Power, Temperature, & Noise

As always, last but not least is our look at power, temperature, and noise. Next to price and performance of course, these are some of the most important aspects of a GPU, due in large part to the impact of noise. All things considered, a loud card is undesirable unless there’s a sufficiently good reason – or sufficiently good performance – to ignore the noise.

Having already seen the Maxwell architecture in action with the GTX 750 series, the GTX 980 and its GM204 Maxwell 2 GPU have a very well regarded reputation to live up to. GTX 750 Ti shattered old energy efficiency marks, and we expect much the same of GTX 980. After all, NVIDIA tells us that they can deliver more performance than the GTX 780 Ti for less power than the GTX 680, and that will be no easy feat.

GeForce GTX 980 Voltages
GTX 980 Boost Voltage GTX 980 Base Voltage GTX 980 Idle Voltage
1.225v 1.075v 0.856v

We’ll start as always with voltages, which in this case I think makes for one of the more interesting aspects of GTX 980. Despite the fact that GM204 is a pretty large GPU at 398mm2 and is clocked at over 1.2GHz, NVIDIA is still promoting a TDP of just 165W. One way to curb power consumption is to build a processor wide-and-slow, and these voltage numbers are solid proof that NVIDIA has not done that.

With a load voltage of 1.225v, NVIDIA is driving GM204 as hard (if not harder) than any of the Kepler GPUs. This means that all of NVIDIA’s power optimizations – the key to driving 5.2 billion transistors at under 165W – lie with other architectural optimizations the company has made. Because at over 1.2v, they certainly aren’t deriving any advantages from operating at low voltages.

Next up, let’s take a look at average clockspeeds. As we alluded to earlier, NVIDIA has maintained the familiar 80C default temperature limit for GTX 980 that we saw on all other high-end GPU Boost 2.0 enabled cards. Furthermore as a result of reinvesting most of their efficiency gains into acoustics, what we are going to see is that GTX 980 still throttles. The question then is by how much.

GeForce GTX 980 Average Clockspeeds
Max Boost Clock 1252MHz
Metro: LL
Battlefield 4
Crysis 3
TW: Rome 2

What we find is that while our GTX 980 has an official boost clock of 1216MHz, our sustained benchmarks are often not able to maintain clockspeeds at or above that level. Of our games only Bioshock Infinite, Crysis 3, and Battlefield 4 maintain an average clockspeed over 1200MHz, with everything else falling to between 1151MHz and 1192MHz.  This still ends up being above NVIDIA’s base clockspeed of 1126MHz – by nearly 100MHz at times – but it’s clear that unlike our 700 series cards NVIDIA is much more aggressively rating their boost clock. The GTX 980’s performance is still spectacular even if it doesn’t get to run over 1.2GHz all of the time, but I would argue that the boost clock metric is less useful this time around if it’s going to overestimate clockspeeds rather than underestimate. (ed: always underpromise and overdeliver)

Idle Power Consumption

Starting as always with idle power consumption, while NVIDIA is not quoting specific power numbers it’s clear that the company’s energy efficiency efforts have been invested in idle power consumption as well as load power consumption. At 73W idle at the wall, our testbed equipped with the GTX 980 draws several watts less than any other high-end card, including the GK104 based GTX 770 and even AMD’s cards. In desktops this isn’t going to make much of a difference, but in laptops with always-on dGPUs this would be helpful in freeing up battery life.

Load Power Consumption - Crysis 3

Our first load power test is our gaming test, with Crysis 3. Because we measure from the wall, this test means we’re seeing GPU power consumption as well as CPU power consumption, which means high performance cards will drive up the system power consumption numbers merely by giving the CPU more work to do. This is exactly what happens in the case of the GTX 980; at 304W it’s between the GK104 based GTX 680 and GTX 770, however it’s also delivering 30% better framerates. Accordingly the power consumption of the GTX 980 itself should be lower than either card, but we would not see it in a system power measurement.

