Final Words

While it was clear early on in our testing that the GeForce GTX 980 would be the new single-GPU champion, even after finishing testing of NVIDIA’s new flagship we weren’t sure what to expect out of the GTX 970. On the one hand NVIDIA had driven a very significant gap between the GTX 970 and the GTX 980 on theoretical performance – on paper the GTX 970 should be around 80% the performance of the GTX 980 – and on the other hand the GTX 980 was in practice some 16% faster than AMD’s flagship R9 290X. Immediately you can see the potential for even a slower GM204 card to be a threat to AMD, but it’s only an assumption until you have the data in hand.

It’s only fitting then that with the GTX 970 now up and running we find ourselves in a virtual tie between NVIDIA and AMD. Despite not even being NVIDIA’s flagship GM204 card, the GTX 970 is still fast enough to race the R9 290X to a dead heat – at 1440p the GTX 970 averages just 1% faster than the R9 290X. Only at 4K can AMD’s flagship pull ahead, and even then the situation becomes reversed entirely in NVIDIA’s favor at 1080p. As such the R9 290X still has a niche of its own, but considering the fact that GTX 970 is a $329 card I don’t seriously expect it to be used for 4K gaming, so the 1440p and 1080p comparisons are going to be the most appropriate comparisons here.

As is the case with AMD/NVIDIA ties in the past, this is an anything-but-equal sort of situation, but it strongly sells the idea of just how fast the GTX 970 is and just how dangerous it is to AMD. Ultimately what you are going to find is that the GTX 970 scores some big leads in some games only to fall well behind the R9 290X in others, and in other games still the two cards are tied through and through. In the end for pure performance neither card is superior, and in this case that’s a huge victory for NVIDIA.

With the GTX 970 NVIDIA only ties the R9 290X, but in the process they do so while consuming nearly 90W less power, generating far less noise, and most importantly delivering all of this at a two-thirds the cost. GTX 980 gave NVIDIA a well-earned lead over AMD, but it’s the one-two punch of GTX 980 and GTX 970 together that so solidly cement NVIDIA’s position as the top GPU manufacturer. It’s one thing for the $499 R9 290X to lose to NVIDIA’s $549 flagship, but to be outright tied by NVIDIA’s second tier card is a slap in the face that AMD won’t soon forget.

There’s not much more that can be said at this point other than that as of this moment the high-end performance landscape is entirely in NVIDIA’s favor. They have undercut AMD with better hardware at a lower price, leaving AMD in a very tenuous position. AMD would have to cut R9 290X’s priceby nearly $200 to be performance competitive, and even then they can’t come close to matching NVIDIA’s big edge in power consumption. To that end it’s a lot like the GTX 670 launch, but even in that case NVIDIA’s overall hardware and pricing advantage wasn’t quite as immense as it is today.

At anything over $300 there are only two single-GPU cards to consider: GTX 980 and GTX 970. Nothing else matters. For much of the last year NVIDIA has been more than performance competitive but not price competitive with AMD. So I am very happy to see NVIDIA finally reverse that trend and to do so in such a big way.

Moving on, in NVIDIA’s lineup the GTX 970 is a potent performer, but NVIDIA has left themselves a big enough gap that it doesn’t completely undercut their new flagship. GTX 980 remains 15% faster than GTX 970, and that’s no small difference. For $220 more GTX 980 is certainly not the value option, but then this is an NVIDIA flagship we’re talking about, and NVIDIA has always charged a premium there. Instead if you can’t afford the high price of the GTX 980 or simply don’t want to pay that premium, the GTX 970 is an excellent alternative. By pricing the card at $329 NVIDIA has done a great job of making a significant fraction of GM204’s performance available at a better price, and for this reason GTX 970 stands a very good chance of being the value champion for this generation.

Finally let’s talk about EVGA’s GeForce GTX 970 FTW ACX 2.0. EVGA has clearly put a lot of thought into their card and there is a good reason they remain one of NVIDIA’s closest partners. As the only GTX 970 we’ve looked at thus far we’re really only able to look at it on a pass-fail basis, but on that basis it’s a clear pass. The ACX 2.0 cooler is incredibly powerful when paired with the 145W GTX 970 (almost a bit too much) and EVGA continues to deliver some great features and software through items such as their triple BIOS capability and their software suite.

At the same time the FTW in particular is a solid value proposition, though how solid will depend on what you compare it to. Compared to GTX 980 it’s going to fall short by 7% or so despite the overclock, but in the process it essentially cuts the GTX 980’s lead in half. Given the $220 price difference between the reference GTX 970 and GTX 980, that $40 FTW premium is a great alternative. On the other hand this is in the end a factory overclocked card, and it’s entirely likely that most reference clocked GTX 970s could achieve similar clock speeds without paying the $40 premium. As is usually the case with factory overclocked cards, with the GTX 970 FTW you are paying for the peace of mind that comes from a sure thing and the support behind it, as opposed to playing the overclocking lottery.

