Today, we’re going to look at the ASUS Strix GTX 980 graphics card, which currently wears the “flagship” badge of their Maxwell based GPU offerings. The popularity of NVIDIA’s GTX 900 series graphics cards has been quite astounding, and it seems most enthusiasts can’t wait to get their hands on one. With the lower power consumption, great performance, and the affordable price they offer, it’s not difficult to see why these new graphics cards are so popular. As far as the ASUS Strix GTX 980 goes, we have all those attractive features, along with several more ASUS exclusive items. With the DirectCU II cooler and its 0dB fans, a factory applied overclock, and the renown DIGI+ VRM, we certainly appear to have a beast of a card on our hands here. Let’s go find out!
Specifications and Features
Having a look at the specifications table below, we see the factory overclock sits at 1178 MHz base and 1279 MHz boost. As is typical of NVIDIA graphics cards, the actual boost clock will be substantially higher than that once it’s under load. In the case of the Strix GTX 980, the actual boost clock turned out to be 1304 MHz. The 4 GB of GDDR5 memory is set to 7010 MHz effective, and that amount of onboard memory bodes well for multi-monitor applications. Unlike the reference design GTX 980, where two 6-pin power connectors are used, the Strix GTX 980 uses a 6-pin and an 8-pin for a little extra power delivery to the card. The extra power should help with overclocking as well. We’ll find out! Here are the specifications as pulled from the ASUS product page.
|Asus Strix GTX 980 Specifications|
|Graphics Engine||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980|
|Bus Standard||PCI Express 3.0|
|Video Memory||GDDR5 4GB|
|Engine Clock||GPU Boost Clock 1279 MHz
GPU Base Clock 1178 MHz
|Memory Clock||7010 MHz (Effective GDDR5)|
|Interface||DVI Output : Yes x 1 (DVI-I)
HDMI Output : Yes x 1 (HDMI 2.0)
Display Port : Yes x 3 (Regular DP)
HDCP Support : Yes
|Power Consumption||Up to 300W Additional 6+8 pin PCIe Power Required|
|Accessories||1x Power Cable|
|Software||ASUS GPU Tweak & Driver|
|Dimensions||11.36 ” x 5.3 ” x 1.61 ” Inch
28.86 x 13.44 x 4.09 Centimeter
A look at at the below GPU-Z screen shot validates the specifications above and adds a few more details about the NVIDIA GM204 GPU. We can see the factory overclock is 52 MHz base/63 MHz boost over the reference design cards. The memory is set to 1753 MHz (7012 MHz effective), which is just a slight bump over the reference design’s 1750 MHz (7000 MHz effective). The 4 GB of GDDR5 memory sits on a 256-bit interface and has a bandwidth of 224.4 GB/s. The card features 2048 CUDA cores, 32 ROPs, and 128 TMUs.
The DirectCU II cooler uses the ASUS 0dB fan technology, which means the fans remain off until the GPU temperature reaches the mid 60 °C range. This means less demanding game titles and multimedia tasks can be performed with no noise coming from the graphics card.
As you’ll see when we have a closer look at the Strix GTX 980, it’s built on a custom PCB that features a 10-phase power design. To make the best use of all that power, ASUS uses its DIGI+ VRM with Super Alloy Power design. This design is said to minimize power noise by 30% and improve efficiency by 15%. Stability and longevity are said to be 2.5X greater than reference design cards as well.
On the software side, GPU Tweak provides overclocking and monitoring capabilities. Also available is GPU Tweak Streaming for sharing game play in real time over the internet.
There is a lot more to the Strix GTX 980 than what we’ve covered so far, so let’s get the box on the workbench and have a look!
The retail packaging is colorful, informative, and does an excellent job of keeping the product protected during transportation. The DirectCU II cooler is highlighted on the front, along with mention of a few high level features. Around back is a more detailed look at the features and a breakdown of the I/O area. All told, a nice presentation.
Inside the outer carton is a black box that houses the contents. Once that is opened, the accessory package sits on top with the Strix GTX 980 resting below. The accessories include the user manual, support CD, and one power adapter cable. Also included is two sets of stickers (red or black) you can apply to the shroud for a bit of added color.
