PROS / Top-notch performance and low power requirements set this card apart.
CONS / The 256-bit memory bus is somewhat disappointing.
VERDICT / There simply isn't a better single-GPU card than the Nvidia GTX 980.
With the GeForce GTX 980, Nvidia introduced the second generation of the Maxwell architecture that first appeared on the GTX 750 Ti. This second-generation card is titled GM204, and it manages to combine excellent performance with low-power needs and quiet acoustics. The GTX 980 is the best single-GPU card you can get in just about every respect. For the amount of pixels this card can push, it doesn't need much power, which makes it very efficient. Due to its performance and efficiency, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 earns our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award for graphics cards.
Whether you're playing at 1080p or 2160p, the GTX 980 is an excellent choice. Across our swath of benchmarked games for our graphics card comparison, the GTX 980 averaged 118.6 frames per second (fps) at 1080p. At 2160p, it achieved a much more modest 58.3 fps on average. Still, that's a remarkable score for a single-card GPU.
At 1080p, the GTX 980 performs well in Unigine Heaven, coming in at 99.2 fps. We were also impressed with the 980's Graphics Test 1 and 2 scores in 3DMark's Fire Strike. Using standard-quality settings and 1080p resolution, the GTX 980 scored 13,297, which is 14 percent better than the next highest score of 11,421, set by the GTX 970.
Nvidia's GM204 Maxwell architecture is impressive. Despite the relatively small 256-bit memory bus, the 980 performs remarkably well. On paper, it can be difficult to see how the 980 can be at the top of the charts. A total memory bandwidth of 224GBps, fewer CUDA cores than the GTX 780 and a small memory bus make the card look like it will perform worse than the GTX 780 or R9 290X.
However, the GTX 980 has a higher core clock speed. Combined with its efficient architecture, the 980 is a serious pixel pusher. In fact, it can pump out 72.1 GP/s, which is considerably more than its 780 predecessor, which could only handle 41.4GP/s. The 980 does fall a bit short with texture fillrate. At only 144 GT/s, it's a step backward from the 780 (166 GT/s) and the R9 290x (176GT/s). However, in-game performance and benchmarking shows that the GTX 980 still outperforms every other single-card GPU on the market.
Noise and Power
For a graphics card that gives you top-tier performance, the GTX 980 requires comparatively little power. While this doesn't have a drastic effect on your power bill, it is noticeable. The mobile version of the 980, which can be found in laptops, uses its low power profile to boost laptop battery life.
The GTX 980 has two six-pin power ports, giving it a maximum power delivery ceiling of 225 watts. However, Nvidia has set the thermal design point (TDP) at 165 watts. That means if you want to make use of that 225-watt ceiling, you'll need to make sure you have a proper cooling system, as the reference GTX 980 will only dissipate up to 165 watts' worth of heat.
Not only does the 980 require relatively little power, it also runs fairly cool and quiet. The faster the 980's fan spins, the louder it is and the more heat it dissipates. Essentially, if you want a cool card, you need to put up with more noise. However, Nvidia puts a lot of emphasis on more efficient cooling systems, resulting in good cooling and low noise. The GTX 980 is no exception here.
Nvidia's drivers allow you to run up to four monitors simultaneously with the GTX 980. You can also take advantage of any 3D-capable content. As an Nvidia card, the 980 has full support for PhysX, which makes in-game physics much more realistic. You also can take advantage of what Nvidia has dubbed dynamic super resolution (DSR). This feature renders your game at high resolutions and then shrinks them down to fit your actual monitor size. This results in cleaner and crisper graphics.
The 980 is one of the best choices for gaming at 4K. Across our lineup of test games, the 980 managed a respectable average of 58.3 fps average at high settings. That's very impressive for a single-card GPU. In Unigine Heaven, the GTX 980 averaged 35.4 fps at 4K. Compare that to the GTX 970's 31 fps and the R9 290X's 29 fps, and the 980 comes out ahead – though not by much.
As far as performance and efficiency are concerned, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 is the best graphics card on the market. Some of the GPU's specs look like they could bottleneck the performance somewhat, but real-world testing proves that the 980 outperforms every other single-card GPU. A larger memory bus would make the 980 shine even more. Even at 4K resolutions, the GTX 980 can handle decent frame rates. This is the cream of the crop – at least until AMD releases its next generation of graphics cards.