shouldn’t be hard to find, the Matrix series has always been somewhat limited in numbers so if you’re planning on buying one, jump on it sooner rather than later.

The GTX 980 Matrix Platinum is a model that many overclockers have been waiting for but for a $xxx premium over the STRIX OC, ASUS will have to offer something different to insure some measure of differentiation. Advanced components and a great looking illuminated cooler can only go so far in the eyes of many buyers who are looking to put down nearly $600 on a graphics card. Remember, in our STRIX OC review, we smashed head-first into a clock speed wall and surmised that higher overclocking limits should be placed on the Matrix. Did that actually happen? Let’s find out.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the ASUS GTX 980 Matrix Platinum

A Closer Look at the ASUS GTX 980 Matrix Platinum


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This view should be familiar to pretty much everyone since the basic exterior look of the ASUS Matrix series hasn’t changed in a while. As matter of fact, this cooler design, this iteration’s features and even the PCB itself mirrors GTX 780 Ti Matrix Platinum’s to the very last detail. With a predominantly black and red color scheme, it’s still one good looking card and fits perfectly with ASUS’ line of Republic of Gamers motherboards.

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The Matrix isn’t a small card in any way, shape or form so anyone wanting to fit it into an ITX-based system will need to take its prodigious girth into account before pushing the “buy” button. The overall length of 11.7” likely won’t cause an issue for many modern SFF chassis but the width of 6” may prove to be a challenge in many smaller cases.

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These newer generation Matrix cards have a unique fan layout that’s meant to improve airflow through the heatsink and, unlike other similar designs, exhaust a good amount of hot air outside the case. It does this by including a single standard axial fan which blows air downwards while the specialized CoolTech double-bladed fan has a multidirectional airflow profile. This accelerates the air movement horizontally in addition to vertically which, when paired up with the shroud’s strategically-placed channels, directs air towards the backplate.

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Below those fans resides an extensive primary heatsink that uses ASUS’ DirectCU II thermal management technology which puts the Maxwell core in direct contact with five 10mm copper heatpipes. The whole affair has been anodized in a matte black color so it blends in perfect with the rest of the card’s design.

Unlike some of their competitors, ASUS hasn’t included a large secondary heatsink that helps cool PCB components like the GDDR5 memory modules. At first thins may seem a bit odd but there’s a perfectly good reason for this: the fans themselves supposedly provide more than enough airflow to adequately cool these items. In addition, there is a targeted cooling array over the primary MOSFETs which aides with dissipating heat from the hottest-running components.

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Alongside the heatsink is a Republic of Gamers logo which is backlit by LEDs. These LEDs glow different colors to indicate the amount of load the card is encountering. Blue, orange red and green are used to show light load, medium load, heavy load and Safe Mode operation respectively.

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Much like the GTX 780 Ti Matrix, the GTX 980 version has a secondary power input in the form of a Molex connector. There’s also a handy Safe Mode button which reloads the default BIOS image’s voltages and frequencies in the event where extreme modifications prevent the card from booting into Windows. It’s a brilliant addition and will prove to be a huge boon for extreme overclockers who enjoy pushing the limits.

Next to the Safe Mode button is a small DIP switch that turns on the Matrix’s Memory Heater. To most overclockers this feature will be completely counterintuitive since they’ll want to keep their card’s GDDR5 modules as cool as possible. However, when using liquid nitrogen the heater is supposed prevent the memory from encountering cold bugs that are induced by sub-zero temperatures. For component safety purposes, the switch isn’t actually enabled unless the associated solder point is jumped.

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Speaking of soldering, the GTX 980 Matrix’s back houses a number of solder points: one to enable the aforementioned memory cooler and another to activate a side-mounted switch that allows for selection of either the standard or LN2 BIOS. That LN2 BIOS unlocks the Matrix’s full capabilities by removing the NVIDIA-mandated blocks with GPU Tweak. Higher voltage and a completely unlocked Power Limit are two things every NVIDIA-focused overclocker looks for but both features are safely walled off behind warranty-voiding modification points.

There are also a number of voltage read points located in this area and they’re extremely easy to access regardless of whether or not the card is installed in a case or test bench.

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The GTX 980 Matrix’s back area is covered in an all-encompassing heatsink that has numerous ventilation holes for enhanced airflow characteristics towards the PCB’s rear.

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That extra-wide stance we talked about before has some uses. Despite vast areas of blank PCB, ASUS has implemented a 14-phase PWM with Nichicon GT-series capacitors rated for continuous operation at 125°C and hardened MOSFETs to cut down on coil whine. Supposedly the component selection allows for five times better durability and a 30% reduction in power noise.

