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EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
As NVIDIA’s GTX 980 Ti moves on with its life, board partners have been releasing some increasingly unique cards. EVGA has their KIngpIn, MSI’s Lightning received no small amount of attention and GIGABYTE is on the cusp of launching a brand new series in a few weeks. Amidst all of this excitement, the liquid cooled cards have been near the forefront of innovation and performance. While MSI’s GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk was recently featured here, EVGA’s own GTX 980 Ti Hybrid was, at least in North America, the first water cooled 980 Ti on the market.

Much like the newly released Sea Hawk, the GTX 980 Ti Hybrid’s claim to fame is its integrated All In One water cooling unit. With its addition, the card may be a bit more challenging to install but the benefits are multi faceted. Not only will the core run cooler than many air-cooled alternatives but its acoustical profile should be substantially lower as well. Those two factors alone should make the Hybrid a prime candidate for use in small form factor gaming systems that pull double duty has HTPC’s as well.

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Disclosure: The sample in this review was provided free of charge by EVGA. All opinions expressed herein are solely those of HWC.

In terms of today’s GTX 980 Ti market, the Hybrid certainly isn’t the highest performing card around despite its high end cooling solution. There is easily a dozen or more faster cards on the market, among them ASUS’ new STRIX OC and MSI’s competing Sea Hawk. Even within EVGA’s own lineup the Hydro Copper, Classified and aforementioned KIngpIn all boast higher core frequencies. Meanwhile, the GDDR5 memory hasn’t been touched either which is an aspect that seems to carry throughout EVGA’s product stack regardless of price point.


Even though EVGA may not win the clock speed or performance battle with this card, there’s more to it than what first meets the eye via its on-paper specifications. Not only does the integrated water cooler hold a value all its own but, provided temperatures are low enough, we’ve seen custom GTX 980 Ti cards like this one grant some very surprising Boost clocks if the board partner provides additional Power Limit headroom.

One area that EVGA may find themselves fighting an uphill battle is on the pricing front. At $749 (just over a grand here in Canada) the Hybrid finds itself in some elite company when compared against air cooled options. The STRIX OC, MSI’s Gaming 6G and several other options provide better Base and Boost frequencies but cost between $60 and $90 less. There can also be no denying that MSI’s GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk is laser-targeted at the Hybrid since it retails for the same $749 yet has higher (on paper at least) performance and boasts the instantly recognizable Corsair brand name.

EVGA has recognized that the Hybrid is something of an older statesman among the newer crop of GTX 980 Ti’s since it was launched months before most of the current competition. As a result, that $749 price has been recently reduced at some retailers to a more palatable $720 via an instant rebate. EVGA has also begun offering a free upgraded faceplate with an integrated LED for owners of the GTX 980 Ti Hybrid but the value of that swap-out will ultimately come down to personal preference.


The overall design of the Hybrid is a pretty basic two-part affair that we’ve already seen with the Sea Hawk. The card itself is covered in a reference-style with a blower fan that’s meant to provide airflow for any internal components not directly touched by the water cooler’s contact plate. This design gives it a much smaller footprint than some air cooled alternatives, though you will still need a 120mm fan port for mounting the radiator / fan combo.

Unlike the Sea Hawk, EVGA has provided a generous 14” of tubing length so their radiator can be mounted nearly anywhere in larger cases. This may cause some spatial constrains in smaller enclosures but for most users, the higher range of adaptability will be appreciated.


The default shroud is both subtle and well designed with a thick plastic that is predominantly black with a few champagne-colored accents. Personally, I prefer this look to the newer shroud EVGA is offering free of charge. I also noticed that the whole thing “feels” higher quality than MSI’s Sea Hawk but that’s a completely off-the-cuff observation. Length is 10.75” so fitment within anything but the smallest enclosures.


Unlike the rough opening of MSI’s Sea Hawk, EVGA has sealed the area between their shroud and neoprene tubes with a rubberized closure piece. It’s little touches like this which make the Hybrid feel like a cut above its competitors. Speaking of that tubing, it is bound in a tight fitting plasticized sleeving which makes it extremely flexible while still retaining excellent anti-kinking abilities.

EVGA has also taken a different approach to fan control than MSI. The 120mm radiator fan is attached directly to the card’s internal header so core cooling is based on water temperatures rather than a random set of motherboard-based variables like the Sea Hawk. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this approach. On one hand, ease of installation is enhanced and users don’t have to worry about modifying speeds of their motherboard’s fan headers for that optimal combination of acoustics and cooling power. However, MSI’s solution does grant more fine-grain control for those who are willing or able to customize their fan profiles.


