SLI Setup and Testing Configuration
The idea of multi-GPU gaming is pretty simple on the surface. By adding another GPU into your gaming PC, the game and the driver are able to divide the workload of the game engine and send half of the work to one GPU and half to another, then combining that work on to your screen in the form of successive frames. This should make the average frame rate much higher, improve smoothness and just basically make the gaming experience better. However, implementation of multi-GPU technologies like NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFire are much more difficult than the simply explanation above. We have traveled many steps in this journey and while things have improved in several key areas, there is still plenty of work to be done in others.
As it turns out, support for GPUs beyond two seems to be one of those areas ready for improvement.
When the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 launched last month my initial review of the product included performance results for GTX 980 cards running in a 2-Way SLI configuration, by far the most common derivative. As it happens though, another set of reference GeForce GTX 980 cards found there way to our office and of course we needed to explore the world of 3-Way and 4-Way SLI support and performance on the new Maxwell GPU.
The dirty secret for 3-Way and 4-Way SLI (and CrossFire for that matter) is that it just doesn't work as well or as smoothly as 2-Way configurations. Much more work is put into standard SLI setups as those are by far the most common and it doesn't help that optimizing for 3-4 GPUs is more complex. Some games will scale well, others will scale poorly; hell some even scale the other direction.
Let's see what the current state of high GPU count SLI is with the GeForce GTX 980 and whether or not you should consider purchasing more than one of these new flagship parts.
Quick Performance Comparison
Earlier this week, we posted a brief story that looked at the performance of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor on the latest GPUs from both NVIDIA and AMD. Last week also marked the release of the v1.11 patch for Sniper Elite 3 that introduced an integrated benchmark mode as well as support for AMD Mantle.
I decided that this was worth a quick look with the same line up of graphics cards that we used to test Shadow of Mordor. Let's see how the NVIDIA and AMD battle stacks up here.
For those unfamiliar with the Sniper Elite series, the focuses on the impact of an individual sniper on a particular conflict and Sniper Elite 3 doesn't change up that formula much. If you have ever seen video of a bullet slowly going through a body, allowing you to see the bones/muscle of the particular enemy being killed...you've probably been watching the Sniper Elite games.
Gore and such aside, the game is fun and combines sniper action with stealth and puzzles. It's worth a shot if you are the kind of gamer that likes to use the sniper rifles in other FPS titles.
But let's jump straight to performance. You'll notice that in this story we are not using our Frame Rating capture performance metrics. That is a direct result of wanting to compare Mantle to DX11 rendering paths - since we have no way to create an overlay for Mantle, we have resorted to using FRAPs and the integrated benchmark mode in Sniper Elite 3.
Our standard GPU test bed was used with a Core i7-3960X processor, an X79 motherboard, 16GB of DDR3 memory, and the latest drivers for both parties involved. That means we installed Catalyst 14.9 for AMD and 344.16 for NVIDIA. We'll be comparing the GeForce GTX 980 to the Radeon R9 290X, and the GTX 970 to the R9 290. We will also look at SLI/CrossFire scaling at the high end.
If there is one message that I get from NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 900M-series announcement, it is that laptop gaming is a first-class citizen in their product stack. Before even mentioning the products, the company provided relative performance differences between high-end desktops and laptops. Most of the rest of the slide deck is showing feature-parity with the desktop GTX 900-series, and a discussion about battery life.
First, the parts. Two products have been announced: The GeForce GTX 980M and the GeForce GTX 970M. Both are based on the 28nm Maxwell architecture. In terms of shading performance, the GTX 980M has a theoretical maximum of 3.189 TFLOPs, and the GTX 970M is calculated at 2.365 TFLOPs (at base clock). On the desktop, this is very close to the GeForce GTX 770 and the GeForce GTX 760 Ti, respectively. This metric is most useful when you're compute bandwidth-bound, at high resolution with complex shaders.
The full specifications are:
|GTX 980M||GTX 970M||
|Memory||Up to 4GB||Up to 3GB||4GB||4GB||4GB/8GB|
|Memory Rate||2500 MHz||2500 MHz||7.0 (GT/s)||7.0 (GT/s)||2500 MHz|
As for the features, it should be familiar for those paying attention to both desktop 900-series and the laptop 800M-series product launches. From desktop Maxwell, the 900M-series is getting VXGI, Dynamic Super Resolution, and Multi-Frame Sampled AA (MFAA). From the latest generation of Kepler laptops, the new GPUs are getting an updated BatteryBoost technology. From the rest of the GeForce ecosystem, they will also get GeForce Experience, ShadowPlay, and so forth.
