MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G Video Card Review

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Today, you will be reading about one of the fastest single GPU cards that NVIDIA has put out in its history – the GTX 980 Ti. And also what its partner, MSI, has done to improve upon the reference model. The GTX 980 Ti is a peculiar card in a very positive way for consumers, because of its overall performance being so close to the mighty Titan X, yet the cost is about 33% less. With the previous Titan, its very high cost could be accepted by consumers because of its ability to switch into double precision mode for better compute performance, typically in business applications. But the Titan X does not have this ability and it still has the high price tag. In comes the GTX 980 Ti.

MSI took the reference model and decided to give it a stronger heart by fortifying its VRM area, improving upon its cooling and noise footprint with the Twin Frozr V cooler, and ratcheted up the performance by providing a beefy factory applied overclock. Mix that all together, and you have the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G. Well, enough of the high level teaser, let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?

Specifications and Features

Below we start out with the specifications table, you can find the same information (and more) at the MSI website. I’m sure we have all read the launch day review for those lucky enough to receive one from NVIDIA, but we’ll go over some of the high level specifications too.

First off, this is the same GM200 core found on the Titan X, except it was chopped down a bit for this application. The GTX 980 Ti comes with 2,816 shader units, on 96 ROPs and 176 TMUs. The 6GB (6,144MB to be exact) of GDDR5 vRAM sits on a 384-bit bus making for a total of 340.6GB/s bandwidth.

Speaking of clocks, the core comes in at 1178 MHz (a big 178 MHz difference over reference) with a minimum boost of 1279 MHz. In my testing, I found the card to boost up consistently to 1354 MHz with occasional blips to 1380 MHz with everything left at stock. The memory speed is 1774 MHz (7010 GDDR5) giving you that 340GB/s value I mentioned above.

Board power on the card sits around the 250W mark. MSI recommends a 400W power supply that has the required two 8-pin PCIe power connectors. I can certainly agree with that value on the Intel side of things, but you may be getting a bit too close for comfort on an AMD machine. Particularly the more power hungry FX series and overclocking them. We will see what I pulled from the wall a bit later in the review to see if my initial concerns are warranted, or off the mark.

If history is any sign of performance, the Twin Frozr V (TFV moving forward) cooler should get the job done well and quietly. The fans even stay off until the GPU temperature reaches 60 °C. The TFV cooler/card is only a bit over 1.5″ wide (double slot) so there is ample room if you want to stuff a couple of these into your PC.

Please check out the specifications table below for all the details.

MSI GTX 980Ti Gaming 6G Specifcations
Graphics Engine NVIDIA Geforce GTX 980Ti
Bus Standard PCI Express x16 3.0
Memory Type GDDR5
Memory Size (MB) 6144
Memory Interface 384 bits
Core Clock (MHz) 1279 MHz / 1178 MHz (OC Mode)
1228 MHz / 1140 MHz (Gaming Mode)
1076 MHz / 1000 MHz (Silent Mode)
Memory Clock (MHz) 7010 / 7100 (OC Mode)

Maximum Displays

Outputs (DVI/HDMI/DP)

 

4
1 (Dual-link DVI-I), Max Res: 2560 x 1600 @60 Hz.
1 (HDMI version 1.4a/2.0)
Max Res: 4096×2160 @24 Hz (1.4a), 3840×2160 @60 Hz
3 DP (version 1.2)
Max Resolution: 4096×2160 @60 Hz
Multi-GPU Technology SLI, 4-way
Power consumption (W) / Recommended Power Supply (W) / Power Connectors 250W / 400W / 8-pin x2
HDCP / HDMI / DL-DVI Support Yes (all three)
Accessories 1x 8-pin Power Cable, 1x DVI to VGA Dongle
DirectX / OpenGL Version Support DX12 / Open GL 4.4
Card Dimensions (mm) 269 x 140 x 40mm (10.59″ x 5.51″ x 1.57″)
Weight 1068g (2.35 lbs)

Some major features that MSI wants to share with you are listed below (images sourced from MSI website).

First is that TFV cooler I was talking about earlier. Since this is the Gaming line, we are graced with the red and black theme that should be recognizable to those that know the MSI branding. MSI says its smaller, uses stronger fans, generates less noise, and keeps the card and its components cooler. The TF line has always worked well in my experience, and I don’t see a reason for that to change with this one.

