NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB Video Card Review

NVIDIA surprise today with a new high-end GPU model. Let's find out just what the new GTX 980 4GB is all about, as Shawn puts it through its paces.

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Thu, Sep 18 2014 9:30 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 6:59 PM CST
Rating: 93%Manufacturer: NVIDIA

Introduction and Package

Introduction of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB Video Card Review 03 | TweakTown.com
VIEW GALLERY - 35 IMAGES

When rumors started circulating a few months ago that NVIDIA was going to bring a new high-end product to the table, I found myself getting excited. High-end video cards are definitely one of the coolest things in this job, and the battle between AMD and NVIDIA is the gift that keeps on giving. In the end, the person that really wins is you, the consumer.

I think the first thing we really need to cover today is the naming scheme. NVIDIA for some reason has chosen to skip past the 800 series name, and instead jumped straight to the 900 series. While we're only looking at one today, the new series currently consists of two models: the GTX 970 4GB and the GTX 980 GB, the latter being the one that we're testing here today.

While there's rumors surrounding that AMD are working on the R9 300 series products, everyone we've talked to tells us that this isn't going to be a product that will be ready till Q1 of next year. If the performance and price is right on these new GTX 900 models, NVIDIA could be going full steam ahead all the way through to the holiday season.

While normally we would go from here into the box and bundle, because we're dealing with a reference sample card, that's not something we have today.

Instead, let's take a closer look at the brand new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB video card and see just what it's all about over the following pages.

Video Card Details and Specifications

Close up with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB

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Taking our first look, you can straight away see that it's looks familiar to other recent high-end offerings from NVIDIA. I suppose the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", comes into play here. This cooler seems to clearly have no issue handling the high-end GPUs that NVIDIA throw under it with the single fan, which pulls air in and pushes it straight across the top of a massive heat sink and out the back of your case.

As is the case most the time with these high-end reference cards, there's not a whole lot to say as you can't see a whole lot. We've got the GTX 980 name on the left, which is where the naming has been in the last few models released, along with the NVIDIA logo on the right side. Everything is going to become a whole lot more interesting when we see non-reference cooled cards in the coming days and weeks.

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Taking a look around the card, it's interesting to see that the power setup is a dual 6-Pin PCIe configuration. I say interesting because it's actually down on what the GTX 780 and GTX 780 Ti saw. Both of those cards used single 6-Pin and single 8-Pin PCIe power connector setups. Staying across the top of the card, but moving closer to the front, you can see two standard SLI connectors, which provide the ability to run up to four cards together.

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Taking a look at the I/O department, the first thing I thought was, "my prayers have been answered!" Sitting along with the Dual-Link DVI and HDMI port, we have three DisplayPort connectors. Personally, I'm a huge fan of DisplayPort, and have been using it for a few years now. While NVIDIA has been offering DisplayPort connectivity for a while, we've really never seen the move past one port.

AMD, on the other hand, has been pushing the technology much longer. Of course, that had a lot to do with the fact that DisplayPort was necessary for Eyefinity. Along with the five video ports, you can see rest of the area has got holes to dissipate hot air straight out the back of your case.

On a whole, the new GTX 980 4GB from NVIDIA isn't anything too new to look at. Apart from the I/O upgrade, the rest of the card carries a lot of similarities that are seen from other recent high-end NVIDIA reference offerings. What has really changed, and where all the magic happens, is beneath the giant heat sink that covers the PCB. So let's take a look at the specifications and cover some of the main difference from the previous generation high-end model from NVIDIA.

Specifications

Taking a look below, you can see the main details of just what exactly we're dealing with. In some of the key areas, the numbers aren't as high as you'd think they would be.

We've got 2048 Stream Processors, which is down from 2880 on the GTX 780 Ti and 2304 on the GTX 780. Texture units come in at 128, which is again down compared to 240 and 192, respectively.

As for the memory bus, that comes in at 256-bit, which is down on the 384-bit number seen on the other models. ROP Units are up, though, with the new GTX 980 having 64 instead of 48. The amount of GDDR5 is also up to 4GB, an increase of 1GB over the other two models.

