Gigabyte GTX 970 Extreme Video Card Review

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Over the years, GIGABYTE has released many products that are good, and many other products that are good AND focused on overclocking (think their SOC Force motherboards). One thing we haven’t seen on from them, on that front, is within their GPU lineup. Sure, the Windforce line is more than solid with the cooler, but their new Extreme line should take their video cards to another level. GIGABYTE promises a better overclocking GPU with their sorting technology, dubbed Gauntlet sorting, high factory overclocks, good cooling, durability, protection, and being “Xtreme” friendly. Let’s take a look and see what they did on the GTX 970 Extreme we have to review!

Specifications & Features

Below is a list of specifications and features from the GIGABYTE media kit. We all know the GTX 970 silicon (GM-204) comes to the table with its 28 nm process, so we will just get into the card’s specifications.

The base clock comes in at 1190 MHz, with a ‘base’ boost of 1342 MHz. This is a difference of 139 MHz on the base clock from the reference design GTX 970s, so it is a pretty healthy boost. The memory comes in at 7.1 Gbps or 1774 MHz ‘non DDR5’ rates which rests on the 256 bit bus. For I/O, there are DL DVI-I, HDMI, and three DisplayPorts. GIGABYTE recommends a 600 W PSU for this card (though I feel that is really overestimating unless you are truly going extreme and modifying the BIOS – more on that later).

More details can be found at the GIGABYTE webpage for the GTX 970 Extreme.

GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme Specifications
Chipset GeForce GTX 970
Core Clock Base/Boost clock: 1190/1342 MHz (ref: 1051/1178)
Process Technology 28 nm
Memory Clock 7.1 Gbps (ref: 7 Gbps)
Memory Size 4GB
Memory Bus 256-bit
Memory Type GDDR5
Card Bus PCIe 3.0
Direct X / Open GL DX12 / 4.5
Max Resolution (Digital / Analog) 4096 x 2160 / 2048 x 1536
Multi-View 4
I/O Dual-Link DVI-I (1) / HDMI (1) / DisplayPort (3)
Power Requirement 600 W (with two 8-pin external power connectors)

Below is a list of features from GIGABYTE’s media guide.

With the Extreme series comes a set of mostly unique features on their cards. The first is their GPU Gauntlet Sorting. This alludes to the fact that the GPUs are binned better than some other series, but the tangible differences are in the hardware used. It has a total of 12 phases for power to assist with higher overclocking capability and needs versus the reference models with half that. It comes with better, Titan X grade, chokes and capacitors for cooler running and more durability.

A high-end overclocked GPU deserves a great cooler when you can pump more volts through it, and GIGABYTE doesn’t disappoint here. They use their venerable Windforce 3 cooling system that has composite copper heat-pipes, a special fin architecture, unique fan blade design (delivers 23% more airflow via special triangle design at the end of the fans which is then directed through the fan by a “3D stripe curve”). Like a lot of manufacturers, GIGABYTE’s Windforce 3 cooler uses what they call 3D-Active Fan which leaves the fans off until higher loads or temperatures hit the card, 60 °C in this case. You can see the fan’s status by looking at the two LEDs on the stop of the card. One says “stop”, the other says “silent” to display which mode it is in/the fans are moving or not.

Next up is something that benefits everyone, but in particular the extreme crowd that will want to take this card cold… it has a conformal coating! This coating helps keep moisture, corrosion, and dust off the PCB. I don’t recall ever seeing a GPU with a conformal coating before. We have seen a motherboard with it (ASRock OC Formula series), but not a GPU.

Another cool value-add on the GIGABYTE 970 Extreme is the PCIe smart detection LEDs that are on the PCIe power leads. If there is any instability in the power or no power at all, the LED will flash letting you know there is an issue. It also logs the information into their overclocking software, OC Guru II, which will further aid in troubleshooting problems with the device.

Wrapping up some of the major features, we end with GIGABYTE’s Ultra Durable VGA designation. This entails 2 oz of copper on the PCB, solid caps, metal chokes, and upgraded MOSFETs (lower RDSon).

