The GTX 960 at 2560x1440

Subject: Graphics Cards | January 30, 2015 - 03:42 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, msi gaming 2g, msi, maxwell, gtx 960

Sitting right now at $220 ($210 after MIR) the MSI GTX 960 GAMING 2G is more or less the same price as a standard R9 280 or a 280x/290 on discount.  We have seen that the price to performance is quite competitive at 1080p gaming but this year the push seems to be for performance at higher resolutions.  [H]ard|OCP explored the performance of this card by testing at 2560 x 1440 against the GTX 770 and 760 as well as the R9 285 and 280x with some interesting results.  In some cases the 280x turned out on top while in others the 960 won, especially when Gameworks features like God Rays were enabled.  Read through this carefully but from their results the deciding factor between picking up one or the other of these cards could be the price as they are very close in performance.

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"We take the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 GPU based MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G and push it to its limits at 1440p. We also include a GeForce GTX 770 and AMD Radeon R9 280X into this evaluation for some unexpected results. How does the GeForce GTX 960 really compare to a wide range of cards?"

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

Source: [H]ard|OCP
Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

A Summary Thus Far

It has certainly been an interesting week for NVIDIA. It started with the release of the new GeForce GTX 960, a $199 graphics card that brought the latest iteration of Maxwell's architecture to a lower price point, competing with the Radeon R9 280 and R9 285 products. But then the proverbial stuff hit the fan with a memory issue on the GeForce GTX 970, the best selling graphics card of the second half of 2014. NVIDIA responded to the online community on Saturday morning but that was quickly followed up with a more detailed expose on the GTX 970 memory hierarchy, which included a couple of important revisions to the specifications of the GTX 970 as well.

At the heart of all this technical debate is a performance question: does the GTX 970 suffer from lower performance because of of the 3.5GB/0.5GB memory partitioning configuration? Many forum members and PC enthusiasts have been debating this for weeks with many coming away with an emphatic yes.

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The newly discovered memory system of the GeForce GTX 970

Yesterday I spent the majority of my day trying to figure out a way to validate or invalidate these types of performance claims. As it turns out, finding specific game scenarios that will consistently hit targeted memory usage levels isn't as easy as it might first sound and simple things like the order of start up can vary that as well (and settings change orders). Using Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare though, I think I have presented a couple of examples that demonstrate the issue at hand.

Performance testing is a complicated story. Lots of users have attempted to measure performance on their own setup, looking for combinations of game settings that sit below the 3.5GB threshold and those that cross above it, into the slower 500MB portion. The issue for many of these tests is that they lack access to both a GTX 970 and a GTX 980 to really compare performance degradation between cards. That's the real comparison to make - the GTX 980 does not separate its 4GB into different memory pools. If it has performance drops in the same way as the GTX 970 then we can wager the memory architecture of the GTX 970 is not to blame. If the two cards perform differently enough, beyond the expected performance delta between two cards running at different clock speeds and with different CUDA core counts, then we have to question the decisions that NVIDIA made.

IMG_9792.JPG

There has also been concern over the frame rate consistency of the GTX 970. Our readers are already aware of how deceptive an average frame rate alone can be, and why looking at frame times and frame time consistency is so much more important to guaranteeing a good user experience. Our Frame Rating method of GPU testing has been in place since early 2013 and it tests exactly that - looking for consistent frame times that result in a smooth animation and improved gaming experience.

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Users at reddit.com have been doing a lot of subjective testing

We will be applying Frame Rating to our testing today of the GTX 970 and its memory issues - does the division of memory pools introduce additional stutter into game play? Let's take a look at a couple of examples.

Continue reading our look at GTX 970 Performance Testing using Frame Rating!

NVIDIA Plans Driver Update for GTX 970 Memory Issue, Help with Returns

Subject: Graphics Cards | January 28, 2015 - 10:21 AM |
Tagged: nvidia, memory issue, maxwell, GTX 970, GM204, geforce

UPDATE 1/29/15: This forum post has since been edited and basically removed, with statements made on Twitter that no driver changes are planned that will specifically target the performance of the GeForce GTX 970.