For VXGI, DSR, and MFAA, please see Ryan's discussion for the desktop Maxwell launch. Information about these features is basically identical to what was given in September.
BatteryBoost, on the other hand, is a bit different. NVIDIA claims that the biggest change is just raw performance and efficiency, giving you more headroom to throttle. Perhaps more interesting though, is that GeForce Experience will allow separate one-click optimizations for both plugged-in and battery use cases.
The power efficiency demonstrated with the Maxwell GPU in Ryan's original GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 review is even more beneficial for the notebook market where thermal designs are physically constrained. Longer battery life, as well as thinner and lighter gaming notebooks, will see tremendous advantages using a GPU that can run at near peak performance on the maximum power output of an integrated battery. In NVIDIA's presentation, they mention that while notebooks on AC power can use as much as 230 watts of power, batteries tend to peak around 100 watts. Given that a full speed, desktop-class GTX 980 has a TDP of 165 watts, compared to the 250 watts of a Radeon R9 290X, translates into notebook GPU performance that will more closely mirror its desktop brethren.
Of course, you probably will not buy your own laptop GPU; rather, you will be buying devices which integrate these. There are currently five designs across four manufacturers that are revealed (see image above). Three contain the GeForce GTX 980M, one has a GTX 970M, and the other has a pair of GTX 970Ms. Prices and availability are not yet announced.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 6, 2014 - 03:21 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: radeon, R9 290X, r9 290, hawaii, GTX 980, GTX 970, geforce, amd
On Saturday while finishing up the writing on our Shadow of Mordor performance story, I noticed something quite interesting. The prices of AMD's flagship Radeon products had all come down quite a bit. In an obvious response to the release of NVIDIA's new GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970, the Radeon R9 290X and the Radeon R9 290 have lowered prices in a very aggressive fashion.
UPDATE: A couple of individual cards appear to be showing up as $360 and $369 on Newegg!
Amazon.com is showing some R9 290X cards at $399
For now, Amazon.com is only listing the triple-fan Gigabyte R9 290X Windforce card at $399, though Newegg.com has a couple as well.
Amazon.com also has several R9 290 cards for $299
- Gigabyte R9 290 Windforce - $299
- Powercolor AX R9 290 - $299
- ASUS R9 290 DirectCU II - $329
- More R9 290 Card on Amazon.com
And again, Newegg.com has some other options for R9 290 cards at these lower prices.
Let's assume that these price drops are going to be permanent which seems likely based on the history of AMD and market adjustments. That shifts the high end GPU market considerably.
|GeForce GTX 980 4GB||$549|
|$399||Radeon R9 290X 4GB|
|GeForce GTX 970 4GB||$329|
|$299||Radeon R9 290 4GB|
The battle for that lower end spot between the GTX 970 and R9 290 is now quite a bit tighter though NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture still has a positive outlook against the slightly older Hawaii GPU. Our review of the GTX 970 shows that it is indeed faster than the R9 290 though it no longer has the significant cost advantage it did upon release. The GTX 980, however, is much tougher sell over the Radeon R9 290X for PC gamers that are concerned with price per dollar over all else. I would still consider the GTX 980 faster than the R9 290X...but is it $150 faster? That's a 35% price difference NVIDIA now has to contend with.
NVIDIA has proven that is it comfortable staying in this position against AMD as it maintained it during essentially the entire life of the GTX 680 and GTX 780 product lines. AMD is more willing to make price cuts to pull the Radeon lineup back into the spotlight. Though the market share between the competitors didn't change much over the previous 6 months, I'll be very curious to see how these two strategies continue to play out.
In what can most definitely be called the best surprise of the fall game release schedule, the open-world action game set in the Lord of the Rings world, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has been receiving impressive reviews from gamers and the media. (GiantBomb.com has a great look at it if you are new to the title.) What also might be a surprise to some is that the PC version of the game can be quite demanding on even the latest PC hardware, pulling in frame rates only in the low-60s at 2560x1440 with its top quality presets.
Late last week I spent a couple of days playing around with Shadow of Mordor as well as the integrated benchmark found inside the Options menu. I wanted to get an idea of the performance characteristics of the game to determine if we might include this in our full-time game testing suite update we are planning later in the fall. To get some sample information I decided to run through a couple of quality presets with the top two cards from NVIDIA and AMD and compare them.
Without a doubt, the visual style of Shadow of Mordor is stunning – with the game settings cranked up high the world, characters and fighting scenes look and feel amazing. To be clear, in the build up to this release we had really not heard anything from the developer or NVIDIA (there is an NVIDIA splash screen at the beginning) about the title which is out of the ordinary. If you are looking for a game that is both fun to play (I am 4+ hours in myself) and can provide a “wow” factor to show off your PC rig then this is definitely worth picking up.
