Table of Contents
Today we get a chance to review another Maxwell based GPU. Thankfully, we have moved on from the teaser Maxwell in the GTX 750 Ti and on to the big boys in the GTX 970 and 980 (but likely not the biggest!). NVIDIA has made some significant changes to this architecture including, but not limited to, much lower power consumption and more efficient use of the available shaders, and also memory throughput (via compression). In my hands is a GALAX (formerly Galaxy) GTX 980 SOC, or Super Overclocked to be precise. This card takes NVIDIA’s reference design to another level with a more robust power delivery area and better cooler to name a couple of things. It’s time to take her out for a test drive and see if we can melt the rubber down to the rims!
Specifications and Features
Lvcoyote went over some details of the Maxwell architecture in his first GTX 980 review, so I will not go into too many details on that front. Just know that NVIDIA, being stuck on the 28nm process, really had to work on some things related to the architectural side (as will AMD, assuming they are still stuck on the 28nm process upon their new line’s release). We haven’t seen a recent die shrink from TSMC on large dies, but they are using 20nm process on the SoC devices. Hopefully we will see that trickle down to large silicon like GPU dies soon enough. For now though, we have the 2nd generation (I use generation loosely) Maxwell chip on 28nm process. Perhaps there will be a die shrink in the middle of the generation, and we can look forward to something like the GTX 260 and GTX 260 55nm core 216 which was a bit more powerful and tended to run a lot cooler being on the smaller process node.
Whatever magic NVIDIA put into the GM204 cores really seems to work… just take a look at the specifications to see it. The GTX 780 Ti has 2880 CUDA cores while the GTX 980 sports 2048! ROPs and Texture units are also lower as you would expect with the core change. They now sit at 64 and 128 respectively, compared to 48 and 240 on the GTX 780 Ti. Amazing what technical tweaks alone can do when they are not being piggy backed on the almost ‘native’ performance increases due to a node shrink, isn’t it?
The core clocks on the GALAX GTX 980 SOC come in at 1,228 MHz base with a boost clock of 1,329 MHz. In my testing I found the actual boost to be at 1,354 MHz. The 4096 MB memory comes in at 1,753 MHz or an effective rate of 7,010 MHz and sits on a 256-bit bus. The 256-bit bus sounds a bit low for what is currently a flagship part, but due to NVIDIA’s latest update to its memory compression algorithmss (called Delta Color Compression), it allows for almost 25% more compression than the Kepler based cards. Benchmarks are still seeing a bit of a difference at 4K resolutions compared with AMD cards and their 512-bit bus as the gap at lower resolutions tends to shrink at 4K. That isn’t to say its a slouch, far from it. But that gap does shrink and the bandwidth could be part of that reason, especially when using copious amounts of AA at 4K resolution.
This GALAX offering comes in at a little over 11″ long, almost 5″ tall and a mere 1.6″ wide. Its cooler makes the card a dual slot solution, which is great to see in a landscape of high end (last generation) cards with triple slot solutions to keep temperatures under control. This cooler, which we will get into more detail of later, uses three 80 mm fans that blow cool air down through a five heatpipe heastink. I have to admit, I am a bit worried about the noise of the smaller fans, but time will tell on that front. One of the great things about these efficiency improvements is the considerable amount of power difference between the last generation Kepler based GTX 780/780 Ti cards. If you remember, those were sitting with a TDP of 250 watts. The GTX 980 now has a 165W TDP. Amazing. And with that, the Power Supply requirements are down to 500 watts (always a quality PSU!!!). Below is a list of specifications for this card from the GALAX website.
