Final Words

When NVIDIA launched the first Maxwell cards earlier this year, we knew that we would be in for a treat with their latest architecture. Though just a fragment of the performance of what their eventual high-end cards would be, NVIDIA’s first Maxwell cards offered an interesting look at an architecture that would be capable of doubling NVIDIA’s performance per watt on the same 28nm TSMC manufacturing process they started with over 2 years ago. To that end I don’t think there has been any doubt that NVIDIA’s eventual second generation Maxwell cards would be equally amazing when it comes to power efficiency, but I feel NVIDIA has still impressed us when it comes to performance, features, and pricing.

In many ways it feels like this latest launch has returned us to the PC video card industry of 2012. NVIDIA’s flagship consumer card is once again powered by a smaller and more potent consumer-class x04 GPU, and once again NVIDIA is swinging the one-two punch of performance and power efficiency. When GTX 680 was launched it set a new high mark for the video card industry, and now we see GTX 980 do more of the same. The GTX 980 is faster, less power hungry, and quieter than the Radeon R9 290X, so once again NVIDIA has landed the technical trifecta. Even if we’re just looking at performance and pricing the GTX 980 is the undisputed holder of the single-GPU performance crown, besting everything else AMD and NVIDIA have to offer, and offering it at a price that while no means a steal is more than reasonable given NVIDIA’s technical and performance advantage. As such GTX 980 comes very, very close to doing to Radeon R9 290X what GTX 680 did to Radeon HD 7970 over 2 years ago.

Meanwhile from a feature perspective the GTX 900 series is going to prove to be a very captivating product. Dynamic Super Resolution is a brutish-yet-clever solution of what to do about anti-aliasing on today's deferred renderer games that cannot support traditional MSAA/SSAA, and while I’m withholding my judgment on Multi-Frame sampled Anti-Aliasing until it’s made available to users in NVIDIA’s drivers, the idea at least has merit. Otherwise I am very happy to see that NVIDIA has now fully caught up to the competition in terms of baseline API features by offering everything needed to support Direct3D 11.2 and beyond.

Along those lines, NVIDIA’s focus on voxel technology for Maxwell 2 is a very interesting route to take, and I am eagerly anticipating seeing whether it gets widely adopted and what developers do with it. VXGI is a very neat concept to generate voxel based global illumination, and building in the features necessary to do significant portions of it in hardware is a wise move by NVIDIA. The catch at this point is the same catch that faces all vendor specific technologies: just because the hardware is there doesn’t mean developers will put it to good use, especially in this age of console ports. NVIDIA for their part has made the right move by making sure VXGI will run on other hardware, but I am concerned that the performance delta means that it’s only going to be viable on Maxwell 2 GPUs for now, which could discourage developers. None the less we do need better lighting in games, and I hope this encourages developers to finally adopt these kinds of high quality global illumination systems.

As for the hardware itself, is there anything left to say other than that GTX 980 is a well-built, well-engineered card? The build quality is impeccable – raising the bar over even GTX Titan – and the power efficiency gains are truly remarkable. With a TDP lower than even GTX 680, this is the lowest power consumption has been for a chart-topping card since 9800 GTX over half a decade ago. It’s really a bit of a honeymoon period since if and when NVIDIA does Big Maxwell one has to expect power consumption will go back up, but for the time being it’s very pleasing to be able to get chart-topping performance inside of 165W. And the fact that this comes from the same company responsible for GTX 480 just 2 generations ago makes this the ultimate technical turnaround.

In conclusion, the GeForce GTX 980 represents another stellar performance from NVIDIA. Their reign at the top is not going to go unchallenged – AMD can’t match NVIDIA on performance, but they can sure drive down prices – but as was the case in 2012 the crown continues to securely reside in NVIDIA’s hands, and once again they have done the technical hard work to earn it.

Finally, as a reminder we will be following up this article next week with our look at GTX 980 SLI performance and a look at the GTX 970. Of the two cards launched today the GTX 970 is without a doubt the more interesting of the two thanks to its relatively low price compared to the performance NVIDIA is offering, but due to our aforementioned board issues we will not be able to take a look at it until next week. So until then stay tuned for the rest of our GM204 coverage.

Overclocking GTX 980
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  • Sttm - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    "How will AMD and NVIDIA solve the problem they face and bring newer, better products to the market?"

    My suggestion is they send their CEOs over to Intel to beg on their knees for access to their 14nm process. This is getting silly, GPUs shouldn't be 4 years behind CPUs on process node. Someone cut Intel a big fat check and get this done already.
    Reply
  • joepaxxx - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    It's not just about having access to the process technology and fab. The cost of actually designing and verifying an SoC at nodes past 28nm is approaching the breaking point for most markets, that's why companies aren't jumping on to them. I saw one estimate of 500 million for development of a 16/14nm device. You better have a pretty good lock on the market to spend that kind of money. Reply
  • extide - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Yeah, but the GPU market is not one of those markets where the verification cost will break the bank, dude. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Seriously, nVidia's market cap is $10 billion dollars, they can spend a tiny fortune moving to 20nm and beyond...if they want too.

    I just don't think they want to saturate their previous products with such leaps and bounds in performance while also absolutely destroying their competition.

    Moving to a smaller process isn't out of nVidia's reach, I just don't think they have a competitive incentive to spend the money on it. They've already been accused of becoming a monopoly after purchasing 3Dfx, and it'd be painful if AMD/ATI exited the PC graphics market because nVidia's Maxwell's, being twice as efficient as GCN, were priced identically.
    Reply
  • bernstein - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    atm. it is out of reach to them. at least from a financial perspective.
    while it would be awesome to have maxwell designed for & produced on intel's 14nm process, intel doesn't even have the capacity to produce all of their own cpus... until fall 2015 (broadwell xeon-ep release)...
    Reply
  • kron123456789 - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    "it also marks the end of support for NVIDIA’s D3D10 GPUs: the 8, 9, 100, 200, and 300 series. Beginning with R343 these products are no longer supported in new driver branches and have been moved to legacy status." - This is it. The time has come to buy a new card to replace my GeForce 9800GT :) Reply
  • bobwya - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Such a modern card - why bother :-) The 980 will finally replace my 8800 GTX. Now that's a genuinely old card!!
    Actually I mainly need to do the upgrade because the power bills are so ridiculous for the 8800 GTX! For pities sake the card only has one power profile (high power usage).
    Reply
  • djscrew - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Like +1 Reply
  • kron123456789 - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - link

    Oh yeah, modern :) It's only 6 years old) But it can handle even Tomb Raider at 1080p with 30-40fps at medium settings :) Reply
  • SkyBill40 - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - link

    I've got an 8800 GTS 640MB still running in my mom's rig that's far more than what she'd ever need. Despite getting great performance from my MSI 660Ti OC 2GB Power Edition, it might be time to consider moving up the ladder since finding another identical card at a decent price for SLI likely wouldn't be worth the effort.

    So, either I sell off this 660Ti, give it to her, or hold onto it for a HTPC build at some point down the line. Decision, decisions. :)
    Reply

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