The story around the GeForce GTX 970 and its confusing and shifting memory architecture continues to update. On a post in the official GeForce.com forums (on page 160 of 184!), moderator and NVIDIA employee PeterS claims that the company is working on a driver to help improve performance concerns and will also be willing to "help out" for users that honestly want to return the product they already purchased. Here is the quote:

Hey,

First, I want you to know that I'm not just a mod, I work for NVIDIA in Santa Clara.

I totally get why so many people are upset. We messed up some of the stats on the reviewer kit and we didn't properly explain the memory architecture. I realize a lot of you guys rely on product reviews to make purchase decisions and we let you down.

It sucks because we're really proud of this thing. The GTX970 is an amazing card and I genuinely believe it's the best card for the money that you can buy. We're working on a driver update that will tune what's allocated where in memory to further improve performance.

Having said that, I understand that this whole experience might have turned you off to the card. If you don't want the card anymore you should return it and get a refund or exchange. If you have any problems getting that done, let me know and I'll do my best to help.

--Peter

This makes things a bit more interesting - based on my conversations with NVIDIA about the GTX 970 since this news broke, it was stated that the operating system had a much stronger role in the allocation of memory from a game's request than the driver. Based on the above statement though, NVIDIA seems to think it can at least improve on the current level of performance and tune things to help alleviate any potential bottlenecks that might exist simply in software.

IMG_9794.JPG

As far as the return goes, PeterS at least offers to help this one forum user but I would assume the gesture would be available for anyone that has the same level of concern for the product. Again, as I stated in my detailed breakdown of the GTX 970 memory issue on Monday, I don't believe that users need to go that route - the GeForce GTX 970 is still a fantastic performing card in nearly all cases except (maybe) a tiny fraction where that last 500MB of frame buffer might come into play. I am working on another short piece going up today that details my experiences with the GTX 970 running up on those boundaries.

Part 1: NVIDIA Responds to GTX 970 3.5GB Memory Issue
Part 2: NVIDIA Discloses Full Memory Structure and Limitations of GTX 970

NVIDIA is trying to be proactive now, that much we can say. It seems that the company understands its mistake - not in the memory pooling decision but in the lack of clarity it offered to reviewers and consumers upon the product's launch.

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

A few secrets about GTX 970

UPDATE 1/28/15 @ 10:25am ET: NVIDIA has posted in its official GeForce.com forums that they are working on a driver update to help alleviate memory performance issues in the GTX 970 and that they will "help out" those users looking to get a refund or exchange.

Yes, that last 0.5GB of memory on your GeForce GTX 970 does run slower than the first 3.5GB. More interesting than that fact is the reason why it does, and why the result is better than you might have otherwise expected. Last night we got a chance to talk with NVIDIA’s Senior VP of GPU Engineering, Jonah Alben on this specific concern and got a detailed explanation to why gamers are seeing what they are seeing along with new disclosures on the architecture of the GM204 version of Maxwell.

alben.jpg

NVIDIA's Jonah Alben, SVP of GPU Engineering

For those looking for a little background, you should read over my story from this weekend that looks at NVIDIA's first response to the claims that the GeForce GTX 970 cards currently selling were only properly utilizing 3.5GB of the 4GB frame buffer. While it definitely helped answer some questions it raised plenty more which is whey we requested a talk with Alben, even on a Sunday.

Let’s start with a new diagram drawn by Alben specifically for this discussion.

GM204_arch.jpg

GTX 970 Memory System

Believe it or not, every issue discussed in any forum about the GTX 970 memory issue is going to be explained by this diagram. Along the top you will see 13 enabled SMMs, each with 128 CUDA cores for the total of 1664 as expected. (Three grayed out SMMs represent those disabled from a full GM204 / GTX 980.) The most important part here is the memory system though, connected to the SMMs through a crossbar interface. That interface has 8 total ports to connect to collections of L2 cache and memory controllers, all of which are utilized in a GTX 980. With a GTX 970 though, only 7 of those ports are enabled, taking one of the combination L2 cache / ROP units along with it. However, the 32-bit memory controller segment remains.

