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EVGA GeForce GTX 970 FTW ACX 2.0 Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Montreal
EVGA’s GTX 970 lineup is one of the most extensive among NVIDIA’s board partners and their FTW version is arguably the fastest available. Considering we’ve already looked at examples from ASUS, Gigabyte, PNY, GALAX and even EVGA, this isn’t an idle boast at all.

The back-story behind EVGA’s Maxwell lineup is an interesting one since it has been beset by wild successes and some very public speed bumps. Their GTX 970 cards have been in high demand since they combine a low price with awesome performance and legendary customer support. However, many early adopters reported coil whine on their cards, an issue that EVGA readily admitted to and has since rectified. We reported on this last week and found that revised cards have made their way into the channel so you can buy with confidence. Fan speed profiles on the new ACX 2.0 cooler weren’t optimized either; idle noise was far too loud at launch but a new BIOS was rolled out that put things right.

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After the aforementioned revisions what we have on the test bench today is supposed to be the “final” GTX 970 FTW and let me tell you, it is a beast in the specifications department. Both base and Boost frequencies are the highest we have seen so far from a pre-overclocked card. It is fast for the GTX 970. Really, really fast. However the GDDR5 memory speeds remain at their default settings.

The FTW is also equipped with EVGA’s second generation ACX heatsink which promises complete silence in idle scenarios while providing optimal cooling performance despite extreme clock speeds.

One thing to remember is that EVGA’s FTW edition is the only GTX 970 in their stable that limits confusion by only coming equipped with the ACX 2.0 cooler. The Reference clocked card, Superclocked and SSC each come in up to three flavors: with a blower-style design, the original ACX heatsink design or include the upgraded ACX 2.0 cooler. Pay close attention to product numbers before buying.

The high tolerance core binning that leads to this card supporting such extreme out of box frequencies naturally leads to a hefty price premium. At $380 the GTX 970 FTW is some $50 more expensive than the reference card and even one-ups products like Gigabyte’s GTX 970 G1 Gaming by a significant margin. With that being said, if you are purely looking for the best warranty-covered performance around, the FTW should fit the bill quite well.

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While it may be one of the fastest GTX 970’s on the market, EVGA’s FTW is surprisingly compact at just 9 ½” in length. Believe it or not, the size of its heatsink is not supposed to negatively impact temperatures despite the “bigger is better” approach some of the competition is taking.

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The ACX 2.0 heatsink itself is a pretty straightforward affair with two 80mm, 11-blade fans that use swept blades to better direct airflow. They also have a number of other upgraded internal components like a reinforced magnetic o-ring, an advanced motor design and double ball bearings. Internally, the heatsink itself makes use of an HDT base alongside an aluminum fin array that runs the card’s entire length.

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Aside from the more visible primary heatsink, EVGA has installed a PCB-hugging aluminum strip which not only helps cool PWM components but also adds to the card’s rigidity. This is an essential addition since the PWM on these cards can run hot and ACX 2.0 cooler is anything but light, putting significant strain on the PCB.

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Around the card’s backside there really isn’t anything interesting going on but it’s a bit disappointing to see EVGA avoiding a backplate on such an expensive card. The memory modules are left to fend for themselves which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since GDDR5 tends to run relatively cool but a secondary heatsink here would have alleviated any latent heat concerns.

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Input power is handled by a pair of 6-pin connectors which is par for the course but may be surprising for gamers who are used to the 6+8 pin affairs on competing cards. One thing to take into account is that the GTX 970 isn’t anywhere close to being bottlenecked by its power distribution and the FTW is no different. Utilizing a different layout with an 8-pin connector doesn’t add one iota of overclocking headroom to these cards, regardless of what some marketing departments would have you believe.

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The I/O plate is pretty basic and follows the usual template for Maxwell cards. There’s two DVI outputs (one DVI-D and one DVI-I) alongside a single HDMI 1.4 connector and a DisplayPort. This allows for NVIDIA Surround from a single card and also includes 4K capabilities through the single DisplayPort output.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup

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 14.7 Beta
NVIDIA 344.07 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.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,857
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Montreal
Clock Speed Consistency over Time

Clock Speed Consistency over Time


When a board partner clocks their GTX 970 as far as EVGA has with the FTW, there’s understandably some concern about whether or not their stated specifications can actually be achieved. Higher frequencies lead to more heat and increased power consumption; two factors which NVIDIA’s Boost algorithms keenly monitor and adjust clock speeds accordingly. The trick is to mitigate those factors by utilizing a custom BIOS that supports higher voltage and temperature overhead while also carefully selecting cores which emit less heat and require less current. That fine balancing act is difficult to achieve but EVGA has done exactly that.

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Despite its impressively high frequencies, the GTX 970 FTW is more than able to remain at a constant temperature far below NVIDIA’s 80°C throttle threshold. That’s actually an impressive statistic considering how compact EVGA’s card is and the competition they’re up against in this chart.

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While temperatures are kept well in check, there was still a chance voltage and power limits would have curtailed performance or that frequencies were sacrificed in order to hit a lower temperature. Luckily, none of those seems to have been a factor here since the EVGA GTX 970 FTW remained steadfastly at 1430MHz, without a hitch higher or lower.

