You'd maybe think playing second fiddle to the mighty Nvidia GTX 980 would be a pretty depressing existence for the young GTX 970. Your big brother's the one every monitor wants to be with and every other graphics card wants to be. The GTX 970 might be the second-tier Maxwell card, but it's one of the most impressive graphics cards I've tested in recent times—especially in the guise of Gigabyte's overclocked version.
Nvidia dropped its first high-powered Maxwell bomb last week, and you could colour us mighty impressed with the GeForce GTX 980 (opens in new tab) and it's combination of low-power and high-performance.
But in some ways this GTX 970 G1 Gaming is even better.
Which seems a bit bizarre to say given that the GM 204 GPU inside the GTX 970 is a full 384 CUDA cores and 24 texture units short of the 980. But really that's where the difference between the two Maxwell GPUs stops.
It's not really about what Nvidia has decided to cut from the second-tier 900-series card, it's about what they've left in.
The GPU is still running with the same 2MB of L2 cache onboard, is still rocking the same sixty-four render output units (ROPs) and still retains the same algorithmic advances that makes the 256-bit memory bus viable for a card that's aiming at 4K gaming performance. And it's the 4GB of GDDR5 video memory Nvidia have retained for their second-tier Maxwell card that makes it still so competitive despite being priced far lower than it's big brother. The GTX 970 also has support for all the other extra features (opens in new tab) Nvidia has brought out alongside the GeForce GTX 980.
I genuinely expected Nvidia to slash and burn so much of the goodness out of the GM 204 GPU when they made the move down to the GTX 970, but I'm glad they didn't. This is now an almighty gamer's graphics card.
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And what Gigabyte have done is also mighty impressive too.
For a start, they've overclocked the GTX 970 by 128MHz above what the reference card's base clock. That's already pretty high at 1,178MHz, but then goes and boosts all the way up to a stable 1,329MHz.
There are a couple of reasons why Gigabyte's card starts out so much higher than the reference clock. First is because of what they call GPU Gauntlet Sorting, which essentially means some poor person is tasked with sorting through all the GPUs Gigabyte gets allocated to see which of them perform the best.
Gigabyte aren't alone in this—EVGA do a similar thing with their SuperClocked cards—and I'm sure other manufacturers do exactly the same thing with their factory overclocked GPUs. Gigabyte have also added a bit of extra power to the mix too, with a 6 + 8pin configuration for their boards, compared with just a pair of 6pin PCIe power connectors on the reference-clocked cards. Finally Gigabyte's mighty Windforce triple-fan cooling array makes sure that the GM 204 GPU isn't getting too toasty when it's throwing hundreds of textured polygons around your screen throttling its performance.
All of this gives it some incredible performance numbers for a $380 (£300) graphics card. And when I say incredible I'm talking about this Gigabyte GTX 970 G1 Gaming actually outperforming a GTX Titan Black.
That's got to be pretty galling for anyone out there who spent a fortune on their Titan Black.
That also makes the GTX 970 pretty damned close to the new GTX 980 too. So close, in fact, you might begin to wonder what the point is in spending the extra cash on the pricier card. The GTX 980 is definitely the quicker card, but really not by much at all.
The GTX 970 G1 Gaming has another couple of tricks up its silicon sleeve too, in the form of super-chilled operating temperatures and serious overclocking potential. Unlike the GTX 980 I was actually able to break the 1.5GHz barrier on the core clockspeed with this card, and that closes the gap between them even more. And even running at that peak frequency the G1 Gaming was barely breaking a sweat. Out-of-the-box Gigabyte's card tops out at 58ºC and when running at 100% GPU load, at a shade over 1,500MHz, it still only maxes out at 64ºC. It also remains pretty much silent.
This card will give you a supremely powerful gaming rig without making your game-cave feel like a sweat lodge after half an hour in Battlefield 4. And it won't make you think someone's strapped a jet turbine to your PC, either.
Tweaked and overclocked GTX 980s will show off more of a performance gap between the two cards, but right now, Gigabyte's 970 is nipping at the heels of the reference GTX 980 for $370 (£300), a far, far lower price. Taking cost into the equation, it's absolutely the better buy. The G1 Gaming has fast become my favourite Maxwell card.
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