With that said, I feel like EVGA does walk away from this launch with one vulnerability exposed, and that is the ACX 2.0 cooler. EVGA’s amazing cooling performance is undercut by their middle of the road noise performance, which although is still very good in light of GTX 970’s overall gaming performance, it is not as good as what we have seen other open air coolers do in the past. It’s by no means a deal breaker – especially given all of EVGA’s other advantages – but given the kind of quiet cooling possibilities that a 145W GPU should enable, EVGA is not exploiting it as well as they could.

And while this configuration isn’t going to be optimal for stock users, I don’t doubt for a second that EVGA’s overclocking community will have a field day with this one. With this much cooling headroom to work with the ACX 2.0 cooler is going hold up very well for users who want to overvolt on air.

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  • LancerVI - Saturday, September 27, 2014 - link

    Looks good! Mostly a side-grade for my 290's, but I knew that already. Probably the best purchase I made in a while, those 290's are gonna last me a bit. May have to ebay a 3rd for some tri-fire. I'll go nVidia next round depending, but I'm really impressed with the 980/970, but 290's right now are a steal!
  • Impulses - Sunday, September 28, 2014 - link

    Did the prices drop significantly? I'm scared to look, I got mine for $350 (after rebate) and $360 about a month ago, didn't see anything priced that low immediately after the 980/970 launch but... You'd think AMD would now have to at least match 970 pricing with the 290 in order to sell any at all.
  • Impulses - Sunday, September 28, 2014 - link

    FWIW, I did think the price I paid for the 290s was pretty terrific and haven't regretted it yet... When looking at SLI vs CF tests the performance gaps from game to game are even narrower, a huge AMD price drop would be slightly irksome tho I understand it's bound to happen. OTOH, being so close to the holiday season I doubt we'd see any good sale prices atop any price drops or beyond the 980/970 price points.
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, September 27, 2014 - link

    The 980 and 970 make me excited for what nVidia (and hopefully AMD) has in store for 20nm next year. I'm not going to upgrade from my water cooled 7970 (35% chip and 20% memory OC) for another 28nm GPU, even if nVidia managed to squeeze a lot out of the process.
  • StormFuror - Saturday, September 27, 2014 - link

    Wow, I didn't expect the 970 to pull up stats like this compared to the 780. I don't know why, lol. The power consumption from the horsepower this card throws down is rather impressive compared to AMD's R9's. I may have to get one of these. I'm stuck with one monitor @ 1920x1080. This card will give me 60 FPS in just about everything it seems, probably over kill. But this seems like it'll hold me over until I have to do a complete new rebuild down the road(when I upgrade to 4k). I've got a couple years :)
  • eek2121 - Sunday, September 28, 2014 - link

    I know AT's benchmarks portrays the Radeon 6970 as 'slow as balls' when it comes to gaming recent titles, but as someone who games more than most (on a 1080p monitor), i still find very little incentive to upgrade. Maybe if i gamed at higher resolutions.... Haven't really encountered a game (worth playing) that doesn't run on ultra settings in 1080p. Then again, steam has been shifting my dollars away from top tier games towards indie games for a while now. I own 425 games on steam and all of them give me no issue on my 'old' graphics card. Not knocking the new geforce cards at all....just wish developers would push the envelope a bit more.
  • TiGr1982 - Sunday, September 28, 2014 - link

    Wel, old VLIW4-based HD 6970 is, say, something around 1/3 (33%) slower than GCN-based R9 280 aka HD 7950 Boost (which I have, BTW). But I believe that 6970 is more or less still good enough for 1080p, and, besides, probably the drivers for HD 6970 are pretty mature since HD 6970 is nearly 4 years old now (plus, Trinity and Richland also have VLIW4-based GPU, just 1/4 of HD 6970's Cayman GPU).
  • just4U - Sunday, September 28, 2014 - link

    The biggest thing for me is this...

    " For much of the last year NVIDIA has been more than performance competitive but not price competitive with AMD."


    That's been a major bone of contention with me. They corrected pricing which was very much in line and competitive during the 460-80 days. Then went out to lunch thru the 560-80 era and marginally came back (almost not quite..) during the 660-80 only to head way out to lunch again with their 7x series. It boggles the mind and makes it hard to purchase when AMD is offering great deals on their end /w similar performance.
  • hamiltus - Sunday, September 28, 2014 - link

    So my main question is if the GTX 970 is a good upgrade from the GTX 670 for 1440p/4K gaming?
  • coldpower27 - Sunday, September 28, 2014 - link

    This is a solid upgrade, just thinking if this is worth it over GTX 670 as well. Slightly more power consumption for much greater performance and similar idle performance numbers.

    970 has a nice ring to it. :)

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