Installation and Overview
While once a very popular way to cool your PC, the art of custom water loops tapered off in the early 2000s as the benefits of better cooling, and overclocking in general, met with diminished returns. In its place grew a host of companies offering closed loop system, individually sealed coolers for processors and even graphics cards that offered some of the benefits of standard water cooling (noise, performance) without the hassle of setting up a water cooling configuration manually.
A bit of a resurgence has occurred in the last year or two though where the art and styling provided by custom water loop cooling is starting to reassert itself into the PC enthusiast mindset. Some companies never left (EVGA being one of them), but it appears that many of the users are returning to it. Consider me part of that crowd.
During a live stream we held with EVGA's Jacob Freeman, the very first prototype of the EVGA Hydro Copper was shown and discussed. Lucky for us, I was able to coerce Jacob into leaving the water block with me for a few days to do some of our testing and see just how much capability we could pull out of the GM204 GPU and a GeForce GTX 980.
Our performance preview today will look at the water block itself, installation, performance and temperature control. Keep in mind that this is a very early prototype, the first one to make its way to US shores. There will definitely be some changes and updates (in both the hardware and the software support for overclocking) before final release in mid to late October. Should you consider this ~$150 Hydro Copper water block for your GTX 980?
Subject: General Tech | October 1, 2014 - 01:09 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: nvidia, maxwell, GTX 980, GTX 970, GM204, geforce, dx12, dsr
Move over Super Best Friends, the Dynamic Super Resolution Duo is here to slay the evil Jaggies! Ryan covered NVIDIA's new DSR in his review of the new Maxwell cards and how it can upsample a monitor with a resolution of 2560x1440 or lower to much higher resolutions using a process similar to supersampling but is in fact a 13-tap gaussian filter. That is important because supersampling would have some interesting challenges rendering 2560x1440 on a 1080p monitor. DSR gives you a much wider choice of resolutions as you can see in the Guild Wars screenshot below, allowing you to choose a variety of multipliers to your displays native resolution to give your game a much smoother look. The Tech Report has assembled a variety of screenshots from games with different DSR and AA settings which you can examine with your own eyeballs to see what you think.
"One of the more intriguing capabilities Nvidia introduced with the GeForce GTX 970 and 980 is a feature called Dynamic Super Resolution, or DSR, for short. Nvidia bills it as a means of getting 4K quality on a 2K display. How good is it? We take a look."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- There's more to Windows 10 than miscounting @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft WINDOWS 10: Seven ATE Nine. Or Eight did really @ The Register
- AMD demonstrates NFV tool using 64-bit ARM-based SoC codenamed 'Hierofalcon' @ The Inquirer
- Hong Kong Protesters Use Mesh Networks To Organize @ Slashdot
- Mozilla might add Tor encryption to its Firefox web browser @ The Inquirer
- Lenovo becomes the biggest x86 server provider in China as acquisition of IBM x86 server business completes, says IDC @ DigiTimes
- Supercomputers: The Next Generation – Cray puts burst buffer tech, Intel Haswell inside @ The Register
- Competition: Win One of Three BioStar Motherboards @ eTeknix
Subject: Graphics Cards | September 19, 2014 - 02:17 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: vr direct, video, nvidia, mfaa, maxwell, GTX 980, GTX 970, GM204, geforce, dx12, dsr
The answer to the two most important questions are as follows, the GTX 980 will cost you around $560 compared to the $500 for an R9 290X and the GTX 970 an attractive $330 compared to $380 for an R9 290. Availability is hard to predict but the cards will be shipping soon and you can pre-order your choice of card by following the links on the last page of Ryan's review. Among all the new features that have been added to this new GPU one of the most impressive is the power draw, as you can see in [H]ard|OCP's review this card pulls 100W less than the 290X at full load although it did run warmer than the 290X Double Dissipation card which [H] compared it to, something that may change with a 980 bearing a custom cooler. Follow those links to see the benchmarking results of this card, both synthetic and in game.