You should take two things away from that simple description. First, despite initial reviews and information from NVIDIA, the GTX 970 actually has fewer ROPs and less L2 cache than the GTX 980. NVIDIA says this was an error in the reviewer’s guide and a misunderstanding between the engineering team and the technical PR team on how the architecture itself functioned. That means the GTX 970 has 56 ROPs and 1792 KB of L2 cache compared to 64 ROPs and 2048 KB of L2 cache for the GTX 980. Before people complain about the ROP count difference as a performance bottleneck, keep in mind that the 13 SMMs in the GTX 970 can only output 52 pixels/clock and the seven segments of 8 ROPs each (56 total) can handle 56 pixels/clock. The SMMs are the bottleneck, not the ROPs.

Continue reading our explanation and summary about the NVIDIA GTX 970 3.5GB Memory Issue!!

NVIDIA Responds to GTX 970 3.5GB Memory Issue

Subject: Graphics Cards | January 24, 2015 - 11:51 AM |
Tagged: nvidia, maxwell, GTX 970, GM204, 3.5gb memory

UPDATE 1/28/15 @ 10:25am ET: NVIDIA has posted in its official GeForce.com forums that they are working on a driver update to help alleviate memory performance issues in the GTX 970 and that they will "help out" those users looking to get a refund or exchange.

UPDATE 1/26/25 @ 1:00pm ET: We have posted a much more detailed analysis and look at the GTX 970 memory system and what is causing the unusual memory divisions. Check it out right here!

UPDATE 1/26/15 @ 12:10am ET: I now have a lot more information on the technical details of the architecture that cause this issue and more information from NVIDIA to explain it. I spoke with SVP of GPU Engineering Jonah Alben on Sunday night to really dive into the quesitons everyone had. Expect an update here on this page at 10am PT / 1pm ET or so. Bookmark and check back!

UPDATE 1/24/15 @ 11:25pm ET: Apparently there is some concern online that the statement below is not legitimate. I can assure you that the information did come from NVIDIA, though is not attributal to any specific person - the message was sent through a couple of different PR people and is the result of meetings and multiple NVIDIA employee's input. It is really a message from the company, not any one individual. I have had several 10-20 minute phone calls with NVIDIA about this issue and this statement on Saturday alone, so I know that the information wasn't from a spoofed email, etc. Also, this statement was posted by an employee moderator on the GeForce.com forums about 6 hours ago, further proving that the statement is directly from NVIDIA. I hope this clears up any concerns around the validity of the below information!

Over the past couple of weeks users of GeForce GTX 970 cards have noticed and started researching a problem with memory allocation in memory-heavy gaming. Essentially, gamers noticed that the GTX 970 with its 4GB of system memory was only ever accessing 3.5GB of that memory. When it did attempt to access the final 500MB of memory, performance seemed to drop dramatically. What started as simply a forum discussion blew up into news that was being reported at tech and gaming sites across the web.

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Image source: Lazygamer.net

NVIDIA has finally responded to the widespread online complaints about GeForce GTX 970 cards only utilizing 3.5GB of their 4GB frame buffer. From the horse's mouth:

The GeForce GTX 970 is equipped with 4GB of dedicated graphics memory.  However the 970 has a different configuration of SMs than the 980, and fewer crossbar resources to the memory system. To optimally manage memory traffic in this configuration, we segment graphics memory into a 3.5GB section and a 0.5GB section.  The GPU has higher priority access to the 3.5GB section.  When a game needs less than 3.5GB of video memory per draw command then it will only access the first partition, and 3rd party applications that measure memory usage will report 3.5GB of memory in use on GTX 970, but may report more for GTX 980 if there is more memory used by other commands.  When a game requires more than 3.5GB of memory then we use both segments.
 
We understand there have been some questions about how the GTX 970 will perform when it accesses the 0.5GB memory segment.  The best way to test that is to look at game performance.  Compare a GTX 980 to a 970 on a game that uses less than 3.5GB.  Then turn up the settings so the game needs more than 3.5GB and compare 980 and 970 performance again.
 
