We've explored the performance of the GeForce GTX 980 Ti extensively, using advanced metrics, in our initial review of the GPU and, most recently, in our Radeon R9 Fury review. I won't repeat that sort of in-depth testing here, but I do want to take a look at the relative performance of these cards. To do so, I tested with the built-in benchmarks in Shadow of Mordor and Tomb Raider. Both games were configured to use their "Ultra" image quality presets. These simple FPS-based tests should be sufficient for comparing against different implementations of the GM200 graphics chip.
All of these cards deliver a substantial boost, at the default clock speeds, compared to the stock GeForce GTX 980 Ti reference card. Given that these are actual products you can buy for $10-20 more than the 980 Ti's base price, that's kind of a big deal.
The Asus Strix captures the top spot among the 980 Ti offerings we're comparing, with the Gigabyte and MSI cards firmly in second and third place, respectively. Although the MSI card has slightly higher base and boost clocks (1178/1279MHz) than the Gigabyte (1152/1241MHz), the Gigabyte looks to be a little faster in these games. Since the GPU's actual clock speed is determined by Nvidia's GPU Boost algorithm, the question of clock speed is more complex than base and boost speeds alone. We'll explore that dynamic more in a moment.
While we're here, though, I can't help but notice that these hot-clocked GTX 980 Ti cards upset the order of things at the top of the GPU stack. All of them are faster than our GeForce Titan X. Also, these cards improve Nvidia's competitive position compared to the Radeon R9 Fury X. In Shadow of Mordor at 4K, the reference card is just a hair slower than the Fury X, but the Asus Strix outguns the Fury X by ~14%. This outcome is a natural consequence of the fact that Nvidia builds some headroom into its GPUs for its board partners to exploit.
Pushing a big GPU like the GM200 to its limits does impose some power costs. When running Crysis 3, our GPU rig's total power consumption rises by at least 30W with any of these aftermarket cards installed in place of the reference GTX 980 Ti. The Asus and Gigabyte cards require another 20W beyond that, pushing their power use beyond that of a Radeon R9 Fury X. The total of 378W still seems frugal next to the 449W of power draw from the R9 390X-based system, though.
Noise and temperatures
All of these custom GTX 980 Ti cards spin their fans down at idle, so they're all essentially silent at the Windows desktop or with the display in power-save mode. Any differences in the readings on the decibel meter likely have to do with the noise floor here in Damage Labs fluctuating slightly. With the right setup, we might be able to measure any slight coil whine or chatter happening on each card, but we're talking about incredibly subtle stuff at idle.
The 35-dBA reading for the R9 Fury X, by the way, is likely driven by its pump whine. Some Fury X cards have this problem, and ours is among them.
Welp, every one of the aftermarket cards is quieter than the reference GTX 980 Ti under load. The big revelation here is the MSI Gaming 6G, which stands out by being incredibly quiet. In fact, the air-cooled MSI card generates less noise than the liquid-cooler Radeon R9 Fury X, which is quite a feat. The Asus and EVGA offerings aren't far behind.
Gigabyte's default cooling policy is much more aggressive than the other cards'. That results in more noise and markedly lower temperatures than the rest of the pack. Even then, the G1 Gaming registers lower on the decibel meter than both the reference GTX 980 Ti and the Titan X.