The NVIDIA GTX 980Ti Performance Review
When NVIDIA launched their TITAN X, everyone knew the GTX 980 Ti wouldn’t be too far behind. Based on the same GM200 core as its bigger brother, this new card is meant to lead a more affordable (yes, you read that right) lineup into the DX12 era while also preempting the upcoming launch of AMD’s Fiji architecture.
For the last two generations, the cadence of NVIDIA’s product lineup has followed a lock-step approach and this time is no different except for a few points. The last high end Ti-series card was the GTX 780 Ti, a product launched in response to AMD’s extremely competitive R9 290X. It was able to pull away from the Radeon lineup’s darling while also consuming less power and providing a substantially quieter gaming experience.
The situation this time around, almost 19 months later, is significantly different. Other than the R9 295X2, AMD has failed to launch any product refreshes that put pressure on NVIDIA’s high end Maxwell cards. As a result the GTX 980 and subsequent GM200-based TITAN X found themselves all alone, competing against the nearly two year old R9 290X. Nonetheless, the GTX 980 Ti is still being rolled out as NVIDIA keeps marching lock-step with their roadmap regardless of what AMD does.
AMD’s plans are playing a factor in how NVIDIA approaches this launch though. With all signs pointing towards an E3 announcement of Fiji and availability sometime after that, they knew the GTX 980 Ti and its customized versions would end up competing against a HBM-equipped next generation architecture in the short term.
As a result, the GTX 980 Ti will hit the $649USD price point at launch and it will come bundled with a free copy of Batman: Arkham Knight. In addition, the GTX 980 will see its price cut by $50 to $499 while the remainder of cards will maintain their current stances. This should put downwards pricing pressure on Fiji and its derivatives even before they launch.
What NVIDIA is promising on the performance front is significant as well with wide-ranging intergenerational improvements, particularly at 4K. While much of the UDH lead may be derived from the GTX 980 Ti’s larger memory allotment, the Maxwell architecture itself incorporates notable improvements over Kepler, particularly on the DX12 front. There’s no doubt this card has been built to excel in 4K and DX12 environments while paving the way for Pascal’s introduction.
Actually creating the GTX 980 Ti was a relatively straightforward affair. Since yields for the 28nm-based GM200 are quite good NVIDIA simply took a fully enabled die and disabled a pair of SMs. Anyone who was having flashbacks to the GTX 970 episode need not fear since tertiary rendering functions remain untouched. The only significant change is the allocation of GDDR5 per 64-bit memory controller which has been reduced from 2GB per 1GB , creating a 6GB framebuffer.
The end result of this tinkering is a 2816 core part with 176 Texture Units which are both slightly lower than the TITAN X but not by a large amount. Meanwhile, the back-end functions like ROPs (96), L2 cache (3072K) and memory bus width (384-bit) remain identical to what’s found on a fully enabled GM200. This should help with 4K gaming which requires a ton of memory and pipeline resources for adequate framerates. As with TITAN X, double precision performance still operates at 1/32 of the single precision rate.
In many ways the GTX 980 Ti is a virtual clone of NVIDIA’s TITAN X. Other than the reduced CUDA core and texture unit count, it boasts the same clock speeds, memory rates and even a 250W TDP. However those two cut SMs should result in slightly lower heat and power signatures so the GeForce Boost algorithms will have more space to play. As a result, with we could up seeing the GTX 980 Ti hitting higher average core clocks than the TITAN X. That means performance may be within spitting distance of the $999 card in situations that aren’t memory-limited. Whether or not this wish actually comes true will be discussed on the following pages.
Alongside the GTX 980 Ti launch NVIDIA is also rolling out a number of other items which we discuss in separate articles. First and foremost among these is a batch of second generation G-SYNC displays, updates to G-SYNC for more adaptability (including a Windowed Mode) and finally G-SYNC for notebooks. There are also new GameWorks developer tools for improving efficiency in high load VR environments.
The GTX 980 Ti represents an interesting step forward for NVIDIA and one which will ultimately determine how their current product stack lines up against AMD’s Fiji. While Fiji and the availability timeline for its various iterations is still very much an unknown, NVIDIA’s newest addition has already shipped in volume into the channels and there will be a broad range of custom versions being offered in a matter of days to weeks.
By far the most enticing element of this launch is the GTX 980 Ti’s price. $649 certainly isn’t inexpensive in the grand scheme of things but it is certainly more affordable than the GTX 780 Ti’s initial price of $699. This should get high performance, DX12 compatible, 4K capable cards into the hands of far more gamers and tide NVIDIA’s lineup over until Pascal gets rolled out early next year. It just remains to be seen how well the GTX 980 Ti lines up against the TITAN X; it could be VERY close.
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