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As for the memory clock, that comes in at officially at 7000MHz QDR, but under GPU-Z, you can see the number is actually 7012MHz QDR - this lines up with the GTX 780 Ti. The big increase comes from the core clock, though. While the GTX 780 saw a base clock of 863MHz and boost clock of 900MHz and the GTX 780 Ti saw a 875MHz base clock and 928MHz boost clock, the new GTX 980 sees a base clock of 1127MHz and a boost clock of a massive 1216MHz.

TDP on the new model is also down from 250 watts to 165 watts. While we would normally expect a new model to bring with it more Stream Processors and Texture Units, the area that NVIDIA has greatly improved in is the amount of ROPs and the core clock speeds. It will be interesting to see just how it performs.

Test System Setup & FPS Numbers Explained

Test System Setup

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS and Corsair.

Sitting with the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB, we've got a bunch of high-end video cards from both AMD and NVIDIA. From the NVIDIA side, we've got the reference GTX 770 2GB, ASUS GTX 780 ROG Poseidon Platinum 3GB OC and reference GTX 780 Ti 3GB to round things off.

As for the AMD side, we've got the HIS R9 290 4GB IceQ X2 Turbo and the HIS R9 290X iPower IceQ X2 Turbo 4GB, which we overclocked to 1100MHz on the core and 5700MHz QDR on the 4GB of memory.

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

Why are some graphs incomplete?

Adding new game benchmarks is a long, tedious and time consuming task as every video card has to be re-tested in those new benchmarks. Because of that reason we have always just evaluated our benchmark line up every six months. To stay up to date and current with the latest benchmarks and games available, we've changed our approach to adding new benchmarks.

Our benchmark line up will progress and be updated as newer more intensive games with benchmarks comes to light. While this will mean that initially you may only see a single video card in those particular graphs, as the weeks go on and we test more and more video cards, the results will grow quickly. This will help keep our benchmark line up as up to date as possible as we introduce and remove games on a constant basis.

Benchmarks - 3DMark

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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Starting off with 3DMark 11, you can see that the GTX 980 4GB is strong out the gate. Looking at both the Performance and Extreme presets, you can see that the numbers are solid, with the GTX 980 4GB having no issue coming out ahead.

3DMark Fire Strike

Version and / or Patch Used: 1

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Moving into Fire Strike, you can again see the numbers look great on the GTX 980 4GB. Compared to the overclocked R9 290X 4GB, you can see it is about 10% ahead at both presets.

Benchmarks - 3DMark Sky Diver & Catzilla

3DMark Sky Diver

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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Looking at Sky Diver, you can see that the performance between the two cards here is close, with little separating them. Sky Diver is aimed at mid-range video cards, though, so when it comes to the highest-end models, we really don't see much difference between them. Let's move forward.

Catzilla

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3

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Taking a look at Catzilla, you can see performance is awesome against the overclocked HIS R9 290X 4GB here. Looking above, you can see that the gains are a decent chunk over 10% at both presets.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven & Phantasy Star Online 2

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3

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Heaven has always favored NVIDIA offerings, but we've seen the R9 290X 3GB perform strongly since release. Looking above, though, you can see new GTX 980 4GB manages to steal back the win with gains of around 3% - 10%, depending on the resolution.

Phantasy Star Online 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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PSO 2 performance is off the charts when compared to the other setups here. Against the overclocked R9 290X 4GB, you can see that performance is over 30% faster.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2 & Just Cause 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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Lost Planet 2 performance follows the same massive gains we saw under PSO 2. Looking above, you can see they are 30% above at the highest resolution. At the lower resolution, we see an increase of nearly 100 FPS.

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Just Cause 2 doesn't see quite the same performance increase against the overclocked HIS R9 290X 4GB as we saw in the previous two tests. Overall, though, you can see performance is still very strong, and ahead of everything else here.

Benchmarks -Metro Last Light & Nexuiz

Metro Last Light

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Looking at Metro Last Light, you can see that the GTX 980 4GB's performance sits actually a little bit behind the heavily overclocked HIS R9 290X 4GB here.

Take out the overclock and you're talking about the R9 290X 4GB falling slightly behind. Overall, though, you can see both cards fall slightly behind the 60 FPS number we want at the highest resolution for a solid gaming experience.