Here’s an example of some performance data:

  GTX 980 GTX 970
Shadow of Mordor    
<3.5GB setting = 2688x1512 Very High 72 FPS 60 FPS
>3.5GB setting = 3456x1944 55 FPS (-24%) 45 FPS (-25%)
Battlefield 4    
<3.5GB setting = 3840x2160 2xMSAA 36 FPS 30 FPS
>3.5GB setting = 3840x2160 135% res 19 FPS (-47%) 15 FPS (-50%)
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare    
<3.5GB setting = 3840x2160 FSMAA T2x, Supersampling off 82 FPS 71 FPS
>3.5GB setting = 3840x2160 FSMAA T2x, Supersampling on 48 FPS (-41%) 40 FPS (-44%)

On GTX 980, Shadows of Mordor drops about 24% on GTX 980 and 25% on GTX 970, a 1% difference.  On Battlefield 4, the drop is 47% on GTX 980 and 50% on GTX 970, a 3% difference.  On CoD: AW, the drop is 41% on GTX 980 and 44% on GTX 970, a 3% difference.  As you can see, there is very little change in the performance of the GTX 970 relative to GTX 980 on these games when it is using the 0.5GB segment.

So it would appear that the severing of a trio of SMMs to make the GTX 970 different than the GTX 980 was the root cause of the issue. I'm not sure if this something that we have seen before with NVIDIA GPUs that are cut down in the same way, but I have asked for clarification from NVIDIA on that. The ratios fit: 500MB is 1/8th of the 4GB total memory capacity and 2 SMMs is 1/8th of the total SMM count. (Edit: The ratios in fact do NOT match up...odd.)

GeForce_GTX_980_Block_Diagram_FINAL.png

The full GM204 GPU that is the root cause of this memory issue.

Another theory presented itself as well: is this possibly the reason we do not have a GTX 960 Ti yet? If the patterns were followed from previous generations a GTX 960 Ti would be a GM204 GPU with fewer cores enabled and additional SMs disconnected to enable a lower price point. If this memory issue were to be even more substantial, creating larger differentiated "pools" of memory, then it could be an issue for performance or driver development. To be clear, we are just guessing on this one and that could be something that would not occur at all. Again, I've asked NVIDIA for some technical clarification.

Requests for information aside, we may never know for sure if this is a bug with the GM204 ASIC or predetermined characteristic of design. 

The questions remains: does NVIDIA's response appease GTX 970 owners? After all, this memory concern is really just a part of a GPU's story and thus performance testing and analysis already incorporates it essentially. Some users will still likely make a claim of a "bait and switch" but do the benchmarks above, as well as our own results at 4K, make it a less significant issue?

Our own Josh Walrath offers this analysis:

A few days ago when we were presented with evidence of the 970 not fully utilizing all 4 GB of memory, I theorized that it had to do with the reduction of SMM units. It makes sense from an efficiency standpoint to perhaps "hard code" memory addresses for each SMM. The thought behind that would be that 4 GB of memory is a huge amount of a video card, and the potential performance gains of a more flexible system would be pretty minimal.

I believe that the memory controller is working as intended and not a bug. When designing a large GPU, there will invariably be compromises made. From all indications NVIDIA decided to save time, die size, and power by simplifying the memory controller and crossbar setup. These things have a direct impact on time to market and power efficiency.  NVIDIA probably figured that a couple percentage of performance lost was outweighed by the added complexity, power consumption, and engineering resources that it would have taken to gain those few percentage points back.

PCPer Live! GeForce GTX 960 Live Stream and Giveaway with Tom Petersen

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | January 22, 2015 - 06:44 PM |
Tagged: video, tom petersen, nvidia, maxwell, live, gtx 960, gtx, GM206, geforce

UPDATE 2: If you missed the live stream you missed the prizes! But you can still watch the replay to get all the information and Q&A that went along with it as we discuss the GTX 960 and many more topics from the NVIDIA universe.

