Heading into this week, I eagerly anticipated reviewing the most powerful single-GPU graphics card to ever grace PCWorld's test bench--and I wasn't disappointed. But the card that claimed that title wasn't the one I expected! While AMD's new, hotly anticipated Radeon R9 Fury X is a beast in its own right, the title of new heavyweight champion instead lies with EVGA's $680 GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ with ACX 2.0+ (whew!), a custom-cooled, overclocked variant of Nvidia's ferocious GTX 980 Ti.
EVGA sent me this card out of the blue on the same day I received the Fury X--a coincidence, I'm sure. But the GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ doesn't just triumph over AMD's new flagship, it outpunches Nvidia's own $1000 Titan X in raw firepower.
What's more, even though AMD's dual-GPU Radeon R9 295x2 still manages to outrun EVGA's beast, the GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ illuminates a key advantage the 980 Ti family holds over all other 4K-capable graphics cards.
Let's dig in!
EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ under the hood
For the most part, EVGA's card rocks the same basic tech specs as the reference GTX 980 Ti, which we covered in full in our initial review of Nvidia's gaming goliath. You find the same 2,048 CUDA cores, the same 6GB of GDDR5 memory with a 7Gbps clock speed and a 384-bit bus, the same port selection, et cetera. You can find more details about Nvidia's GM200 chip itself in our earlier review. The chart at right has the basic technical information specifically for the EVGA GTX 980 Ti Superclocked (henceforth to be referred to as the GTX 980 Ti SC+).
So what makes the EVGA GTX 980 Ti SC+ so special? The (full) name gives it all away. The card ditches the GTX 980 Ti's reference cooling in favor of EVGA's respected ACX 2.0+ cooling system, which has made an appearance on several Nvidia GPUs at this point. Rather than talking about its dual fans, custom heat pipe, MOSFET cooling pipe, and quiet operation yet again, here's an EVGA-supplied diagram showing it all. You'll see the end results in our benchmarking section.
The other tell-tale in the name is "Superclocked+". The drastic cooling enhancements provided by ACX 2.0+ let EVGA positively crank the core clock speed on this bad boy, a tweak that helps it beat both the Fury X and the Titan X out of the box. While the stock GTX 980 Ti is clocked at 1,000MHz base clock/1,075MHz boost clock, EVGA's managed to coax those numbers up to 1,102MHz base/1,190MHz boost in the GTX 980 Ti SC+--a sizeable jump.
Getting that kind of overclock out of the box, with full 3-year warranty support, is no joke.
If you want to push things even further--or boost the memory speed, which is left untouched from stock on the GTX 980 Ti SC+--you can turn to EVGA's stellar PrecisionX overclocking software, which is available as a free download on EVGA's website or via Steam. It's a great solution, blending user-friendliness with the fine-tuning features power users demand. Need a primer? PCWorld's overclocking guide refers to MSI's competing Afterburner tool, but the same basic overclocking principles apply with PrecisionX.
One final design tidbit: EVGA's GTX 980 Ti SCi+ comes with an eye-catching custom backplate installed. Unlike the vanilla GTX 980, the reference GTX 980 Ti eschewed a backplate, ostensibly to facilitate better airflow in multi-GPU setups, but I'm a sucker for a nice backplate. Who wants to stare at exposed circuit boards?
EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ benchmarks
With that out of the way, let's get to the fun part.
As always, we reviewed the GTX 980 Ti on PCWorld's graphics testing system. You can see how we built the system here, but here are the basics:
- Intel's Core i7-5960X with a Corsair Hydro Series H100i closed-loop water cooler, to eliminate any potential for CPU bottlenecks affecting graphical benchmarks
- An Asus X99 Deluxe motherboard
- Corsair's Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory, Obsidian 750D full tower case, and 1200-watt AX1200i power supply
- A 480GB Intel 730 series SSD
- Windows 8.1 Pro
I've already spoiled the results by calling this the fastest graphics card we've ever tested, but if you're looking to game at high or ultra graphics settings at 4K resolution, the same caveats mentioned in our Fury X, Titan X, and reference GTX 980 Ti still apply. While all of these cards are fully capable of handling 4K gameplay by their lonesome, frame rates can still hover between 30 to 60 fps in some titles, depending on the settings you're using.
A G-Sync monitor, which forces your graphics card and display to synchronize frame rates, greatly improves the experience when gaming at 4K by smoothing everything out and essentially killing both screen tearing and stuttering. Simply put, G-Sync (and AMD's competing FreeSync displays, designed for Radeon cards) are wonderful. If you can afford to pick up a G-Sync monitor to pair with EVGA's GTX 980 Ti SC+, it's highly recommended.
