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ASUS GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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NVIDIA’s GTX 980 Ti is currently in an odd position . After AMD launched their R9 Fury X and subsequently more affordable R9 Fury, many expected the battle for high end GPU supremacy to heat up in a big way. That didn’t happen. Instead of staling sales from their GeForce competitors, the new AMD cards have actually pushed buyers towards the GTX 980 Ti and to a lesser extent the GTX 980. A lot of this has been due to a lack of stock for many of AMD's top-end SKUs. As a result, NVIDIA and their board partners are scrambling to meet the bonanza in demand by increasing production capacity and continuing to launch class-leading custom designs.

One of the latest and also most anticipated releases is ASUS’ GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC, a graphics card that seemingly has everything but isn’t all that much more expensive than a reference card. At $669 it is $30 less expensive than the balls-to-the-wall Zotac AMP! Extreme and slightly less than MSI’s GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G and EVGA’s GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ ACX 2.0+. That is, if you can actually find it these days.

One thing we should also mention straight off the bat is the slight controversy that surrounded this card shortly after its launch and initial reviews. Some sites received a higher clocked non-retail version while cards destined for store shelves were supposed to be clocked a bit lower. Our sample is straight from the retail channel so the clock speeds you see below are the ones that customers STRIX OC cards come equipped with.


While other board partners may have different SKUs, each with a separate clock speed and target audience, ASUS has rolled these all into one card. To cater to as wide a market as possible, the STRIX OC can be switched between three separate (OC, Gaming and Silent) performance / cooling modes with the press of a button within their newly refreshed GPU Tweak software. All of these are offered with a memory overclock to 7200MHz.

The highest performance mode is the OC setting which grants Base and Boost frequencies of 1216MHz and 1317MHz respectively. That’s only a short stone’s throw away from Zotac’s AMP! Extreme and quite a bit higher than MSI and EVGA offerings in the same price bracket. For the purposes of this review, we’ll be using this setting for all subsequent benchmarks.

ASUS’ other two modes both offer lower frequencies but sacrifice high performance for lower fan speeds. The Gaming setting is actually what the STRIX OC defaults to when its installed without the accompanying software and will net you still-high overclocks of 1190MHz / 1291MHz which is ironically still just a few MHz faster than MSI’s Gaming 6G. Finally there’s a Silent Mode which is supposed to dial things back a bit more while reducing fan speeds.


ASUS’ GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC represents one of the first cards with their new DirectCU III heatsink. Having been developed and refined over the last few years and given the fact that its predecessor, the DirectCU II, was one of the most highly regarded coolers around, there are some understandably high expectations riding on its shoulders.

The DirectCU III’s design is distinctive but, when compared to some of the other visually loud heatsinks on the market, it is actually quite subtle in its approach. Coloration is predominantly black with a pair of red stripes adorning the plastic shroud’s sides and a few small highlights of brushed aluminum placed closer to the I/O plate.

ASUS’ approach to engineering the heatsink flies in the face of several other designs we have seen from both NVIDIA’s and AMD’s board partners. Instead of expanding the internal fin array upwards, thus forcing the fans to work harder to overcome excess static pressure requirements, this one extends outwards. That leads the GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC to have a dual slot height but a length of just over 12” and a portly width of about 5 ¾”. Be sure to take these figures into account before assuming this card will fit into a smaller chassis.


Below that shroud is a completely reworked heatsink, one which includes the industry’s first application of dual 10mm heatpipes alongside several smaller heatpipes to supplement cooling. These make irect contact with the GM200 core and gradually snake through the fin array to insure even heat distribution.

That fin array is indeed a large one but the card’s 92mm fans have excellent coverage so every area receives full-on airflow. Speaking of those fans, they boast a newly patented wing-blade design that significantly increases air pressure by utilizing a step-down tab on the fan blades’ outside edge. This is supposed boost airflow by a good 105% over previous designs and will allow the fans to spin slower while achieving the same cooling potential.


