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Zotac GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
NVIDIA’s GTX 980 Ti has been receiving a lot of press lately, for all the right reasons. AMD’s eagerly-anticipated Fury X failed to differentiate itself from the GeForce lineup’s flagship and as a result, many holdouts ended up jumping to a GTX 980 Ti. As a result stocks of the card quickly sold out in the days following Fiji’s launch. Meanwhile, board partners have begun to push this card’s already-impressive performance to dizzying heights through custom cooled, pre-overclocked SKUs. No better example of this can be found than Zotac’s somewhat insane, thoroughly sexy GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme.

We haven’t seen all that many Zotac cards around here as of late but the few that graced out test bench have been nothing but impressive. Take for example the GTX 960 AMP! Edition, a card that ultimately won our 5-way GTX 960 roundup by virtue of being fast, quiet, compact and oh-so-cute. The GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme meanwhile takes this same award-winning mentality and turns the dials to eleven.

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While the only other custom GTX 980 Ti we have reviewed thus far is the excellent Superclocked+ ACX 2.0+, it should go without saying that Zotac’s AMP! Extreme is head and shoulders above what EVGA is offering. Presently, this is one of the highest clocked GTX 980 Ti cards on the market, beating out even EVGA’s Classified and ASUS’ upcoming STRIX OC by a substantial margin. Make no mistake about it; being able to achieve a continual Boost clock of at LEAST 1355MHz takes some serious binning on Zotac’s part so there won’t be a huge number of these cards in the channel.

Another thing that sets the AMP! Extreme apart is its overclocked memory. Up until receiving this card, board partners told us their hesitation to pre-overclock GDDR5 stems from the technology’s pickiness for consistent stability above its rated specification. Actually including higher speed memory proves to be an expensive challenge in the best of times. Zotac meanwhile has put their components through a stringent certification process so, albeit relatively minor, they were able to achieve a consistent GDDR5 overclock of 220MHz. Supposedly, their hand-picked IC’s should lead to additional overclocking headroom as well.

On paper at least the Zotac GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme has what it takes to become one of -if not the- fastest air-cooled GM200-based cards on the market. Considering what we’ve already seen from overclocked GTX 980 Ti’s, it should have no problem surpassing the TITAN X by a notable amount while being less expensive to boot.

Speaking of price, the AMP! Extreme happens to be among the most expensive GTX 980 Ti’s around at $699 (or a whopping $849 here in Canada), which shouldn’t come as any surprise. It is however a good $50 less expensive than EVGA’s HYBRID model while also featuring better overall performance. For anyone that wants simple plug-and-play performance without the need to overclock, Zotac seems to have exactly what the doctor ordered.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Zotac GTX 980 AMP! Extreme

A Closer Look at the Zotac GTX 980 AMP! Extreme


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First things first: the Zotac GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme is one of the largest graphics cards we have come across in a long, long time. It is just under 12.5” long and a portly 5.25” wide but the real “star” of the show is its gargantuan 2.5 slot IceStorm heatsink. While this may cause small form factor users to shy away, enthusiasts will like appreciate its impressive thermal dissipation power since that size isn’t all for looks and fancy marketing terms.

Despite the raw mass of Zotac’s cooling solution, its all-black exterior still lends a sense of understatement to the card. There are a few fake carbon fiber appliqués and four glowing triangular shapes but other than that, there aren’t any particularly extreme design flourishes like we see on some other cards.

Sitting atop the heatsink are three 90mm EKO fans which are supposed to increase airflow by about 30% versus competing solutions. There are also small secondary mini wings on each primary blade which boost overall static pressure, allowing the fans to spin slower to achieve effective heat dissipation. Zotac has included their FREEZE technology here too, allowing the fans to completely power down when the card is in idle mode.

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The internal heatsink design can’t be seen but, as is evident from the AMP! Extreme’s size, it is extensive and quite large. It is covered by what Zotac calls their Carbon ExoArmor which consists of a primary heatsink shroud alongside a large wrap-around backplate. When combined, these two elements are supposed to reinforce the card against PCB flex while also reducing the vibrations that cause noticeable noise in some situations. Even with all of this technical mumbo jumbo, there’s no denying the card looks awesome in a Darth Vader kind of way.

