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ASUS ROG Poseidon GTX 980 Graphics Card Review

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In typical ASUS fashion, they’ve taken one of the most popular high-end graphics cards and put their unique stamp on it. This time around, we have the ROG Poseidon GTX 980 that offers a hybrid cooling solution dubbed the DirectCU H2O. The card also features a beefed up power delivery section and a factory applied overclock, which leaves no doubt this is aimed squarely at PC enthusiasts and gamers alike. From all appearances, the ASUS ROG Poseidon GTX 980 seems to have it all… let’s go find out!

Specifications and Features

Below are the specifications as provided by the ASUS product page. As you can see, the GPU base clock speed sports a 52 MHz overclock over the reference design. The boost clock speed comes in with a 63 MHz factory overclock, but we all know that will actually be much higher once the card is under load. The actual boost clock held steady at 1328 MHz once the card was under load. Keeping the NVIDIA Surround users happy is the onboard 4 GB of GDDR5 memory.

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A look at GPU-Z confirms what we see above and a few other details. The 4 GB of DDR5 is set to 1753 MHz (7012 MHz effective), sits on a 256-bit bus, and offers 224.4 GB/s of bandwidth. The ROPs and TMUs come in at 64 and 128 respectively, and the number of unified shader cores sits at 2048.

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The feature set associated with the Poseidon GTX 980 can be broken down into three major categories – cooling, stability, and style. The slides below give you an overview of the high level features for each of these three areas, as well as an overview of the card’s construction. We’ll get into more detail as we progress.

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Obviously, one of the highlights of the Poseidon GTX 980 is the hybrid cooling solution. The DirectCU H2O offers the user the ability to go with either water or air cooling. Because the water cooler uses standard G1/4 threads, the user can choose from a wide variety of fittings on the market. The vapor channel makes direct contact with the GPU, and the die-cast thermal armor makes contact with the MOSFETS to help keep them cooled as well. The DirectCU H2O cooler is well equipped to work as an air cooler with its copper heatpipes, dust-proof fans, and extended aluminum fin stack.

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Whether using air or water cooling, ASUS in-house temperature testing claims impressive performance advantages when compared to the reference design cooler. The DirectCU H2O cooler is also said to offer substantial noise reduction when compared to the reference cooler, especially when the water cooling option is used.

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Because of the factory applied overclock, you’ll enjoy more FPS when compared to the reference design cards. The ASUS in-house testing shows anywhere from 3.7% to 10% performance gains here depending on the benchmark.

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The stout power delivery built into the Poseidon GTX 980 includes Super Alloy Chokes, Japanese-made 10K capacitors, Super Alloy MOSFETs, and the all-digital DIGI+ VRM. Additionally, ASUS has implemented a 10-phase power design, which is vastly superior to the 5-phase power design found on the reference design cards. Behind the GPU core, you’ll find dedicated SAP Capacitors that are said to offer additional overclocking headroom.

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For added aesthetic value, ASUS provides a pulsating red ROG lighting effect at the top of the card. On the software side of things, ASUS provides GPU Tweak and GPU Tweak Streaming. GPU tweak is a very capable desktop GPU overclocking utility, which we’ll explore later in the review. GPU Tweak Streaming gives the user the ability to stream their game play in real-time. You can also add pictures, text, and webcam images to your stream.

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Now that you have a good idea of everything the ROG Poseidon GTX 980 has to offer, let’s get it up on bench and have a look around!

Packaging/Accessories/First Look

The packaging is just as one would expect for an ASUS ROG product. The box does a great job of explaining the product within and lists many of the high-level features we mentioned above. There is a flap that when raised reveals additional information on the power delivery system and the LED lighting effect. With the flap opened, you get a sneak peek at the Poseidon GTX 890 through a plastic window.

Box Front

Box Front

Box Back

Box Back

Box Side

Box Side

Box Side

Box Side

Flap Opened

Flap Opened

Below the Flap

Below the Flap

Inside the outer carton is another black box that houses the Poseidon GTX 980 and the accessories. The card is well protected from all sides with foam padding to protect against damage during transportation. Other than the graphics card itself, you’ll find a user’s manual, power adapter cable, DVI to VGA adapter, case badge, and the support CD.

Inner Box

Well Protected Graphics Card

Poseidon GTX 980 and Accessories

Poseidon GTX 980 and Accessories

Accessories Laid Out

Accessories Laid Out

Photo Op

Before we take an up-close look at the Poseidon GTX 980, here are several pictures taken from a variety of angles. The striking good looks of this predominantly black and red card will look terrific if matched up with an ASUS ROG series motherboard. In fact, it would look good in just about any system based on either a black or red color scheme.

