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GTX 970 Roundup (EVGA, GALAX, Gigabyte)

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





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


 

SKYMTL

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

Overclocking Results


EVGA GTX 970 SC ACX 2.0


EVGA’s SC ACX 2.0 may be a custom card but it strictly adheres to NVIDIA’s limits. That means potential increases of 37mV and 10% for the voltage and power limits respectively. This allowed us to achieve a constant clock speed of 1455MHz with a fan speed hovering around the 1900RPM mark, effectively blending high performance and a low noise signature.


GALAX GTX 970 EX OC


GALAX’s EX OC very much follows EVGA down the overclocking path but while it exhibits the same 37mV voltage limit, the Power Target gets a boost to 25%. As a result we were able to hit a slightly higher core frequency of 1468MHz. Interestingly enough, the memory on this card hit 7900MHz which one-ups EVGA’s results by only a slight amount. Since GALAX doesn’t have their own overclocking tools we were forced to use EVGA’s Precision here.


Gigabyte GTX 970 G1 Gaming


Gigabyte is the king of the hill here but not by a significant amount. The G1 Gaming’s core topped out at 1513MHz which is likely due to its higher starting voltage and the ability to add another 87mV. Unfortunately we could have pushed things even further but Gigabyte limits their Power Target to just 12% of additional headroom and that’s just not enough. With that being said, this was the only card we didn’t have to boost fan speeds to compensate for the additional heat output by the overclocked core. That means it remained whisper quiet regardless of the clock speeds being run.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Conclusion; Some Great But Limited Graphics Cards

Conclusion


The intent of this GTX 970 roundup wasn’t necessarily to pit one card against another but comparisons between the entrants will nonetheless be made. However, regardless of which card you end up picking, every one of them represents an excellent value for your money. There may be some minor price and performance differences scattered throughout the results of the last half dozen or so pages but there’s really no clear “winner” here, nor is there a looser. If you end up buying into the custom GTX 970 game, you’re virtually guaranteed of high framerates, low noise, cool temperatures, high efficiency, pretty much identical overclocking results from one card to the next, virtually no availability and the industry standard 3 year warranty.

Do these attributes make the current GPU market a bit boring? Absolutely not. There are plenty of interesting options, PNY still has their Lifetime Warranty, advanced features are being included on ever more affordable cards and even though none of the ones featured in this review have unlocked voltage or power limits, those higher end products are on the horizon. There has also been quite a bit of consolidation over the last few years. The remaining NVIDIA board partners have distilled their designs down to a very precise science, one which virtually guarantees excellent performance but isn’t foolproof. All things considered though, each of the cards in this roundup brings its A-game to the table.


EVGA GTX 970 SC ACX 2.0

The GTX 970 SC may be the one of the lower-clocked cards in EVGA’s current GTX 970 lineup but it is actually one of the performance leaders in this roundup. It provides a surprising amount of performance despite being just $20 more expensive that the reference card. Is it really worth that premium? That’s a bit debatable for anyone who will take a GTX 970 with baseline frequencies and overclock it themselves but for those that want a simple plug-and-play solution, it is an excellent choice.

While Gigabyte’s GTX 970 G1 Gaming may be the exact same price as the GTX 970 SC while providing fractionally better performance and much lower temperatures, there’s something endearing about EVGA’s approach. Their card still barely breaks the 60°C mark which gives plenty of room for overclocking without a corresponding uptick in the fans’ rotational speeds. That’s an important trait since the ACX 2.0 cooler is more than capable of delivering near-silent performance.

By choosing the EVGA GTX 970 SC you get excellent framerates, awesome cooling potential and some of this industry’s best customer support. That makes one of the leaders in this segment.



GALAX GTX 970 EX OC

Galaxy was the black sheep of the GPU flock here in North America. Their designs were unique and pricing was aggressive but ultimately success was difficult to attain since their lineup was a bit limited in relation to what was available in other regions. The now-renamed GALAX brand aims to rectify that problem by going online-only, taking their cards off store shelves and leveraging a more streamlined business model to reduce costs for consumers. That business plan has allowed them to offer the GTX 970 EX OC at an extremely aggressive $329 price point. Truth be told, when combined with high clock speeds and an excellent cooling solution that price makes GALAX’s offering one of the best GTX 970 deals currently available….for those south of the border that is.

Performance won’t be noticeably better than a reference-spec’d card but that doesn’t mean all that much since the GTX 970 doesn’t have a predetermined set of specifications anyways. Its output is extremely predictable though, unlike the PNY model we tested a little while ago.

There are however some worries that stem from GALAX’s decision to go with a self-managed sales model. Customer concerns arising from transport costs and cross-border customs expenses for those of us here in Canada are very much a reality for any online-only company, particularly one that’s peddling wares that sell for hundreds of dollars.

With that being said, what GALAX is offering here is quite tempting for pretty much everyone, particularly those who are looking to save a few bucks on a custom GTX 970 design.



Gigabyte GTX 970 G1 Gaming

The GTX 970 G1 Gaming has made quite a name for itself and there’s plenty of reason for that. It provides a massive amount of cooling potential; enough to retain extremely pedestrian fan speeds even when overclocked. This may not sound impressive at first read-through but we can’t forget that Gigabyte’s card also had the highest overclock and voltages of this bunch.

The moral of Gigabyte’s story is one of unrealized potential though. It is tied for most expensive in this roundup, has a titanic cooler and boasts a highly binned core but other than lower temperatures and impressive acoustics, there isn’t much differentiation on the performance front. Yes, the G1 Gaming is able to attain one to two FPS of an advantage over its competitors in some titles but, like other cards here, it doesn’t really “feel” faster. Why? Simply because NVIDIA’s Boost algorithms step in again and again to limit frequencies, ensuring this beast won’t compete with the significantly more expensive GTX 980. We can’t fault Gigabyte for this in any way but if you’ve equipped a card with a laundry list of impressive features, at least give us a bit more leeway to overclock.

While having a massive cooler doesn’t inhibit or enhance performance by all that much, it does limit this card’s compatibility with smaller, more compact cases. Also, the extended backplate that was designed to give the G1 Gaming a clean look causes some problems. Sticking a slim piece of metal out past the PCB will invariably lead to bending if the card isn’t handled with the utmost of care. It happened to our sample and while getting the overhang back into place wasn’t difficult, this should never be a concern in the first place.

Despite the aforementioned constrains, the GTX 970 G1 Gaming represents an achievement worthy of praise. It is one of the quietest cards we’ve ever tested, boasted the highest performance in this roundup and did come with a good amount of overclocking headroom. For the price, this is a no-brainer provided you can actually find one.

 
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