Testbed and Methods
The graphics cards are tested in a closed computer case that has the following configuration:
- Mainboard: Intel Siler DX79SR (Intel X79 Express, LGA2011, BIOS 0594 dated 06.08.2013)
- CPU: Intel Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition 3.5/4.0 GHz (Sandy Bridge-E, C2, 1.1 V, 6x256KB L2 cache, 15MB L3 cache)
- CPU cooler: Phanteks PH-TC14PЕ (2xCorsair AF140 fans, 900 RPM)
- Thermal grease: ARCTIC MX-4
- Graphics cards:
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 (4 GB, 1127-1216/7012 MHz)
- MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming (4 GB, 1140-1279/7012 MHz and 1330-1469/7012 MHz)
- ASUS STRIX GTX 780 OC Edition (6 GB, 889-941/6008 MHz)
- EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX (2 GB, 1111-1163/7012 MHz)
- AMD Radeon R9 290X (4 GB, 1000/5000 MHz)
- System memory: DDR3 4x8GB G.SKILL TridentX F3-2133C9Q-32GTX (XMP: 2133 MHz, 9-11-11-31, 1.6 volts)
- System disk: Intel SSD 730 480GB (SATA-III, BIOS vL2010400)
- Games/software disk: Western Digital VelociRaptor (SATA-2, 300 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB cache, NCQ) in a Scythe Quiet Drive 3.5" enclosure
- Backup disk: Samsung EcoGreen F4 HD204UI (SATA-2, 2 TB, 5400 RPM, 32 MB cache, NCQ)
- Sound card: Auzen X-Fi HomeTheater HD
- Computer case: Antec Twelve Hundred (front panel: three Noiseblocker NB-Multiframe S-Series MF12-S2 fans at 1020 RPM; back panel: two Noiseblocker NB-BlackSilentPRO PL-1 fans at 1020 RPM; top panel: one preinstalled 200mm fan at 400 RPM)
- Control & monitoring panel: Zalman ZM-MFC3
- Power supply: Corsair AX1200i (1200 W), 120mm fan
- Monitor: 27" (DVI-I, 2560x1440, 60 Hz)
The MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming will be compared with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 4GB (we’ll cover this model at length in our next review) and an AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB, both working at their default clock rates.
We’ll also throw in two original cards: an ASUS STRIX GTX 780 OC Edition and an EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX.
There are lots of original pre-overclocked graphics cards on the market right now, so we guess the new MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming should be pitted against such products without lowering their clock rates down to the level of reference models of the previous generation. We set Power Limit at its maximum on each graphics card.
In order to lower the dependence of the graphics cards’ performance on the overall platform speed, we overclocked our 32nm six-core CPU to 4.8 GHz by setting its frequency multiplier at x48 and enabling Load-Line Calibration. The CPU voltage was increased to 1,380 volts in the mainboard’s BIOS.
Hyper-Threading was turned on. We used 32 GB of system memory at 2.133 GHz with timings of 9-11-11-20_CR1 and voltage of 1.6125 volts.
The testbed ran Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates installed. We used the following drivers:
- Intel Chipset Drivers – 10.0.22 WHQL dated 05.08.2014
- DirectX End-User Runtimes, dated 30 November 2010
- Nvidia GeForce 344.11 WHQL dated 18.09.2014
- AMD Catalyst 14.x Beta (14.300.1005.0) dated 27.08.2014
By the way, the AMD Radeon R9 290X has become slightly yet consistently faster across most of our tests with the new beta version of the Catalyst driver.
We benchmarked the graphics cards’ performance at two display resolutions: 1920x1080 and 2560x1440 pixels. There were two visual quality modes: “Quality+AF16x” means the default texturing quality in the drivers + 16x anisotropic filtering whereas “Quality+ AF16x+MSAA 4x(8x)” means 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x or 8x antialiasing. In some games we use antialiasing algorithms other than MSAA as indicated below and in the diagrams. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen antialiasing from the game’s menu. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panels of the Catalyst and GeForce drivers. We also disabled V-Sync there. There were no other changes in the driver settings.
