A few months back, Gigabyte introduced its Xtreme Gaming lineup of graphics cards, which included a number of mid-range and high-end Nvidia graphics cards. The Xtreme Gaming graphics card that I will be reviewing is the high-end, Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce. Despite being based on Nvidia’s GTX 980 Ti, the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme WaterForce comes with plenty features that allow it to be better in almost every way when compared against the reference Nvidia card.
Test bench & Graphics Card Specification
Bearing the “WaterForce” name means that the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is a liquid-cooled graphics card. Interestingly, this graphics card utilises a CLC (Closed Loop Liquid Cooling) system. Using this liquid cooling system allows consumers to easily install the graphics card without the need to worry about complex installation methods that an Open Loop Liquid Cooling system require.
Aesthetically, the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce comes with a full black enclosure that is complemented with a grey metallic accent covering the right side of the graphics card. In addition, the graphics card is also fitted with a 120mm radiator that is connected to a waterblock via two plastic tubes. Located on the left of the graphics card is where one would find three DisplayPort..ports along with one HDMI and DVI port each.
Of course, an Xtreme Gaming graphics card wouldn’t be complete without RGB lighting. The Gigabyte logo along with parts of the acrylic window on the GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is RGB-lit. RGB settings can be modified via Gigabyte’s OC Guru Software. Towards the bottom right of the graphics card is where one would find a button (marked with an X) that allows the graphics card to toggle between different BIOS settings.
Open up the GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming Waterforce and one would find a waterblock (pump included) made by Cooler Master on top of a large copper vapour chamber baseplate. Interestingly, this is also the same waterblock that AMD uses in its Radeon R9 Fury X graphics card. In addition to that, the waterblock is also coupled with a standard 120mm radiator that is connected to one another via two plastic tubes.
The crown jewel of the GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is undeniably the Nvidia GM200 GPU chip, which is Nvidia’s most powerful consumer-grade GPU to date. Alongside the 28nm GM200 GPU is where one would find Samsung’s GDDR5 memory chips as well. Power is drawn via two 8-pin PCI-Express power connectors. According to Gigabyte, this graphics card is configured to draw up to 375W of power when in use.
As one might have already guessed, the GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is undeniably a powerful graphics card. To put it in perspective, think of this graphics card as Nvidia’s reference GTX 980 Ti…on steroids.
Without overclocking the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce, the graphics card was able to churn out above 30fps for all games running at a 4K resolution; Crysis 3 being the only exception. When playing games at 1440p resolution, the graphics card was able to deliver, on average, above 80fps for almost all games.
Of course, being “water-cooled” means that the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is able to be overclocked efficiently without the need to worry too much about the heat output. Bear in mind that the method of overclocking that was done with this graphics card was a simple one. This means that other settings aside from the GPU core and memory clock was not modified.
Regardless, as you would expect, both Battlefield 4 and Crysis 3 showed improvements in framerates after the graphics card was overclocked. The framerate increase could’ve gone higher if the voltages were altered – I strongly won’t recommend this for those who are inexperienced. This just goes to show that the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce was built to be overclocked to show its true potential.
Truth be told, we did – a couple of times – encounter issues with the GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce review unit that was given to us. There were a few instances where the noise output from the radiator became noticeably loud and the temperature reading of the graphics card was not consistent with what Gigabyte claimed it could achieve. That being said, it should be noted that this issue should only be a problem with our review unit and may not necessarily be replicated on other GTX 980 Ti WaterForces.
When it does work however, the GTX 980 Ti WaterForce Xtreme Gaming performed like a charm. Noise output from the 120mm radiator fan was barely noticeable – even under heavy load. Power consumption during idle was recorded at 64.5W. Under full load, the graphics card consumed about 363.8W and about 385.9W when overclocked.
Temperature-wise, the thermal output recorded on the GTX 980 Ti WaterForce Xtreme Gaming was about 27°C on idle. When playing graphic-intensive games and benchmarks, the temperature was recorded at a mere 54°C and 56°C when overclocked. This goes to show how efficient the Cooler Master waterblock and radiator is.
Competition in the graphics card market is common. Ask anyone about their opinion on a good substitute for the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce, and one would very likely be met with a slew of answers. Here are some of them:
AMD Radeon R9 Fury X
If you were a die-hard AMD fan, chances are, buying an Nvidia-based graphics may be considered a blasphemy. From a performance point of view, a good AMD equivalent to the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce would be the Radeon R9 Fury X. Based on AMD’s 23nm Fiji XT GPU, the Radeon R9 Fury X is – like the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti WaterForce – a water-cooled graphics card. Utilising the same CLC system and Cooler Master waterblock as the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti WaterForce, the Radeon R9 Fury X can be seen as a perfect like-for-like replacement.
One advantage that the Radeon R9 Fury X has over its competitor is the HBM (High Bandwidth Memory) memory standard. Unlike the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce, which has 6GB GDDR5 VRAM, the R9 Fury X is equipped with 4GB HBM memory. More information about how the HBM memory standard fares against GDDR5 can be found here, but essentially, HBM is capable of producing up to nine times the performance of the older GDDR5 memory standard.
In addition, the Fury X also comes with more stream processors (4,096) compared to the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce (2,048). Though it’s hard to say which graphics card performs better now that DirectX 12 is out, another good point to take into consideration is price. The Radeon R9 Fury X is currently priced at about RM3,150 – a significant price difference when compared against the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce, which retails for RM3,649.
Nvidia GTX Titan X
If, say, you wanted a graphics card with more overall performance, look no further than the Nvidia GTX Titan X. Currently priced slightly below RM5,000, the GTX Titan X comes with the same Maxwell GM200 GPU that the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is equipped with. The similarities between the two however, end there. Featuring 12GB GDDR5 VRAM, the GTX Titan X comes with 3,072 CUDA cores as well a base and boost clock of 1000MHz and 1075MHz respectively. Don’t let the low clock speeds fool you though; there’s a reason why the Titan X is still dubbed as the “king of single GPUs” until today.
Inside Nvidia’s GTX Titan X graphics card lie eight billion transistors, three billion more compared to the GTX 980. The GM200 GPU used in the GTX Titan X is a complete one, no CUDA Cores and SMMs (streaming multiprocessors) being spared here – only raw Maxwell performance. Throw any 4K games at the Titan X and you will be greeted with framerates above 30. 1440p and 1080p? Too easy. If your pockets and bank account balance aren’t shallow, this is the graphics card to get.
Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WindForce
If for whatever reason a water-cooled graphics card doesn’t appeal to you (or if there was no room for the huge radiator fan), then the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WindForce might just be the perfect option. Both Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming graphics cards feature almost similar specifications – the only difference being the efficiency of their respective cooling systems. For about RM140 less, one can purchase the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti WindForce for RM3,509.
The Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is undoubtedly a powerful graphics card. Gigabyte has done a wonderful job to show what an Nvidia GTX 980 Ti is really capable of. The CLC system that Gigabyte used in this graphics card performed exceptionally well. I would definitely recommend this graphics card to those that are aiming for an extra performance boost in their gaming sessions.
That said, due to its heavy price tag, the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce may only be affordable to a niche group of gamers and PC enthusiasts. I however, would not recommend this graphics card to those who do not look to overclock their GPUs; casual gamers should consider other options as well. This is because, the Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming WaterForce is manufactured to be a beast of a graphics card; one that is made to be overclocked and pushed to its limits – not to play games at 1080p.
(GPU Internals Image Credit: TechPowerUp)