Taking a slightly deeper dive into that TFV cooler, one of its features is the Zero fan. This keeps the fans off below 60 °C, which keeps things quiet for basic PC functions. You will notice that the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G uses the Torx fan, which is a combination of a traditional fan blade (blows down primarily), and a ‘dispersion’ fan blade to help generate “more airflow to maximize air dissipation to the heatsink.” This dispersion blade is said to generate “19% more airflow without increasing drag”, which helps to keep the fans doing their thing quietly. The heatsink even has airflow control technology (baffles) which helps to guide the air to the SuperSU 8mm heatpipes for better heat dispersion and therefore, efficiency. Last but not least on the cooler… what would a cooler be without some bling right (don’t answer that.. its still a cooler!)? MSI has included a cool white dragon LED on the top of the TFV. You can control it via the MSI Gaming App.

Speaking of MSI Gaming App, they have that too. This is to me, MSI Afterburner off the steroids. The functionality is a little bit different in the quick push of a button type overclocking and not as granular, and you can control that LED I was talking about above.

For even more details, head on back to the MSI website!

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TWIN FROZR V – COOLER, QUIETER, BETTER GAMING

With every new generation of GPUs comes more performance. With every new generation of MSI Twin Frozr we give you less noise and heat!. We’ve listened to all your requests and the new Twin Frozr V is smaller, features stronger fans, generates less noise, keeps your graphics card and its components cooler and matches perfectly with your MSI GAMING motherboard including some funky LED lightning. We’ve spent 18 months on the development of the Twin Frozr V, including field testing in gaming cafés to ensure the cards have the quality and stability to give you the FPS you need

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TORX FAN

Traditional Fan Blade

Maximizes downwards airflow and air dispersion to the massive heat sink below.

Dispersion Fan Blade

Generates more airflow to maximize air dissipation to heat sink.

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AIRFLOW DIAGRAM

Adavanced Dispersion Blade design generates 19% more airflow without increasing drag for supreme silent performance.

AIRFLOW CONTROL

Enhanced dissipation efficiency

MSI has fitted Twin Frozr coolers with the all new Airflow Control technology which guides more airflow directly onto the heat pipes by using special deflectors on the heat sink. In addition, this exclusive heat sink design increases heat sink surface area, greatly enhancing the dissipation efficiency.

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SuperSU PIPE

Enhanced dissipation efficiency

SuperSU Architecture is the best cooling solution for graphics cards. The GPU is cooled by a massive nickel-plated copper base plate connected to Super Pipes (8mm heat pipes) on the MSI GAMING series graphics card. Additionally, the new heat pipe layout increases efficiency by reducing the length of unused heat pipe and a special SU-form design.

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ZERO FROZR

Smart cooling, stay quiet.

MSI’s Twin Frozr V Thermal Designs are equipped with Zero Frozr technology which was first introduced by MSI back in 2008. Zero Frozr technology eliminates fan noise in low-load situations by stopping the fans when they are not needed. Compared to other graphics cards, there is no continuous hum of airflow to tell you there’s a powerful graphics card in your gaming rig. This means you can focus on gaming without the distraction of other sounds coming from your PC.

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GAMING APP

The latest version of the MSI Gaming App is expanded with MSI Scenamax technology (under the EyeRest tab) to provide you easy access to image quality improving technology in the easy comfort of the MSI Gaming App. Download Now!

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CATCHING THE VIBE WITH COOL LED EFFECTS

Featuring a premium LED illuminated MSI GAMING Dragon to lighten the mood. This brand new function allows you to choose from 5 unique modes to set the right ambience for your gaming moments with just one click.

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HI-C CAP

A Hi-c CAP is a very small, but super-efficient capacitor. Besides ensuring enough spacing around a CPU socket to install large coolers, it also allows for 93% energy efficiency. Thanks to Hi-c CAP`s MSI mainboards are the most energy efficient in the market.

SUPER FERRITE CHOKES

Super Ferrite Chokes use a Ferrite core that is Super-Permeable. This allows the Super Ferrite Chokes to run at a 35 degree Celsius lower temperature, have a 30% higher current capacity, a 20% improvement in power efficiency and better overclocking power stability.

