Skipping the 800s, NVIDIA just recently announced and released their 900 series GPUs, built upon the foundations of the Maxwell chipset that made the 780s such a solid choice for folks looking to upgrade from a lower end 600. The 780 and its Ti partners are still incredibly solid cards, and for MMO gamers, even a 600 series will do you well for another year or two with most games. Hell, the 690 is still outperforming and getting you more bang for your buck than some of the 700s. But the NVIDIA GTX 980 Superclocked ACX 2.0 is probably more than enough card for folks looking to upgrade from the 600 series to something that will last them and help usher them into the era of 4K resolution.
Now, let’s get something out of the way here: the new 900 series cards aren’t cheap. Hell, if you’re a PC gamer, you’re probably used to this fact. But I’ll state it now: if all you tend to play are MMOs, then you’re not necessarily hurting yourself by sticking with the 700 series cards, which fall in the $200 range these days. The GTX 980 that EVGA sent me to review MSRPs at $570. If you’re building a new machine and want to future proof it for a few years, this is what you’ll want to pack in there. Let me explain, with some direct comparisons in raw power.
As you can see, even comparing to last year’s models, still no slouches in their own rights, the 980 and 970 offer a far superior power efficiency and performance clocking than their forbears. But where you’ll really see the difference is between the 980 and the 680. Once again, I’ll let far better hardware sites do some talking, and borrow the direct number chart from ExtremeTech.
The 980 absolutely crushes the once stunningly powerful Kepler chipset, with higher base clocks, boost clocks, memory clocks, bandwidth, and well… everything is better. Most importantly, the Maxwell technology also allows the 980 to give far more bang for the wattage used. And that’s where the beauty of EVGA’s Superclocked ACX 2.0 card comes in.
EVGA’s developed their own on-board cooling system to improve upon that power efficiency. ACX 2.0 uses upgraded “Swept” fan blades, along with double ball bearings, and a lower power motor to deliver more air flow with less power, unlocking additional power for the GPU. What’s more? It’s the quietest card I’ve ever owned. As someone whose tower sits right next to him, and people have once complained about hearing my fans over Teamspeak or Raidcall, I have to say this is a godsend.
Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the 900 series’ big reason for this boost in performance: the new memory architecture which greatly reduces the bandwidth needed for caching visuals and compression. NVIDIA claims that real-world reduction of the amount of memory needed for the Maxwell cards to pump out visuals in games such as ArcheAge (built upon the supremely taxing CryEngine) is anywhere between 17 and 25 percent. After playing AA with both my old but still solid GTX 770 and then swapping to the 980? Yeah, I’m inclined to believe they’re not fibbing.
Now, let’s move on to some direct comparisons between some of today’s more taxing (or at least newer) MMORPGs. All benchmarks were done with the trusty legit version of FRAPs, and all settings for all games were on Highest or Ultra running at 1920 x 1080, and optimized using the NVIDIA GeForce Experience app. All tests were done in similar situations in-game (in combat, around the same areas).
For those curious about the rest of my machine, here are my MoBo, CPU, and RAM totals:
- MoBO: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3-B3
- CPU: Intel i5-2500K CPU @ 3.30GHz (OC’d to 3.6GHz)
- RAM: 16GB
Let’s start with Elder Scrolls Online, which already performed very admirably anyway, and saw the least amount of overall increase.
- GTX 770 Min/Max/Average: 61/90/74.4
- GTX 980 Min/Max/Average: 76/101/93.6
As you can see, ESO’s not exactly a taxing game to begin with, but this is on ULTRA settings. These tests were done in open world combat, where you’d spend most of your time. Even in towns and crowded cities the low rarely dipped below 50, and more often hovered in the 70s.
Next up is WildStar, a notoriously under-optimized MMO. And while NVIDIA machines fare better, it’s clear that Carbine’s MMO is still the most taxing of the three games tested. Still, there was a definite improvement between the two cards.
- GTX 770 Min/Max/Average: 27/54/37.9
- GTX 980 Min/Max/Average: 19/71/51.9
WildStar’s performance, even on the 980 is still all over the place, but overall performance is indeed quite a deal better. One can only hope that the next big drop brings even more performance boosts client side.
Lastly, we of course tested out the 980 in ArcheAge. Now, let me be sure to share that you’re still going to see some rough frame dips in crowded housing settlements. The amount of textures and items loading each time you come to one is simply too much for even the 980 to keep up with without pop-up and framerate chugging. But overall game performance is one again increased, as the tests below show.
- GTX 770 Min/Max/Average: 12/42/29.7
- GTX 980 Min/Max/Average: 44/109/67.2
Now that is a boost. The CryEngine is notoriously bad for the amount of bandwidth it takes up for texture caching, and I think these tests certifiably prove that the Maxwell chips present in the 980 are more than up to the task of taking on rendering Auroria at its highest detail. I’m willing to bet that large warfare will still take its toll, but if you have an SSD to run ArcheAge off of in tandem with a solid card you’ll be even better shape for handling everything the game throws at you.
AMD’s R9 series of cards, especially the 290 and 285 are still extremely competent cards for the money, but there’s a reason why the entire tech world is talking up the Maxwell chip from NVIDIA. It’s so much more energy efficient (the 980 uses less wattage than the 770 did!), and does so much more from a performance standpoint that it’s clear NVIDIA is leading the way into the next wave of higher resolution formats. You’ll still need to SLI multiple cards to take true advantage of big 4K monitors, but with Maxwell a time where you’ll just need one card is more a reality than ever.
If you’re in the market for an upgrade, and you’re not turned off by the high price, EVGA’s GTX 980 Superclocked with ACX 2.0 is one hell of a beast that will last you for years of gaming. They also have a whole suite of 970s beginning at $329, including the same ACX 2.0 cooling tech, without taking much of a hit in terms of power. While everyone talks about how great their new consoles are, you can smile and nod, keeping it to yourself that your new 900 series card thinks the PS4 and XBone are “cute” for console gamers.