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Connectivity on this card strictly follows NVIDIA’s reference design with a trio of DisplayPort outputs, a single HDMI 1.4 and a traditional DVI-D. Meanwhile, power is drawn through two 8-pin connectors which is a bit of overkill but the additional current will come in handy for any extreme overclocking endeavors.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Clock Speed Stability Under the Microsope

Clock Speed Stability Under the Microsope


NVIDIA’s Boost algorithms may be at the heart of some controversy due to their ability to limit overclocking but they can also enhance default clock speeds provided there is sufficient thermal and power overhead. ASUS’ DirectCU II technology is widely known as one of the best options available for taming heat so it goes without saying that when given the chance, the Matrix should be able to clock itself past the on-paper Boost frequency. Remember, according to ASUS, this particular GTX 980 is rated for 1241MHz and 1342MHz for its Base and Boost respectively.

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These are the lowest thermal results we’ve ever seen from a GTX 980, handily beating those from ASUS’ own GTX 980 STRIX. While the STRIX is mostly focused on granting a completely silent gaming experience up until the 65°C mark, the Matrix paces its fan speeds throughout every segment which effectively lowers maximum temperatures.

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While ASUS’ stated maximum Boost frequency is 1342MHz we can see that due to a mass of thermal overhead, the card is actually able to achieve clock speeds that are slightly above that. It topped out at 1380MHz without any overclocking on our part.

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While the extra overhead is certainly welcome, it doesn’t necessarily translate into dramatically better performance than the GXT 980 STRIX. However, against the reference version, it’s hard to deny that there’s at least some benefit to having a custom high end cooler on your side.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging


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Here we have what may be the most definitive proof that ASUS’ fan layout and design are working to their fullest effect. As can be readily seen, the rearmost area of the primary heatsink is completely cool while the area around the CoolTech fan is seen pushing hot air towards the backplate. While the area around that fan is quite a bit hotter, most of the heat is concentrated in an area that won’t affect core temperatures.

Around back, there’s a few hot spots but these aren’t anything to worry about since most of the excess heat seems to be dissipated by the heatspreader.


Acoustical Testing


What you see below are the baseline idle dB(A) results attained for a relatively quiet open-case system (specs are in the Methodology section) sans GPU along with the attained results for each individual card in idle and load scenarios. The meter we use has been calibrated and is placed at seated ear-level exactly 12” away from the GPU’s fan. For the load scenarios, Hitman Absolution is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.

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While the Matrix may be ever so slightly louder than ASUS’ own STRIX OC, it is still one of the quietest cards on the market. It’s incredible that we can get this type of performance from a graphics card that can’t be heard unless your ear is placed right next to it.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we used 15 minutes of Unigine Valley running on a loop while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 15 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.

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Naturally, higher clock speeds lead to increased power consumption. With that being said even when overclocked the GTX 980 Matrix still happens to be more efficient than NVIDIA’s reference GTX 780 Ti.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


The ASUS GTX 980 Matrix’s entire reason for being is to offer something beyond the usual raft of “enthusiast” card by allowing enterprising overclockers to push clock speeds to new levels. Unfortunately accessing the nearly-endless possibilities offered by this card isn’t easy; achieving anything beyond NVIDIA’s predetermined maximums (125% Power Limit and a laughable 38mV of extra voltage) requires warranty-voiding modifications. However, it’s also important to remember that at points beyond these preset limits more exotic cooling methods are recommended since even the efficient Maxwell core pumps out a significant amount of heat when enough voltage is thrown at it.

Given the results we’ve seen on the previous pages, it should go without saying that ASUS’ DirectCU II heatsink is more than capable of providing more cooling potential that what’s allowed within ASUS’ GPU Tweak when the LN2 pads haven’t been jumped with a bead of solder. Due to a number of factors, we decided to leave the jumpers untouched and proceed with overclocking via ASUS’ default values.

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ASUS’ GPU Tweak software automatically revises its offerings when it detects a Matrix card, revealing a number of different options. While the maximum GPU voltage and Power Limit is tied at the hip to the modifications (or lack thereof) done to the card, items like the PCI-E voltage, memory voltage (to a maximum of +50mV), Load Line percentage, the signal speed of the card’s VRM and a 3.3V modifier are all now present. Absolutely none of these other than the memory voltage will be beneficial for air cooling benchmark runs but when moving to water and sub-zero overclocking, they could become a deciding factor.