Power input is done via a pair of 8-pin connectors which is par for the course on such a highly clocked GTX 980 Ti.

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One interesting addition is the pair of 6-pin to 8-pin PSU adapters. While these are typically just a combination of individual black and yellow cables, Zotac took the time to encase them in a tight-fitting sleeving.

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While Zotac left the front area almost devoid of any identifying markers, the same cannot be said about the backplate. Here we see a full-coverage affair with “PUSH THE LIMIT” silkscreened onto the entire area. Luckily this is done in a subtle tone on tone manner but its addition is still a bit odd.

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The AMP! Extreme also includes a type of Prodalizer super capacitor behind the GPU core. Called Power Boost by Zotac, this addition is supposed to reduce ripple noise, increase overclocking headroom and lengthen the life of this graphics card.

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The rear I/O area is pretty basic for a GTX 980 Ti with a single DVI connector, three DisplayPort outputs and a single HDMI. There are some additional ventilation cutouts here and there but nothing we haven’t seen in the past.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
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 15.15.700
NVIDIA 352.90


*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
12,840
Location
Montreal
Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


Zotac’s AMP! Extreme offers up an interesting blend of insane specifications and supposedly high end cooling but we have seen time and again that size doesn’t mean much when it comes to cooling off a graphics core. Remember, the GM200 in this card runs quite hot at default settings let along the extreme clock speeds that Zotac boasts.

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Right off the bat we see some impressive results with the core temperatures remaining around the 65°C mark throughout the test. We do see a quick climb in temperatures followed by a dip and then another increase as the fans slowly spin up, then oddly stop, and then begin rotating again.

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Clock speeds remained consistent throughout every single title with very little to no deviation from one game to another. For those keeping track at home, its constant out-of-box 1392MHz is just a few clicks shy of what we achieved as a final overclock on the EVGA GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ ACX 2.0.

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As expected with the results above, the performance of this card is second to none.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Thermal Imaging / Acoustical Testing / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging


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From what we can tell from the outside looking in, there aren’t any areas of thermal concern with this card. The Power Boost capacitor behind the GPU core gets a bit toasty but that’s to be expected.


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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The acoustics on this card are interesting and odd at the same time. Since our chart shows peak values, it sure looks like the AMP! Extreme is louder than the EVGA card but there’s more here than what first meets the eyes. For the most part it was nearly impossible to hear Zotac’s GTX 980 Ti under load and with its fans turned off when idling, things couldn’t have been better. However, every now and then the fans pulsed to higher RPM levels for a split second before settling down again. To show what’s happening, we graphed the fan speeds below.

GTX-980-TI-ZOTAC-81.jpg

Lets start with Zotac’s idle and low load temperature management. Once the card moves out of its 0 RPM idle state, the fans slowly pulse themselves to life instead of offering a linear rotational speed transition where RPMs gradually ramp up in parallel with core temperatures. Once the card reaches a predetermined load, power or temperature threshold (we’re not sure which one it is), the fans remain on but level out at a very quiet 1100RPMs.

For that point on most other cards would gradually reduce or increase fan speeds to align with core temperatures to predictive load algorithms. Zotac doesn’t do that. Rather, their fans remain at a lethargic, very quiet speed which seems to be more than enough to cool off the core. Had the AMP! remained at that level, we’d have nothing more to say.

For whatever reason, the fan controller kicks things up a notch to double-time at random intervals. These instances last for a fraction of a second and typically can’t be heard but they were picked up loud and clear by our decibel meter. Luckily, this card is so quiet that even with a doubling of the RPMs in short spurts, it remained quieter than the reference card. One way to overcome this is to use Zotac’s Firestorm software and force the fan speed to run at 35%, allowing for 65°C to 70°C even in the most intense load environments.


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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Super high clock speeds and excellent cooling result in power consumption numbers that are higher than a reference GTX 980 Ti and EVGA’s GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ but not by an appreciable amount.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
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.

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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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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
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.

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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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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
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.

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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.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
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.

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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.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
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.

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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.


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