There are all kinds of goodies on here to help get the most out of the silicon on the board, that is for sure! You can find a more complete list on their website (images also Courtesy of GIGABYTE).

ico-gnlt GPU Gauntlet™ Sorting
Forged with only the top-notch GPU, the GIGABYTE XTREME GAMING graphics cards guarantee the higher overclocking capability in terms of excellent power switching, ensuring the highest performance without compromising system reliability.
ico-windfcico-3dactvfan
WINDFORCE 3X Cooling System
The WINDFORCE 3X cooling system features with composite copper heat-pipes, special fin architecture, unique blade fan design, and GIGABYTE ‘Triangle Cool’ technology, together delivering an effective heat dissipation capacity for higher performance at lower temperature.3D-Active Fan with LED Indicators
GIGABYTE’s XTREME GAMING graphics cards are equipped with
3D-Active Fan, the industry’s first 0dB semi-passive fan design
introduced by GIGABYTE back in 2007.
The fans will remain off when the GPU is under a set loading or temperature for low power gaming. Besides, LED fan indicators on the top of the graphics card provide an instant display of whether the fans are spinning or not.

ico-cnfrml

 

Aerospace-grade PCB Coating for Best Protection
PCB applied with a breathable aerospace-grade coating to shield against moisture, dust, and corrosion for a complete protection.
ico-pciesmtpwr PCIE smart power detection with LED indicators
Be alert when PCI-E voltage is unstable with the smart power LED indicators. Any power abnormality is also recorded in the system through OC GURU utility software for troubleshooting.
ico-udrblvgAa 12-phase power design and Titan X-grade Chocks and Capacitors
Built for extreme overclocking with 12 power phases backed by highest-grade chokes and capacitors for supreme durability.

GPU-Z

Next is our always gratuitous screenshot of GPUz to validate the specifications… and it does! The GTX 970 works on the GM204 core which sports a total of 1664 shaders with a pixel fill rate of 66.6 GPixel/s and a texture fillrate of 123.8 GTexel/s. ROPs and TMUs come in at 56 and 104 respectively. The memory totals 4 GB of Elpida based GDDR5 on the 256 bit bus. It comes in at a clock speed of 1774 MHz (7100 MHz GDDR5) which translates to 227.1 GB/s bandwidth. Stock clocks are 1190 MHz core that boosts to at least 1342 MHz (1443 MHz actual sustained).

GPUz v8.6

GPUz v8.6

Photo Op – Meet the GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme

Retail Packaging and Accessories

In the slideshow, you will first notice the retail packaging for the Extreme series of cards is a bit different than their normal line. Here we have a black on orange theme with the GIGABYTE Extreme Gaming symbol prominently placed on the front of the package. Also, on the front, is the model of the card inside, as well as a couple of its high-level features. The back of the box goes into more details we went over above such as the 3D-Active fans, LED control, and the GPU Gauntlet. Inside the box is another box with the GPU sitting inside its anti-static bag surrounded by form fitting foam. The accessories include the driver disk, quick installation guide, a 6 to 8 pin converter, and a wrist or headband.

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The Card

Below you can finally see what the card looks like! We see the Windforce 3 cooler and its triple fan setup, a dual slot cooling solution. The shroud is mostly black with a grey accent between the back two fans. We see it does come with a backplate to protect the PCB. The top of the card has LEDs for the Windforce writing, as well as the words ‘silent’ and ‘stop’ flanking that wording. Silent and stop are lit up depending on which mode the fan is in. Around the fans, there is a unique and really cool looking circular LED which by default glows orange (again you can control the color of these as well as any ‘motion’ through the OC Guru II software). It is a good looking card that should fit well with a lot of build themes due to its neutral color scheme and variable color LEDs.

Gigabyte GTX 970 Extreme - Front

GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme – Front

Back

Back

Alternate 1

Alternate 1

Alternate 2

Alternate 2

Top

Top

A Closer Look

Taking a look at the I/O we see a typical complement of DVI (DL DVI-I flavor), HDMI, and three full size DisplayPort ports. For this version of the GTX 970, you will need two 8-pin PCIe connections. With those, the card can accept 375 W if you include the PCIe power. This thing seems ready to go places with that amount of power available, no?

I/O - DL DVI-I / HDMI / Displayport (3)

I/O – DL DVI-I / HDMI / DisplayPort (3)

Two 8 pin PCIe required!

Two 8 pin PCIe required!

As usual, I took apart the card to show off the PCB as well as the heatsink with its the finely brushed (not mirror) finish on the copper base and the six heatpipes that make their way through the fin array. You can see that all the memory and VRM area is cooled. I was a bit worried about the three smaller fans being a noisy when spinning up, but it wasn’t an issue until the fan reached around 80% (which only happens when set manually).

Heatsink removed

Heatsink removed

Heatsink base

Heatsink base

12 Phase power delivery

12 Phase power delivery

Below is a picture of the Elpida W4032BABG-70-F memory IC’s used.