Since EVGA uses the same Asetek OEM’d water cooler as MSI (though the Sea Hawk’s has been rebranded with the Corsair name), the radiator / fan unit looks almost identical at first glance. While the single thickness radiator itself is a direct clone, the fan doesn’t have any integrated LED’s and sports a slightly different set of specifications. Whereas the Corsair-branded fan operates at a maximum of 1700RPMs, this one is rated to 2000RPMs at a slightly higher decibel range while the static pressure envelope is nearly identical.


The cooler’s layout underneath the shroud departs quite drastically from MSI’s Sea Hawk. Whereas MSI has used Corsair’s CPU-centric H55 AIO (basically Asetek’s 550LC), EVGA has decided to utilize a version of the GPU-specific Asetek 740LC. The visual differences between the two are minor at best but internally the 740LC has a contact plate specifically designed for GPU cores, something the H55 lacks due to its CPU cooling roots.

EVGA has also added a much broader secondary heatsink that makes contact with more PCB-bound components than what’s offered on the Sea Hawk. However, the secondary cooling design works identically with an intake fan, a large aluminum fin array covering critical VRM components and an extensive plate over the GDDR5 modules. For those wondering, the PCB’s layout doesn’t depart one iota from NVIDIA’s reference design.


Around back EVGA has added an awesome-looking perforated backplate which certainly adds to the visual appeal of their card but does very little for actual cooling properties.


Connector-wise we see a pure reference design layout with a 6+8 pin power input layout while the rear plate receives three DisplayPort 1.2 outputs, a single HDMI 2.0 and one DVI-D.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


EVGA decided to go with a purpose-built Asetek water cooling unit for the Hybrid so expectations are understandably high. While low temperatures are almost guaranteed, one of the more important comparisons will be how EVGA’s card performs against the MSI Sea Hawk.

Remember, both the Hybrid and Sea Hawk are physically identical but EVGA’s solution relies upon a cooling solution that was designed for GPUs while MSI decided to repurpose an H55 CPU cooler for their competitor. In addition the Hybrid doesn’t allow for any custom speed profiles for its radiator fan since its RPM levels are strictly regulated by loop’s liquid temperature.


The first set of temperature results is nothing short of astounding. It looks like the Hybrid is able to remain nearly 10°C cooler than the Sea Hawk throughout the test. Whether or not this is due to the GPU-centric nature of EVGA’s cooling unit, the higher RPM fan or a combination of factors is anyone’s guess. Regardless of the “how”, there’s obviously a tangible temperature benefit to going with the GTX 980 Ti Hybrid.


Core speeds are acceptable but certainly nothing to write home about. While EVGA could have taken advantage of their ultra low temperatures by increasing the Hybrid’s Power Limit within its BIOS settings, that didn’t happen. As a result, the frequency hits a wall at 1366MHz which is lower than the Sea Hawk, the STRIX OC and many other overclocked GTX 980 Ti cards.


Due to its lower frequencies, framerates aren’t quite up to the level of some of the competition but the difference is extremely minor and won’t be noticeable in-game.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging




There’s nothing untowards going on here, through we can see there’s a ton of heat being carried up through the radiator’s tubes, stored in the reservoirs and then dissipated through the fin array. This indicates the radiator is working to efficiently disperse heat being output by the core and is nowhere near reaching its thermal capacity. It is also interesting to see the internal pump / block assembly radiating enough heat that the shroud heads up.


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.


Unlike the Sea Hawk which uses a single fan that’s tied directly to the motherboard’s fan headers and can thus have its RPMs modified to a user’s preference, EVGA decided to have fan speeds linked to water temperatures. As such, there’s no user involvement.

In our testing EVGA’s approach seemed to pay off since acoustics aren’t noticeably higher than MSI’s solution despite boasting substantially lower temperatures. The fan increased its RPMs in a very linear fashion as well and its sound never intruded into the environment. For the record, there wasn’t a hint of inductor whine either.


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.


With lower temperatures and clock speeds than the Sea Hawk, power consumption is slightly lower. However, despite its reduced clock speeds in comparison to other cards in the chart above, the Hybrid actually consumes more power due to its integrated water cooling pump and large fan.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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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 15.201.1102 (R9 Nano)
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
12,857
Location
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
12,857
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
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
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
12,857
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
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
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


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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.



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
1440P: Total War: Attila / Witcher 3

Total War: Attila


Total War: Attila is the only strategy title in our benchmarking suite simply because it is one of the most resource-hungry. It gobbles resources with good reason too: this game happens to be one the best looking of the series thus far. Our benchmark sequence uses the in-game tool since, after hours of gameplay, it seems to show a perfect blend of in-game elements.




Witcher 3


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Other than being one of 2015’s most highly regarded games, The Witcher 3 also happens to be one of the most visually stunning as well. This benchmark sequence has us riding through a town and running through the woods; two elements that will likely take up the vast majority of in-game time.


 

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