|Galax GTX 980 SOC Specifications|
|GPU Engine Specs:|
|Base Clock (MHz)||1228|
|Boost Clock (MHz)||1329 (1354 MHz actual)|
|Memory Speed||3505 (7010) MHz|
|Standard Memory Config||4096MB|
|Memory Interface Width||256-bit GDDR5|
|Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)||224|
|Bus Support||PCI-E 3.0|
|Certified for Windows 8||Yes|
|Supported Technologies||GPU Boost 2.0, 3D Vision, CUDA, DirectX 12, PhysX, TXAA, Adaptive VSync, FXAA, 3D Vision Surround, SLI-ready|
|Multi Monitor||4 displays|
|Maximum Digital Resolution||4096×2160|
|Maximum VGA Resolution||2048×1536|
|Standard Display Connectors||Dual Link DVI x1, HDMI x1, DisplayPort 1.2 x3|
|Audio Input for HDMI||Internal|
|Standard Graphics Card Dimensions:|
|Length||11.1 Inches (281mm)|
|Maximum Graphics Card Power (W)||165W|
|Minimum System Power Requirement (W)||500W|
|Supplementary Power Connectors||Two 8-pin|
Listed below are a few of the high level features. I went ahead and added in some NVIDIA Maxwell tweaks which all Maxwell “2” based cards should have.
- 1329 MHz factory overclock delivers visible gains in gaming performance
- Advanced triple fan cooler with 5 heat pipes keeps both temps and noise to a minimum
- Custom 8-layer black PCB ensures optimum signal routing
- Five nickel-plated heat pipes provide maximum cooling efficiency and heat transfer
- Anodized Aluminum Backplate protects components and reinforces PCB
- Pure Digital PWM for precision control with superior accuracy
- *Muli-Frame Sampled Anti-Alaising (MFAA)
- *Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR)
- *Voxel Global Illumination (VXGI)
- *NVIDIA G-Sync Ready
- *DX12 Support, Open GL 4.4, D3D 11.3
- *HDMI3 (4K resolution at 60Hz over HDMI)
* = NVIDIA feature, not card specific
The Features below are specific to the GALAX GTX 980 SOC starting out with its International Rectifier (IR) 3595 8-Phase Digital PWM. IR is know for their high quality (in this case digital) power bits in motherboards, so its nice to see these trickle down into GPUs. The GALAX GTX 980 SOC uses an 8-phase power design (6+2) versus the 5-phase found on reference design cards.
Coupled with the IR 3595, they also use high frequency inductors that can support up to 70A output, MLCC (Multi-Layer Ceramic Capacitor) caps, and SP-caps (Special Polymer Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors) along with an 8-layer PCB. These are significant improvements over reference models.
The heatsink they use is also an improvement over the reference blower. It starts out with a nickel plated copper base which has five heatpipes snaking their way through the fin array. In order to get the heat out of the heatsink, they use three red transparent 80 mm fans to do the job. In their own internal testing, GALAX saw drops of 9 °C at load over the reference blower… not too bad!
Below is our gratuitous GPU-Z screen shot confirming the specifications.
Photo Op – Meet the GALAX GTX 980 SOC
This is our first chance to see the new GALAX retail packaging, and we see it has a grey background with a silhouette of a head with a phrase, “What’s your game?” across the center. On the front, it has the name of of card at the bottom right and the version at the bottom left. In this case, its a SOC or Super Overclocked version. Turning the box around GALAX shows what is included inside as well as some marketing goodies. Per usual, there wasn’t much to see on the top or the bottom except the key features and system recommendations.
Inside the retail packaging is the typical box in a box setup. There is a layer of foam on top, and when removed exposes the card and included accessories inside. The card sits inside an anti-static bag held snug inside the foam. As far as the accessories go, there is a typical driver disk, instructions, DVI to VGA adapter, and two Molex to 6+2 PCIe connectors. All you need to get going.
After taking the card out of the box, we can see GALAX’s new cooler shroud design is a bit more reserved than Galaxy’s past style. That isn’t to say it was bad, it was not, but I do believe this look will appeal to a larger audience. One of the first things we see are the three red 80 mm fans that will shoulder the load of getting the heat out of the card. Around them, the shroud is black and grey. I do like this style better overall.
