Why didn’t you test the powerful Asus Strix Fury against a custom-designed GeForce GTX 980 graphics card?
That was the question droves of commenters posed after the first round of reviews for AMD’s air-cooled beast hit the Interwebs. The vast majority of the initial comparisons pitted a reference GTX 980 versus AMD’s Fury, which only sports aftermarket cooling designs. It’s a valid question, with a simple answer: All the test GTX 980 graphics cards Nvidia sent to reviewers were stock models.
Fortunately, one of the readers pondering the question happens to work for Nvidia. One brief discussion and a few days later, a shiny new EVGA GeForce GTX 980 FTW with ACX 2.0+ cooling appeared on my doorstep.
So now we have a more direct head-to-head comparison: A custom-cooled GTX 980 and a custom-cooled Radeon Fury, each with an MSRP of $580. Fight!
Meet the contenders
Actually, there’s a slight spoiler (that isn’t really a spoiler) to this fight before it even starts. While the EVGA GTX 980 FTW’s MSRP is $580, you can find it on the streets for $500 to $530 depending on where you look. The Strix Fury is still so new that it costs a full $580—when you can find it at all. Fury (and Fury X) graphic cards sold out almost instantaneously, and appear to be facing supply constraints. You’ll be lucky to find one at retail.
Still, they’re what we have, so let’s do this.
Asus’ Strix Fury starred in our full Radeon Fury review. It boasts a cut-down Fiji processor consisting of 3584 stream processors, 4GB of bleeding-edge high-bandwidth memory and a 1000MHz core clock. More importantly for this test, it also packs Asus’ DirectCU III custom cooling system, which is loaded down with a trio of low-noise fans and approximately a metric ton of metal heat sinks and pipes. Seriously, this card is big—but that beefy cooler helps the Strix Fury run whisper-quiet, despite Fiji’s tendency to run hot.
The Strix Fury soundly topped the stock GTX 980 in our initial review. The only benchmark Nvidia’s card won in was Grand Theft Auto V. Otherwise, it was a clean sweep for the Fury—and the results weren’t even particularly close in most games.
So in this corner, there’s EVGA’s GeForce GTX 980 FTW with ACX 2.0+ (whew!), which is basically the GTX 980 on ‘roids. It packs the same core specs of the base GTX 980—2048 CUDA cores, 4GB of GDDR5 RAM, et cetera—but with one key change: Clock speeds. The 1279MHz base clock of the 980 FTW is far higher than the base 980’s boost clock, and the 980 FTW’s own boost clock goes all the way up to 1380MHz. Whoa. And the overclocking results are even crazier—more on those later.
The 980 FTW rocks EVGA’s sleek ACX 2.0+ custom cooler, which we’ve seen before on the GTX 960 and ferocious GTX 980 Ti . Rather than talking about its dual fans, custom heat pipe, MOSFET cooling pipe, and quiet operation yet again, here’s an EVGA-supplied diagram showing it all.
Continue to the next page for Radeon Fury vs. GTX 980 performance benchmarks.
Every title was tested using its in-game benchmark, using the default graphics settings stated unless noted otherwise, with V-Sync and any vendor-specific features disabled. The Radeon Fury was tested using Catalyst 15.7, while the GeForce GTX 980 cards were tested with Nvidia’s 353.30 Game Ready WHQL drivers.
Let’s start with Grand Theft Auto V, the only title where the stock GTX 980 eked out a (close) win in in the original roundup, though the Fury’s fat memory pipes gave it the edge at 4K. Surprise! The supercharged EVGA GTX 980 FTW gives Team Green the clear crown, and drastically so at 1440p.
We test GTA V three ways: At 4K resolution with all graphics options and density sliders set to their maximum settings and FXAA enabled, at 2560×1440 with the same settings, and at 2560×1440 with the same settings and MSAA and reflection MSAA each set to x4.
Next up: Dragon Age Inquisition, one of the ten best PC games of 2014. It’s powered by EA’s Frostbite 3 engine. The Fury holds a moderate-to-solid lead over the stock 980, depending on the resolution and graphics settings, but the custom EVGA model narrows the gap, drawing virtually equal with AMD’s card at High and Ultra detail levels.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is tested using the stock Medium and High graphics presets, then we crank every setting to its maximum level (which the Ultra preset doesn’t truly do) and utilize the free, optional HD Textures pack, which hammers system memory. Surprisingly, the Fury whomps the stock 980 here, despite Nvidia’s logo on the splash screen, though the 980 FTW’s hefty overclock helps to tighten the victory margins somewhat.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition’s High and Extreme presets put any graphics card through a grinder. The Fury beats down the stock GeForce card, but once again, the GTX 980 FTW’s extra oomph manages to earn several wins at various resolutions.
Metro: Last Light Redux is another game that sports Nvidia’s “the way it’s meant to be played” splash page, but the test results show the way it’s really meant to be played is on AMD hardware. The Fury holds a 4-plus fps advantage in most situations.
Alien Isolation is utterly terrifying, and utterly excellent at scaling across all hardware configurations. The EVGA 980 FTW’s additional firepower help it draw even with the Fury here. We test with all graphics settings set to ultra.
The Radeon Fury dominates even EVGA’s card in Bioshock Infinite, the obligatory Unreal Engine 3 title, but really any modern graphics card can achieve great frame rates with this game.
We also tested the cards with some well-respected synthetic benchmarks: 3DMark Fire Strike and Unigine Valley. Fire Strike Ultra is a grueling, 4K-focused sibling of Fire Strike.
