Going Beyond the Reference GTX 970

Zotac’s premium GTX 970 may be a mouthful, but it provides excellent results!

Zotac has been an interesting company to watch for the past few years.  It is a company that has made a name for themselves in the small form factor community with some really interesting designs and products.  They continue down that path, but they have increasingly focused on high quality graphics cards that address a pretty wide market.  They provide unique products from the $40 level up through the latest GTX 980 Ti with hybrid water and air cooling for $770.  The company used to focus on reference designs, but some years past they widened their appeal by applying their own design decisions to the latest NVIDIA products.

Catchy looking boxes for people who mostly order online! Still, nice design.

The beginning of this year saw Zotac introduce their latest “Core” brand products that aim to provide high end features to more modestly priced parts.  The Core series makes some compromises to hit price points that are more desirable for a larger swath of consumers.  The cards often rely on more reference style PCBs with good quality components and advanced cooling solutions.  This equation has been used before, but Zotac is treading some new ground by offering very highly clocked cards right out of the box.

Overall Zotac has a very positive reputation in the industry for quality and support.

Plenty of padding in the box to protect your latest investment.


Zotac GTX 970 AMP! Extreme Core Edition

The product we are looking at today is the somewhat long-named AMP! Extreme Core Edition.  This is based on the NVIDIA GTX 970 chip which features 56 ROPS, 1.75 MB of L2 cache, and 1664 CUDA Cores.  The GTX 970 has of course been scrutinized heavily due to the unique nature of its memory subsystem.  While it does physically have a 256 bit bus, the last 512 MB (out of 4GB) is addressed by a significantly slower unit due to shared memory controller capacity.  In theory the card reference design supports up to 224 GB/sec of memory bandwidth.  There are obviously some very unhappy people out there about this situation, but much of this could have been avoided if NVIDIA had disclosed the exact nature of the GTX 970 configuration.

This is not to say that the card is broken and slow.  On the contrary, it is a very quick card as long as the end user understands some of the limitations of the design.  The 4GB offered by the card (or as some like to say, 3.5 GB + 512 MB) can handle most games and resolutions up to 1600P without issue.  It is only when users start hammering the quality settings on a handful of games at resolutions above 2560×1600 that we see some slowdowns as compared to the drops experienced by the fully functional GTX 980 products.  The debate will likely keep going, but my personal opinion is that it is a fine product for the price and the user should be educated about its potential limitations.

The AMP! Extreme Core is a highly tuned example of the breed.  The core runs at a 1228 base clock (up from the stock 1050) and has a boost that goes all the way to 1380 MHz (well above the reference 1178 MHz).  This allows the GTX 970 to, in theory, challenge the reference GTX 980 in overall performance.  The boost clock in real situations actually goes yet another jump higher.  Zotac also massaged the memory bus and increased it from 1750 MHz (7000 effective) to 1800 MHz (7200 effective).  This gives an aggregate bandwidth of 230.4 GB/sec, which is a nice little boost from stock.

Everything is packed firmly in place with no slipping going on around here.

The big addition is of course the triple fan cooling system.  Zotac labels this the IceStorm system and it does a pretty bang up job of cooling the card.  The card features 3 x 90 mm fans that are thermally controlled.  The heatsink itself is comprised of many aluminum fins connected to the GPU via silver coated copper heatpipes.  The design also allows airflow to directly contact the individual components throughout the board, unlike most blower style fans.  The card also features a sharp looking backplate that cools the components on the back.  I know this works fairly well as the backplate itself gets very warm to the touch.

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