UPDATE (1/22): Well, the secret is out. Today's discussion will be about the new GeForce GTX 960, a $199 graphics card that takes power efficiency to a previously un-seen level! If you haven't read my review of the card yet, you should do so first, but then be sure you are ready for today's live stream and giveaway - details below! And don't forget: if you have questions, please leave them in the comments!

Get yourself ready, it’s time for another GeForce GTX live stream hosted by PC Perspective’s Ryan Shrout and NVIDIA’s Tom Petersen. Though we can’t dive into the exact details of what topics are going to be covered, intelligent readers that keep an eye on the rumors on our site will likely be able to guess what is happening on January 22nd.

geforce-logo.jpg

On hand to talk about the products, answer questions about technologies in the GeForce family including GPUs, G-Sync, GameWorks, GeForce Experience and more will be Tom Petersen, well known on the LAN party and events circuit. To spice things up as well Tom has worked with graphics card partners to bring along a sizeable swag pack to give away LIVE during the event, including new GTX graphics cards. LOTS of graphics cards.

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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 Live Stream and Giveaway

10am PT / 1pm ET - January 22nd

PC Perspective Live! Page

Need a reminder? Join our live mailing list!

Here are some of the prizes we have lined up for those of you that join us for the live stream:

  • 3 x MSI GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Cards
  • 4 x EVGA GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Cards
  • 3 x ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Cards

prizes.jpg

Thanks to ASUS, EVGA and MSI for supporting the stream!

The event will take place Thursday, January 22nd at 1pm ET / 10am PT at http://www.pcper.com/live. There you’ll be able to catch the live video stream as well as use our chat room to interact with the audience, asking questions for me and Tom to answer live. To win the prizes you will have to be watching the live stream, with exact details of the methodology for handing out the goods coming at the time of the event.

Tom has a history of being both informative and entertaining and these live streaming events are always full of fun and technical information that you can get literally nowhere else. Previous streams have produced news as well – including statements on support for Adaptive Sync, release dates for displays and first-ever demos of triple display G-Sync functionality. You never know what’s going to happen or what will be said!

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments below and we'll look through them just before the start of the live stream. Of course you'll be able to tweet us questions @pcper and we'll be keeping an eye on the IRC chat as well for more inquiries. What do you want to know and hear from Tom or I?

So join us! Set your calendar for this coming Thursday at 1pm ET / 10am PT and be here at PC Perspective to catch it. If you are a forgetful type of person, sign up for the PC Perspective Live mailing list that we use exclusively to notify users of upcoming live streaming events including these types of specials and our regular live podcast. I promise, no spam will be had!

Reading material to go along with the GTX 960 live stream

Subject: Graphics Cards | January 22, 2015 - 01:44 PM |
Tagged: video, nvidia, msi gaming 2g, maxwell, gtx 960, GM206, geforce

Did Ryan somehow miss a benchmark that is important to you?  Perhaps [H]ard|OCP's coverage of the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G will capture that certain something.  MSI runs their 960 at a base of 1216MHz with the boost clock hitting 1279MHz, slightly slower than the ASUS STRIX at 1291 MHz and 1317 MHz.  At the time this was posted the cards were available on Amazon for $210, that is obviously going to change so keep an eye out.  As [H] states in their conclusions, it is a good value but not the great value which the GTX 970 offered at release, check out their full review here or one of the many down below.

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"NVIDIA is today launching a GPU aimed at the "sweet spot" of the video card market. With an unexpectedly low MSRP, we find out if the new GeForce GTX 960 has what it takes to compete with the competition. The MSI GTX 960 GAMING reviewed here today is a retail card you will be able to purchase. No reference card in this review."

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

Source: [H]ard|OCP
Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

A new GPU, a familiar problem

Editor's Note: Don't forget to join us today for a live streaming event featuring Ryan Shrout and NVIDIA's Tom Petersen to discuss the new GeForce GTX 960. It will be live at 1pm ET / 10am PT and will include ten (10!) GTX 960 prizes for participants! You can find it all at http://www.pcper.com/live

There are no secrets anymore. Calling today's release of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 a surprise would be like calling another Avenger's movie unexpected. If you didn't just assume it was coming chances are the dozens of leaks of slides and performance would get your attention. So here it is, today's the day, NVIDIA finally upgrades the mainstream segment that was being fed by the GTX 760 for more than a year and half. But does the brand new GTX 960 based on Maxwell move the needle?

