GeForce GTX 980M Performance Testing

We got some time with the new MSI GT72 notebook featuring NVIDIA’s GTX 980M GPU!

When NVIDIA launched the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 graphics cards last month, part of the discussion at our meetings also centered around the mobile variants of Maxwell. The NDA was a bit later though and Scott wrote up a short story announcing the release of the GTX 980M and the GTX 970M mobility GPUs. Both of these GPUs are based on the same GM204 design as the desktop cards, though as you should have come to expect by now, do so with lower specifications than the similarly-named desktop options. Take a look:

  GTX 980M GTX 970M
GTX 980
GTX 970
GTX 880M
CUDA Cores 1536 1280 2048 1664 1536
Core (MHz) 1038 924 1126 1050 954
Perf. (TFLOP) 3.189 2.365 4.612 3.494 2.930
Memory Up to 4GB Up to 3GB 4GB 4GB 4GB/8GB
Memory Rate 2500 MHz 2500 MHz 7.0 (GT/s) 7.0 (GT/s) 2500 MHz
Memory Width 256-bit 192-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Architecture Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Kepler
Process Node 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
DirectX Version 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 11.0

Just like the desktop models, GTX 980M and GTX 970M are built on the 28nm process technology and are tweaked and built for power efficiency – one of the reasons the mobile release of this product is so interesting.

With a CUDA core count of 1536, the GTX 980M has 33% fewer shader cores than the desktop GTX 980, along with a slightly lower base clock speed. The result is a peak theoretical performance of 3.189 TFLOPs, compared to 4.6 TFLOPs on the GTX 980 desktop. In fact, that is only slightly higher than the GTX 880M based on Kepler, that clocks in with the same CUDA core count (1536) but a TFLOP capability of 2.9. Bear in mind that the GTX 880M is using a different architecture design than the GTX 980M; Maxwell's design advantages go beyond just CUDA core count and clock speed.

The GTX 970M is even smaller, with a CUDA core count of 1280 and peak performance rated at 2.365 TFLOPs. Also notice that the memory bus width has shrunk from 256-bit to 192-bit for this part.

As is typically the case with mobile GPUs, the memory speed of the GTX 980M and GTX 970M is significantly lower than the desktop parts. While the GeForce GTX 980 and 970 that install in your desktop PC will have memory running at 7.0 GHz, the mobile versions will run at 5.0 GHz in order to conserve power.

From a feature set stand point though, the GTX 980M/970M are very much the same as the desktop parts that I looked at in September. You will have support for VXGI, NVIDIA's new custom global illumination technology, Multi-Frame AA and maybe most interestingly, Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR). DSR allows you to render a game at a higher resolution and then use a custom filter to down sample it back to your panel's native resolution. For mobile gamers that are using 1080p screens (as our test sample shipped with) this is a good way to utilize the power of your GPU for less power-hungry games, while getting a surprisingly good image at the same time.

Full support for GeForce Experience, ShadowPlay, Twitch streaming, etc. are included as well.

Battery Boost also gets an update to help improve the gaming experience on battery as well, not just extending battery life. NVIDIA does this through GeForce Experience and having two sets of game quality presets – one for gaming on AC power and the other for on-battery gaming. We'll discuss that more on one of the next pages and expect even more testing on battery life extensions when Steve posts his full review.

Today's story is going to focus purely on the performance of the GTX 980M with a further look at the platform used for this testing coming later from Steve. MSI sent me the GT72 2QE Dominator Pro gaming notebook, packed with hardware that would make any PC gamer drool.

Of course we start with NVIDIA's newest mobile GPU, the GeForce GTX 980M using not 4GB but 8GB of GDDR5 memory. We continue on with an Intel Core i7-4710HQ quad-core processor with HyperThreading, 16GB of DDR3L memory running at 1600 MHz and even a quad-set of 128GB M.2 SSDs running in a RAID-0 array MSI calls Super RAID 3. The screen is a 17.3-in 1920×1080 matte finish design that looked great in my game testing.

The keyboard is great, the sound is surprisingly good for a laptop and I think this model will ship for just $1999; pretty reasonable all things considered.

Our Testing Process

For this story, our GPU performance testing process will mirror that used in our desktop-class GPU testing. That means we are using our custom built Frame Rating capture performance tools to accurately measure the performance and experience the users will get with the GTX 980M.

If you have been following the graphics card and GPU reviews at PC Perspective for any length of time, you likely realize that we do our reviews quite differently. Rather than relying exclusively on something like FRAPs and an average or average + minimum frame rate, our testing process is quite a bit more complex. We capture the actual game footage coming out of the system and run some post-processing on the recording to measure frame rates as well as frame times. This allows us to measure real-world gaming experiences as well as show smoothness and frame time consistency in a far superior way as compared to other software based solutions.

Rather than paste in our entire process here, instead I will link you to our initial GeForce GTX 980 article and it's page that details the PC Perspective Frame Rating process. Give it a read if you are new to the site; it will make the coming pages make a lot more sense.

Test System Setup (for desktop GPUs)
CPU Intel Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E
Motherboard ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Memory Corsair Dominator DDR3-1600 16GB
Hard Drive OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 8GB (GT72)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 2GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 2GB
Graphics Drivers NVIDIA: 344.16
Power Supply Corsair AX1200i
Operating System Windows 8 Pro x64

It is nearly impossible to get a 100% "apples to apples" comparison when looking at mobile graphics performance, but to be honest the impact of the CPU in single GPU gaming is negligible (within reason). The Core i7-4710HQ in the MSI GT72 is not in anyway going to hold back the performance of the GeForce GTX 980M so I am comfortable comparing it to the desktop results using the higher-end Sandy Bridge-E setup above.


Our comparison data points for this performance overview include the new GeForce GTX 970, the GTX 770 (also known as the GTX 680, also with 1536 CUDA cores) and the GTX 760. All of these desktop parts come from varying release times and aren't meant to show you the scale of the mobile product stack from NVIDIA, but instead are used to give you an idea of what kind of relative performance the GTX 980M can offer when compared to the more well understood desktop market.

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