Flipping the card around we see it uses a black backplate covering all but the middle of where the GPU core rests. There is the “Gamer” nomenclature around the VRM area, and a CAUTION HOT SURFACE message (which is more for show than a true warning). You can see the hint of two 8-pin power connectors that will be required, and the two SLI bridges for quad-SLI capabilities. Last here, the next four pictures are of the front of the card from different angles. On the top, there is a metal plate that says “Gamer” on it, which they say is customizable. I would imagine this means going to the GALAX website and purchasing a custom plate, which is a pretty unique feature that could go a long way in the custom modding community too.
A Closer Look
Moving on to the I/O area, we can see only one DVI-D, three DisplayPort, and one HDMI connections. The HDMI port now supports version 2.0, which will allow one to use a 4K 60 Hz display. This is also “full” support and not the patched in version (driver) that had to use sub-sampling to fit within the bandwidth limitations of earlier HDMI versions.
The next picture shows the two required 8-pin PCIe connections to power the card. Not that it would come close to using it without BIOS and hardware mods, but with the two 8-pin connectors, that’s 325 watts of power.
Next we took the heatsink off the card to show how it works its magic. I stated up in the Specifications and Features section that GALAX uses a five heatpipe setup with a nickle plated copper base and a dense fin array to help get the heat away from the GPU core. The memory and VRMs are cooled by their own heatsinks mounted to the PCB. In order to get the heat away from all those heatsinks, the three 80mm ball bearing fans are tasked to do the job and do it well.
One thing to note on this sample is that the memory heatsink wasn’t making good contact with the Samsung ram IC’s. I was able to put it back on and tighten things down which it then had more appropriate contact.
The next set of pictures show the card broken down. The first is with just the heatsink and fans removed exposing the MOSFET and ram heatsinks still attached. This is your first glimpse of the 8-phase (6+2 GPU and memory) setup used here. Moving on, we take those heatsinks off now showing everything it’s made of. The last picture is of the backside of the card without the backplate.
I swear, its a GM204 core… and this picture proves it! Following that up with a different angle of the power bits.
Monitoring/Overclocking Software – XtremeTuner
We are all familiar by now with the Xtreme Tuner software which is GALAX’s tool used to control and monitor the card. It will handle your overclocking needs with core, memory, power limit, and voltage adjustments. I never had any functionality issues with it, and still find it pretty easy to use. But, one thing about it is its size. By default its around 13xx x 7xx so its take up a bit of real estate.
Performance and Benchmarks
- Intel i7 4770K @ 4 GHz, 1.1 V
- MSI Z97 XPower AC
- Kingston Hyper X Predator 2 x 4 GB 2666 MHz CL11 @ 1866 MHz 9-9-9-24
- 240 GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD
- Seasonic 1000 W PSU
- Galax GTX 908 SOC @ 1228 MHz core (1354 MHz actual boost) / 1753 MHz Memory, and Overclocked @ 1328 MHz (1456 MHz actual boost) / 1905 MHz memory
- Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
- NVIDIA 344.16 WHQL
Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to the OCF reviews).
- GALAX GTX 980 SOC
- MSI R9 290x Lightning
- MSI GTX 780 Lightning
- Galaxy GTX 780 Ti HOF
- HIS R9 290 IPower IceQ X2 OC
Note all testing below uses 1920×1080 screen resolution (settings also carry over to Surround/Eyefinity testing if applicable).
- All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
- 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)
- Bioshock: Infinite – Ultra DX11, DDOF (through Steam – option # 2, then option #1 assuming your are at 1080p)
- Batman: Arkham Origin – 8xMSAA, Geometry Details/Dynamic Shadows/DOF/Ambient Occlusion: DX11 Advanced, Hardware PhysX: OFF, the rest On or High
- Grid 2 – 8xMSAA, Ultra defaults + Soft Ambient Occlusion: ON
- Final Fantasy XIV:ARR – Default Maximum setting
- More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures
Moving into the performance section, I’ll keep with tradition and start out showing 3DMark Vantage. With these high end cards on an older benchmark like this, we won’t see too much of a difference in scores. That said the GALAX GTX 980 SOC broke the 44K mark with 44,036. A great showing, beating all but the GTX 780 TI HOF, a mere margin of error behind it, and the 780 Lightning with a surprising statistical tie.