"Today NVIDIA launches its newest Maxwell GPU. There will be two new GPUs, the GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970. These next generation GPUs usher in new features and performance that move the gaming industry forward. We discuss new features, architecture, and evaluate the gameplay performance against the competition."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 and 970 @ The Tech Report
- Maxwell is here! GTX 980 is now revealed! @ Bjorn3D.com
- Nvidia unveils second-gen Maxwell GPUs, the Geforce GTX 970 and GTX 980 @ The Inquirer
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB Review @HiTech Legion
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Review @ Neoseeker
- NVIDIA GTX 980 Review @ OCC
- NVIDIA GeForce GeForce GTX 980 Maxwell Video Card Review @ Legit Reviews
- MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G GPU Review @ Modders-Inc
- GeForce GTX 980 @ HardwareHeaven
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 @ Benchmark Reviews
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Review: Does Maxwell Bring Maximum Gameplay? @ Techgage
- ASUS Strix GTX 970 OC 4 GB @ techPowerUp
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Performance Review @ Hardware Canucks
- EVGA GTX 970 SC ACX 4 GB @ techPowerUp
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 SLI @ techPowerUp
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4 GB @ techPowerUp
- Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 970 & GTX 980 @ Legion Hardware
- Nvidia Geforce GTX 980 @ Kitguru
- Asus GTX970 STRIX OC @ Kitguru
- MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G @ Kitguru
The GM204 Architecture
James Clerk Maxwell's equations are the foundation of our society's knowledge about optics and electrical circuits. It is a fitting tribute from NVIDIA to include Maxwell as a code name for a GPU architecture and NVIDIA hopes that features, performance, and efficiency that they have built into the GM204 GPU would be something Maxwell himself would be impressed by. Without giving away the surprise conclusion here in the lead, I can tell you that I have never seen a GPU perform as well as we have seen this week, all while changing the power efficiency discussion in as dramatic a fashion.
To be fair though, this isn't our first experience with the Maxwell architecture. With the release of the GeForce GTX 750 Ti and its GM107 GPU, NVIDIA put the industry on watch and let us all ponder if they could possibly bring such a design to a high end, enthusiast class market. The GTX 750 Ti brought a significantly lower power design to a market that desperately needed it, and we were even able to showcase that with some off-the-shelf PC upgrades, without the need for any kind of external power.
That was GM107 though; today's release is the GM204, indicating that not only are we seeing the larger cousin of the GTX 750 Ti but we also have at least some moderate GPU architecture and feature changes from the first run of Maxwell. The GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 are going to be taking on the best of the best products from the GeForce lineup as well as the AMD Radeon family of cards, with aggressive pricing and performance levels to match. And, for those that understand the technology at a fundamental level, you will likely be surprised by how much power it requires to achieve these goals. Toss in support for things like a new AA method, Dynamic Super Resolution, and even improved SLI performance and you can see why doing it all on the same process technology is impressive.
The NVIDIA Maxwell GM204 Architecture
The NVIDIA Maxwell GM204 graphics processor was built from the ground up with an emphasis on power efficiency. As it was stated many times during the technical sessions we attended last week, the architecture team learned quite a bit while developing the Kepler-based Tegra K1 SoC and much of that filtered its way into the larger, much more powerful product you see today. This product is fast and efficient, but it was all done while working on the same TSMC 28nm process technology used on the Kepler GTX 680 and even AMD's Radeon R9 series of products.
The fundamental structure of GM204 is setup like the GM107 product shipped as the GTX 750 Ti. There is an array of GPCs (Graphics Processing Clustsers), each comprised of multiple SMs (Streaming Multiprocessors, also called SMMs for this Maxwell derivative) and external memory controllers. The GM204 chip (the full implementation of which is found on the GTX 980), consists of 4 GPCs, 16 SMMs and four 64-bit memory controllers.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | September 15, 2014 - 08:02 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, geforce, GTX 980
Details and photographs of the GeForce GTX 980 are leaking on various forums and websites. Based on the Maxwell architecture, it is supposed to be faster and more efficient than Kepler while being manufactured on an identical, 28nm fab process. While we were uncertain before, it now looks like the GTX 980 will be its formal name, as seen in leaked photographs, below.
Image Credit: Videocardz
As expected, the cooler is a continuation of NVIDIA's reference cooler, as seen on recent high-end graphics cards (such as the GeForce Titan). Again, this is not a surprise. The interesting part is that it is rated for about 250W whereas Maxwell is rumored to draw 180W. While the reference card has two six-pin PCIe power connectors, I am curious to see if the excess cooling will lead to interesting overclocks. That is not even mentioning what the AIB partners can do.
Image Credit: Videocardz
Beyond its over-engineering for Maxwell's TDP, it also includes a back plate.
Its display connectors have been hotly anticipated. As you can see above, the GTX 980 has five outputs: three DisplayPort, one HDMI, and one DVI. Which version of HDMI? Which version of DisplayPort? No clue at the moment. There has been some speculation regarding HDMI 2.0, and the DisplayPort 1.3 standard was just released to the public today, but I would be pleasantly surprised if even one of these made it in.
Check out Videocardz for a little bit more.