Before we perform our customary surgical procedures on the Strix GTX 980, here are a few pictures from various angles. You might notice that ASUS includes a backplate, which is a welcome sight. As typical with most ASUS enthusiast graphics cards, the color scheme is predominantly black and red.
The ASUS Strix GTX 980 Up Close
As we mentioned earlier, the Strix requires an 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-E power lead from your PSU. If you look closely at the first picture below, you can see the power sockets are in a position reversed from what we normally see here. The idea is to make access to the power cable’s release latch much easier. Just below the power sockets are two LEDs per connector. When the power cables are properly connected, the LEDs will illuminate white. If one or both are not properly connected, the LEDs will illuminate red.
At the opposite end of the card and along the top, we find the two SLI bridge connections. With a supporting motherboard, the Strix GTX 980 will support up to quad-SLI.
Removing the DirectCU II cooler reveals five copper heatpipes with the center three making direct contact with the GPU core. The outer two heatpipes will still grab heat from the block and help keep things cool. The heatpipes all travel through the block and then weave through their assigned position in the aluminum fin stack. When holding the cooler in your hands, it feels solid and well constructed. The TIM was found to be well applied and making excellent contact with both the GPU core and copper heatpipe area.
Removing the shroud gives us a good look at the top side of the heatsink. It’s worth noting that the shroud itself is made from metal… no cheapo plastic shroud here folks! Measuring across the fan blades, we came up with right at 92 mm for the fan size. As we mentioned before, the 0dB fan technology keeps the fans off until the GPU core temperature reaches the mid 60 °C range. ASUS relies on this version of the DirectCU II cooler to work well as a passive heatsink to ensure silent operation during less demanding tasks. Given how stout the heatsink is, it certainly appears able to deliver in that regard.
There are two items that add to the cards rigidity, the first being the backplate. The backplate not only offers PCB rigidity, but also adds a layer of protection to the back of the PCB. The bracket that runs across the top of the card is affixed to the backplate with two screws and the I/O bracket with two more screws.
With the PCB stripped, the first thing we notice is a heatsink that covers the MOSFET area. It’s positioned so the rearmost fan will provide a good amount of airflow over the span of the heatsink.
The Strix GTX 980 has an all digital 10-phase (8-GPU/2-Memory) power design, which is twice that of the 5-phase design found on the reference design cards. The DIGI+ VRM controller is found at the rear of the PCB and handles voltage regulation duties. The last picture below shows the NVIDIA GM204 GPU core and a few of the Samsung K4G41325FC-HC28 GDDR5 memory modules.
Display connectivity consists of one Dual Layer DVI-I, three full size DisplayPort, and one HDMI connectors. Having three available DisplayPort connections is important because for the first time, you now have the ability to run NVIDIA Surround with three G-Sync monitors from a single graphics card.
Performance and Overclocking
|Test System Components|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VII Formula|
|CPU||Intel i7 4790K Devil’s Canyon|
|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 Strix GTX 980|
|Cooling||EKWB Supremacy EVO Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
For comparison samples, we’ve got a good selection to choose from today. We’ll include the recently reviewed EVGA GTX 980 Superclocked, a GTX 780 Ti, and a couple AMD cards as well. 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
- 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.
- 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 is a full-featured desktop application that provides the means to get the most from your graphics card. It offers overclocking capabilities, a plethora of real-time monitoring, and an integrated GPU-Z screen for checking the specifications of the GPU. You also have the ability to save up to six profiles.
The monitoring options are pretty detailed as you can see by the pictures below. Temperature, clock speeds, power target percentage, and GPU and memory clock information are just some of the monitoring capabilities offered here. The integrated GPU-Z screen offers at-a-glance information on the specifications of the installed graphics card.
The main area of GPU Tweak is where you’ll find all the overclocking options. Depending on the actual graphics card you have, the overclocking options will vary. In the case of the Strix GTX 980, we have GPU voltage control, power target, temperature target, and clock speed adjustments for the GPU and memory. You also have the ability to control fan speed manually or via a user defined option. The user defined fan control option lets you choose fan speed percentage based off temperature values.
The rest of the areas within GPU Tweak are pretty self explanatory by looking at the slideshow below. You have a Live Update option and the Settings option to configure the GUI and behavior of the utility.