In 3DMark11, things are a bit different here. The GALAX offering beating the most of the pack posting a score of 16,177 marks. It beat the GX 780 Ti by almost 10% and matched the GTX 780 Lightning again.
Next up, we use the latest Futuremark video card benchmarks in 3DMark Fire Strike. Here things fall into line as one would expect in that the GTX 980 SOC does take out the rest of the field, and by quite a bit in some cases. It scored 11,715, taking out the GTX 780 Ti by over 11% and the R9 290X Lightning by over 15%.
Moving on to Unigin Heaven (Hwbot version – Extreme), the GTX 980 SOC scores 3,468.5 points, which beat the R9 290X Lightning by almost 7% and came in over 2% behind the GTX 780 Ti HOF surprisingly enough.
Sythentics, done! It’s game time! Our first will be Bioshock: Infinite. Even with the settings cranked in game, all cards are darn close, or well over 100 FPS. Its amazing the power these cards have in them really. That said, the GTX 980 SOC ran at 132.6 FPS at stock beating the most of its graph mates by quite a bit, with the GTX 780 Ti being only a few frames behind. Overclocking the card yielded just over a 7% increase, which is a nice bonus.
In Batman:Arkham Origins, again we sit over 1oo FPS gobbling up data and spitting it out to the tune of 121 FPS, barely beating the GTX 780 Ti but making short work of the R9 290X by 13 FPS. Overclokcing here gave us 10 free FPS, or a 7% again.
Last in this graph is Grid 2. The GTX 980 SOC churned through frames at the rate of 140.7 per second here. It did the best so far against the GTX 780 Ti, working it over by 11 FPS and the R9 290X by 25 FPS. When we overclocked, we managed a 12 FPS increase, or nearly 8%. Solid results regardless, and we are seeing some nice scaling when overclocking.
Now its time to move on to something that gives the GPU a bit more of a workout. With that you now ask, “Can it play Crysis 3?” and the answer is yes at a clip of nearly 41 FPS, matching the GTX 780 Ti and the R9 290X for all intents and purposes. Overclocking sped things up by over 6% here, or around 3 FPS.
Next, the GTX 980 SOC took on Metro: Last Light. It churning through frames at 56 per second matching the GTX 780 Ti and holds the lead over the R9 290X by nearly 6 FPS, so a solid showing again. Overclocking here saw a nice boost of 6 FPS or almost 10%.
Last up is the game I play, the favorite among all those tested, Battlefield 4. All cards make easy work of this title now, with the GTX 980 SOC hitting an average of 94.1 FPS at stock, easily beating the GTX 780 Ti and the R9 290X by 7 and 16 FPS respectively.
Last, but not least, is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Things again fall into place with the GALAX GTX 980 SOC scoring 17,438 points and beating the pack.
Overall, the GTX 980 SOC matches or beats the GTX 780Ti and R9 290X by varying levels with it being a lot closer to the GTX 780 Ti than the R9 290X. Granted, the GTX 780 Ti used was one of the highest overclocked out of the box, but it is what it is. The R9 290X is close in a title or two, but then mainly is just shut down by the GTX 980 SOC, especially one like this that is highly overclocked out of the box. Testing at only 1080p with these high performance flagship cards, they hardly get a chance to flex their muscles. While its clear they perform incredibly well at 1080p, I think a sweet spot is at the 2560×1600/1440 level with 4K single card still being a out of reach without some IQ sacrifices.
NVIDIA Surround Testing
But not so fast in the labeling department! I had a chance to put a bit more stress on the GTX 980 SOC and run it in NVIDIA Surround with 3x 1920×1080 monitors, making the resolution 5760×1080. The players in this game are switched up a bit, and we used the data from other GTX 980s we have reviewed. The ASUS Strix 980, and the EVGA 980 SC ACX 2.0. The GTX 780 Ti is the EVGA Classified, and the R9 290X was the ASUS Matrix.