The GTX 980 Ti's cranked clock speeds help it shine in every test I ran. First up: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The game itself is great, but more importantly, it comes with an in-game benchmark and an optional Ultra HD Textures pack that hammers the memory of even the most capable cards on the market today. It's tested using the game's Medium and High presets, then shifting to the Ultra preset and then cranking every graphics option to its highest possible setting--which even the Ultra preset doesn't actually do. (Note: No matter which drivers I'm using, I just can't coax Shadow of Mordor into playing nice with AMD's dual-GPU Radeon R9 295x2.)
The long-awaited Grand Theft Auto V is finally available on PCs, and with all the bells and whistles on, it can be a bear. We tested it by enabling all the advanced video options, then shifting all the graphics settings and sliders to their highest settings. I tested it with 4x MSAA and 4x MSAA reflections enabled to push the active memory use over 4GB, as well as with the MSAA options disabled to bring it just under 4GB--primarily to test the Fury X's 4GB of cutting-edge high-bandwidth memory at 4K resolution.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is a recent remake of a wonderful older game, but don't let that fool you: It can make even the most powerful graphics cards in the land sweat when you enable all its graphics options. Only the Radeon R9 295x2 hits 30 fps at 4K resolution, and although results at 2560x1600 resolution aren't shown here, not even that card can hit 60fps at that lower resolution on extreme graphics settings.
Alien Isolation is the best xenomorph experience since the original Alien movie and when it comes to graphics, it scales well across all hardware.
We test Metro Last Light Redux with SSAA and Advanced PhysX disabled. SSAA cuts frame rates in half for negligible visual gain.
Bioshock Infinite is getting a bit long in the tooth, but it uses the popular Unreal Engine 3 and both AMD and Nvidia have had plenty of time to optimize their drivers for the game by this point.
Next up: The 3DMark Fire Strike and Unigine Valley synthetic benchmark tests. Fire Strike Ultra is a more demanding variant of the base Fire Strike benchmark, built specifically to test 4K gaming capabilities.
Power usage and thermal testing is conducted by running the grueling Furmark tool for 15 minutes. Thermals are measured at the end of the run using both Furmark's built-in temperature tool as well as SpeedFan. Power usage is measured on a whole-system basis, rather than the individual cards themselves, by plugging the PC into a Watts Up meter.
The GTX 980 Ti SC+'s custom cooling solution helps it shave a full 9 degrees Celsius off the power use at load when compared to the reference GTX 980 Ti. And while it doesn't show in the raw benchmarks--I don't have a decibel meter on-hand--EVGA's card runs pretty damned quiet, even when you're hammering it with a demanding game. (Though obviously not as cool or quiet as AMD's Fury X and R9 295x2, each of which uses an integrated closed-loop water cooler.)
The EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+'s outstanding performance comes as no surprise. The reference GTX 980 Ti was already a beast in every sense of the world, so slapping a slick custom cooler on it and cranking the clock speeds was guaranteed to turn the GTX 980 Ti SC+ into a true barn-burner. EVGA's excellent build quality and design thoughtfulness is just icing on the delicious cake.
You could push frame rates to even more blistering levels with esoteric liquid-cooling solutions that allow for higher overclocks--witness EVGA's own GeForce GTX 980 Ti Hydro Copper and GeForce GTX 980 Ti Hybrid, with their insane 1,228MHz boost clock speeds out of the box, for evidence of that. Meanwhile, some other cards, like MSI's GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G, manage to push the boost clock speeds beyond that. Those cards would no doubt hit frame rates even higher than the ones the GTX 980 Ti SC+ achieved here.
But as it stands, the EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ is hands-down the fastest single-GPU graphics card we've ever tested, barely coming in second to only the formidable dual-GPU Radeon R9 295x2 (and its integrated closed-loop water cooler) in our testing. It's a thrilling example of the kind of firepower that a custom-cooled, sped-up GTX 980 Ti can bring to the table--something that the flagship Titan X and Fury X can't offer, with Nvidia and AMD locking those cards down to reference designs only.
Hail to the new king, baby.
Finally, the sterling performance of the $680 GTX 980 Ti SC+ is yet more proof that gamers should pass on the beastly $1000 Titan X, even with the latter's 12GB of RAM. If you picked up one of those Titan X's when it was the clear lord of the land a few scant months ago...well, there's a reason that graphics card lust is the cruelest obsession.