Using GPU Tweak and enabling its “Overclocking Range Enhancement” option, we achieved a 24/7 stable overclock of 1375 MHz base/1476 boost on the GPU and 1950 MHz (7800 MHz effective) on the memory. The actual GPU boost clock held consistent at 1501 MHz during the benchmark runs. A 24/7 stable overclock means absolutely no hint of artifacts, stuttering, or any other annoyance.
As we move into the synthetic testing, you’ll see the ASUS Strix GTX 980 falling just behind the EGA GTX 980 Superclocked because of its lower factory applied overclock. However, I was able to get a higher 24/7 stable overclock on the Strix GTX 980 than I was able to achieve on its EVGA counterpart. The custom PCB and its additional power phases no doubt played a part in that. The Strix GTX 980 performed well in the synthetic benchmarks and beat out the GTX 780 Ti in all but the HWBot Heaven test. As you can tell by the results below, the Strix GTX 980 scaled extremely well when overclocked.
Having a look at the game benchmarks, we see the same pattern as above. The Strix GTX 980 swapped blows with the GTX 980 Ti and held tight to the higher clocked EVGA GTX 980 Superclocked. Again, we see great scaling when the Strix GTX 980 is overclocked.
We took five of our more popular game titles and ran them through NVIDIA Surround testing. The testing again shows a similar pattern with the Strix GTX 980 falling just a tad behind the higher clocked EVGA GTX 980 Superclocked, no surprise there. The GTX 780 Ti and Strix GTX 980 went back and forth here, as expected.
No complaints on the benchmark front as the Strix GTX 980 performed just as it should. As a side note, I went back and checked the Strix GTX 980 overclocked scores against those of the overclocked EVGA GTX 980 Superclocked and found the Strix GTX 980 coming out on top in every benchmark. This, of course, is due to the higher 24/7 stable overclock we were able to achieve with the Strix GTX 980. So, while at stock speed it may fall a tad behind the EVGA card, that can easily be overcome because of the better overclocking we found it to offer.
Power Consumption and Temperature Testing
The low power consumption of Maxwell based GPUs continues to impress. Overclocked and under full load, the highest total system power draw was a mere 328 watts. With power consumption like that, there is no need to purchase a mega-watt power supply in order to run this card. Heck, I would venture to say a good quality 550 watt PSU might be considered borderline overkill. Impressive stuff!
The DirectCU II cooler works extremely well as you can tell by the graph below. Less GPU intensive applications will allow the fans to stay completely off, which is a testament to how well the DirectCU II cooler works passively. Even leaving fan control on the auto setting resulted in temperatures staying below 70 °C. Ramping up the fans to 100% never allowed the temperatures to exceed the mid 50 °C range. With the fan speed set to 100%, the noise level is still acceptable and not so loud as to be overly annoying.
Pushing the Limits
The Strix GTX 980 was eager to keep on going and landed at a GPU clock speed of 1400 MHz base/1501 MHz boost, which resulted in an actual boost clock speed of 1525 MHz. On the memory side, we were able to get the memory set to 2000 MHz (8000 MHz effective). Couple that stout GPU overclock with a system overclock of 4.8 GHz, and we achieved a 3DMark Fire Strike score of 13552. The Custom PCB with added power phases really paid dividends when compared to the reference design PCB. Color me impressed with the Strix GTX 980 overclocking prowess.
The Strix GTX 980 proved to be an excellent offering by ASUS. Everything, including build quality, overclocking, and performance of the DirectCU II cooler all proved to be top notch. As far as pricing goes, the ASUS Strix GTX 980 sells for $579 at Newegg, which lands it right it the sweet spot for similar offerings.
Even though the Strix GTX 980 might not have the highest factory overclock out there, the beefed up power delivery components allow you to stretch the performance level well beyond its factory settings. Anytime you can get a GPU clock speed over 1500 MHz boost and a memory setting of 2000 MHz (8000 MHz effective), you’re onto something!
Wrapping things up here, the ASUS Strix GTX 980 performs great, overclocks even better, and has a cooler in the DirectCU II that’s up to the challenge of keeping temperatures under control. What’s there not to like?