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NVIDIA GTX 980 SLI Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Here we are almost two weeks after NVIDIA’s GTX 980 and GTX 970 launched and interest hasn’t diminished in any way. With that being said, the availability situation has somewhat improved so these cards are getting into people’s hands after initial bout of utterly insufficient allocation. All in all things couldn’t be going better for NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture so there’s no better time to start looking at how things are looking when they’re placed in an SLI configuration.

The GTX 980 will be the first card out of our multi GPU testing gates simply because we have two reference samples on hand (remember, the GTX 970 doesn’t have a “reference design” per se) and it’s vying for top-dog status in a pretty competitive segment. To refresh your memory, in a single card configuration it can handily beat the R9 290X and usually remain ahead of NVIDIA’s own GTX 780 Ti despite costing just $549.


Since our original review was published, the situation has changed a bit since AMD has very quietly lowered the 290X’s price to $499 for the reference design and even less in some cases provided you can find one with a mail in rebate. That doesn’t really change much since the GTX 980 is still miles ahead in quite a few metrics like performance per watt, temperatures and noise output but the R9 290X’s lower cost does make things interesting. Two of these cards could now potentially cost less than $1000 while the pair of GTX 980’s will put you back somewhere north of $1100 if you can actually get your hands on two.

While the TITAN Z’s astronomical cost of $3000 will lead to its destruction at the hands of Maxwell on a raw perf per dollar front, AMD’s own dual GPU card, the R9 295X2 may end up being a bit of a dark horse in this review. Not only is it quiet and relatively compact since it only takes up a single PCI-E slot but it just received a significant price cut as well. At $999, this may give the GTX 980 SLI setup a run for its money.

If we go back in time, these multi card reviews have sometimes ended in disaster, particularly when there’s a new architecture to contend with. The success or failure of both SLI and Crossfire hinges on proper driver support which is sometimes lacking this soon after launch. However, given NVIDIA’s track record with SLI profiles there shouldn’t be any major issues….we hope.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
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.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


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

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




Battlefield 4


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

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


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: Call of Duty: Ghosts / Far Cry 3

Call of Duty: Ghosts


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/gzIdSAktyf4?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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





Far Cry 3


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mGvwWHzn6qY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: Hitman Absolution / Metro: Last Light

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.


2560 x 1440




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


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
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.


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
13,264
Location
Montreal
4K: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


3840 x 2160




Battlefield 4


3840 x 2160


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
4K: Call of Duty: Ghosts / Far Cry 3

Call of Duty: Ghosts


3840 x 2160




Far Cry 3


3840 x 2160


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
4K: Hitman Absolution / Metro: Last Light

Hitman Absolution


3840 x 2160




Metro: Last Light


3840 x 2160


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


3840 x 2160




Tomb Raider


3840 x 2160


 

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