The Nvidia GTX 980 is here—as in, Nvidia has announced it, you’ll be able to buy one soon, and it’s also physically here in the PC Gamer offices. I’ve been playing games on the GTX 980 and benchmarking the card with the help of Maximum PC. We’ve put our cards together to test dual-GPU SLI performance and thrown the 980s up against a 4K monitor to see how they compare to the GTX 780 Ti, Radeon R9 290X, and other top-of-the-line graphics cards.

The big question: is the Nvidia GTX 980 worth its $550 price tag? According to our benchmarks, absolutely.

First: the basic specs for both 900 series cards compared to some older Nvidia GPUs.


GTX 680

GTX 780

GTX 780 Ti

GTX 980

GTX 970

CUDA cores






Base clock

1006 MHz

863 MHz


1126 MHz

1050 MHz

Boost clock

1058 MHz

900 MHz


1216 MHz

1178 MHz

Texture units






Texture fill rate

128.8 billion /s

160.5 billion /s

196.2 billion /s

144 billion /s

109 billion /s

Single precision

1 teraflop

4 teraflops

5 teraflops

5 teraflops

4 teraflops

Memory config

2GB 256-bit GDDR5

3GB 384-bit GDDR5

3GB 384-bit GDDR5

4GB 256-bit GDDR5

4GB 256-bit GDDR5

Memory speed

6.0 Gbps

6.0 Gbps

7.0 Gbps

7.0 Gbps

7.0 Gbps







Power connectors

2 x 6-pin

1 x 6-pin, 1x 8-pin

1 x 6-pin, 1x 8-pin

2 x 6-pin

2 x 6-pin


DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI, 2x dual-link DVI

DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI, 2x dual-link DVI

DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI, 2x dual-link DVI

3x DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0, dual-link DVI

3x DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0, dual-link DVI

Launch price







If you don’t speak GPU specs, there are a few noteworthy numbers to hone in on above. The 900 series cards have notably higher clock speeds than the GTX 780, and each CUDA core is 40% more efficient, which makes up for the smaller number of cores. The new Maxwell architecture is also dramatically more power efficient than Kepler—the 980 can deliver 30 gigaflops per watt, versus just 15 gigaflops per watt for the 680 and 780. That’s allowed Nvidia to bring the card’s thermal design point down to 195 watts, and to once again run off two 6-pin connectors.

Some more information from Nvidia: Maxwell is built to work especially well at higher resolutions like 1600p and 4K. Memory architecture improvements and new color compression help Maxwell perform dramatically better than older cards when pushing more pixels. Nvidia’s new MFAA is also lower impact than MSAA, which helps deliver playable framerates at 4K (though, at 4K pixel density, you may find you don’t even care about AA at all).

That all sounds great, but do these cards perform as well in the wild as Nvidia claims? In a word: yes.

Maximum PC’s benchmarking actually saw the GTX 980 surpass its advertised boost clock of 1216 MHz, up to 1253 MHz, while topping out at a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius (84 degrees in SLI). A single GTX 980 outperformed the 780 Ti in almost all cases, and beat AMD’s R9 290X in most tests (Hitman: Absolution is a notable exception where AMD’s cards put up higher numbers). Also, in multiple games, our two GTX 980s running in SLI delivered 10-20 frames per second better performance than AMD’s dual-GPU R9 295X.

GTX 980 benchmarks: 2560×1440, 4xMSAA, max settings

Benchmarks courtesy of Maximum PC. Check out their full article, with more testing results, here.

GTX 980 benchmarks: 3840×2160, 4xMSAA, max settings

Benchmarks courtesy of Maximum PC. Check out their full article, with more testing results, here.

Keep in mind that these are scores from Nvidia’s reference 980. Cards from EVGA, Asus, Gigabyte and so on will likely be clocked higher, and there’s definitely room for overclocking above that base clock.

Nvidia’s in-house benchmarks also show the GTX 970 outperforming the R9 290X in most cases–we’ll have more data and impressions on a Gigabyte 970 over the weekend.

So, what happens when we scale up to 3840×2160, also known as “4K”? Here we have almost twice as many pixels as 2560×1600, and four times as many as 1080p. Can the GTX 980’s 256-bit bus really handle this much bandwidth?

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980-4k

Nvidia GeForce GTX 980-4k

The 980 is still scaling well, but the 384-bit 780 and 780 Ti are clearly scaling better, as is the 512-bit 290X. Metro: Last Light is the only clear success for the GTX 980. (We don’t include 3DMark because it doesn’t have an option to run above 2560×1600.) We had to disable TressFX when benchmarking the 680, because the test would crash otherwise, and it was operating at less than 1FPS anyway. At 4K, that card basically meets its match, and almost its maker.

One last thing: The GTX 980 is quiet. When I used MSI Afterburner to manually dial the fan up to 100%, it was easily audible through my case, which doesn’t have any soundproofing. Still, it was only the volume of, say, a desk fan on a low setting. I didn’t do a formal decibel test, but at max speed the GTX 980′s fan was far quieter than my Radeon 7950′s fan at a heavy load, which usually runs it to only 60% or so of full speed. The R9 290X’s fan at 100% speed is also far louder than the GTX 980′s.

In normal usage, though, you’ll never see the most GPU fans dial up to 100%. Rome 2: Total War’s benchmark only had the 980′s fan spinning at about 45% speed, and it was inaudible through my case at that speed. Even with two cards being benchmarked in SLI in Maximum PC’s lab, with the side panel of the testing rig removed, we couldn’t hear the fans. This is not a card that will bother you while you play games.

Wrapping up

Based on our benchmarking results, the GTX 980 is a better deal in every way than the GTX 780 and 780 Ti were at launch, at $650 and $700. Nvidia has been calling it a successor to the 680, and at $550, I think that’s a fair claim. If you like to buy a top-of-the-line card every 3-4 years, this is the one you’ve been waiting for. If you’re already on a 700 series card or AMD equivalent, however, you’re only going to see modest performance improvements which aren’t worth spending $550 on.

All the new features Nvidia is supporting with this architecture, most notably MFAA, Voxel Global Illumination, and DX12, which I covered in detail here, are going to pay off in 2015 and 2016 games. Maxwell is such a big deal for Nvidia, the GTX 780 Ti, 780 and 770 are all being discontinued right now. Nvidia clearly wants to push support of its new technologies and get as many people as possible on Maxwell.


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