Alongside the more visible changes to this generation, ASUS has also included a secondary reinforcement frame to reduce PCB flex and 0dB fan technology. As with many other cards these days, the 0dB technology allows all three fans to completely shut off when the card is at idle or low load. In the past, we’ve actually seen these STRIX cards become completely silent in games like Starcraft II and DOTA.


Along the shroud’s outer edge is a long strip of red plastic which has a STRIX logo that gently pulses red. Unfortunately, there’s no way to turn it off or change its attributes from pulsing to continually on but or completely off.


As with other STRIX cards, this one has a full metal backplate with a few cutouts for critical components and access to read points. Since there aren’t any heatpads, ASUS has done the right thing and allowed airflow over the secondary VRMs. Not only that but with its STRIX logo and svelte overall design this backplate looks amazing.


Directly behind the core is what ASUS calls a GPU Fortifier. This thick piece of aluminum is supposed to reinforce the PCB directly behind the heatsink mounts and prevents flex. Considering this area is under a high amount of stress from the large heatsink, we can understand why ASUS felt the need to add some additional reinforcement in this area.


One of the backplate’s cutouts features a series of jumpers that can be used to enable the card’s Memory Defrost feature. This will be used exclusively by veteran extreme overclockers who use it to activate heating elements around the memory modules, thus avoiding them running into any cold bugs when the core is cooled with LN2 or dry ice.


The dual 8-pin power input connectors aren’t exactly easily accessible but ASUS provides small LEDs that turn from red to white when a successful connection is made. We can also see in this area that the new DirectCU III heatsink maximizes every single inch of space underneath its shroud, even allowing a portion of fin array to continue downwards, encompassing the PCB’s rear edge.


The GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC’s I/O layout is identical to other GTX 980 Ti’s in that it has a trio of DisplayPort outputs, a single HDMI 2.0 (there’s no HDCP 2.2 support though) and that single lone DVI.


Popping the heatsink off this card reveals an absolutely gargantuan PCB, proving why ASUS felt the need to expand their DirectCU III to cover the entire card’s width. Residing here is a 12+2 phase PWM that boasts Super Alloy Power II components like a DrMos integrated power stage for reduced operating temperatures, long life capacitors and concrete alloy chokes for lower mechanical noise and whine.

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ASUS has also implemented their new Auto Extreme technology, something that is supposed to insure the highest quality and reliability for nearly every aspect of this card. The STRIX OC is built with a minimum of human interaction which lowers the possibility of manufacturing errors, the entire PCB and its components are linked with flux-free solder and there are several additional quality assurance verification steps. All in all it looks like ASUS has built this thing to last.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,264
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Montreal
A Closer Look at ASUS' New GPU Tweak II

A Closer Look at ASUS' New GPU Tweak II



The ASUS GPU Tweak software was initially conceived as a quick and easy way to overclock and monitor your graphics card. While the premise was simple, the initial version came off as a simple knock-off of better-established software like MSI’s AfterBurner, RivaTuner and EVGA’s Precision. With GPU Tweak’s second iteration that similarity gets thrown out the window and is replaced with a clean, modern and extremely useable design.

The primary landing page consists of three large dials which indicate GPU speed shown in a percentage relative to a reference card’s core frequency, temperature and GPU usage. There’s also a row of buttons listing the three preset modes of OC, Gaming and Silent. A fourth tab is provided wherein you can create your own clock speed and fan profile.

Tertiary buttons include a toggle for the 0dB fan technology, a link to the Professional Mode page which includes a bevy of overclocking options, a Game Booster function and a few additional areas that grant more control over the software and its functions.


The Professional Mode grants you full control over clock speeds, voltages, Power Limit, fan speeds and memory frequencies. There’s even an option to set up a completely custom fan speed curve. Once an overclock and other aspects are dialed in, they can be saved to a predefined User Mode. It’s a really straightforward process that’s been rolled into an extremely easy to approach interface.


GPU Tweak’s Monitor tab automatically opens when the application begins. As you might expect, this section gives readouts for every aspect of the card in question. Unfortunately, there’s no option to load “PerfCap” reasons like within EVGA’s Precision too and that’s a pretty major disappointment since those reasons allow you to see what’s holding back an overclock. ASUS also doesn’t give the option to log the readouts to a text file.