Meet the ROG Poseidon GTX 980

Meet the ROG Poseidon GTX 980

Poseidon GTX 980Side View

ROG Poseidon GTX 980 Side View

ROG Poseidon Back Side View

ROG Poseidon GTX 980 Back Side View

ROG Poseidon GTX 980 Back Side View

ROG Poseidon GTX 980 Back Side View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

The ASUS ROG Poseidon GTX 980 Up Close

For display connectivity, we have one Dual Link DVI, one HDMI, and three DisplayPort connections. Whereas we used to almost always see a pair of DVI connections on higher-end graphics cards, those are rapidly becoming extinct in favor of HDMI and DisplayPort connectivity. It makes a lot of sense to add more DisplayPort connections given their advantage over other connection types. However, they can be easily converted to HDMI or DVI with cables or adapters if needed. Another advantage of triple DisplayPort connectivity is a true G-Sync monitor Surround setup can be accomplished from a single card.

Display Connectivity

Display Connectivity

You may have noticed from earlier pictures that ASUS has seen fit to install a backplate at the factory. While it doesn’t add much to the cooling of the card, it does add a great deal of PCB rigidity and protection. And let’s face it… it looks good too! We began to disassemble the Poseidon GTX 980 by first removing the backplate.

Backplate Removed

Backplate Removed

Once the DirectCU H2O cooler is removed, we see the thermal pads that cover the memory and PWM areas. The copper base plate was found to be making excellent contact with the GPU, and the thermal interface material was well applied. You may notice the GPU core makes contact with the copper base plate slightly off center. I presume this is by design to allow the larger of the three heatpipes to pass through the cooler centered over the GPU core. We saw this same cooler design back when we reviewed the Poseidon GTX 780, and it was extremely effective at keeping the GPU nice and cool.

DirectCU H2O Removed

DirectCU H2O Removed

DirectCU H2O Copper Base Plate / Thermal Pads

DirectCU H2O Copper Base Plate / Thermal Pads

Once the fan shroud is removed, we get a better look at the aluminum fin stack, heatpipes, and water channel. The heatpipes travel across the top of the copper baseplate and then travel their way through the aluminum fin stack. The water channel pipes also travel through the copper base plate and will help dissipate any heat that collects there. The fans are FirstD branded, which is what we normally see in most ASUS proprietary GPU coolers. The fans measure just short of 90 mm in size and feature the ASUS dust-proof design. The dust-proof design is accomplished with a special hub design that blocks dust from entering the bearing area.

Fan Shroud Removed

Fan Shroud Removed

Fan Shroud Removed / Base Plate Area

Fan Shroud Removed / Base Plate Area

Heatpipes and Water Channel Pipes

Heatpipes and Water Channel Pipes

G1/4 Threads -  Inlet and Outlet

G1/4 Threads – Inlet and Outlet

The Poseidon GTX 980 uses both a 6-pin and 8-pin connector to bring power to the card. The power connectors are flipped around from what we normally see here, which makes the lever to release the cables a lot easier to access. Each connector has a red and white LED assigned to it that lets you know if the cable is connected correctly (white) or if you have a problem with the cable connection (red).

Power Connectors

Power Connectors

Power Connector LEDs

Power Connector LEDs

The Poseidon GTX 980 features an all-digital 10-phase power design, which doubles the 5-phase design found on reference design cards. The DIGI+ VRM controller is found at the rear of the PCB and handles voltage regulation duties. Also at the rear of the PCB are the ASUS Hotwire solder points, which allow additional voltage control and monitoring from within the BIOS of a supporting ROG Extreme motherboard. The 4 GB of onboard GDDR5 is provided by the Samsung K4G41325FC-HC28 GDDR5 memory modules. The last picture below is of the Maxwell 2 GM204-400-A1 GPU core.

