Review: Nvidia’s GTX 980 Maxwell monster graphics board

If you’re a gaming enthusiast, this is the AIB you’ve been waiting for. 

By C. Robert Dow

When Nvidia introduced Maxwell GPUs in their midrange add-in boards (AIBs) in February, we thought how they did it was odd. Usually AMD and Nvidia bring out top-of-the-line products first and then dribble out the remaining products over the next six months or so. Why did Nvidia break the cycle this time and start with the midrange?

The Nvidia GTX680 Maxwell. (Source: Nvidia).
The Nvidia GTX680 Maxwell. (Source: Nvidia).

Several theories were proposed. One was that the Titan Z hadn’t been out long and Nvidia didn’t want to slow down its ride; another was they couldn’t get the yields up; and a third theory was it wasn’t performing well. Does it really matter? Would the world be any different if Nvidia brought it a couple of months earlier? The only people who get excited over this kind of stuff are the web boys.

So now it’s today, reality time. (There’s a good name/theme for a game—RealityTime, when all the BS in your life is washed away.)

Reality time for Nvidia and AMD is that the GTX 980 is one kick-ass single GPU AIB—period. If you were given to clichés, you’d say it’s worth the wait. Overall, the GTX is faster than the GTX680 by 67% and AMD’s R9 290x by 22%, and only 22% under the dual-GPU Titan Z and 27% under the dual-GPU AMD R9 295 X2—that’s pretty damn impressive results.

But it pays for that performance in heat, running hotter than the GTX 680 by 1%, the AMD R9 290X by 27%, 11% for the Titan Z, and 25% for the R9 295 X2. Running hotter than a dual-GPU (Titan Z and R9 295 X2) is something to wonder about, and something that may impact the AIB’s operational life.

But those are not really concerns for the hyper, non-reality world of the extremist gamer. If AMD or Nvidia (or one of their erstwhile partners) would come out with a CO2 adapter for the AIB, we’d snatch that up too.

Enough of the diatribe, it’s the scores you came here for, so here they are (see charts below).

The test bench

Normally we’d put up a P-mark score, but as one Nvidette pointed out to us a couple of years ago, Who cares? He said enthusiasts don’t buy extreme AIBs based on price or power consumption. He was right.

But … we did have to do a price/performance evaluation since we compared the GTX 980 to dual-GPU AIBs—it only seemed fair.

The newest 4K G-Sync monitors, including this one from Acer, are a great match for the GTX 980. (Source: Acer).
The newest 4K G-Sync monitors, including this one from Acer, are a great match for the GTX 980. (Source: Acer).

Keep in mind all the other AIBs have been on the market for a while, and so their prices have dropped considerably since introduction. Given that, the GTX 980 turns out to have a great price/performance ratio.

What do we think?

We’re heading into the buying season where credit cards get maxed out, pent-up demand is almost met, and the clock starts ticking on buyer’s remorse. There will be no remorse buying a GTX 980. This AIB will give you at least one, and probably three, years of delight and satisfaction. Also, if you’ve got a few extra dollars, get a new 4K G-Sync monitor. The GTX 980 is designed for it and will make your games run silky smooth, and as fast as you can endure.

3D Mark Extreme Tomb Raider 4K Metro Last Light GTX 980 Specs chart GTX 980 and competitors BioShock Infinite Batman Arkham 3D Mark