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Review: Nvidia's GTX 970 is the GPU Bargain of the Year

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Bargain Basement.

High-end GPUs like Nvidia's new GTX 980 are all well and good, but not everyone wants to fork out $549 (£429) just to have the latest piece of graphics tech. Traditionally, the sweet spot for GPUs is somewhere in the middle, where the price/performance ratio is more sensibly balanced. Usually, that means taking a significant (if acceptable for the price) performance hit compared to the high-end cards, but something rather special has happened with the GTX 970.

Retailing at around $329 in the US, and £259 in the UK, the GTX 970 features the same GM204 chip as its bigger brother the GTX 980, but comes with less CUDA cores and slightly slower clock speed. However, because The 970 is based on the same power-efficient Maxwell architecture, it's a prime candidate for overclocking. With a stock TDP of just 145W (20W less than the GTX 980), there's a significant amount of headroom available for pushing the GPU--and the results are nothing short of spectacular for the price.

No Caption Provided

Zotac GTX 970 AMP! Omega Edition Specs

With such potential for overclocking, many Nvidia partners have taken to producing overclocked cards with significant bumps to power and cooling. Notably, while you can buy a cheaper stock version of the GTX 970 and still get a decent boost in performance out of it, these pre-overclocked GPUs don't command too much of price premium over their stock counterparts. The 970 I'm looking at, Zotac's GTX 970 AMP! Omega Edition, goes for £289 in the UK (US pricing TBC). For that price you get a beefy triple-slot cooler, along with two 8-pin power inputs for extra juice when overclocking, letting you boost it all the way to 171W.

GPUGTX 770 (Kepler)Zotac AMP GTX 970 (Maxwell)GTX 980 (Maxwell)
CUDA Cores153616642048
Base Clock1046 MHz1102 MHz1126 MHz
GPU Boost Clock1085 MHz1241 MHz

1216 MHz

Memory Clock7000 MHz7046 MHz7000 MHz
Memory Bandwidth224 GB/sec224 GB/sec224 GB/sec
Memory Bus Width256-bit256-bit256-bit
TDP230W171W (up to)165W
Manufacturing Process28-nm28-nm28-nm
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The Zotac 970 comes with a base clock of 1102 MHz, and a boost clock of 1241 MHz, a significant increase over the 1050 MHz and 1178 MHz of the stock card. Impressively, that boost clock is also slightly higher than the 1216 MHz of a stock GTX 980. With all that power and cooling on board, there's definitely room to overclock the Zotac 970 even more (with some reporting stable boost clocks of 1469MHz), but the benchmarks below are based on the out-of-the box experience. Elsewhere, there's the same 4GB of GDDR5 memory as the GTX 980, tied to a 256-bit bus. You also get all the other benefits of Nvidia's Maxwell architecture, including support for VXGI, DSR, and MFAA, which you can read more about in the GTX 980 review.


But enough of the fluff: just how did the Zotac 970 perform? I tested it out using the same rig I used for the GTX 980, which featured an Intel Core i5-3570K processor overclocked to 4.2Ghz, an Intel Z77 DZ77GA-70K motherboard, 16GB of 1866 MHz Corsair Dominator GT RAM, a 120GB Corsair Force LS SSD, and a Corsair HX 850 PSU.

Unigine Heaven

GPUUltra @1080p, 8XAA FPSUltra @1440p, 8XAA, Extreme TessellationUltra @4K, 8XAA, Extreme Tessellation
R9 290X553417
GTX 980613720
GTX 970533117
GTX 780 Ti553521
GTX 780493118
GTX 68034214

Tomb Raider

GPUUltra @1080p, TressFX, FXAA FPSUltra @1440p, TressFX, FXAA FPSUltra @4K, TressFX, No AA
R9 290X745227
GTX 980775328
GTX 970734925
GTX 780 Ti744927
GTX 780604222
GTX 6804932-

Metro: Last Light

GPUUltra @1080p, Tessellation Normal, 2XSSAA, Advanced PhysX Off FPSUltra @1440p, Tessellation Normal, 2XSSAA, Advanced PhysX Off FPSUltra @4K, Tessellation Normal, No AA, Advanced PhysX Off FPS
R9 290X724439
GTX 980744743
GTX 970724338
GTX 780 Ti774741
GTX 780643835
GTX 6804827-

Battlefield 4

GPUUltra @1080p, 2XMSAA, HBAO FPSUltra @1440p, 2XMSAA, HBAO FPSUltra @4K, No AA, HBAO FPS
R9 290X775437
GTX 980936444
GTX 970835840
GTX 780 Ti826038
GTX 780785132
GTX 6806040-

Crysis 3

GPUVery High @1080p, 2XMSAA FPSVery High @1440p, 2XMSAA FPSVery High @4K, No AA FPS
R9 290X462917
GTX 980523720
GTX 970523216
GTX 780 Ti543319
GTX 780483016
GTX 6804021-

Bioshock Infinite

GPUUltra @1080p, AO, AA FPSUltra @1440p, AO, AA FPSUltra @4K, AO, AA FPS
R9 290X1208646
GTX 9801409052
GTX 9701349248
GTX 780 Ti1349249
GTX 7801107339
GTX 6809260


Ah, the march of progress. The GTX 780 Ti--which commanded a hefty $699 (£559) at launch and used a full 250W of power--is now, less than year later, largely matched by a £289 card that consumes up to just 171W of power. AMD's flagships--the R9 290 and R9 290X--are now essentially irrelevant. They're wildly inefficient, hot GPUs by comparison, and cost around the same price (more in the US), but are easily bested in the benchmarks by the 970. Even AMD's monster dual-gpu R9 295X2, previously the best value choice for 4K gaming, has its work cut out for it. Two 970s would be far cheaper, run cooler, use less power, and--based on the single-gpu benchmarks at least--run faster. Such a setup would only cost slightly more than a single 980 too.

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That's a very impressive result, and one that makes the substantially more expensive 980 that much less desirable. Of course, the 980 is more powerful, and if you want the absolute best in performance, it's still the GPU to get. It, too, is a similarly capable overclocker, which'll push its performance even further. But there's not as big a difference between the two as you might expect, and for those with a more modest budget, the 970 is, comparatively speaking, an absolute bargain. You get silky smooth 1080p at the highest settings, and excellent performance at 1440p.

Zotac's AMP! Omega version of the card is a great piece of kit too; under load, temperatures rarely crept above 70 degrees, giving you plenty of headroom for more overclocking, and at only a small bump in price over the stock 970. The only downside to the Zotac is its triple-slot cooler, which means you need a roomy case to fit one, or a pair of them, in. Regardless of whether you pick a stock card or a pre-overclocked one, though, Nvidia's GTX 970 is cool, quiet, and far more powerful than anything in its price range ought to be. Without a doubt, the GTX 970 is the GPU bargain of the year.

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Mark Walton

Mark is a senior staff writer based out of the UK, the home of heavy metal and superior chocolate.

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