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GIGABYTE GTX 980 Ti G1 Gaming Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Montreal
The GTX 980 Ti was released eight months ago and since then we have seen numerous custom designs which range from the absolutely insane to the more mundane. Regardless of NVIDIA’s board partners’ efforts, the number of new products using the GM200 core has leveled off since the architecture is nearing the end of its lifespan. While not entirely close at hand, both Pascal and AMD’s competing Polaris architectures are about six months away (granted, a lifetime in PC market time) so for the most part everyone is just digging in with their current product stacks.

This situation has led to a bit of stagnation but also some interesting price fluctuations with custom, overclocked cards routinely going for less than NVIDIA’s $649USD reference MSRP. Naturally, with the falling loonie we here in Canada are staring down the barrel of $900+ price points for these cards but there’s not much to be done about that.

Mentioning price provides us with a perfect introduction to Gigabyte’s GTX 980 Ti Gaming. While this is an overclocked and heavily upgraded version of the GTX 980 Ti, it routinely sells for about $650USD or not a dime more than NVIDIA’s reference cards. Gigabyte has also effectively undercut several of their competitors like EVGA’s GTX 980 Ti Superclocked, ASUS’ GTX 980 TI STRIX OC and even MSI’s similarly-named GTX 980 TI Gaming 6G. They seem to have injected some much-needed value into what many believe to be a heavily over-priced segment.


Despite being one of the least expensive GTX 980 Ti’s around these days, the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Gaming puts forward some reasonably impressive specifications. Borrowing a page from ASUS’ book, it has two different clock speed gears which are accessed through Gigabyte’s OC Guru software: Gaming and OC. OC increases frequencies to 1190MHz and 1279MHz for the Base and Boost respectively, though the memory speeds aren’t touched. With those specs in hand, we expect it to run neck and neck with MSI’s competitor.

Even though Gigabyte recently introduced a new round of Extreme models right before the end of last year, we expect the Gaming series to carry the vast majority of their sales. This means it needs to deliver an optimal blend of overclocking, pricing and out-of-box performance.


At first glance Gigabyte’s lineup of GTX 980 Ti cards may be a bit confusing; there’s the reference version, the Windforce, the G1 Gaming in today’s review and finally the aforementioned Extreme. The Extreme represents their halo products and as such they receive highly binned cores, insane clock speeds, LED highlights and a Windforce cooler that’s rated to handle up to 700W of thermal output.

In terms of overall design and component choices the standard GTX 980 Ti Windforce and the G1 Gaming are close siblings. Their heatsink are essentially the same albeit the G1 receives some metallic highlights and their component choices are very much mirrored. There are however two elements which make the G1 Gaming stand out a bit: its core has been binned using Gigabyte’s GPU Gauntlet sorting process and it boasts higher clock speeds. It also happens to be one of the longer GTX 980 Ti’s on the market at 11 3/4".


The Windforce 3X cooler makes a comeback here with a trio of 80mm fans blowing down onto an extremely long heatsink. What Gigabyte didn’t do is build upwards to enhance thermal mass. Rather, they expanded horizontally so the fin array extends out beyond the PCB. Not only does this offer an area where airflow freely moves through the heatsink without the PCB blocking it but the design also allowed the GTX 980 Ti G1 Gaming to remain within dual slot height tolerances.


Running along the heatsink’s edge is a shroud extension with the word Windforce and two flanking STOP indicators. Gigabyte has added start-stop rotational technology which idles the fans when the card is utilized in low-load scenarios so the STOP areas will glow a dull blue to indicate normal operation. Essentially, they’re there to ease any panic about potential fan failure. Once the fans begin spinning at their normal speeds, the Windforce logo will begin to glow instead with any color chosen from within the OC Guru II software suite.


Unlike in previous generations were Gigabyte’s backplates were flimsy little things, the G1 Gaming receives a thick aluminum cover with a few strategically placed ventilation slots. This works perfectly to tie in the rest of the card’s design and provide an extremely clean look for any builds with a windowed case.


Power input is done via a pair of 8-pin connectors which have been seamlessly blended into the heatsink as Gigabyte has tried to eke out every last millimeter for optimal cooling results.


Coming to the backplate we have something oddly interesting: a layout that doesn’t reflect a reference card in any way. There’s a pair of DVI (the rightmost one is DVI-I) outputs along with three full sized DisplayPorts and a single HDMI. This is what Gigabyte calls their Flex Display interface since it gives users the ability to push a display signal to as many as five monitors without adapters or daisy-chaining.

In its primary configuration the GTX 980 Ti G1 Gaming can utilize the two DVI’s alongside the HDMI and DisplayPort below the rightmost DVI output for a quad monitor setup. Unfortunately, you will be limited by the output capacity of the lone DVI-I in this case.

As a secondary configuration, the three DisplayPorts alongside the HDMI connector can be used for a quartet of 1080P screens while the DVI-I could conceivably be used for an accessory display.


Something also needs to be said about Gigabyte’s revamped OC Guru II software. From an overclocking and monitoring perspective, nothing has been changed since the last time we saw it (certain inputs are as cryptic as ever) but there is now a complete set of LED controls. These adjust the color, brightness and behavior of the G1 Gaming’s side-mounted LEDs.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,410
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Montreal
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 Radeon Software Crimson (Public release)
NVIDIA 358.91 WHQL


*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
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


One of the more interesting features of this card is its ability to completely shut off its fans in low-load situations. However, we have seen quite a few instances where overly passive fan speed profiles have led to temperatures quickly getting to a point where either clock speeds were throttled or RPM levels increase to extreme levels to get things back under control. Neither represents an optimal situation.


While we can see the G1 Gaming does idle its fans until about the 2 minute mark of our intensive test and then ramp things up, it never reaches extreme levels. As a matter of fact, the speeds never go too far above the values ASUS’ STRIX OC did even though that card’s Overclock mode insured its fans never entered an idle state. That’s pretty impressive.




Temperature and frequency results directly align with fan speeds. Basically heat rises quite rapidly until the Windforce 3X’s fans kick in and thereafter it levels out around the 66°C mark. Not only do these thermals allow for plenty of overclocking headroom before you have to delve into custom fan speed profiles but they also point towards how efficient Gigabyte’s design really is.


Just as expected, the GTX 980 Ti G1 Gaming’s performance is right in line with expectations and there’s no evidence its idled fans contribute to lower than expected framerates.
 

SKYMTL

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Joined
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Messages
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Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging



As with all Gigabyte cards we have come across in recent memory, the GTX 980 Ti G1 Gaming doesn’t have any problem dissipating heat from key components. One of the reasons for this is a slight “wind tunnel” design that focuses airflow towards the card’s PWM area.


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.


Gigabyte has always been known for having some of the quietest cards around and it’s good to see that trend continuing with a hotter running core like the one on the GTX 980 Ti. With that being said, all of today’s custom GTX 980 Ti’s hover around the same level so one is really as good as the next.


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

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Messages
13,410
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1440P: AC:Unity / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed: Unity


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8V96SFIvFKg?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/y9nwvLwltqk?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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

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Messages
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1440P: Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z7wRSmle-DY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MHc6Vq-1ins" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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
13,410
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Montreal
1440P: Far Cry 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

Far Cry 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sC7-_Q1cSro" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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
13,410
Location
Montreal
1440P: Hitman Absolution / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Hitman Absolution


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/8UXx0gbkUl0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1MHjhIxTGE?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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
13,410
Location
Montreal
1440P: Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/p-a-8mr00rY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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.



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
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


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EBSQMEqpqro?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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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