The Info tab loads an ASUS-branded version of GPU-Z along with a Live Update section. Live Update itself is absolutely brilliant since it allows you to download and install everything from a new version of GPU Tweak II to a new vBIOS with a minimum of hassle.


One of the more interesting additions to GPU Tweak II is its so-called Gaming Booster. It allows users to quickly modify and optimize their system for the best performance possible. Visual Effects can change the Windows default scheme from the typical Windows 8.1 theme to a theme without tab transparency. Meanwhile, System Services turns off non-critical Windows services and the Memory Defragmentation is supposed to re-arrange system memory resources without closing any processes.


ASUS also bundles a full year of the XSplit Gamecaster Premium service with many of their newest cards. That’s about $100 worth of value.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,264
Location
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Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


Typically in this section we compare several graphics cards against one another but this time around things are a bit different. ASUS offers three distinct preset modes on their STRIX OC: Overclock, Gaming and Silent. Each of these is supposed to be tied to its own performance and fan speed profile, allowing the card to offer a range of different options depending on what your preference is. This Swiss army knife approach is unlocked in ASUS’ GPU Tweak II software.


The first set of results show an interesting trend: regardless of the setting, temperatures remain the same. On one hand this is a good thing since you are guaranteed extremely competitive core cooling numbers but it also leads to a real lack of separation between the so-called “silent” mode and what should be the louder OC mode. There’s a head scratcher to start….


Obviously ASUS are able to retain the same temperature numbers since the Boost speeds of each setting are quite a bit different. The OC setting pushes things the furthest with a consistent speed of 1393MHz (many games pushed this just above 1400MHz) while the Gaming preset isn’t all that far behind at 1366MHz. The Silent mode is by far the lowest performing setting at 1340MHz but it’s still far above and beyond what reference cards offer.


Performance is about what we have come to expect given this card’s clock speeds and its different presets. All in all, pretty good framerates given this isn’t an NVIDIA-friendly title.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging



Cool, calm and completely under control is the best way to describe these thermal imaging shots. Had we directed airflow towards the rearmost exposed components they would likely be substantially cooler but we can also see why ASUS left them exposed.

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.


This part of the review should have been particularly interesting since ASUS offers those three modes we’ve mentioned again and again. So where are they in the acoustics chart below? Shouldn’t the Silent mode be substantially quieter than OC? Well, the short answer is a definitive NO. The reason for that is relatively simple: while all of the modes essentially modify the timing of when they switch between the idle 0dB mode to active, they all end up with profiles in the 1400PRM range when under load. As such, there’s absolutely no difference in acoustics from one to the other.


Despite a distinct lack of differentiation between ASUS’ well-publicized modes, the STRIX is actually one of the quietest GTX 980 Ti cards we have ever tested. With the fans completely turning themselves off when at idle and then slowly spinning up to just 1400RPMs, the near-silence offered here is impressive to say the least.


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.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup



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 15.7.1
NVIDIA 352.90


*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
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Joined
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Messages
13,264
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Montreal
1440P: AC:Unity / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed: Unity


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While it may not be the newest game around and it had its fair share of embarrassing hiccups at launch, Assassin's Creed: Unity is still one heck of a good looking DX11 title. In this benchmark we run through a typical gameplay sequence outside in Paris.




Battlefield 4


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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.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


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Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most popular games around due to its engaging gameplay and open-world style. In our benchmark sequence we run through two typical areas: a busy town and through an outdoor environment.





Dying Light


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Dying Light is a relatively late addition to our benchmarking process but with good reason: it required multiple patches to optimize performance. While one of the patches handicapped viewing distance, this is still one of the most demanding games available.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: Far Cry 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

Far Cry 4


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The latest game in Ubisoft’s Far Cry series takes up where the others left off by boasting some of the most impressive visuals we’ve seen. In order to emulate typical gameplay we run through the game’s main village, head out through an open area and then transition to the lower areas via a zipline.




Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: Hitman Absolution / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

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.




Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


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With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: 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.




Tomb Raider


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/okFRgtsbPWE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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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