SOLID CAP

With their aluminum core design, Solid CAP’s have been a staple in high-end design mainboard designs and provides lower Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) as well as its over-10-year lifespan.

GPU-Z

As always, I take a screenshot of GPU-Z just to confirm specifications. We can confirm what the specifications show us above with its 96 ROPs/176 TMUs and the 2,816 shaders being driven by this 8 billion transistor behemoth. On the memory side of the house, the GTX 980 Ti sports 6,144MB (6GB) on a 384-bit wide bus offering 340.6GB/s bandwidth at 1774MHz clocks. The core speed on this card comes in at 1178MHz with a minimum boost of 1279MHz. More often than not, out of the box I was hitting at 1354MHz actual boost clocks with occasional peaks to 1380MHz. That’s a full 200MHz above the stock clock speeds. Remember the reference base clock is 1000MHz, so out of the box you are already overclocked 178MHz, which is a beefy factory overclock.

GPU-z v8.4

GPU-Z v8.4

Photo Op – Meet the MSI GTX 980Ti Gaming 6G

Retail Packaging and Accessories

Below are some pictures of the retail packaging. As noted from the title, this card is from their gaming pedigree so it sports the black and red theme with the always cool looking ‘MSI dragon’ gracing the front. Flipping the box over to the back side, we can see several of the features listed along with some specifications. Not too much to see on the top or sides as usual.

When we open up the box, we are greeted with another box that holds the accessory stack on top with the card resting below in its form fitted foam, which keeps the card safe through transport and other handling at the retail level. If you open up the accessory box, you are greeted with a minimalist set of goodies including the driver disk, manual and quick start guide, and the 6 to 8-pin power adapter.

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The Card

Voila! There you go folks, tear open that wrapping paper, open up the box, and here is the toy you have been waiting for – the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G! We discussed earlier the red and black gaming theme… I was not fibbing! The first shot is right out of the box with the transparent sticker warning you about Zero Fan and that it is O.K. if the fans don’t spin after the initial power up. You see the large (100mm?) dual Torx fans taking up the majority of the front of the card. Flipping the card over exposes the protective backplate. You can see some holes around the core and VRM areas to help keep those areas cool. Spinning the card around lazy susan style, you can get a better view of the 8mm SuperSU pipes that meander their way through the heatsink. They stick out of the bottom and top almost like a body builder and his/her biceps. Overall its a good looking card and should fit in well with a lot of themed builds.

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A Closer Look

Zooming in a bit on the particulars, the first image shows the outputs. You see 1x DL DVI-I, 1x HDMI 2.0, and 3x full size DisplayPort connections. The card will support up to four monitors at once. Meanwhile, power is delivered to the card via 2x 8-pin PCIe connectors.

Checking in on the heatsink and taking the card apart, you can get a better view of the SUPER SU pipes and their location within the heatsink. Focusing on the card without it, you can see the memory and VRM area are cooled by heatsinks and the air blown through the main fin array down on them. After taking apart those heatsinks, they were all making great contact with the memory ICs and power bits, so we are good there. The last picture shows what the card looks like without any heatsinks and exposes some of the Military Class 4 components. This is not a reference design.

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Zooming in to the power bits, here you see the 8+2 power phases using the SFC chokes, some of the Hi-C speed caps, and the Sinopower MOSFETs. Next is a shot of the GM200 core. The only thing I can take away from this picture is the liberal use of their thermal paste on the high end ASIC. Last up is the memory IC – Hynix H5GC4H24MFR which comes in at 1.55v and 3.5Ghz rated, so there should be some decent headroom on them.

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Monitoring/Overclocking Software – MSI Afterburner

Below is the latest version of MSI Afterburner, 4.1.1. As we all know, you can use this application to control all facets of your MSI GPU and also monitor it with the built in graphing and logging capabilities.

