Plenty of you probably saw this coming but let’s make it official: pairing up two GTX 970’s, even in their so-called reference forms, is a surprisingly affordable solution for anyone who wants extremely high framerates and the ability to push 4K content. As a matter of fact I can’t think of a better bang-for-buck setup, particularly from a performance per watt standpoint. But I’m getting ahead of myself here; let’s break this down point by point.
It goes without saying that NVIDIA has ushered in a bit of a paradigm shift for the GPU market. While the GTX 980 may be the performance leader in nearly every respect, the GTX 970 is arguably the most interesting card sporting the Maxwell architecture. It offers nearly 90% of its big brother’s onscreen framerates while retailing for a whopping $220 less. Pair them up in SLI and you’re talking about a $440 chasm and very comparable performance at a price that’s less than a single GTX 780 Ti was going for a few weeks ago. Add some pre-overclocking to that equation for a few bucks more and there should be no wondering why AMD is madly scrambling to adapt.
Speaking of AMD the R9 290X in Crossfire does provide some good competition here -particularly at 4K- but by and large it trails the GTX 970 SLI in key metrics like overall performance consistency, price and efficiency. On the other hand the R9 290 is something of a dark horse since it does offer a good amount of value from many perspectives. Buying two of them will cost $60 less than two GTX 970’s and unlike NVIDIA’s cards they’re widely available if a quick performance fix is desperately needed. Once again though the GTX 970 is absolutely unbeatable if you’re looking for maximizing framerates and features like G-SYNC, low power consumption, GameSteam abilities and seamless on-the-fly gameplay recording through ShadowPlay.
At the risk of being proven wrong come the New Year, I will say that the landscape as seen in this review may look very different come 2015. Both NVIDIA and AMD have been increasingly drawing battle lines between PC titles with one company or another supporting near-exclusive development of certain features in high profile games. For example, AMD’s Gaming Evolved has snagged Aliens: Isolation, Star Citizen, Sniper Elite 3 and others while NVIDIA GameWorks support has fallen to The Witcher 3, The Crew, Batman Arkham Knight, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4. While both companies may deny purposefully implementing performance uplifts for their wares, it’s clear that development on certain hardware initially leads to better optimizations one way or another. For dual card systems in particular, this could lead to some nasty surprises when the necessary profiles or in-engine compatibility is MIA come launch day.
And what about the actual cards used in this review? PNY has offered up a somewhat mixed bag unfortunately. While they do have a blower-style design, the internal heatsink and low fan speeds lead to high temperatures despite a louder-than-expected noise profile. This has a trickle-down effect on clock speeds which are justifiably limited by NVIDIA’s Boost algorithm. Granted, you can use EVGA’s Precision or ASUS’ GPU Tweak to increase the Thermal Limit to something higher or modify the fan speed curve for higher RPMs but neither option recommended for obvious reasons. If you are looking for a GTX 970, we’d recommend something else unless external exhaust is an absolute must-have feature. However, I can’t really fault PNY for sending these cards to me since they’re exactly what I requested; a GTX 970 which is as close to a “reference” design as possible.
A single GTX 970 offers tons of performance relative to the amount of money it costs and placing two in SLI becomes a no-brainer for those looking for some additional punch. Scaling is well implemented, overall framerates are incredible, and efficiency is nothing short of revolutionary. The only foreseeable problem is actually the GTX 970’s popularity since finding two of them is a near-impossible feat right now.