MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G Reviewccokeman -
Category: Video Cards
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MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G Introduction:
NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture has proven time and again that it is capable of delivering all the performance of Kepler, but in a much more energy efficient manner. After looking at both a reference GTX 980 and MSI's own GTX 980 Gaming 4G, the fact is that Kepler is now EOL for a good reason. The GTX 980 is the flagship implementation, with the GTX 970 just a few rungs lower on the price performance ladder.
MSI's GTX 980 Gaming 4G showed off the technology under the hood of the company's top line NVIDIA card and put that same feature set on the GTX 970 Gaming 4G that I am looking at today. For starters we get a revision of the Twin Frozr cooling solution using a Super SU pipe, Airfow Control Technology, and 100mm TORX fans to push the airflow through the heat sink quietly. A custom PCB is equipped with MSI's Military spec components, including Hi-C caps, Super Ferrite chokes, and solid capacitors that provide a cooler, more efficient voltage regulation circuit all in the name of delivering a high level of gaming FPS performance. Thanks to the MSI Gaming app you get three preset profiles to manage gaming performance with boost clock speeds ranging from 1178MHz on the silent profile to 1279MHz in OC mode. Top that off with stunning good looks and you have a card that's right at home in any system.
Priced at $349, it is price competitive with other non-stock GTX 970 cards as well as comparable to the R9 290X variants on the market. Let's take a look and see if the GTX 970 Gaming 4G delivers robust gaming FPS results for your hard earned dollars.
MSI GTX 970 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.
The core clock speed of the GTX 970 Gaming 4G from MSI varies from a low of 1051MHz to a high of 1140MHz with boost clock speeds that hit almost 1300MHz. Baseline memory speed on the 4GB of GDDR5 is 1753MHz, for an effective data rate of 7010MHz running through a 256-bit bus. This clock speed compares favorably with last generation's GTX 780 Ti and MSI's own GTX 980 Gaming 4G. 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.
When it comes to the packaging of MSI's latest Gaming series products you know right up front what you are getting. The front panel shows a tribal dragon against a background that imitates the traces on a circuit board, A pretty cool look. On the front you see the product name, GTX 970 Gaming 4G, that is prominently displayed, 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 takes a deeper dive down into 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.
Opening the box shows the packaging features a black box with the MSI Gaming logo embossed on it. Inside this box is the bulk of the accessory bundle included with the GTX 970 Gaming 4G. Removing the accessory box takes the end user to an MSI logo'ed mouse pad that bears the image of the GTX 970 Gaming 4G. The same setup we saw with the GTX 980 Gaming 4G I recently looked at. Below the accessory box, you can get a look at the GTX 970 Gaming 4G in its foam enclosure as delivered from MSI.
With a card of this caliber, the accessory bundle is kind of slim, but includes everything you will need to get it installed outside of the system you are installing it in. Usually buying a card in this class means your power supply is already beefy enough and includes the correct amount of 6/8-pin PCIe power plugs. The bundle includes a user's guide, MSI Gaming brochure, a disc 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.
Since this is the first GTX 970 I have looked at, but one that pulls heavily from the feature set used on the GTX 980 Gaming 4G I looked at recently, it should be able to deliver an impressive FPS performance for the price point. MSI takes what already is a highly clocked and efficient architecture and tweaked it way up with the latest MIL-STD-810G components and an all-new cooling solution to go with the even higher clock speeds. Let's find out if that's enough to compare with the now EOL GTX 780 Ti and the R9 290X.