IMG_1373.JPG

But as you'll soon see, the GeForce GTX 960 is a bit of an odd duck in terms of new GPU releases. As we have seen several times in the last year or two with a stagnant process technology landscape, the new cards aren't going be wildly better performing than the current cards from either NVIDIA for AMD. In fact, there are some interesting comparisons to make that may surprise fans of both parties.

The good news is that Maxwell and the GM206 GPU will price out starting at $199 including overclocked models at that level. But to understand what makes it different than the GM204 part we first need to dive a bit into the GM206 GPU and how it matches up with NVIDIA's "small" GPU strategy of the past few years.

The GM206 GPU - Generational Complexity

First and foremost, the GTX 960 is based on the exact same Maxwell architecture as the GTX 970 and GTX 980. The power efficiency, the improved memory bus compression and new features all make their way into the smaller version of Maxwell selling for $199 as of today. If you missed the discussion on those new features including MFAA, Dynamic Super Resolution, VXGI you should read that page of our original GTX 980 and GTX 970 story from last September for a bit of context; these are important aspects of Maxwell and the new GM206.

GeForce_GTX_960_Block_Diagram_FINAL.png

NVIDIA's GM206 is essentially half of the full GM204 GPU that you find on the GTX 980. That includes 1024 CUDA cores, 64 texture units and 32 ROPs for processing, a 128-bit memory bus and 2GB of graphics memory. This results in half of the memory bandwidth at 112 GB/s and half of the peak compute capability at 2.30 TFLOPS.

Continue reading our review of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 2GB Graphics Card!!

Podcast #332 - GTX 960 and R9 380X Rumors, Corsair Carbide 300R Titanium, and our CES 2015 wrap up

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2015 - 02:09 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, gtx 960, nvidia, maxwell, amd, r9 380x, corsair, carbide, 300R, CES, ces 2015, ECS, Z97-Machine, Intel, crucial

PC Perspective Podcast #332 - 01/15/2015

Join us this week as we discuss GTX 960 and R9 380X Rumors, Corsair Carbide 300R Titanium, and our CES 2015 wrap up

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
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  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

 

CES 2015: EVGA Shows Two New GTX 980 Cards

Subject: Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2015 - 12:46 AM |
Tagged: video, maxwell, Kingpin, hydro copper, GTX 980, GM204, evga, classified, ces 2015, CES

EVGA posted up in its normal location at CES this year and had its entire lineup of goodies on display. There were a pair of new graphics cards we spotted too including the GTX 980 Hydro Copper and the GTX 980 Classified Kingpin Edition.

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Though we have seen EVGA water cooling on the GTX 980 already, the new GTX 980 Hydro Copper uses a self-contained water cooler, built by Asetek, rather than a complete GPU water block. The memory and power delivery is cooled by the rest of the original heatsink and blower fan but because of lowered GPU temperatures, the fan will nearly always spin at its lowest RPM.

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Speaking of temperatures, EVGA is saying that GPU load temperatures will be in the 40-50C range, significantly lower than what you have with even the best air coolers on the GTX 980 today. As for users that already have GTX 980 cards, EVGA is planning to sell the water cooler individually so you can upgrade yourself. Pricing isn't set on this but it should be available sometime in February.

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Fans of the EVGA Classified Kingpin series will be glad to know that the GTX 980 iteration is nearly ready, also available in February and also without an known MSRP.

evga-4.jpg

EVGA has included an additional 6-pin power connector, rearranged the memory traces and layout for added memory frequency and includes a single-slot bracket for any users that eventually remove the impressive air cooler for a full-on water block.

Coverage of CES 2015 is brought to you by Logitech!

PC Perspective's CES 2015 coverage is sponsored by Logitech.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!