Load Power Consumption - FurMark

For that reason, when looking at recent generation cards implementing GPU Boost 2.0 or PowerTune 3, we prefer to turn to FurMark as it essentially nullifies the power consumption impact of the CPU. In this case we can clearly see what NVIDIA is promising: GTX 980’s power consumption is lower than everything else on the board, and noticeably so. With 294W at the wall, it’s 20W less than GTX 770, 29W less than 290X, and some 80W less than the previous NVIDIA flagship, GTX 780 Ti. At these power levels NVIDIA is essentially drawing the power of a midrange class card, but with chart-topping performance.

Idle GPU Temperature

Moving on to temperatures, at idle we see nothing remarkable. All of these well-designed, low idle power designs are going to idle in the low 30s, especially since they’re not more than a few degrees over room temperature.

Load GPU Temperature - Crysis 3

With an 80C throttle point in place for the GTX 980, it’s here where we see the card top out at. The fact that we’re hitting 80C is the reason why the card is exhibiting clockspeed throttling as we saw earlier. NVIDIA’s chosen fan curve is tuned for noise over temperature, so it’s letting the GPU reach its temperature throttle point rather than ramp up the fan (and the noise) too much.

Load GPU Temperature - FurMark

Once again we see the 80C throttle in action. Like all GPU Boost 2.0 NVIDIA cards, NVIDIA makes sure their products aren’t going to get well over 80C no matter the workload.

Idle Noise Levels

Last but not least we have our noise results. Right off the bat the GTX 980 is looking strong; even with the shared heritage of the cooler with the GTX 780 series, the GTX 980 is slightly but measurably quieter at idle than any other high-end NVIDIA or AMD card. At 37.3dB, the GTX 980 comes very close to being silent compared to the rest of the system.

Load Noise Levels - Crysis 3

Our Crysis 3 load noise testing showcases the full benefits of the GTX 980’s well-built blower in action. GTX 980 doesn’t perform appreciably better than the GTX Titan cooler equipped GTX 770 and GTX 780, but then again GTX 980 is also not using quite as advanced of a cooler (forgoing the vapor chamber). Still, this is enough to edge ahead of the GTX 770 by 0.1dB, technically making it the quietest video card in this roundup. Though for all practical purposes, it’s better to consider it tied with the GTX 770.

Load Noise Levels - FurMark

FurMark noise testing on the other hand drives a wedge between the GTX 980 and all other cards, and it’s in the GTX 980’s favor. Despite the similar noise performance between various NVIDIA cards under Crysis 3, under our maximum, pathological workload of FurMark the GTX 980 pulls ahead thanks to its 165W TDP. At the end of the day its lower TDP limit means that the GTX 980 never has too much heat to dissipate, and as a result it never gets too loud. In fact it can’t. 48.1dB is as loud as the GTX 980 can get, which is why the GTX 980’s cooler and overall build are so impressive. There are open air cooled cards that now underperform the GTX 980 that can’t hit these low of noise levels, never mind the other cards with blowers.

Between the GTX Titan and its derivatives and now GTX 980, NVIDIA has spent quite a bit of time and effort on building a better blower, and with their latest effort it really shows. All things considered we prefer blower type coolers for their heat exhaustion benefits – just install it and go, there’s almost no need to worry about what the chassis cooling can do – and with NVIDIA’s efforts to build such a solid cooler for a moderately powered card, the end result is a card with a cooler that offers all the benefits of a blower with the acoustics that can rival and open air cooler. It’s a really good design and one of our favorite aspects of GTX Titan, its derivatives, and now GTX 980.

Compute Overclocking GTX 980
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  • hojnikb - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    7950 (which was then rebranded to 280) had 200W. With 280, they obviously upped the TDP for longer turbo speeds.
  • ArtForz - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - link

    Wasn't the 280 more of a rebranded 7950 boost (925 turbo), and not a 7950 (825, no turbo at all)?
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    True, but the 285 didn't live up to the 180 watt claim. Later in the article they showed it saving only 13 watts under load when compared to the 280. So more like 237 watts?