10-Phase Power Design

10-Phase Power Design

10-Phase Power Design

10-Phase Power Design

DIGI+ VRM

DIGI+ VRM

ASUS Hotwire Solder Points

ASUS Hotwire Solder Points

Samsung GDDR5 Memory

Samsung GDDR5 Memory

Maxwell 2 GPU Core

Maxwell 2 GPU Core

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

Test System Components
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VII Formula
CPU Intel i7 4790K Devil’s Canyon @ 4.0 GHz
Memory G.SKill TridentX DD3-2400 MHz 2x8GB @ 1866 MHz 9-9-9-24
SSD Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD
Power Supply Corsair HX1050 Professional Series
Video Card ASUS ROG Poseidon GTX 980 – 344.75 Driver
Cooling EKWB Supremacy EVO Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump

Test Bench

Test Bench

Test Bench

Test Bench

We’ve got a good assortment of comparison cards for today’s benchmarks, including AMD’s top two offerings and a few NVIDIA high-end cards. We’ll stick with the Overclockers.com GPU test procedure that’s been in place since the Haswell platform was released. If you’re not yet familiar with our methodology, then click on the link provided for additional information. For quick reference, below is the down and dirty version of what we do.

Minimum System Requirements

  • i7 4770K or i7 4790K @ 4 GHz
  • Dual Channel DDR3 @ 1866MHz 9-9-9-24
  • GPU @ stock and overclocked
  • Monitor capable of 1920×1080

Synthetic Tests

  • 3DMark Vantage – DirectX 10 benchmark running at 1280X1024 – Performance preset.
  • 3DMark 11 – DirectX 11 benchmark running at 1280X720 – Performance preset.
  • 3DMark Fire Strike – DirectX 11 benchmark running 1920X1080 – Standard test (not extreme).
  • Unigine Heaven (HWBot version) – DX11 Benchmark – Extreme setting.

Game Tests

  • Batman: Arkham Origins – 1920X1080, 8x MSAA, PhysX off, V-Sync off, The rest set to on or DX11 enhanced.
  • Battlefield 4 – 1920X1080, Ultra Preset, V-Sync off.
  • Bioshock Infinite – 1920X1080, Ultra DX11 preset, DOF on.
  • Crysis 3 – 1920X1080, Very high settings, 16x AF, 8x MSAA, V-Sync off.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – 1920X1080, Maximum preset.
  • Grid 2 – 1920X1080, 8x MSAA, Intel specific options off, Everything else set to highest available option.
  • Metro Last Light – 1920X1080, DX11 preset, SSAA on, Tessellation very high, PhysX off.

ASUS Software – GPU Tweak

GPU Tweak offers everything you need to get the most from your graphics card. Overclocking options will be dependent on the graphics card that’s being used. In the case of the Poseidon GTX 980, we have a full complement of options at our disposal. GPU Tweak also offers a detailed monitoring interface and a GPU-Z powered information screen. Complete control of the fans is available by use of a slider to select the speed or by using a user defined graph to match fan speed with temperature thresholds. Up to eight overclocking profiles can be saved, which is a huge time saver once you find you favorite overclock settings. The set of pictures below will give you a good idea of everything GPU Tweak has to offer.

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GPU Tweak – All Windows Open

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GPU Tweak Overclocking Options

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GPU Tweak – Overclocking Options.

GPU Tweak Live Update

GPU Tweak Live Update

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

Overclocking

Using GPU Tweak, we were able to get the GPU stable at 1375 MHz base clock. This reported a boost clock speed of 1476 MHz; but when under load, it held steady at 1525 MHz… Impressive. On the memory side of things, we topped out at 1950 MHz (7800 MHz effective). So, for the purpose of our benchmark results below, we’ll run with that overclock and see if there is anything left in the tank when we “push the limits.”

HWBot Heaven @ 1375MHz GPU / 1950 MHz Memory

HWBot Heaven @ 1375MHz GPU / 1950 MHz Memory

3DMark Fire Strike @ 1375 MHz GPU / 1950 MHz Memory

3DMark Fire Strike @ 1375 MHz GPU / 1950 MHz Memory

As you look at the benchmark results, keep in mind the EVGA GTX 980 SC is factory overclocked 88 MHz higher than the Poseidon GTX 980. What you’ll see throughout most of these results is the Poseidon GTX 980 swapping blows with the EVGA GTX 980 SC and EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified. The AMD cards in the comparison group had a tough time keeping pace, as did the ASUS STRIX GTX 780. Also of note is the water cooling feature was used when testing the Poseidon GTX 980.

Here are the synthetic results, which surprisingly show the Poseidon GTX 980 beating out the EVGA GTX 980 SC in the HWBot Heaven run. You’ll also notice how well the Poseidon GTX 980 scales when overclocked, which resulted in some pretty darn impressive scores.

