The GeForce GTX 980 Ti is arguably the best video card you can buy right now, by most standards. AMD's Radeon R9 Fury X has arrived and shown itself to be competitive but not quite dominant. In most games, the 980 Ti is faster.
Sure, you could pony up a grand for a GeForce Titan X with 12GB of memory in order to get the "ultimate," but the 6GB of GDDR5 aboard every GTX 980 Ti appears to be all that anyone needs in current games. More importantly, perhaps, the Titan X is limited to Nvidia's reference design, while the GTX 980 Ti comes in a bunch of different flavors, with slick aftermarket coolers, custom board designs, and tweaked clock speeds. If you're looking for the finest, most extreme single-GPU video card on the market, look no further than cards like these:
Pictured above are GTX 980 Ti cards from the likes of Asus, MSI, EVGA, and Gigabyte. They're all different, but they all have their sights set on this guy:
That's Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 Ti reference design, with the familiar stock cooler that Nvidia has been shipping for several years. The custom GTX 980 Ti cards we've assembled all cost about 10 to 20 bucks more than the reference version, and they all aim to improve upon the vanilla card in multiple ways. Have they succeeded? More importantly, which one of them might be the best choice for you? Let's take a look.
EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti SC+
The SC+ is one of five different GTX 980 Ti cards that EVGA is currently selling at online retailers. That thought might be a little daunting, but don't worry. The SC+ is selling for $679 at Newegg, just ten bucks more than cards based on the reference design, and it's likely to be the best value among EVGA's offerings. The others will set you back more and include exotic options like liquid cooling. For most folks, the SC+ will probably be the card to buy.
This beast is a nice step up from the reference design, starting with base and boost clock frequencies of 1102 and 1190MHz, roughly 10% above the reference defaults of 1000 and 1076MHz. Believe it or not, those clock speeds make the SC+ the most modestly clocked card among this bunch, mostly because Nvidia builds quite a bit of headroom into its reference clocks in order to make products like these possible.
Of course, default clocks aren't terribly important if you're willing do a little overclocking. The SC+ could help facilitate that, ahem, questionable practice with the help of EVGA's ACX 2.0+ custom cooler. This cooler features twin fans and a total of five different heatpipes snaking across above the GPU. As you can see below, three of those heatpipes run straight through the length of the card. EVGA says the lack of bends in the pipes improves heat transfer efficiency by six percent. We'll have to see how that works out in practice.
The ACX 2.0+ cooler also participates in one of my favorite innovations of recent years in video cards. Its fans are thermally controlled and don't spin at all when the GPU's temperature is below 60° C. That means the card should be essentially silent during desktop work and even during light gaming. I believe every card in this group, with the exception of the reference board, has a similar semi-passive fan policy, so it's not unique to EVGA. But yeah, it's nice.
Another of this EVGA card's virtues is its compact size: at 10.5" long and no taller than the PCIe slot covers, the dimensions of the SC+ are virtually identical to the reference card's. That means this puppy should slide into a broad range of PC enclosures without any drama. The SC+ also has a six-plus-eight-pin power input config. The rest of the aftermarket cards we have on hand require dual eight-pin inputs, so EVGA wins points for potentially working with a broader array of power supplies.
Unlike the reference card, the SC+ ships with a handsome backplate meant to protect the rear of the card from an errant screwdriver tip.
EVGA bundles the SC+ with two notable pieces of software beyond the drivers. The firm's Precision X utility allows for extensive overclocking, tweaking, and monitoring, and it's one of my favorite utilities of its type. Also, right now, this card is available at some retailers with a bundled copy of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which I was surprised to learn is not a game about a knee replacement.