    Which was really quite disappointing. I need something to cram in my mITX rig, and it has to be close to the 150 watts of the 6870 in there now.
  • Samus - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    On a per-watt scale, AMD's GPU's are now as inefficient as their CPU's when compared to the competition. It's good they got those console contracts, because they probably won't be getting the next round if this keeps up.

    Absolutely amazing Maxwell is twice as efficient per watt as GCN 1.2
  • Laststop311 - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    well looks like the gtx 970 is calling your name then
  • Alexvrb - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - link

    That seems to depend on the design reviewed. THG tested a similarly clocked card by a different manufacturer and there was a much larger gap between the 280 and 285 in terms of power consumption.

    With that being said the 980 and 970 are both extremely fast and power efficient. Especially the 970 - if it really hits the market at around that pricing wow! Incredible value.

    Strange that the 980 throttles so much at stock settings even outside of Furmark, first thing I'd do is go into the settings and fiddle a bit until it boosts consistently. But given its performance and it's not really a problem, and it can be remedied. Still, something to keep in mind especially when overclocking. I wonder how the 980 would have done with the beefier cooler from its higher-TDP predecessors, and some mild overvolting?
  • Laststop311 - Sunday, September 21, 2014 - link

    If you look in the gaming benchmarks the gpu is hitting 80C. Nvidia's design does not allow the gpu to exceed 80C so it has to lower frequencies to stay at 80C. This is the consequence of using the titan blower cooler but removing the vapor chamber lowering its cooling capability. That's why I don't get why all these people are rushing to buy the reference design gtx 980's as they are all sold out. They are throttling by hundreds of mhz because the titan blower cooler without a vapor chamber sucks. Custom cooling options are going to make the gtx 980 able to reliably hit 1300-1400 mhz some probably even 1500 mhz under full load and still stay under the 80C limit. Keep an eye out for MSI's twin frozr V design. It's going to have a beefy radiator with 2x 100mm fans in an open air design allowing WAY more cooling potential then the reference design. The twin frozr V design should allow the card to OC and actually keep those OC frequencies under heavy load unlike the reference card which cant even keep up with its stock setting under intense gaming. We should see a pretty big performance jump going to custom coolers and the reference performance is already staggering
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, September 21, 2014 - link

    Reviewers and "tech enthusiasts" alike jumped all over AMD when they didn't adequately cool their 290 cards. So while I don't disagree with what you're saying, I am just surprised that they would let it ship with such heavy throttling on ordinary games. Especially given that in this case it isn't because Nvidia shipped with a cooler that isn't sufficient - rather it's because by default the fan is running too slowly. Even without the vapor chamber, I bet it would be fine if they just turned up the fan just a hair. Not enough to make it loud, but enough to bring it in line with some of the other high-end cards here (under a load).

    Anyway I suspect the vapor chamber will return in a higher-end "980 Ti" type configuration. In the meantime, yeah I'd keep an eye out for high-end aftermarket designs with a more aggressive power delivery system and wicked cooling. There's no doubt these chips have serious potential! I'd bet an aggressive 970 could hit the market for under $400 with 980-like performance and a factory warranty. :D

    I'd say "poor AMD" but this kind of leapfrogging is nothing new. Even if AMD can't come out with something really impressive in the next several months, they can always remain competitive by dropping prices. My GPU is idle outside of gaming so the actual difference in power consumption in terms of dollars is tiny. Now, for number-crunching rigs that run their GPUs 24/7... that's a different story altogether. But then again, AMD's professional cards have good DP numbers so it's kind of a wash.
  • Hixbot - Monday, September 22, 2014 - link

    I'm very disappointed they got rid of the vapor chamber. I'm not a fan of the 3rd party coolers as they exhaust the air into the case (big deal for small form factor PCs). I prefer the blower cooler even though they are noisier, the loss of the vapor chamber is a big deal.
  • Viewgamer - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    LOL people screaming at the 285. It actually consumes less power than the 980 and 970 not more.
    Nvidia greatly understated the TDP of the 980 and 970 to put it lightly.
    Both cards consume more power than the 250W TDP 7970 Ghz yet they're somehow rated at 165W and 145W how laughable !

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