NVIDIA GTX 970 SLI Performance Review


Author: SKYMTL
Date: October 10, 2014
Product Name: GTX 970

Along with the GTX 980, NVIDIA’s GTX 970 has shaken the graphics card market to its very foundation. While the GTX 980 is a relatively expensive (albeit still well priced) high end GPU, the GTX 970’s price of just $330 makes it a surefire hit for anyone who is looking for affordability and excellent performance metrics.

The GTX 970 has been launched in so-called “virtual” form which means there isn’t any reference design per se. Rather, NVIDIA has given their board partners a set of specifications that need to be followed for minimum base / boost frequencies, cooling capabilities and current capacity. Past those metrics the cards are being freely engineered and the amount of variety available from day one has been nothing short of incredible. Unfortunately, this hasn’t necessarily led to widespread availability and the GTX 970 is still nearly impossible to find at retailers. Expect that situation to change in the next few days and weeks as China’s Golden Week Holiday is finished and cards will start shipping from manufacturers again.

Even with limited stocks, an SLI setup with a pair of GTX 970 cards has actually become the de facto standard for anyone who wants optimal performance without a huge outlay of money. As a matter of fact, provided you can find two of these cards without an atrocious markup attached to them, two GTX 970’s will cost less than a most single GTX 780 Ti’s did not three weeks ago. That’s an incredible value when you consider the amount of future-proofing packed into this setup. Dual GTX 980’s provide awe inspiring performance but cost significantly more as well.

With such a wide array of different cards, finding one that’s close to NVIDIA’s base specs isn’t easy. Our first GTX 970 review covered ASUS’ excellent DirectCU II OC model and there will be plenty of others covered in the upcoming GTX 970 Roundup. However, what about a card or cards that boast the reference clock speeds and a basic cooling solution? We went calling and PNY answered by providing two of their very, very basic cards with simple blower-style heatsinks and reference clock speeds. They’ll have other GTX 970’s based around the XLR8 overclocked platform in the near future.

PNY’s GTX 970 is a fundamentally basic card which was produced in a short timeframe using existing components rather than a ground-up custom design. This repurposing was done by nearly every board partner to meet Maxwell’s aggressive launch window and while others decided to utilize larger, more extensive heatsinks, PNY angled towards the standardized blower design. This does lead to all the card’s hot air being exhausted outside of any enclosure’s confines but also sacrifices acoustics since the fan needs to work harder to push air through the heatsink. Also, in this case, the whole setup feels a bit flimsy which isn’t something we’re used to seeing from NVIDIA cards these days.

Flipping the card around we see a design that’s vaguely reminiscent of NVIDIA’s reference GTX 760 with an ultra-short PCB and a fan shroud that extends outwards. This results in a relatively short 9 3/4″ length which broadens case compatibility but that may be cold comfort to gamers looking for upgraded components or a beefed up cooling solution.

Under that heatsink shroud is a standard component layout consisting of a 5+1 phase PWM and a pretty large heatsink core that’s equipped with a quartet of copper heatpipes. At face value it looks like this should be more than adequate to keep the GM204 core cool but there are some minor design flaws which will prevent it from operating at peak thermal efficiency.

Since there’s so much space between the aluminum fins and the fan, any airflow towards the cooling components is going to be partially diffused before arriving in this key zone. There’s a small baffle that is supposed to direct the onrushing air but it tends to launch it at an angle rather than straight onto the heatsink.

The end result of these internal workings is a fan which needs to work overly hard in order to ensure optimal temperatures. As we will see in the performance over time results, NVIDIA’s Boost algorithms end up working overtime.

Looking at the PNY GTX 970’s connectors, we see the first signs of something a bit different. The two 6-pin power inputs are par for the course but that backplate looks like something borrowed from AMD rather than one that typically appears on an NVIDIA card. There’s a single DVI alongside three mini DisplayPort outputs and a single mini HDMI connector. Unfortunately, while PNY thoughtfully included a mini HDMI to HDMI adaptor, no such provision was given for the DisplayPorts so you’ll need to buy one yourself. That’s pretty disappointing considering the price you pay for a GTX 970 and the fact that DisplayPort is currently the best solution for features like G-SYNC and the only viable option for 4K.

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