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PNY GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
“Better late than never” isn’t a phrase we hear all that often in technology circles but it describes PNY’s GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC perfectly.

NVIDIA’s GTX 980 was launched to rave reviews just over six months ago and since then, every single NVIDIA board partner has introduced their own take on custom cooled, overclocked versions. However, at least in North America, PNY’s lineup consisted of a simple reference version that sold primarily to system integrators. Their usually-awesome XLR8 OC series was conspicuous by its absence. Things are changing since PNY is finally rolling out models that are meant hit the enthusiast segment.

One of the first out of the gate is the GTX 980 4GB XLR8 Pro OC which also happens to use PNY’s new yet nonetheless confusing naming scheme which consists of the XLR8 CG, XLR8, XLR8 Pro and XLR8 Elite series. In short, the CG utilizes reference coolers, the standard XLR8 models will boast custom PCBs yet simplified cooling designs and the Pro-branded cards will have higher clock speeds alongside upgraded components and substantially better heatsink assemblies. Finally the Elite cards are billed as the best of the best with extreme out-of-box frequencies.

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While the PNY GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC may have one mouthful of a name, its specifications are reasonably impressive. On-paper core frequencies lie between ASUS’ ultra expensive Matrix Platinum and the less expensive STRIX OC which should put it a good 10% faster than a reference card. One are of serious differentiation is in memory speeds; this card is one of the only custom GTX 980’s on the market to boast overclocked GDDR5 modules. While 200MHz represents less than 5% in the grand scheme of things, it’s sure as heck better than nothing.

The Pro OC’s pricing puts it right into the thick of things as well. At $579, it is $30 more expensive than the reference card and perfectly aligned with the likes of EVGA’s GTX 980 Superclocked ACX 2.0.

With all of these things being said, the question remains: why should you look at PNY’s latest addition when there’s more entrenched and possibly less expensive competitors? First and foremost, PNY remains the only company that offers a true Lifetime Warranty with their cards after EVGA and Zotac pulled their similar offering over the last few years. In addition, for those who subscribe to the “buy local” mentality, this card is assembled in North America though many parts are sourced from overseas.

Canadian customers also have reason to celebrate since PNY has opened an RMA center for us in the Toronto area so cross-border shipping of replacements will become a thing of the past. For those of you reading this in other regions of the world, it won’t sound like a big deal but for us Canadians, it sure is! Here’s PNY’s statement on the matter:

PNY Technologies now have an active returns depot in Canada. It allows consumers purchasing our product an “in country” return address so they do not have to deal with the difficulty and expense of exporting their return to the US. After customers obtainin the RMA from PNY Tech Support, they will simply be directed to ship their product back to the Canadian Depot and we will retrieve it from that location. The depot is located in Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada.

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Now that we’ve done a bit of housecleaning, let’s get to the card itself. If the design looks familiar, that’s because it is the same one PNY used on their GTX 780Ti and GTX 780 Customized series with a few internal changes to better adapt to NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture. We’re fully behind this approach since the GTX 980 core requires less cooling power than its predecessor so temperatures on this generation should be significantly lower.

With all of that being said the GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC certainly isn’t a short card but its 11.5” length should still make it compatible with most PC cases.

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The XLR8 Pro OC’s heatsink shroud is an awesome sight to behold since, unlike PNY’s competitors’ solutions, there wasn’t an ounce of plastic used in its construction. This is a full-aluminum affair that cleanly wraps around the back area, creating a cleanly finished appearance.

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Internally there are five massive copper heatpipes that begin at the heatsink’s copper contact plate and eventually terminate at the fin array’s extremity. This full coverage approach is supposed to more evenly dissipate heat and allow the fans to work at lower RPM levels. PNY has also updated the PWM which remains an 8-phase / 6+2 all-digital layout but the components have been improved, yielding a 30% boost in current capacity over the previous generation.

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Flipping the card over, we can see that PNY has once again added their signature backplate for increased cooling while also providing an area for some “XLR8” branding. Another interesting addition is the necessary components behind the GPU core for higher current capability.

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Another minor but noteworthy change is the inclusion of voltage read points for the core, memory and PLL. These are in a perfectly accessible point right at the PCB’s edge, though PNY doesn’t provide any multimeter anchor points like some other vendors do.

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Power input is done via an 8+6 pin combination which is par for the course on these overclocked cards. However, we have a bit of an issue with the outputs available on the backplate. At face value PNY’s solution is quite innovative since its triple DisplayPort setup allows for native support of three 4K, 60Hz displays for those who have money to spend on a 4K Surround setup. However, they don’t provide the necessary mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapters to actually accomplish this. While said adapters can be purchased for a few bucks, their omission feels like nickel and diming on a card that costs nearly $600. Remember, even if you wanted to us NVIDIA’s G-SYNC technology, you’ll need to pony up some additional money for full connector compatibility. PNY does provide a mini HDMI to HDMI cable and there’s also a DVI output for those of you using older monitors.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
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Montreal
Clock Speed Consistency Over Time

Clock Speed Consistency Over Time


Even though the GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC boasts a high end cooling assembly, in order for it to hit PNY’s specifications, it needs to finely balance noise profiles and temperatures. If it can’t, performance may step backwards to a point where it may not offer much compared to the reference version.

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From a temperature standpoint, things seems well in hand with the core never going above the 64°C mark. This is significantly better than the reference version which levels out at 76°C before stepping back down to 74°C.

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Clock speed consistency is absolutely spot-on with PNY’s card and the temperatures allow NVIDIA’s boost some extra room to maneuver. It easily hits 1370MHz which is just 10MHz shy of ASUS’ GTX 980 Matrix Platinum Edition. We can also see the reason why NVIDIA’s reference design was able to achieve reduced temperatures as time goes on: its core clock gets reduced in order to better manage temperatures.

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Obviously, with such impressive previous results the framerate PNY was able to achieve is nothing short of phenomenal. When coupled with a minor memory bump it shot ahead of NVIDIA’s reference version by a good 12% in this test.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging


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If anything, these thermal results are better than the ones we saw on the GTX 780-series versions of this exact card. The reason for this should be obvious: the Maxwell core runs quite a bit cooler than Kepler. Nonetheless, there’s absolute nothing to be concerned about here.


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.

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Quiet is the name of the gamer here, but that was almost a foregone conclusion since temperatures are kept in check and the fans don’t have to spin up to keep things under control.


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.

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Power consumption is about what we’ve come to expect from an overclocked yet cool running GTX 980. That means the PNY card is one of the best performance per watt options on the market.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
12,841
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 15.3.1 Beta
NVIDIA 347.84


*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
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Battlefield 4 / Dragon Age: Inquisition

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.

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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.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Dying Light / Far Cry 4

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.

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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.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
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.

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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.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Shadow of Mordor / Thief

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1MHjhIxTGE" 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.

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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.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Tomb Raider

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.[/I

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


We had some high hopes for PNY’s GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC since it has taken a while to make it into the retail channels. It certainly didn’t disappoint and the only regret we have is that PNY still hasn’t developed their own software so we had to use EVGA’s excellent precision.

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Due to NVIDIA’s limitations, Voltage and Power Limits are within the same range of other GTX 980’s we have seen at +87mV and +25% respectively. The actual speeds came in right below ASUS’ Matrix Platinum at a consistent 1542MHz on the core and just over 8Gbps on the GDDR5. The resulting performance brings this card all that much closer to NVIDIA’s TITAN X at 1440P.

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