Nexuiz

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Nexuiz performance is a little weird with numbers sitting around the same as the GTX 780 Ti and GTX 780. Let's move forward and see what happens in our other games.

Benchmarks - Sniper Elite V2 & Sleeping Dogs

Sniper Elite V2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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Getting into Sniper Elite V2, we see the strong performance gains are back. Looking above, you can see the GTX 780 Ti 3GB managed to outperform the overclocked HIS R9 290X 3GB. When it comes to the GTX 980 4GB, you can see that the lead is extended further across the board, thanks to that extra power on offer.

Sleeping Dogs

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Sleeping Dogs helps continue the trend of strong performance gains, again. Looking above, you can see that the new GTX 980 4GB has no problem taking on the other video cards here and coming out ahead.

Benchmarks - Hitman Absolution & Tomb Raider

Hitman Absolution

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Looking at Hitman Absolution, you can see some strong gains over the GTX 780s and overclocked HIS R9 290X 3GB at the lower resolutions. Moving to 2560 x 1600, though, you can see it falls back a little compared to the R9 290X 4GB, but continues to offer playable FPS.

Tomb Raider

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Tomb Raider performance is pretty strong across the board. At the highest resolution, you do see the GTX 980 4GB fall slightly below the 60 FPS average we want, but with that said, thanks to the strong 43 FPS minimum, we'd say that it's playable. Compared to our overclocked R9 290X 3GB, you can see that the GTX 980 4GB sits slightly behind.

Benchmarks - BioShock Infinite & Battlefield 4

BioShock Infinite

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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BioShock Infinite performance is extremely strong across the board. Looking above, you can see the heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB manages to just sneak past the 60 FPS number we need at the highest resolution. The new GTX 980 4GB, on the other hand, smashes past that 60 FPS mark, with a solid 77 FPS average.

Battlefield 4

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Origin Update

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Moving into Battlefield 4, we see some awesome performance again and big gains over all our other setups. The gains are massive against both the GTX 780s and the AMD Radeon offerings.

Benchmarks - GRID Autosport

Grid Autosport

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Checking out GRID Autosport, you can see that thanks to the FPS wall not being an issue on the new GTX 980 4GB, we see massive performance gains across the board, at all resolutions. Along with that, we've got perfect performance at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF Testing

While we test all our games with maximum in-game settings, turning on Anti-Aliasing (AA) and Antistrophic Filtering (AF) helps take the intensity of our testing to another level.

Here we see video cards go from playable FPS to unplayable FPS and the real power houses continue to help break that 60 FPS mark we always aim for to provide a smooth gaming experience.

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Turning on AA and AF, you can see the GTX 980 4GB and heavily overclocked HIS R9 290X perform identically at both resolutions. Along with that, you can see all our setups here struggle to get that playable 60 FPS number we're on the hunt for.

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Thanks to that FPS wall again not being an issue, you can see the GTX 980 4GB manages to see some excellent performance at both resolutions, enough to put it ahead of the heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB.

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Sleeping Dogs sees the GTX 980 4GB and heavily overclocked HIS R9 290X 4GB perform quite similar to each other. While we manage playable numbers at 1920 x1200, you can see moving to 2560 x 1600 is an issue for both cards here and everything else.

Benchmarks - 4K - 3840 x 2160 Testing

4K - 3840 x 2160 Testing

4K monitors are the next step for gamers demanding the best in image quality. With 4x the pixels of a standard 1920 x 1080 monitor (meaning 4x the intensity); 3840 x 2160 brings with it a new level of intensity to video cards.

Wanting to make sure that you're buying the right video card for a monitor that offers such a large resolution, we test the latest and greatest video cards in a couple of benchmarks to give you an idea of just what kind of setup you require.

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Cranking up the resolution to a massive 3840 x 2160, you can see that the GTX 980 4GB in this case falls a little behind the heavily overclocked R9 290X 3GB here. It will be interesting to see how performance on the GTX 980 4GB is when we throw overclocking into the mix.

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Sleeping Dogs, on the other hand, sees the GTX 980 4GB sneak ahead of the heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB.

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Hitman Absolution sees the GTX 980 4GB fall a little behind here and come in between the R9 290 4GB and heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB.

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Tomb Raider performance sees similar results as to what we saw under Hitman Absolution. While the GTX 980 4GB does fall back slightly, you can see across the board, the FPS aren't where we need to be on any of our setups here.