Memory IC - Elpida W4032BABG-70-F

Memory IC – Elpida W4032BABG-70-F

Monitoring/Overclocking Software – OC Guru II

Pictured below is GIGABYTE’s GPU monitoring and overclocking software, OC Guru II. This software is able to monitor conditions on the card like temperature and fan speed. It will also allow you to change the LED color and style, as well as put an on screen display. It also has graphing capabilities as well so one can see a history of metrics if you choose. I have no issues with the software as far as how easy it was to use or its looks. Very simple and straightforward folks!

OC Guru II

OC Guru II

Performance

Test Setup
CPU Intel 6700K @ Stock (for the motherboard – 4.0 boost to 4.2 GHz)
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme
RAM 2×4 GB DDR4 GSkill Ripjaws 4 @ 3000 MHz 15-15-15-35 2T 1.35 V
Graphics Card GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme
Stock: Core 1190 MHz / 1342 MHz Boost (1443 MHz actual boost), 1774 MHz vRAM
Overclocked: Core 1266 MHz / 1418 MHz (1533 MHz actual boost), 1902 MHz vRAM
Solid State Drive OCZ Vertex 3
Power Supply SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)
Operating System Windows 7 x64 SP3+
Graphics Drivers 358.91
Equipment
Digital Multimeter

Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to their reviews):

Benchmarking Method/Settings

Note all testing below uses 1920×1080 screen resolution (settings also carry over to 2560 x 1440 and Surround/Eyefinity testing if applicable).

  • All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings. 3DMark 11 = Performance Level, 3DMark Fire Strike = Extreme default setting.
  • Unigine Valley Benchmark v1.0 – 1080p, DX11, Ultra Quality, 8x AA, Full Screen
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) – Extreme setting
  • Crysis 3 – Very High settings with 8xMSAA/16xAF (2nd level when you procure and use the Crossbow to get across the level and kill the Helicopter)
  • Metro:LL – DX11, Very High, 16xAF, Motion Blur – Normal, SSAA Enabled, DX11 Tessellation – Very High, Advanced PhysX – Disabled, Scene D6
  • Battlefield 4 – Default Ultra setting (Tashgar level – ‘on rails’ car scene)
  • Final Fantasy XIV:ARR – Default Maximum setting
  • Dirt: Rally – 1080p, 8x MSAA, everything on Ultra that can be, enable Advanced Blending
  • Grand Theft Auto V – 1080p, high settings.
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – 1080p, everything Ultra that can be (Lighting quality High), FXAA and Camera + Object Blur, DOF/OIT/Tessellation enabled.
  • More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures

Synthetic Benchmarks

We, as usual, start off with our synthetic benchmarks. First, we will look at the heavily tessellated Unigine Valley. In this test, the GTX 970 Extreme scored 2,568 points. This is about 5% slower than the slightly more expensive R9 390 and a whopping 24%+ to the last generation flagship, a highly overclocked 780 Ti.

Moving on to Unigine Heaven (Hwbot Extreme version), the GIGABYTE 970 scored 3,158.9, beating out the venerable and highly overclocked Galax GTX 970 HOF+ by over 5%. Again we see it falling short of the R9 390 by 5% (on the nose) and losing out by a large margin over 20%, to the 780 Ti.

Unigine Valley and Unigine Heaven

Unigine Valley and Unigine Heaven

The next set of benchmarks are from Futuremark. 3DMark 11 and 3DMark (Fire Strike – Extreme). In Fire Strike (Extreme), the GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme scores 5,494 points beating out the 390 by 3% and falling just shy of the 780 Ti here by 3%. A solid showing in this modern benchmark.

In 3DMark 11, an oldy but goodie, the GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme scored 15,745, beating out the HOF by over 4%, but again falling behind the 390 (3%). The 780Ti is a bit over 1% faster in this test.

3DMark (Fire Strike) Extreme and 3DMark 11 Performance

3DMark (Fire Strike) Extreme and 3DMark 11 Performance

Gaming Benchmarks

In our first look at games, we start out with Crysis 3. In this set of testing, the 970 manages 39 FPS easily beating out the HOF by nearly 3 FPS (or almost 10%), while falling behind the 390 by about 5 FPS or almost 15%. Still, 39 FPS in Crysis 3 on Ultra is a pretty good showing.

In Dirt: Rally, the 970 Extreme posts 57.9 FPS easily beating out the R9 390 by almost 20 FPS and 35%! It seems clear that this game, though it is an AMD ‘Gaming Evolved’ title, needs some optimization work on the AMD side. The 780 Ti powers through it though beating the 970 by around 8 FPS. Almost 60 FPS in Ultra? A good showing here.