To test power consumption and GPU temperature, we run the worst-case-scenario Furmark benchmark for 15 minutes, taking temperature information at the end using the tool’s built-in temperature gauge and verifying it with SpeedFan. Power draw is measured during the run on a whole system basis, not the GPU individually, by plugging the computer into a Watts Up Pro meter rather than directly into the wall.
The sheer power efficiency of Nvidia’s Maxwell GPU shines through here, though the overclocked EVGA 980 FTW sucks down far more watts than the stock 980, negating the advantage somewhat. While the Strix Fury is the most power-hungry by far, AMD still deserves some props here: the Fiji GPU’s performance-per-watt numbers are far better than older Radeon GPUs, as evidenced in our Radeon R9 390X review.
EVGA’s ACX 2.0 is right up there with the best vendor-designed custom cooling solutions, as evidenced by its low maximum temperature. (Temps for all cards tend to be a few degrees cooler in pure gaming scenarios than in this stress test.) It stays nice and quiet on the 980 FTW unless you overclock the card so hard that it has to ramp up fan speeds. It’s not quite as silent as Asus’ DirectCU III cooler on the Strix Fury, but the Strix Fury’s noiselessness is paid for by its massive bulk; the EVGA GTX 980 FTW is a much more small, streamlined card overall.
Speaking of overclocking…
Continue to the next page for overclocking results.
We don’t normally dive into overclocking in our standard reviews, as overclocking capabilities can vary greatly from individual chip to individual chip, even if you’re using the exact same product (i.e. an EVGA GTX 980 FTW). Given that Nvidia’s power-efficient Maxwell architecture is known for its ample overclock chops, and Fiji is known for being a bit of an overclocking dud, it was worth seeing whether giving the 980 FTW some extra oomph could push it into the victor’s circle.
The 980 FTW lived up to Maxwell’s overclocking reputation. We were able to take its already-hefty overclock and jack it all the way to 1,399MHz base/1,500MHz boost without touching the voltage, which is utterly crazy because the base GTX 980 rocks 1,216MHz boost speeds. On top of that, we were able to coax the card’s effective memory speeds from 7,010MHz to 7,160MHz.
Overclocking the Strix Fury proved less successful—unsurprising, consider the lack of overclocking headroom in the water-cooled Fury X and AMD’s lock-down of Fiji’s voltage and clock speed. We managed to nudge the 1,000MHz card up to a mere 1,060MHz (ugh) before it became unstable. That’s the exactly how far we were able to nudge our Fury X, as well.
So does the 980 FTW’s beastly overclock change things? Somewhat.
After verifying our overclocks were stable, we tested the two cards again using Fire Strike, as well as Shadow of Mordor, GTA V, Metro Last Light, and Dragon Age Inquisition at 1440p at Ultra settings (or equivalent). Why 1440p? Because despite marketing claims, the rendering power of both the Fury and the cranked GTX 980 FTW are better suited for 1440p at acceptable frame rates, than 4K.
The overclocked EVGA 980 FTW saw a solid 3fps to 4fps jump across the board, which allowed it to draw even with the stock Fury in Metro Last Light and Shadow of Mordor, widen its advantage in GTA V, and flip the tables to snag the lead in DAI.
But the overclocked Strix Fury was able to eke out a few extra frames of its own, so the performance gap stayed roughly the same in terms of actual frames-per-second performance difference, apples-to-apples. Apples-to-oranges, however, the over-overclocked 980 FTW pulled equal to the stock Strix Fury in games it where it would otherwise lag behind at its default clock speeds.
Continue to the next, final page for the bottom line.
While the $580 Strix Fury clearly outpunched the $500 stock GTX 980, things are a bit more blurry when you’re comparing models that each rock aftermarket coolers, similar 4GB memory capacities, and the same MSRP. Now we’re getting into shades of gray, much like when you compare the stock GTX 980 against an AMD Radeon 390X.
Yes, the Strix Fury still tends to beat the GTX 980 FTW—especially in Bioshock,Mordor, and Metro—but EVGA’s beastly card narrows the performance gap mightily overall, drawing equal to the Strix Fury’s stock results even in that trio of titles when overclocked further. Considering how gaping the performance gap between the stock 980 and the Strix Fury is, that’s no small feat, and a testament to both Maxwell’s overclocking chops and EVGA’s ACX 2.0 cooling solution.
This really boils down to the intangibles: Do you prefer the Strix Fury’s higher frame rates and superb two-card performance scaling, or the superior power efficiency and smaller build of the EVGA GeForce GTX 980 FTW, paired with Nvidia’s constant barrage of Game Ready drivers?
That’s a call you’ll have to make.
But if you’re having trouble making a decision, today’s market realities may just make the decision for you. There are only a trio of Radeon Fury models currently available, and their limited stock ensure that each sells for top dollar when they do appear. On the other hand, custom GTX 980 variants are available far and wide, from a deep range of aftermarket board vendors. That competition has led to a fierce battle among vendors of Nvidia GPUs. At the time of writing, the supposedly $580 EVGA GTX 980 FTW could be found for $530 on Amazon, or $499 after rebate on Newegg. That’s the MSRP for Nvidia’s reference GTX 980.
With all things being so similar, EVGA’s $500 bird in the hand today trumps AMD’s $580 bird in the bush. But either board you pick will certainly have you singing sweetly, especially at 1440p resolution.
Brad Chacos spends his days digging through desktop PCs and tweeting too much. He specializes in graphics cards and gaming, but covers everything from security to Windows tips and all manner of PC hardware.