MSI Afterburner v4.1.1

MSI Afterburner v4.1.1

Performance and Benchmarks

Test System

  • Intel i7 4770K @ 4 GHz, 1.1 V
  • ASRock Z97m OC Formula
  • 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
  • MSI GTX 980 TI Gaming 6G 1178 MHz core (1354 MHz actual boost) / 1774 MHz Memory and Overclocked @ 1229 MHz (1408 MHz actual boost) / 1879 MHz Memory
  • Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
  • NVIDIA 353.06 WHQL

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 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

Synthetic Benchmarks

On to the benchmarks! Below are the results from our synthetic suite. We start off with 3DMark Vantage. Here the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G scores 48,770 while being at least 10% faster than every card here sans the dual GPU 295×2. Vantage, as most know, is really a CPU limited benchmark these days considering its low resolution. So, things seem a bit more bunched up then reality will show later in the synthetics, but particularly in gaming.

Next is 3DMark 11 where the GTX 980 Ti scores 19,071 at stock speeds, beating the highly overclocked Galax GTX 980 SOC by over 15%, and the 290x Lighting by almost 25% here. Surprisingly the 295×2 is leading by only a 6% difference. This thing sure seems like its a beast!

3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11

3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11

Getting into more modern and GPU centered benchmarks, we first look at 3DMark Fire Strike. Here the MSI card scored 15,027 and beat out the GTX 980 SOC by over 20%, and smoked the 290x Lighting by about 35%… amazing! The dual GPU 295×2 couldn’t even keep up here being 2% slower!

Last up on the synthetic side of the house is HWBot’s Unigine Heaven (Extreme setting). The GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G scores 4,729.4 at stock clocks and wiped the floor with the GTX 980 SOC and 290x by just below 30% and just over over 30% respectively. The mighty 295×2 sits around 7% ahead here. Let’s see what the gaming benchmarks show…

3DMark Fire Strike and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

3DMark Fire Strike and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Gaming Benchmarks

In the graph below, we first look at Bioshock: Infinite. The MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming spits out over 168 FPS here, beating out the GTX 980 SOC by 35 FPS (21%) and even easily beating the 295×2 in this title by 15 FPS (it is an NVIDIA title for clarity). Next up, Batman: Arkham Origins. Here the 980 Ti shows 170 FPS and beats out the GTX 980 SOC by nearly 28%. Although this is also an NVIDIA title, the 295×2 made a strong showing here with 172 FPS. Last in this graph is Grid 2. Here we reach 169.5 FPS with the MSI GTX 980 Ti, while the GTX 980 SOC reaches 140.7… a difference of around 17%. We are starting to see what a beast this is in real world gaming so far, ehh?

Bioshock: Infinite, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Grid 2

Bioshock: Infinite, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Grid 2

Moving on to our ‘GPU killers’. We start with Crysis 3 in which the mighty MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming is the first SINGLE GPU card to break the 60 FPS average at 62.3 FPS. This beats out nearly everything in the graph by 33% or more except for the 295×2 which makes a great showing here with 74.3 FPS. In Metro: Last Light, the GTX 980 Ti hits 79 FPS stock, handing out another drubbing to the GTX 980 SOC by 23 FPS (29%). Even the 295×2 couldn’t keep up here at 5 FPS behind it. Last but not least, my favorite, BF4. Here it reaches 129.7 FPS while the GTX 908 SOC can’t even break 100 with 94.1 FPS (27% difference). The 295×2 does pull ahead with its dual GPUs leading the charge there.

Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light, and Battlefield 4

Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light, and Battlefield 4

Last out of our game benchmarks, although this is canned, is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The GTX 980 Ti hit 21,774 with the next highest, GTX 980 SOC, scoring 17,438. A difference of almost 20% there.

Final Fanyasy XIV: AA Realm Reborn

Final Fanyasy XIV: AA Realm Reborn

Well, its quite obvious that this card will absolutely pound on 1080p titles. Unless you are one those fancy pants (and that is ok!!) that requires 120 FPS+ in every game, its more than clear it can handle 1080p with all the settings cranked on the titles we have here. A couple of which bring most GPUs to their knees. I have added a 2560×1440 result below as those popular Korean IPS monitors seem to have taken some kind of hold on the market and frankly, 1080p barely turns this GPU on! I don’t have any other data to compare it to, so these results, for now, will stand alone as raw data. But as we can see, we are WELL above the magic 30 FPS threshold that people talk about…. usually A LOT more even breaking the 60 FPS threshold outside of Crysis 3 and Metro: Last Light. But its clear those should be PLENTY playable at 41 FPS and 52 FPS respectively.

