PNY GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC Review
Date: March 29, 2015
Product Name: GTX 980 XLR8 Pro OC
Part Number: VCGGTX9804XPB-XP-OC
Warranty: Lifetime (Upon Registration)
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.