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MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G Review

Category: Video Cards
Price: $579
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MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G Introduction:

NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture has been reintroduced with the GTX 980 and has already proved to offer great gaming performance and significant power savings over even the last generation of Kepler-based video cards. In our launch review, we found out that the full implementation of the Maxwell architecture delivered performance on par with the Kepler-based GTX 780 Ti, but did it using significantly less power for that similar performance. That's a combination that's tough to beat, especially when you come in at a much improved price point than the GTX 780 Ti it is replacing.

While the reference GTX 980 is nice in its own right, MSI has taken the Maxwell core and built an impressive package around it to take advantage of the architecture's strengths, as the manufacturer is wont to do. MSI's GTX 980 Gaming 4G comes complete with an all new hybrid cooling solution called the Twin Frozr V, which uses a series of diverter blades on the 100mm fans to drive cooling performance without increasing noise. Military Class build components are still used to run more efficiently and handle a higher current load; helpful when running big overclocks right out of the box.

As a factory-overclocked card, the expectation for MSI's GTX 980 Gaming 4G is that it will be capable of driving performance to new levels for some long term gaming. Featuring a Turbo Boost clock speed of 1317MHz on the core and 17502MHz on the 4GB of GDDR5 memory, it should live up to the expectations. With this new architecture, gamers get access to new tech such as Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR), MFAA, Voxel Global Illumination, and support for DirectX 12. Priced at $579, MSI makes the GTX 980 Gaming 4G available for mot much of a premium over reference cards. Let's dig into what MSI has put before us and see how this GTX 980 performs.

MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G Closer Look:

I had my first look at the Maxwell architecture when I looked at the GM107-based GTX 750 Ti and GTX 750 earlier this year. The architecture was built to maximize energy efficiency and still deliver excellent gaming performance. Now we have the full realization of the architecture labeled as GM204, which takes this to a new level by delivering twice the performance per watt when compared to the early versions of Kepler architecture, such as that seen in the GTX 680. NVIDIA has used roughly the same architectural arrangement since Fermi debuted in 2010. From Fermi to Kepler and now Maxwell, we see huge improvements.

Looking at the Maxwell architecture, it is based around four graphics processing clusters, each with its own raster engine. Each GPC has a total of four Maxwell Streaming Multiprocessors units, each with a Polymorph engine, 128 CUDA cores, and eight texture units. A quartet of 64-bit memory controllers are used to manage 4GB of 7000MHz-rated GDDR5. Each memory controller comes equipped with 16 ROPs and 512KB of L2 cache. Adding that up we get 2048 CUDA cores, a unified shared 2048KB of L2 cache, 64 ROPs, and 128 texture units. Built on NVIDIA's 28nm process, this implementation houses only 5.2 billion transistors compared to 7.1 billion under the lid of the GTX 780 Ti, with a large physical die size of 398 mm². Being built for efficiency and performance, you can see how less hardware should relate to the much improved 165 watt power envelope.

Core clock speed for the reference cards comes in at 1126MHz with a Turbo Boost 2.0 clock speed of 1216MHz, while MSI delivers a significant jump up to 1216MHz in OC Mode with an impressive Boost clock of 1317MHz right out of the box with no overclocking required. Baseline memory speed on the reference card's 4GB of GDDR5 is 1750MHz, or an effective rate of 7000MHz, while MSI gives the user a small 3MHz jump to an effective data rate of 7010MHz running through a 256-bit bus. While this may initially seem to be cause for concern when compared to the GTX 780 Ti, NVIDIA has some additional tech up its sleeves for improving the memory compression techniques that help reduce the memory bandwidth needs. By using the new third generation lossless Delta Color compression algorithms, you see a benefit as data is written to and from the GDDR5 memory at up to an 8:1 ratio, depending on the size of the pixel block being written. This results in Maxwell needing 25% less bytes of data than a comparable Kepler core. A Kepler core would need a memory data rate of 9.3Gbps to run comparable throughput numbers to Maxwell's architecture.



MSI's presentation of the product follows the company's latest Gaming series products using a tribal Dragon against a background that imitates the traces on a circuit board. The product name, GTX 980 Gaming 4G, is prominently displayed on the front panel, along with the fact that this card comes with the latest Twin Frozr V cooling solution, is equipped with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and that it is a factory-overclocked card. The back side breaks down the feature set of the card and describes the construction of the Twin Frozr V cooling solution and Gaming Application that is used to quickly manage clock speed profiles from silent to full-on overclocked.



Internally, the packaging features a black box with the MSI Gaming logo embossed on it, which contains the bulk of the accessory bundle included with the GTX 980 Gaming 4G. Removing the accessory box shows that MSI included a mouse pad that bears the image of the GTX 980 Gaming 4G. Below the accessory box, you can get a look at the GTX 980 Gaming 4G in its foam coffin.



The accessory bundle included with MSI's GTX 980 Gaming 4G is kind of slim, but if you are buying this card then you will most likely have just about all you need, including a power supply with the needed PCIe power plugs. The bundle includes a user's guide, MSI Gaming brochure, a disk that has the drivers and Gaming application, a 6-pin PCIe to 8-pin PCIe power adapter, a DVI to VGA adapter, and lastly, a full-size rubber-backed mouse pad.



When I looked at the reference card, the fact that performance was similar to but in some cases lower than the GTX 780 Ti was a bit concerning with the high factory clock speeds. MSI has taken the high clock speeds and boosted them even further to ensure you get the highest possible performance out of the architecture. Equipped with a new cooling solution to go with the even higher clock speeds, let's find out if that's enough to best the GTX 780 Ti in more scenarios.

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