HWBot Heaven Results

HWBot Heaven Results

3DMark Fire Strike Results

3DMark Fire Strike Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark 11 Results

3DMark 11 Results

In our suite of game benchmarks, again you’ll see the Poseidon GTX 780 swapping blows with the EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified and GTX 980 SC. The Poseidon GTX 980 wins out on a few of these results and loses out on a few as well. Across the board, the Poseidon GTX 980 performed as expected and even better in some cases. The card continued to scale very well in our game benchmarks and threw out some pretty impressive results here too.

Batman: Arkham Origin Results

Batman: Arkham Origin Results

Battlefield 4 Results

Battlefield 4 Results

Bioshock Infinite Results

Bioshock Infinite Results

Crysis 3 Results

Crysis 3 Results

Final Fantasy: ARR Results

Final Fantasy: ARR Results

Grid 2 Results

Grid 2 Results

Metro: Last Light Results

Metro: Last Light Results

Surround Results

We took five of our most popular game titles and ran them through our NVIDIA Surround testing to see how the Poseidon GTX 980 performed. As expected, things were right in line where they should be. Three of the five benchmark results came in with very playable FPS results, with the two holdouts being Crysis 3 and Metro: Last Light. Our Surround testing keeps all the game settings maxed out, which means relaxing a couple settings will net you very playable frame rates with most modern game titles.

NVIDIA Surround Test Results

NVIDIA Surround Test Results

Power Consumption and Temperature Testing

Power consumption numbers are very impressive to say the least. These Maxwell 2 based graphics cards really sip the power as witnessed by the graph below. The numbers would have been even lower had ASUS implemented their 0dB feature, which prevents the fans from spinning until the temperature reaches roughly 60 °C. There really is no need to have the fans running when you’re using the water cooling feature this card offers. In theory, you could set the fans manually to not come on by using the GPU Tweak utility, but I think the the 0dB features would be a better way of achieving this. At any rate, 330 watts of total system draw was the most we encountered, even with the card overclocked and under load. Impressive numbers there!

Power Consumption Results

Power Consumption Results

The temperature testing shows us two things. First, the DirctCU H2O is very capable as an air cooling solution. Second, the water cooling feature works extremely well at keeping the GPU temperatures below 50 °C under all conditions. The DirectCU H2O really does give the user the best of both worlds.

Temperature Test Results

Temperature Test Results

Pushing the Limits

We normally try to get the GPU and memory clocked as high as possible and complete a suicide run of 3DMark Fire Strike. We were able to get the GPU clocked at 1389 MHz base/1490 MHz boost, which resulted in an actual boost clock speed of 1540 MHz when under load. Compared to previous GTX 980 cards I’ve reviewed in the past, I noticed the actual boost clock seemed to go much higher when the card was using the water cooling feature. No doubt this is due to how low the GPU core temperatures are kept. The memory topped out at 2000 MHz (8000 MHz effective). With those settings in place, we achieved a score of 13405, which is an additional 144 added to our previous overclocked score above. Any way you slice it, the performance of the Poseidon GTX 980 is impressive.

Pushing the Limits!

Pushing the Limits!

Conclusion

The ASUS ROG Poseidon GTX 980 is certainly an intriguing piece of hardware given its cooling flexibility. It may not be the highest factory overclocked card out there, but the water cooling feature and the impressive 10-phase power delivery will allow you take it quite a bit further. If you buy this card with the intent to add water cooling at a later date, you’ll find the DirectCU H2O to be a perfectly capable air cooling solution too. If you do decide to use the water cooling feature, you’ll like the fact it uses G1/4 fittings and the wide variety of fittings available on the market you can use.

The ASUS ROG Poseidon GTX 980 is currently selling for $649 at Newegg, which is $10 higher than the ASUS MSRP of $639. That price will undoubtedly come down a bit once the newness has worn off. When comparing the price to other similar offerings, the price is completely justified because of the water cooling this card offers. If you were to buy a competing card and then add your own water block, you’d spend significantly more in the end.

ASUS has provided an enticing option for the PC enthusiast or hardcore gamer with the ROG Poseidon GTX 980. Its got the looks, performance, and overclocking ability we all look for in a high-end graphics card.

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the stamp for an explanation of what this means.

Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

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Discussion
  1. Both are beasts, but I think the HOF takes it over this card. Now... the Matrix Platinum that will be released... another story. But I think the HOF and this card are on two different levels (though the reality is both will be fine for 99% of people anyway).

    Awesome card and review Lv! :)