Metro and especially Crysis 3 I wouldn’t call playable with the GTX 980 SOC posting 22.9 and 16.1 FPS respectively. This was negligibly better than what the rest of the round up performed. In Bioshock, it managed a very playable 55.1 FPS average, again beating out the rest. Battlefield 4 was a slightly different story with the GTX 980 SOC churning out 39.7 FPS and matching the R9 290x and barely beating out the GTX 780 Ti. The last game tested in Surround was Batman:AO where the GALAX GTX 980 SOC averaged 47 FPS. We saw good scaling at 1080p and that trend didn’t change here. With moving up to a more GPU dependent resolution, we saw slightly better scaling in fact.
Pushing the Limits
Alllriiight… let’s get the party started and see what this baby can do! I started out pushing things in 3DMark Fire Strike, I just went for it this time and pushed the power limit to 122% and the voltage +87mv to end up with an actual load voltage of 1.26v. I inched up the core and managed 1,554 MHz (boost clock) stable there. Next I took on the memory and hit 1998 MHz with zero voltage bumps (cannot control memory voltage with XT+ or MSI Afterburner). When I ran Fire Strike, the power use peaked at 107% so its nice to see some headroom available there. Just wishing for more volts now! About 1.3 V would be nice considering in a 20 °C ambient room the GTX 980 SOC’s fans at 100% kept the temperatures no higher than 68 °C. Huffing and puffing aside, take a look at the result when swapping boards and pairing it with a nicely clocked 5820K (4.589 GHz).
I also threw in a little 3DMark 11 and Unigine Heaven for kicks. Enjoy!
Cooling and Power Consumption
So how did that cooler perform? I’ll first let the cat out of the bag about my concern of noise with three ‘smaller’ fans… and there is no reason to be concerned. These fans are whisper quiet at stock, and when they ramp up, do not get much louder. If you are benchmarking or for some reason need to crank them, you will surely hear them, but they are overall pretty quiet. In this testing, we reached a peak temperature of 71C with around 70% fan (auto setting). Plenty of cooling power and pretty quiet to boot! With the power envelope being lower, it has to make it a bit easier to keep things cooler on these cards.
As I tried to segue above into the power consumption, NVIDIA has these cards out at 165W TDP, an astounding 85 watts and 33% less than the GTX 780 Ti and R9 290X. This line of card simply sips on the power and performs better on top of it all. In our testing, I managed to hit a peak of 325W… at the wall. So, under 300 watts in actual wattage consumed by the PC. Quite simply, amazing to me. A quality 500 watt power supply will be plenty to power this card and a CPU of your choice, both overclocked. If this trend keeps up, the only reason for more than an 850 watt PSU will be for 3 card configurations.
As always, good things must come to an end. And with that, the GALAX GTX 980 SOC review is over, and we found something great. They took something good in NVIDIA’s reference GTX 980 design and expanded upon it by giving it more power phases and higher quality power bits, which should allow for some good overclocking. GALAX took the effective but loud blower style cooler of the reference card and put their own five pipe, three fan heatsink on top of it. It not only improved cooling capacity, but the noise levels too.
I can’t think of any real negatives on the card outside of wanting a dual BIOS for the enthusiasts that may want to push on further with BIOS modifications. Perhaps with a HOF version…?
Pricing on this unit is $569.99 MSRP and can be found currently at Galax’s new online store for that price. If we look around newegg.com for where it fits in the pricing structure, we can see it fits near the low end with $549 being the lowest, and a whopping $629.99 for a highly overclocked reference model being the highest. Comparable models like the EVGA Superclocked come it at $10 more with a slightly higher factory overclock, while the MSI Gaming GTX 980 is the same price with a lesser factory overclock. That being said, we can see the price point is where it should be. If you are looking for a GTX 980 that is a step or two up from reference, holds a beefy factory overclock and offers superior cooling while being quieter than reference, you need not look any further than the GALAX GTX 980 SOC. This card is Overclockers.com approved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)