ASUS GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC Review
NVIDIAís GTX 980 Ti is currently in an odd position . After AMD launched their R9 Fury X and subsequently more affordable R9 Fury, many expected the battle for high end GPU supremacy to heat up in a big way. That didnít happen. Instead of staling sales from their GeForce competitors, the new AMD cards have actually pushed buyers towards the GTX 980 Ti and to a lesser extent the GTX 980. A lot of this has been due to a lack of stock for many of AMD's top-end SKUs. As a result, NVIDIA and their board partners are scrambling to meet the bonanza in demand by increasing production capacity and continuing to launch class-leading custom designs.
One of the latest and also most anticipated releases is ASUSí GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC, a graphics card that seemingly has everything but isnít all that much more expensive than a reference card. At $669 it is $30 less expensive than the balls-to-the-wall Zotac AMP! Extreme and slightly less than MSIís GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G and EVGAís GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ ACX 2.0+. That is, if you can actually find it these days.
One thing we should also mention straight off the bat is the slight controversy that surrounded this card shortly after its launch and initial reviews. Some sites received a higher clocked non-retail version while cards destined for store shelves were supposed to be clocked a bit lower. Our sample is straight from the retail channel so the clock speeds you see below are the ones that customers STRIX OC cards come equipped with.
While other board partners may have different SKUs, each with a separate clock speed and target audience, ASUS has rolled these all into one card. To cater to as wide a market as possible, the STRIX OC can be switched between three separate (OC, Gaming and Silent) performance / cooling modes with the press of a button within their newly refreshed GPU Tweak software. All of these are offered with a memory overclock to 7200MHz.
The highest performance mode is the OC setting which grants Base and Boost frequencies of 1216MHz and 1317MHz respectively. Thatís only a short stoneís throw away from Zotacís AMP! Extreme and quite a bit higher than MSI and EVGA offerings in the same price bracket. For the purposes of this review, weíll be using this setting for all subsequent benchmarks.
ASUSí other two modes both offer lower frequencies but sacrifice high performance for lower fan speeds. The Gaming setting is actually what the STRIX OC defaults to when its installed without the accompanying software and will net you still-high overclocks of 1190MHz / 1291MHz which is ironically still just a few MHz faster than MSIís Gaming 6G. Finally thereís a Silent Mode which is supposed to dial things back a bit more while reducing fan speeds.
ASUSí GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC represents one of the first cards with their new DirectCU III heatsink. Having been developed and refined over the last few years and given the fact that its predecessor, the DirectCU II, was one of the most highly regarded coolers around, there are some understandably high expectations riding on its shoulders.
The DirectCU IIIís design is distinctive but, when compared to some of the other visually loud heatsinks on the market, it is actually quite subtle in its approach. Coloration is predominantly black with a pair of red stripes adorning the plastic shroudís sides and a few small highlights of brushed aluminum placed closer to the I/O plate.
ASUSí approach to engineering the heatsink flies in the face of several other designs we have seen from both NVIDIAís and AMDís board partners. Instead of expanding the internal fin array upwards, thus forcing the fans to work harder to overcome excess static pressure requirements, this one extends outwards. That leads the GTX 980 Ti STRIX OC to have a dual slot height but a length of just over 12Ē and a portly width of about 5 ĺĒ. Be sure to take these figures into account before assuming this card will fit into a smaller chassis.
Below that shroud is a completely reworked heatsink, one which includes the industryís first application of dual 10mm heatpipes alongside several smaller heatpipes to supplement cooling. These make irect contact with the GM200 core and gradually snake through the fin array to insure even heat distribution.
That fin array is indeed a large one but the cardís 92mm fans have excellent coverage so every area receives full-on airflow. Speaking of those fans, they boast a newly patented wing-blade design that significantly increases air pressure by utilizing a step-down tab on the fan bladesí outside edge. This is supposed boost airflow by a good 105% over previous designs and will allow the fans to spin slower while achieving the same cooling potential.
Alongside the more visible changes to this generation, ASUS has also included a secondary reinforcement frame to reduce PCB flex and 0dB fan technology. As with many other cards these days, the 0dB technology allows all three fans to completely shut off when the card is at idle or low load. In the past, weíve actually seen these STRIX cards become completely silent in games like Starcraft II and DOTA.
Along the shroudís outer edge is a long strip of red plastic which has a STRIX logo that gently pulses red. Unfortunately, thereís no way to turn it off or change its attributes from pulsing to continually on but or completely off.
As with other STRIX cards, this one has a full metal backplate with a few cutouts for critical components and access to read points. Since there arenít any heatpads, ASUS has done the right thing and allowed airflow over the secondary VRMs. Not only that but with its STRIX logo and svelte overall design this backplate looks amazing.
Directly behind the core is what ASUS calls a GPU Fortifier. This thick piece of aluminum is supposed to reinforce the PCB directly behind the heatsink mounts and prevents flex. Considering this area is under a high amount of stress from the large heatsink, we can understand why ASUS felt the need to add some additional reinforcement in this area.
One of the backplateís cutouts features a series of jumpers that can be used to enable the cardís Memory Defrost feature. This will be used exclusively by veteran extreme overclockers who use it to activate heating elements around the memory modules, thus avoiding them running into any cold bugs when the core is cooled with LN2 or dry ice.
The dual 8-pin power input connectors arenít exactly easily accessible but ASUS provides small LEDs that turn from red to white when a successful connection is made. We can also see in this area that the new DirectCU III heatsink maximizes every single inch of space underneath its shroud, even allowing a portion of fin array to continue downwards, encompassing the PCBís rear edge.
The GTX 980 Ti STRIX OCís I/O layout is identical to other GTX 980 Tiís in that it has a trio of DisplayPort outputs, a single HDMI 2.0 (thereís no HDCP 2.2 support though) and that single lone DVI.
Popping the heatsink off this card reveals an absolutely gargantuan PCB, proving why ASUS felt the need to expand their DirectCU III to cover the entire cardís width. Residing here is a 12+2 phase PWM that boasts Super Alloy Power II components like a DrMos integrated power stage for reduced operating temperatures, long life capacitors and concrete alloy chokes for lower mechanical noise and whine.
ASUS has also implemented their new Auto Extreme technology, something that is supposed to insure the highest quality and reliability for nearly every aspect of this card. The STRIX OC is built with a minimum of human interaction which lowers the possibility of manufacturing errors, the entire PCB and its components are linked with flux-free solder and there are several additional quality assurance verification steps. All in all it looks like ASUS has built this thing to last.
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