Date: Monday , September 29, 2014
On September 18th, 2014 NVIDIA's next generation Maxwell architecture was revealed with two new GPU launches. At the high-end sits the GeForce GTX 980 for MSRP $549. Right beneath the GTX 980 sits the GeForce GTX 970 at $329. In our GTX 980 evaluation we found that the GTX 980 rivaled the performance of GeForce GTX 780 Ti and AMD Radeon R9 290X for competitive prices. At the conclusion of that evaluation we indicated that the real gem in the mix may be the much less expensive GeForce GTX 970.
Update 2/12/2015 - In light of new information provided by NVIDIA in regards to ROP and L2 cache sizes as it relates to the memory subsystem, the second screenshot above has been updated with corrected specifications for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970. ROP count has been changed from 64 to now 56 active ROPs. L2 cache size has changed from 2048K to 1792K.
NVIDIA's design goals for the GeForce GTX 970 are similar to the GeForce GTX 980. The video card is designed for 1600p gaming with maximum graphics settings and high levels of AA. We are going to test this claim by running all our testing at 1440p today. The GTX 970 contains 1664 CUDA cores and 13 SM units. Memory consists of 4GB of GDDR5 on a 256-bit bus at 7GHz. The base clock is 1050MHz and the boost clock is 1178MHz. You will still find 64 ROPs on this video card, but a lesser 104 texture units. Two 6-pin power connectors are standard with a TDP of 145W.
There is one other big difference between the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 we didn't talk about before. There is a power delivery system difference between the video cards. On the GeForce GTX 980 power sent to the GPU is balanced across all three power sources. When you overclock the GTX 980 however it can unbalance this power delivery and draw more power from one source than the others, maxing out that power input. This feature steers power from one input to another so that if one power source is maxed out the board can draw more power from the others to make up the difference. This is only available on the GTX 980, not the GTX 970.
Today we are evaluating a full retail custom video card from MSI. This is MSI's GeForce GTX 970 GAMING version of the GTX 970. MSI has a non-GAMING model as well. The GAMING version has the new Twin Frozr V cooling system from MSI and a much higher overclock. If you intend to overclock this video card, the GAMING model is the one you want. This will be available for $349 plus $6 shipping so it does have a $20 price premium over the standard GTX 970 MSRP. It is also available from Amazon for $359 with Prime Shipping.
MSI has factory overclocked the GTX 970 GAMING 4G version to a base clock of 1140MHz Core and a Boost Clock of 1279MHz. Our testing has revealed the actual in-game frequency to be 1366MHz while gaming, which is well over the reference spec of 1.1GHz boost.
One of the big new features from MSI is its use for the first time of the Twin Frozr V cooler. This cooler has fan control technology that literally disables both fans under 60c so that this video card remains silent at idle or low-end gaming. When the temperature hits 60c and over the fans kick on slowly and ramp up as needed. Twin Frozr V is also smaller than Twin Frozr IV was, but has stronger fans, generates less noise and has a new heatpipe design.
The fans used are branded "Torx Fans" by MSI and provide great airflow with a new "dispersion blade" design. MSI tells us that the dispersion fan design reduces noise by 5%. Temperatures are reduced by about 10c at maximum fan speed compared to Twin Frozr IV. The heatpipe design is called MSI's SuperSU architecture which allows the SuperPipes and regular size heat pipes to do the work more effectively.
Also in use are MSI's military class components using MIL-STD-810G certified components. Hi-C Cap, Super Ferrite Chokes and Solid Cap are all technologies employed on this video card.
This video card supports HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort and does have two dual-link DVI ports. Uniquely, this video card also has an 8-pin power connector and 6-pin power connector for added power ability during overclocking. This exceeds the specification of two 6-pin power connectors on the reference design. This is a completely customized video card for the GTX 970 GPU.
The MSI GeForce GTX 970 GAMING 4G measures 10.5 inches in length. MSI designed the power connectors right. MSI has turned the connectors so that the clip is on the backside of the video card so you no longer have to squeeze your fingers between the heatsink in order to disconnect power.
Naturally, since there is no ducting type of shroud, the heat dissipates into your computer, so proper case airflow management is highly suggested. However, once you run this video card you will notice it doesn't exhaust a lot of heat. The GTX 970 is one of the coolest running GPUs in a while at this price level.
Some of the memory on the front side of the video card receive passive cooling thanks to a heatplate, including power circuitry. However, the memory on the backside of the card are uncovered, there is no back plate like that found on the GTX 980. In fact, in the pictures you can see even on the front part there is one memory module that is only half covered and one not covered at all. Therefore, this design really isn't made to provide passive cooling to the memory all around, but with the overclock we got as you will see it really isn't needed. If you are curious about the type of memory being used these are Samsung modules: K4G41325FC-HC28.
This video card does support up to 3-Way SLI.