The Battle for Ultra High Definition Gaming
Over the past few years the enthusiast level gaming landscape has been shifting towards higher resolutions. While 1080p was once thought as the epitome of high end gaming, those days are slowly coming to an end; and while the majority of PC gamers still game at 1080p, one can’t help but notice that gaming at 1440p and now even 4K is starting to move closer towards the mainstream.
Tech Spec and Overclock Comparison
That brings us to today’s heavy hitters. In one corner we have the modest but brutal GTX 980, with 2048 CUDA cores, 4GB of memory, and a seemingly small 256-bit memory bus. The 980 also struts out of the box with a core clock of 1127 and a boost clock of 1216.
The memory comes in at a comfy 7012 effective clock. However, don’t let those numbers fool you as the 980 is also on Nvidia’s new Maxwell architecture which promises excellent power efficiency and delivers so with a TDP of just 165W. Thanks to the improved thermal efficiency of the architecture, Maxwell has been reported as being a serious overclocker. At times being able to hit 1.5GHz on the core and 8GHz on the memory. Stunning numbers.
On the other side we have the Titan X, the heavyweight with a hefty price tag looming over head. What does that $999 sticker get you? An unprecedented 12GB frame buffer. Get your Skyrim mods ready; that’s 12GB of GDDR5 memory. Along with that memory comes with a 384-bit memory bus that dwarfs the 980’s puny 256-bit bus. Clock speeds out of the box aren’t as impressive though with a core clock of 1000 MHz and a boost of 1089 MHz. The memory comes in at the same 7012 MHz effective clock as the 980, however some thermal efficiency has been sacrificed as the Titan X does come with a 250W TDP.
Titan X vs 980 SLI Price:
As discussed previously, the Titan X comes with a price tag of $999. A serious price point for a single GPU that is not for the feint of heart nor light of wallet. A single 980 is a more manageable price of around $550. There are several variants of the 980 that I’ll cover just a little later. However, the purpose of this article is to pit not just one 980 against the Titan X, but two 980’s in SLI.
That puts us at roughly $1100 before taxes and shipping come into play. If you’re in the market for a reference cooler you can raise that price by another $100. As reference cards are becoming more scarce later in the chipsets development cycle we are seeing a price premium for reference cards from EVGA.
I want to break this section into two areas, looks and cooler design. Let’s start with the looks. With the 980 you will have a plethora of options, but with the Titan X you only have one choice, reference. Nvidia has decided to ditch its silver colored aluminum outer shell for a black colored one. The overall design otherwise remains unchanged with the return of the vapor chamber that is dissipated by a large, dual-slot aluminum heatsink. It should however be noted that Nvidia failed to provide with backplate like we saw on the reference 980. Something that I think will disappoint a lot of enthusiasts out there.
Looking at the 980, we also have a reference cooler option, however with the aforementioned backplate included. Beyond reference though you have your pick of the lot. With contenders from Asus, Gigabyte, EVGA, and MSI to name a few; You have your work cut out for you when deciding which is the best for you. Aesthetic will probably play a big part here, but some cards also offer superior cooling designs and different factory overclocks. I would advise you to ignore making a choice on factory overclocks. These OC’s are often mild and can easily be obtained in a matter of seconds by even the most novice of user.
Then comes the cooler. If you are looking to do SLI or use a more sealed/silent case like my own, Define R5, then I suggest reference coolers. These help remove hot air from the case with its blower style cooler. This will help with temperatures in SLI configurations and in silent cases where airflow is generally a concern. Using reference coolers may result in slightly higher temps on your graphics card(s), but will cause the rest of your system to run quieter and cooler.
The final design element I will mention is something that is identical on both cards, the rear i/o. Both GPU’s have the same layout, featuring 3x Displayport connections, 1x HDMI, and 1x Dual-Link DVI. This should serve any user who is looking to run multiple 4K or G-Sync displays which require Displayport for the latter.
Titan X vs 980 SLI Performance Breakdown:
Okay boys and girls; we’ve talked specs, pricing, looks, and cooler design, but now it’s time to talk about the most important thing, performance. Give me those glorious numbers of the FPS gods so I know which way to go for my brand new Asus ROG Swift or that stunning new 4K display that you can’t wait to see at a blistering 60 fps on all 8,294,400 pixels.
Going into this I had a couple of predictions. I was pretty certain the 980’s would run laps around the single Titan X in 1440p Gaming. However, due to the 12GB frame buffer of the Titan X, I predicted it would definitely pull ahead in 4K.
Below is a chart with my findings over a number of in-game benchmarks and a synthetic benchmark that I’ve been using since 2013, the almighty Firestrike. I also want to note that the benchmarks were both done on overclocked cards. My 980’s are overclocked at +225 on the core and +250 on the memory. I am also using a 120% power limit with +10v.
The Titan X scores, which come courtesy of AnandTech, were also overclocked. With +200 on the core and +400 on the memory with a voltage of 1.218. Besides the overclocks, both systems tested were using 6-core Intel processors and 16GB of memory.
Looking at these numbers you might be just as surprised as I was. Not only did the 980’s in SLI obliterate the Titan X in 1440p scores, but also managed to pull ahead in 4K. The first game I tried was Battlefield 4 on a 64-player Siege of Shanghai server, easily the most demanding map in the game. At 3840×2160 resolution I was seeing consistent numbers hovering between 90 and 110 FPS. I thought it was a fluke so I moved on to Tomb Raider, Metro: Last Light, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Much to my dismay, the 980’s continued to pull ahead of the Titan X’s reported scores.
At this point I pulled out the big guns, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor with the Ultra texture pack that is reported to necessitate a whopping 6GB of video memory. Once again though, I was left gobsmacked as the 980’s scored an extremely playable average framerate of 57 FPS, while the Titan X trailed behind at 48.9 FPS. Firestrike was my last test that unsurprisingly, at this point, beat out the $999 card by more than 1800 points.
Which is better for 4k Gaming?
Truly astonishing numbers and something I did not see coming when it came to 4K gaming. It seems that at least for now the 980’s in SLI are sitting at the top of the heap for the 4K and 1440p gaming market. It will be interesting to see if it can hold that title going forward as we see more and more demanding games coming out. We still have The Witcher 3 coming in May, which is shaping up to be an amazing graphical showcase. Further down the road we will begin to see beautiful, nearly photo-realistic environments in Unreal Engine 4. Only time will tell if the 980’s 4GB of GDDR5 memory will be enough in the latter half of 2015 and beyond.