2560x1440 Results

2560×1440 Results

So can a single card get through our test suite with 3x 1080p monitors? Take a look below. Outside of one title, every game here is above a 30 FPS average with Crysis 3 coming in at 22.8. With both Metro and Crysis 3, some image quality sacrifices will have to be made for a stutter free gaming experience. But Bioshock, BF4, and Batman: Arkham Origins, are plenty playable at our high IQ settings including Anti-aliasing. Amazing what these cards can do!!

5760x1080 Surround Results

5760×1080 Surround Results

Pushing the Limits

As I normally do, its time to push this thing for just about all it is worth without getting into bios/volt modding. I ramped the CPU up to nearly 4.8GHz, cranked the power limit and raised voltage just a bit (+25mv). I managed to hit clocks of 1476MHz actual boost clock and it stayed pretty stable throughout testing. Any more voltage or any more core clocks and I would see the core speeds jump all over the place. The memory pulled off 1892Mhz (7568MHz GDDR5) which isn’t to shabby with no voltage control. Here is the 3DMark Fire Strike run below.

3DMark Fire Strike - 17,217

3DMark Fire Strike – 17,217

Cooling and Power Consumption

As far as cooling goes, the Twin Frozr V does a fine job of keeping things cool while on auto. During these tests, the fan sped up to 50% at 69 °C and 59% @ 73 °C and was whisper quiet. The figures I just mentioned do not match the graph below because of how we normalize to this very high (to me) ambient temperature. The idle temps are a bit warmer than what we are used to at 44 °C, but that is because of the Zero Fan feature which keeps the fans off until it hits around 60 °C. Couple that with the fact the card rests in an open air benching setup with no airflow, that isn’t bad at all.

During the pushing the limits testing, I ramped the fan up manually to 70% and temperatures never broke 70 °C throughout. There is plenty of headroom thermally for the card, that is for sure.

Overall the Twin Frozr V cooler used did a heck of a job and is pretty quiet too!

Temperatures

Temperatures

Moving on to power consumption, the card is listed at a 250W board power and MSI states a minimum of a 400W PSU would be sufficient. I agree with that assertion for an Intel system with minor overclocks, but there is no way I would put an AMD FX Octo core and overclock it on a 400W PSU. That is cutting it too close, even for me who doesn’t believe in overkill power supplies.

As you can see below, with overclocking the GPU only, we peaked at 403W in 3dMark 11. Take ~40W away for my Platinum level PSU, and we are pulling around 360W actual load with the card overclocked. This is the first time I saw such a peak in 3DMark 11 though. Normally it sits around the 370/380W mark. We can see Heaven and the stock 3DMark 11 sits around 337W and 350W respectively. Not a bad showing considering the performance over the GTX 980 with the same board power. The last thing to note here is that the idle power consumption was the lowest I have recorded in quite a while. Typically I sit around the 85-90W mark in past reviews on the same exact hardware and settings.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Conclusion

Well folks, you have seen how MSI’s superior implementation of the GTX 980 Ti performs and what can we say? There is a really significant boost over one of the fastest GTX 980s we tested and the 290x Lighting isn’t even close. It even trades blows with a dual GPU card in the 295×2 with our titles/settings!

MSI has taken the reference model and beefed up the power delivery area a bit with more power phases and better components than reference, and then slapped on its quiet and effective Twin Frozr V cooler to keep thermals in order with much success. The Zero Fan functionality keeps it at 0dB until 60 °C, so doing mundane office tasks, internet, and email, you can’t hear it at all. Once the fan gets moving when gaming, its still whisper quiet. I could not hear it over my 3 120mm Yate Loons at 1000 RPM that are mounted on the radiator.

Pricing on the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G comes in at $679.99 with a free game (Batman: Arkham Knights). The reference model on Newegg.com is $649.99, so over the reference model its a no brainer to get this over it as it is faster and quieter. There are a couple of other models available around the same price that have both less and more of a factory overclock, aftermarket coolers, and cost up to $699.99. So, we can see the card is priced right against its peers and really makes the Titan X a curious item considering its cost. If you are looking for a factory overclock, good looking, and quiet enthusiast level card, look no further than the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G.

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– Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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