We do have to mention this extremely high speed does bring the card precariously close to the maximum overclocks achieved with a number of other GTX 970’s. Whether or not that will negatively impact its relative clock speed headroom remains to be seen.

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While this may be the fastest GTX 970 we’ve seen to date, its performance doesn’t deliver noticeably different onscreen framerates than less expensive cards like the G1 Gaming and ASUS STRIX. However, when compared against a reference design like PNY’s the difference is quite dramatic in some instances.
 

SKYMTL

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Joined
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Messages
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Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging


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Under the watchful eye of a FLIR thermal imager, the GTX 970 FTW remained very well behaved and didn’t exhibit any worrying hot spots after more than an hour of constant load. There was an area on the PBC’s underside directly behind the core which did show an elevated heat signature but it wasn’t anything to get worried about.


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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EVGA’s GTX 970 FTW may not be the quietest card on the block but it still won’t be heard over case fans. Even in an otherwise silent case situation, its fans can barely be heard.

The coil whine question something that is likely at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now since EVGA has had some well documented issues with it. They’ve since modified their production methods so cards in the channel should be much improved in this respect. During our testing in both typical gaming scenarios and Furmark, there wasn’t any noticeable high-pitched noise from the PWM. However, the menu system in Hitman Absolution did bring forth a few faint wails of protest from the FTW, likely due to the massively high framerates (1000FPS and higher). This seems to be a one-off situation in our testing but it may occur in other titles if framerates reach for the sky. Is this a concern? Not really, since during the rigors of normalized testing, everything remained quiet.


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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The power consumption profiles of these highly clocked GTX 970 cards are beginning to approach the numbers put down by a reference GTX 980. That just goes to show that even though an architecture is cut down to attain lower price points and power consumption, with higher speeds, overall efficiency decreases. With that being said, the FTW is still an extremely frugal card and it veritably sips electricity when compared against the competition.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,857
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.


2560 x 1440

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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
12,857
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.

2560 x 1440

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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.



2560 x 1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
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.


2560 x 1440

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Metro: Last Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/40Rip9szroU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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
12,857
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.


2560 x 1440

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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.


2560 x 1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


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EVGA has already pushed things quite far with the GTX 970 FTW; its continual clock speed of 1430MHz nearly matches the maximum overclocking results from several other cards we look at a few weeks ago. With limits imposed by NVIDIA, expectations were that actual headroom would be strictly limited due to Power and Voltage restrictions but there were still some surprises.

The GTX 970 GTW’s core hit a constant speed of 1518MHz which actually set a new record for GTX 970’s on our test bench. With that being said, the memory overclock was quite disappointing with a mere 500MHz of additional headroom. Most other samples we have used easily hit the 7900MHz mark.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


After reviewing a good portion of the GTX 970’s currently available, EVGA’s GTX 970 FTW didn’t offer much in the way of unexpected surprises but it is nonetheless an impressive graphics card. From performance to acoustics the FTW delivered in a big way despite being one of the fastest sub-$400 cards currently available.

With the GTX 970 FTW sitting at the top of their lineup, EVGA needed to deliver in a big way when it came to sustained frequencies and overall framerates. It’s one thing to promise extreme speeds and another to deliver considering the insistence of NVIDIA’s Boost algorithms to throttle back clocks at the slightest inclination of excess heat or power consumption. At a constant frequency of 1430MHz, the FTW nearly matched the highest overclocks we’ve seen on other GTX 970’s.

There’s no denying that EVGA and some other NVIDIA board partners have been beset by complaints about coil whine not normally found on higher end GPUs. That was an understandably tough pill to swallow when it occurred alongside the initial teething pains their advanced ACX 2.0 cooler experienced. However, in true EVGA fashion engineers burned the midnight oil, customers experiencing issues were granted RMAs and fixes were implemented for any new shipments going to the retail channel.

During regular gameplay the GTX 970 FTW didn’t exhibit any coil whine but there was a muted wailing in Hitman Absolution’s menu. That was an oddity since Furmark (typically our gold standard for coil noise testing) didn’t cause anything of the sort. Luckily this was a highly isolated case that was likely due to Hitman’s 1000FPS in-menu framerate than any component problem.

With all of that being said, the question begs asking: did we experience any potential game stoppers during testing? The ACX 2.0 heatsink was quiet and delivered excellent overall cooling performance despite being relatively compact and being saddled with one of the highest clocked GTX 970 cores around. Power consumption was a bit high but that’s to be expected with a GTX 970 running at these frequencies.

The GTX 970 FTW may be an excellent card but it is targeted towards a relatively narrow audience; those who are looking for awesome out of box frequencies without having to go through the trouble of manual overclocking. Our sample did have some more overclocking headroom which is likely due to a higher BIOS-determined Power Limit but the resulting 80MHz of additional overhead won’t be worth this card’s $50 premium over lower clocked models. However, for its target market, the GTX 970 FTW is one of the best solutions currently available.
 

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