The graphics cards were tested in two benchmarks and 14 games updated to the latest versions. Particularly, Company of Heroes 2, Total War: Rome II, Thief and GRID Autosport have got new patches. Here’s the full list of our tests (the games are sorted in the order of their release).
- 3DMark (2013) (DirectX 9/11) version 1.3.708: Cloud Gate, Fire Strike and Fire Strike Extreme scenes.
- Unigine Valley Bench (DirectX 11) version 1.0: Maximum visual quality settings, 16x AF and/or 4x MSAA, 1920x1080.
- Total War: SHOGUN 2 – Fall of the Samurai (DirectX 11) version 1.1.0: integrated benchmark (the Sekigahara battle) with maximum visual quality settings and 8x MSAA.
- Sniper Elite V2 Benchmark (DirectX 11) version 1.05: Adrenaline Sniper Elite V2 Benchmark Tool v184.108.40.206 BETA with maximum graphics quality settings (“Ultra” profile), Advanced Shadows: HIGH, Ambient Occlusion: ON, Stereo 3D: OFF, Supersampling: OFF, two sequential runs of the test.
- Sleeping Dogs (DirectX 11) version 1.5: Adrenaline Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Tool v220.127.116.11 with maximum image quality settings, Hi-Res Textures pack installed, FPS Limiter and V-Sync disabled, two consecutive runs of the built-in benchmark with quality antialiasing at Normal and Extreme levels.
- Hitman: Absolution (DirectX 11) version 1.0.447.0: built-in test with Ultra settings, enabled tessellation, FXAA and global lighting.
- Crysis 3 (DirectX 11) version 18.104.22.1680: maximum visual quality settings, Motion Blur – Medium, lens flares – on, FXAA and MSAA 4x, two consecutive runs of a scripted scene from the beginning of the “Swamp” mission (110 seconds long).
- Tomb Raider (2013) (DirectX 11) version 1.1.748.0: we used Adrenaline Benchmark Tool, all image quality settings set to “Ultra”, V-Sync disabled, FXAA and 2x SSAA antialiasing enabled, TessFX technology activated, two consecutive runs of the in-game benchmark.
- BioShock Infinite (DirectX 11) version 22.214.171.12465: we used Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool with “Ultra” and “Ultra+DOF” quality settings, two consecutive runs of the in-game benchmark.
- Metro: Last Light (DirectX 11) version 126.96.36.199: we used the built-in benchmark for two consecutive runs of the D6 scene. All image quality and tessellation settings were at “Very High”, Advanced PhysX technology enabled, with and without SSAA antialiasing.
- Company of Heroes 2 (DirectX 11) version 188.8.131.5270: two consecutive runs of the integrated benchmark at maximum image quality and physics effects settings.
- Total War: Rome II (DirectX 11) version 184.108.40.206: Extreme quality, V-Sync disabled, SSAA enabled, two consecutive runs of the integrated benchmark.
- Batman: Arkham Origins (DirectX 11) version 1.0 update 8: Ultra visual quality, V-Sync disabled, all the effects enabled, all DX11 Enhanced features enabled, Hardware Accelerated PhysX = Normal, two consecutive runs of the in-game benchmark.
- Battlefield 4 (DirectX 11) – version 111433: Ultra settings, two successive runs of a scripted scene from the beginning of the “Tashgar” mission (110 seconds long), with the Mantle API enabled for AMD-based cards.
- Thief (DirectX 11) version 1.6 build 4158.14: Maximum visual quality settings, Parallax Occlusion Mapping and Tessellation enabled, a double run of the in-game benchmark with the Mantle API enabled for AMD-based cards.
- GRID Autosport (DirectX 11) version 1.101.7026: the visual quality settings were all at their maximums, the tests were run with and without 8x MSAA with ten cars on the San Francisco track.
We publish the bottom frame rate for games that report it. Each test was run twice, the final result being the best of the two if they differed by less than 1%. If we had a larger difference, we reran the test at least once again to get repeatable results.