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Finishing off with GRID Autosport, you can see that both the GTX 980 4GB and heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB perform quite closely to each other. Again, though, you can see the FPS aren't where they need to be on both setups.

Temperature & Sound Testing

Temperature Test

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run of 3DMark Vantage at the Performance preset.

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Looking at the heat numbers, you can see the new GTX 980 4GB clearly sits in the top half of the graph here. 79c, though, for such a high-end card isn't bad, and you can see its number is similar to the reference GTX 780 3GB. With that said, I'm looking forward to seeing some aftermarket cooled options soon.

Sound Test

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter, we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Noise levels on the card are pretty strong sitting in the middle of the pack. Again, though, I'm looking forward to seeing how some of these aftermarket coolers go with the new NVIDIA GPU.

Power Consumption Testing

Power Consumption Test

Using our PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01--or "Power Thingy" as it has quickly become known as to our readers--we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated video cards installed. Keep in mind that it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember, though. While our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10 percent more. We test at the exact same stage every time, so tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum--only an SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items will result in a higher draw.

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Power draw numbers come in at 428 under load, and while NVIDIA suggest a 500 watt power supply, we'd recommend something along the lines of a quality 650 Watt one - especially if you're opting for higher-end components around your shiny new GTX 980 4GB video card.

Pricing, Availability, and Final Thoughts

With most AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB offerings sitting at over $500, the $549 price point that NVIDIA has set is very aggressive. For a long time, we always saw AMD being the value based model offering the best bang for buck. The NVIDIA cards tend to always bring with it a premium for being faster overall. Sometimes the extra money for the extra performance seen didn't always feel justified, but in the end, if you wanted the fastest, you paid that premium.

Jump forward to recently, though, and outside of the likes of the TITAN and TITAN Z, NVIDIA pricing has become really quite aggressive. This new $549 price point proves that once again. It's all of a sudden a little hard to swallow the price point on the R9 290X 4GB, which sees cards priced from just under $500 to around the $600 mark, depending on the brand and cooling solution.

We could say that we wished NVIDIA maybe mixed it up a bit with the reference cooler, but if we're honest, most people are going to skip it and instead opt for aftermarket cooling versions from partners. At the moment, the one I'm really looking forward to seeing is the MSI model, which uses the new TwinFrozr V cooler that we had a sneak peak of at Computex 2014.

NVIDIA are no doubt getting ready to make a run at the holiday season, and unless there's quite the price drop from AMD, they're going to be left for dead when it comes to the high-end single GPU market. We can see, for the most part, that the new GeForce GTX 980 4GB sneaks ahead of the AMD offering with no problem. At times, we do see the cards perform closely, and the AMD offering manage to even sneak ahead here and there. The issue is from a psychological point of view, users are going to want the new card that's out, not the 12 month old one. At the moment, there's not enough to entice someone to pick up the AMD offering over the newer NVIDIA option, in my opinion.

The real issue, though, looks like it will be the GTX 970, which is next for us to test. The fact that its launch price is just $329 puts a whole lot of hurt on AMD. Because of that price point, I really can't wait to see how that model performs against AMDs higher mid-range cards.

As of now, with the R9 290X 4GB being priced how it is, I'd be hard press to recommend it over this new NVIDIA GPU. Yes, video cards with upgraded coolers are going to cost a little bit more, but in the end, people don't want a card that is nearly 12 months old, when they can get something that is only 12 hours old.

AMD has got some real thinking to do and it's going to be tough on their partners over the next few months, it seems. For now, though, if you're after an awesome single GPU video card, grab the GTX 980 4GB. Keep an eye out for a look at SLI performance, overclocking performance and our first look at the GTX 970 4GB that also launched today, all coming soon to TweakTown.

TweakTown award
Performance93%
Quality including Design and Build90%
General Features95%
Bundle and PackagingN/A
Value for Money95%
Overall93%

The Bottom Line: NVIDIA's new GeForce GTX 980 4GB is a truly solid video card. While the performance is great, the aggressive pricing that NVIDIA has opted for is what really seals the deal on this brand new model. AMD has to go straight to the drawing board now in order to respond!

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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