Last up here is Metro: Last Light. In this title, the GIGABYTE 970 Extreme hits 54.7 FPS while beating everything else except that pesky 780 Ti.

Crysis 3, Dirt: Rally, and Metro: Last Light

Crysis 3, Dirt: Rally, and Metro: Last Light

Looking at some less stressful on the GPU titles, we start with Battlefield 4. Here the 970 Extreme shows 80 FPS just a hair behind the 390, and barely beating the HOF. That 780Ti is still leading the way.

In Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, the GIGABYTE 970 hits 83.6 FPS stock beating out the 390 by 2 FPS.

Last, but not least, is GTA V. Here the 970 manages 73.3 FPS easily beating out the R9 390 by nearly 6 FPS and falling behind the 780 Ti by around 5 FPS.

Battlefield 4, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and GTA V

Battlefield 4, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and GTA V

One last image, this is for 2560×1440 resolution. Outside of Crysis, everything is above the magic 30 FPS line for playability so you should be set on that resolution as well. Just keep an eye on vRAM use in certain titles to prevent going much over the 3.5 GB mark which can cause potential hitching due to increased access of the remaining 500 MB which is a lot slower.

I did not present the results at 5760×1080 since more than half of these titles dipped well below the 30 FPS threshold. You will want another 970 to drive that resolution properly, but you again can run into a vRAM issue so you need to be careful.

2560x1440 Results

2560×1440 Results

Temperatures & Power Consumption

Below we see the temperatures I read from our testing methods. Surprising to me was that the temperatures matched up across the board when overclocked and stock. So shocked was I, that I took the time to re-run the tests, but came up with the same data. The card ended up sitting idle at 37 °C and under load at 66 °C. The fan spun up to around 68% for 66 °C and was nearly inaudible.

Temperatures

Temperatures

On the power consumption side, during stock testing, I peaked at 270 W in 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme. After overclocking, that number went up about 22 W to 292 W peak (at the wall). While this card will likely use a bit more power since its clocks are high out of the gate, a quality 500 W PSU is still plenty for taking this card to its ambient cooled and stock BIOS limits. If you are going to get crazy and start modifying the BIOS and adding voltage over what you can already do, perhaps something more is in order.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Pushing the Limits

It’s here that I took the gloves off, rolled up my sleeves a bit, raised up the voltage and got to see where I landed. I managed to get the core stable at 1555 MHz (actual) @ 1.26 V (+54 mV), while I was pushing the memory (on stock voltage, mind you) to 1977 MHz. That seems to be just about the limit on the core. I had more voltage to go, but it just didn’t seem to respond to it. The power limits on this card were not even close to being capped which is a great thing. Most cards, you cannot raise it up much at all without hitting it and seeing throttling. I have to admit, I was looking for 1600 MHz on this card, but 1555 MHz was solid. I dug into the BIOS and it seems its power limit is something around 300 W which explains while at stock I was sitting around 65% of the power limit. Hopefully, NVIDIA will loosen their stranglehold on these partners with the power limit.

3DMark (Fire Strike) - 6,089

3DMark (Fire Strike) – 6,089

Unigine Heaven (Extreme) - 3,455.92

Unigine Heaven (Extreme) – 3,455.92

Conclusion

The GTX 970 has been out for quite some time, over a year, and new models from NVIDIA’s partners are still trickling out. The GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme promised to bring more robust power delivery, and binned GPU for better overclocking performance. It really feels like GIGABYTE looked squarely at its competitors in this enthusiast segment and wanted to play in the same sandbox. To keep it short and sweet, it looks like they met those high level goals. The power delivery is right up there with the 970 HOF I tested several months ago, and the clockspeeds too. Currently, it is one of the highest clocked GTX 970s available trailing only the Zotac cards and matching an EVGA SSC Gaming card. However, those cards do not have the power delivery this one does and I doubt they bin it as GIGABYTE states they are. For those that want to take the card cold, GIGABYTE has you covered and it comes with a conformal coating to help prevent moisture from reaching the electronics. This is, as far as I can recall, a unique feature for a video card.

But, it’s not all in the power delivery. You need to keep things cool. GIGABYTE keeps everything on the card cool with their Windforce cooling which has three fans to move cool air through the fin array. I though with the fans being smaller noise may be an issue after they spin up (remember they don’t turn on until 60 °C), but I could barely hear them with its default profile. As you saw above, temperatures were kept in check at the same default fan profile coming in at 66 °C. Seems like the Windforce cooler is doing its job!

