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May 05 2017

A Love/Hate Relationship with GTX 970 SLI

I was none other than seriously pissed whilst playing Far Cry 4 a few years back on my newly purchased GTX 970, an upgrade from my year old GTX 770, only for the game to micro stutter. The micro-stuttering was all down to the fact that Nvidia had cheaped out, instead of installing 4gb of DDR5 VRAM, had only used 3.5gb of DDR5 and topped it off with 0.5gb of DDR3 memory, memory that was pulling the rest of the VRAM down. Such a fucking joke of a card, which I recommend that you buy one today!

I say this only if you already own a 970. If you’re looking for an upgrade to continue playing the latest triple-A games on ultra at 1080p 60fps, than going SLI with a pair of 970s can be a very economic, practical solution rather than buying an overpriced 1070 or 1080. I really struggle to recommend any card from the Nvidia GTX 10 series for the price they’re sold at new, with many features now sold at a premium. If you’re currently in the market for a graphics card, especially an upgrade, what are the options (if there are any) in which you can upgrade to a better single card.

First, we have the GTX 1060. The 970 and 1060 are constantly trading blows, with both cards topping each other in different titles. The 1060 runs at a much higher clock speed than the 970, with its cores running at 1,500 MHz, 500MHz faster than the 970, but has much less cores than 970, which is why they equal out. The 1060 costs the same as the 970 did on release, and has what is vital for future-proofing, 6gb of VRAM. That’s 6gb entirely of DDR5 VRAM modules just to clarify. So for anyone upgrading from a card below the 970, the 1060 could be seen as a good choice, the problem though is that you’ll already be looking around for an upgrade for this as soon as you receive it. You’ll find yourself in the same predicament we are already in with the equally performing 970, though this time we don’t have the option of SLI!

Nvidia have removed the bridge connector to enable SLI (even though they really should be moving the SLI Bridge into the motherboard like AMD have done, rather than having to buy an additional £30 piece of hardware) that they have sported on every high-end graphics card they’ve shipped in the past 10 years, with only the 1070 and 1080 now only having support for SLI. Nvidia knew that if they had allowed SLI on a reasonably priced 1060, consumers could have simply purchased two 1060s in SLI that would outperform the 1080 for half the price. So they made sure to have a strangle hold on their product and the market, ensuring these cards made their shareholders happy. So if you can’t double up on performance of a 1060 but can still double up on 970s, surely that’s the way to go. Well let’s just explore our other options that are still open to us.

Now lets consider the 1070. A card that offers 50% performance increase over the 970, but at twice the price. Now when I upgraded from the 770 to the 970, I was only gaining a 15% increase in performance at the time for what overall, cost me £100 after selling the 770 on, though the real reason for the upgrade was for the 970’s “4gb of VRAM” as the 770’s 2gb was really struggling to keep up in games at the time. If you sold your 970 in today’s used market, a 1070 will still cost you an additional £200 to obtain, in which you are getting a 50% increase in performance and an extra 4gb of pure DDR5 RAM, what could finally be considered a 4K gaming GPU which Nvidia have been promising since the GTX 680.

It could be argued that the power of the 1070 really lies in pushing higher resolutions, such as 1440p gaming and maybe a few indie games at 4K with the 8gb for higher texture resolutions. The side issue with 1440p, is not only have you just cashed out for a new graphics card, you’ve now to purchase a new 1440p monitor, and that’s a whole nother week spent researching for something that matches your budget. If you’ve got the money, by all means, but for the rest of us that want to keep gaming on our perfectly fine 1080p monitor, than a 1070 could be considered overkill, though most recent games like Deus Ex can still get it to sweat bullets on max settings. As the 1070 also has an SLI connector, this could also be upgraded with an SLI configuration at a later date, definitely achieving 4K gaming.

So with that said about the 1070, let’s now consider how the 970 could still be considered better choice (at least for the next 2 years of gaming). If instead of buying a 1070, which would be brand new atleast and under warranty, you could buy a used 970 for about £120, saving yourself about £80. What more, in games that support SLI, two 970s will out perform a 1070, with the extra 970 now providing around an 80% performance boost, coming just under a 1080 in performance. In games that don’t support SLI, then it probably already runs on Ultra anyway on a single 970 such as Rocket League. Though there is an issue of the card only really having 3.5gb of VRAM, which sadly doesn’t stack up to 7gb in SLI as we hoped for from DirectX12, games are now well optimised around this issue, and I have not suffered a micro stuttering issue since Far Cry 4. I’ve not really run into any limitations with only 3.5gb of VRAM in modern games, with AC:Unity, DA: Inquisition and Shadow Of Mordor on max running fine, even though this game states it’s recommended to have 6gb for the high res texture pack. At most the limited RAM will have on your gaming is that you may have to turn down the anti-aliasing a notch or two. Still looks beautiful and usually this is just down to poor optimisation on the developer’s part.

The beauty of the SLI 970s, is that there is still plenty of overhead to drive a higher res screen, or even a shooter at 120 fps, and as I’ve always wanted a second screen to watch streams whilst gaming aswell as help with video editing, now was the time for me to buy into ultrawide gaming, getting a 29″ ultrawide 1080p monitor. A single 970 can handle the extra 2.5 inches on either side easily in most games, with only a few requiring that I turn on SLI to still achieve 60fps at max settings, all this whilst having a second monitor on in the background playing YouTube videos and streams. As mentioned, the SLI 970s are performing better than a 1070 at a saving of £50, which helped go towards the cost of my monitor. Having said that, this only works if you’ve got a powerful enough PSU. I already had a 750W power supply, having always had SLI in the back of my mind, luckily with 970s, they don’t draw that much power, so you can have this setup running perfectly fine on a 600W supply. I’ve yet to even overclock the cards, which I’ll get round to at some point down the line when I feel that the card is finally showing its age, but I feel that this setup will last me fine for (ultrawide) 1080p gaming for the next few years.

For anyone considering getting a 1080, get out. We don’t take too well to your kind, you rich bastards. Though as of May 2017, it’s probs best that you just get a 1080ti.

So yeah, whilst the 970 has a checkered past, it is currently the most popular graphics card currently used in PCs according to Steam’s stats, so for all the GTX 970 owners out there that are considering an upgrade, the above solution of going SLI with a cheap, used 970 for 1080p gaming should serve you just fine, though everyone’s requirements of their gaming setup is different, so if you’re looking to game at 1440p or even 4K on ultra with the full shi-bang of getting a new 4K monitor, than maybe look at getting a card from the 10 series, but I feel that you may be better waiting for the 11 series or seeing what the AMD Vega lineup has to offer in September.

Just as a side note, being honest, I’m hoping not to have to touch this PC now for another 5 years, as I always wanted to get atleast 10 years out of my expensive computer at the time of purchase, and with it running a 3770K processor with DDR3 RAM, can not afford and also be bothered with upgrading to a DDR4 system when my system works fine as is and will probably just buy a new pc with DDR6 RAM 5 years from now that will hopefully last me another 10 years. In the time just before I do get a new PC, I will probably be using this PC as my main daily driver still, playing older titles on this whilst playing any new 8K games on whatever console is out at the time. Looking back at this entire article though, it does just show how consoles are much simpler, with no partial upgrades required, all games working perfectly fine and simply being able to get the latest one every five years for the price of a GPU, nevermind the other components. So much simpler.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thelategamer.com/blog/a-lovehate-relationship-with-gtx-970-sli/

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