Another relatively recent addition to ASUS’ stable of software features is a burn-in utility that can be accessed by pressing the Burn button to the right of Silent and Gaming profiles. This launches a stress test that checks for card stability.

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This all brings us to our overclock, which was stable for hours on end but didn’t achieve all that much differentiation from the STRIX tested a few weeks ago. It topped out with a Boost speed of 1466MHz or a mere 30MHz higher than the STRIX. Even the memory, with its 50mV shot of adrenalin, couldn’t hit the 8Gbps mark and fell just short at 7996MHz. These are the OC results you will see in the remainder of this review.

Honestly, nothing about this is particularly impressive but it should be mentioned again that we didn’t utilize every tool that ASUS left at our disposal. Our experience also goes to show how the Matrix represents a particularly poor value for anyone who wants a simple plug-and-play solution. Extreme overclockers should have a field-day with it though.
 

SKYMTL

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System Setup & Testing Methodology

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 4930K @ 4.7GHz
Memory: G.Skill Trident 16GB @ 2133MHz 10-10-12-29-1T
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79-E WS
Cooling: NH-U14S
SSD: 2x Kingston HyperX 3K 480GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Dell U2713HM (1440P) / ASUS PQ321Q (4K)
OS: Windows 8.1 Professional


Drivers:
AMD 14.9 Beta
NVIDIA 344.75 Beta


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 2 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FCAT on the other hand has the capability to log onscreen average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing and where the Frame Time Analysis Tool gets factored into this equation.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render and display each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

We are now using FCAT for ALL benchmark results, other than 4K.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


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The fourth iteration of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is the first to make extensive use of DX11 graphics technology. In this benchmark sequence, we proceed through a run-through of the Havana area which features plenty of NPCs, distant views and high levels of detail.


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Battlefield 4


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Amidst its teething problems since its release, BF4 has been a bone of contention among gamers. In this sequence, we use the Singapore level which combines three of the game’s major elements: a decayed urban environment, a water-inundated city and finally a forested area. We chose not to include multiplayer results simply due to their randomness injecting results that make apples to apples comparisons impossible.

2560 x 1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Call of Duty: Ghosts / Far Cry 3

Call of Duty: Ghosts


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The latest Call of Duty game may have been ridiculed for its lackluster gameplay but it remains one of the best-looking games out there. Unfortunately due to mid-level loads, getting a “clean” runthrough without random slowdowns is nearly impossible, even with a dual SSD system like ours. Hence why you should ignore any massive framerate dips as they are anomalies of poor loading optimizations. For this benchmark we used the first sequence of the 5th Chapter entitled Homecoming as every event is scripted so runthroughs will be nearly identical.

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Far Cry 3


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One of the best looking games in recent memory, Far Cry 3 has the capability to bring even the fastest systems to their knees. Its use of nearly the entire repertoire of DX11’s tricks may come at a high cost but with the proper GPU, the visuals will be absolutely stunning.

To benchmark Far Cry 3, we used a typical run-through which includes several in-game environments such as a jungle, in-vehicle and in-town areas.



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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Metro: Last Light

Hitman Absolution


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Hitman is arguably one of the most popular FPS (first person “sneaking”) franchises around and this time around Agent 47 goes rogue so mayhem soon follows. Our benchmark sequence is taken from the beginning of the Terminus level which is one of the most graphically-intensive areas of the entire game. It features an environment virtually bathed in rain and puddles making for numerous reflections and complicated lighting effects.


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Metro: Last Light


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The latest iteration of the Metro franchise once again sets high water marks for graphics fidelity and making use of advanced DX11 features. In this benchmark, we use the Torchling level which represents a scene you’ll be intimately familiar with after playing this game: a murky sewer underground.


2560 x 1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


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When it was released, Thief was arguably one of the most anticipated games around. From a graphics standpoint, it is something of a tour de force. Not only does it look great but the engine combines several advanced lighting and shading techniques that are among the best we’ve seen. One of the most demanding sections is actually within the first level where you must scale rooftops amidst a thunder storm. The rain and lightning flashes add to the graphics load, though the lightning flashes occur randomly so you will likely see interspersed dips in the charts below due to this.


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Tomb Raider


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Tomb Raider is one of the most iconic brands in PC gaming and this iteration brings Lara Croft back in DX11 glory. This happens to not only be one of the most popular games around but it is also one of the best looking by using the entire bag of DX11 tricks to properly deliver an atmospheric gaming experience.

In this run-through we use a section of the Shanty Town level. While it may not represent the caves, tunnels and tombs of many other levels, it is one of the most demanding sequences in Tomb Raider.


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