If I were to register an issue with the card, it is the fact that it does not have a dual BIOS. Though the power limits are pretty high already, BIOS flashing for this level of card is almost a given for the enthusiast and extreme overclocking crowd. I would have liked to have seen that option available.

Pricing on the GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme comes in at $379.99 (its MSRP) at Newegg. That Zotac with slightly higher clocks comes in at a mind blowing $649 (3rd party seller raking people over the coals), while the EVGA comes in a bit lower at $349.99. That EVGA is only using a 6 phase setup, the Zotac though has some ‘power boost’ caps on the back (not sure on power phases… other reviews curiously do not mention that). It is even more robust than the mighty 970 HOF!! Outside of that outlandishly priced Zotac AMP!, and the ASUS Strix for $386 (also 3rd party), this is the next highest priced GTX 970. That said, its default clockspeed and boost are the highest outside of the Zotac offerings. Which means out of the box, it should be the fastest GTX 970 (again minus that incredibly overpriced Zotac). With the great aftermarket cooling, both effective and quiet, the souped up power delivery area and binning, the price point fits in among other GTX 970’s. If we take a look at the R9 390, one of its competitors, outside of Crysis 3, it is just as fast or faster performance wise. There are some R9 390’s on sale for $299, but most R9 390’s fall around the low to mid $300 range. I would like to see ALL GTX 970’s priced a bit lower to compete a bit better with these cards as the performance difference is, generally, not too much. I have seen articles today about NVIDIA dropping their prices too, so hopefully that is across the line.

If you are in the market for am appropriately priced, fastest, and hassle free GTX 970 out of the box, you just found it. If you are looking to overclock a GTX 970 to the limits and need the most robust solution to do so, look no further. The GIGABYTE GTX 970 Extreme is Overclockers.com approved.

What Does This Mean? Click to Find Out!

What Does This Mean? Click to Find Out!

– Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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Discussion
  1. I think that article was a pretty good read and very well writing. I learn a lot from it and I have not looked into a GTX 970 since I had the EVGA GTX 970 SSC model and return it to get my MSI R9 290X LE.
    I'm unsure on the price/performance for the model versus an R9 390 that can be mostly found for around $300 and then paying an additional 10-15% over that to get this 970 (which doesn't generally have a 10%+ difference in performance) compared to it as well as having significantly less VRAM. I suppose for those that must have nVidia, or are limited to 1080p with no plans of 4K or surround it isn't a bad purchase, just would be a lot better if 970s were regularly at or under $300.
    EarthDog


    Well, according to the BIOS editor, its power limit is 300W out of the box. IIRC, the max voltage out of the box was still the 87mv which brought it up to 1.26v(?). That is with an unedited BIOS. Not sure what its limits are if the BIOS is edited.


    Looks like standard. I guess that Nvidia won't let anyone to unlock higher voltage via software the same as it was with Kepler. Maybe BIOS will let it work higher but I think that within' Nvidia specs OCP/OVP will be the same as on most other cards. Hard to say without tests.
    magellan
    ED, after reading your article I'd be leaning towards buying your 780Ti.
    You are welcome to pay $80+ more for it if you choose: http://www.amazon.com/EVGA-GeForce-Dual-Link-Graphics-03G-P4-2881-KR/dp/B00GDIIIPW. That is also a previous generation flagship versus a next gen upper midrange card. 250W vs 145W, etc. Either would be a good choice, but I would prefer to have the newer card that uses less power and a smidge more 'fast' vram. If I needed more horsepower, I would get a GTX 980 for the same cost as a 780Ti (we are talking new here to keep apples to apples) and be a few % faster. I should have put one of our 980's in here for review instead of that card.

    Woomack
    Nice review :thup:

    I'm just wondering how high can be set voltage as most GTX970 have OCP/OVP pretty low and even after BIOS mods won't run much above 1.3V. I see there is conformal coating, that's why I'm curious if it's only for the looks and bonus feature or there is a point to pick this card for competitive benching.
    Well, according to the BIOS editor, its power limit is 300W out of the box. IIRC, the max voltage out of the box was still the 87mv which brought it up to 1.26v(?). That is with an unedited BIOS. Not sure what its limits are if the BIOS is edited.
    Nice review :thup:

    I'm just wondering how high can be set voltage as most GTX970 have OCP/OVP pretty low and even after BIOS mods won't run much above 1.3V. I see there is conformal coating, that's why I'm curious if it's only for the looks and bonus feature or there is a point to pick this card for competitive benching.