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GTX 980Ti: buy a cheap reference model and replace cooler for better o'clocking?

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magellan

Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2002
Arctic Cooling makes some pretty beefy water and air coolers for various video cards (incl. the GTX 980Ti). I know the stock reference coolers are really weak and even worse for cooling the VRM's. Would it be worthwhile to pick up a cheap reference design GTX 980Ti and then pair it w/an Arctic Cooling Extreme IV air cooler (rated to cool up to 300 Watts)?

Would this and a modified BIOS provide the capability of overclocking to the same levels as the non-reference design GTX 980Ti's? I was thinking the whole project might be doable for < 400 bones and I might be able to re-use the Arctic Cooling Extreme IV when I inevitably upgrade to something better.
 

Tír na nÓg

Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2015
Depends on the non-reference design, the chip quality and the overclock you aim at.

A Lightning or a Classy/KingPin have better power delivery circuitry and binned chip.

A lot of non reference have better VRM's but a non-binned chip that would not allow higher clocks than standard VRM's unless you go cold.

Some reference PCB's have good chip and will allow very high OC under ambient concition (like my 780ti).

Unless you go for a Lightning or a Classy/Kingpin, it's luck of the draw. Better air cooler might allow a slightly better OC than the reference, without the noise!
 
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magellan

Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2002
I had thought reference designs usually hit their thermal limits before their power limits?
 

Woomack

Benching Team Leader
Joined
Jan 2, 2005
I don't remember exactly when Lightnings had better binned chips but it was before HD7970 as I remember. In last series most Lightnings had worse ASIC than reference cards and many users were complaining. Not to mention that MSI put warranty stickers so you get a card designed for extreme overclocking but when you change cooling then you lose warranty.

The only better graphics series which has really binned chips for better overclocking is EVGA Classified/KPE. All other cards are so random that often reference cards are better. In GTX1000 there is no ASIC anymore but in GTX900 series it was so random that you couldn't make any rules regarding overclocking and graphics card series. The only difference was that non-reference cards sometimes had unlocked voltage adjustment above some point and disabled OCP/OVP. Who cares if you can set 2V on gpu when OCP/OVP will shut down card at 1.3V.
Power delivery is good only for marketing so they can add next line to the product description. In last series even standard power section supports high overvoltage so it really doesn't matter if card has 5, 10 or 20 phases till you start benching on LN2.

Going back to GTX900 series. If you can get it cheap then it won't make big difference what version it is. To overclock it high you have to modify BIOS anyway. Some series like ASUS Strix often cost as much as reference ( depends what store ).
 
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magellan

Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2002
Are reference cards usually more expensive than non-reference? I thought it was exactly the opposite?

I saw some overclocking results on a reference design 980Ti and the author concluded the card was hitting its thermal limit before its power limit so he couldn't get that much out of it -- because raising voltages just made the card hit its thermal limit faster.
 

Janus67

Benching Team Leader
Joined
May 29, 2005
Are reference cards usually more expensive than non-reference? I thought it was exactly the opposite?

I saw some overclocking results on a reference design 980Ti and the author concluded the card was hitting its thermal limit before its power limit so he couldn't get that much out of it -- because raising voltages just made the card hit its thermal limit faster.

No, until the nvidia 10-series the reference cards were almost always cheaper.