PROS / This graphics card has a low power profile for its performance.
CONS / You can only run three 970s in SLI, which is a silly restriction when you can SLI four 980s.
VERDICT / The GTX 970 is an excellent graphics card that combines low power consumption with undeniably good frame rates.
The Nvidia GTX 970 is the GTX 980's little brother. While the 970 doesn't pack quite as strong of a punch as the 980, it's still impressive. In fact, the GTX 970 performs better than most other graphics cards on the market. Due to its powerful chipset, relatively low power draw and excellent real-world performance, the GTX 970 earns our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award. The only disappointment comes in the form of its 256-bit memory bus, which is only an average width.
We were impressed with the GTX 970's real-world performance. Compared to its predecessor, the GTX 770, the 970 really steps up its game. You'll get better frame rates and smoother gameplay from a GTX 970 than you will from a GTX 780, or even an R9 290X, but not by much. In our graphics card comparison, we looked at performance across many games. The GTX 970 churned out an average of 94.5 fps. Compared to the GTX 770's average of 71.6 fps, you can see a significant performance jump.
While the GTX 970 beats pretty much everything other than the GTX 980 at 1080p, gaming at higher resolutions favors the R9 290X. At 2160p, the GTX 970 averaged 50.2 fps in our testing, which is somewhat lower than the R9 290X. In many cases, the R9 290X and the GTX 970 are very similar performance-wise, or close enough that it doesn't make much of a difference. Still, a few extra frames per second can be a big deal when you're gaming at 2160p.
The second-generation Maxwell chipset, called GM204, is what drives the GTX 970's high performance scores. This is the same chipset you'll find in the GTX 980, just trimmed down a bit. Instead of the 980's 2,048 CUDA cores, you get 1,665 in the GTX 970. The GTX 970's core clock speed is also reduced from the GTX 980's 1,126MHz to 1,050MHz. However, the memory bandwidth remains the same at 224GB per second.
What this all comes down to is the GTX 970's texture fillrate of 109.2 GT/s and pixel fillrate of 67.2 GP/s. These are lower than the GTX 980, especially the texture fillrate, but they're still respectable. Overall, the GTX 970's trimmed-down GM204 GPU is still quite powerful. However, you can only run up to three 970s in SLI, compared to four 980s. That seems like a silly and artificial limitation, since the 970 is based on the same chipset.
Noise and Power
For a card as capable as the GTX 970, it isn't very power-hungry. During gameplay, the GTX 970 consumed an average of 143 watts. That's a measureable improvement over the GTX 770's 175 watts, and a massive improvement over the R9 290X, which consumes 242 watts during gaming. The 970 is also fairly quiet, due in part to its low heat levels. At maximum, the 970's fan produces 40.8 dBA. That's significantly quieter than comparable graphics cards.
You can run up to four displays simultaneously with the GTX 970. You'll find DVI-I, HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2 jacks on the back plate of the graphics card. In fact, there are three DisplayPort jacks, which gives you a lot of room to work with. In addition to four monitors, the GTX 970 can handle 3D and 4K content. You'll also get full support for PhysX.
Finding the sweet spot for performance and price can be difficult, but Nvidia makes a bold stake with the GTX 970. It's still priced a bit high for budget builds, but it's hard to deny the 970's graphical prowess. While a few things keep it from being the best graphics card under $1,000, the GTX 970 is still an excellent choice. It gives you access to great real-world performance in games and keeps a low power and sound profile while doing so.