ASUS GTX980 Matrix SLI Review
As we said in our introduction, the development department at nVidia have absolutely nailed their graphics cards, to the point that any additional benefits you might obtain by buying a 'named' partner card are somewhat lost. Whereas once upon a time a Matrix, Lightning, Windforce or Gaming would have been considered the only card to buy - thanks to factory overclocks and coolers that actually work - that isn't always the case any more.
GPU Boost has meant that any thermal headroom you have available is used up by the card, and the incredible efficiency of the Maxwell GPU itself has meant that the power requirements are so low that even an average cooler has thermal headroom to spare. This is excellent news for the consumer as you can just purchase the one that you like the look of, or the one that's cheapest, or the one that comes from a vendor you trust, and be certain that you're getting a quality product. With the GTX980 this is even more true as we've yet to see a bad one, and we include the reference card in that. Unfortunately for the vendors this has meant their usual price hike for a mediocre overclock is something they can no longer get away with. We've never been more incentivised to vote with our wallets/purses/bitcoin accounts.
This means that the Matrix has to have a lot of extra to bring us to the table. If you demand the very best, it has. Looks are almost a no brainer with a ROG card. They haven't produced a bad looking one in a long time and the Matrix is no exception, with a serious piece of metalwork as the cooler, gorgeous angles, lovely colour reproduction and we even like the small ROG logo that lights up dependant upon loading. Probably our favourite element are the black heatpipes. They look so menacing and businesslike that it's hard not to be swayed by them. The DirectCU II cooler has never looked better than it does now in satin black.
For those of you who will stick with air-cooling the ASUS software is some of the easiest to use, with a full raft of features available and the security of those black CAPs that ensure your ears aren't bombarded by the squeal that you can get under heavy loading with lesser quality components. Those CAPs form part of a 14 phase power section which gives away the true target audience for the ASUS Matrix, sub-zero overclockers and those of you that demand the very best. The card also has memory defrosting so that you don't endure the cold bugs that can blight your quest for world records but that molex should NOT be connected for normal use. and The one touch BIOS restore helps you return to normality with in the quickest possible time and least amount of headaches.
Performance is, somewhat, a tale of two sides of the coin. Yes a SLI GTX980 setup will dominate our graphs, of course it will. But the Matrix SLI handily beat two reference GTX980s in just about every scenario. Thus it definitely has performance to burn. The single card fared less well, although we're sure that in part this is due to how ridiculously good a GTX980 is as standard, and that air-cooling it limits the top end and so they'll all perform at roughly the same level. Its also worth noting that in our graphs the results were tested at stock and not our possible 1530MHz overclock we achieved. Why? I hear you cry well with our huge batch of games in 3 resolutions and all of our benchmarks it would have meant a great deal more time involved and 4 results in each of our graphs making things very confusing. Rather than deliver a review with a pretty bow and a sparkler on the top we have delivered whats real but given you a glimmer of what is possible for those of you willing to put a bit of time and effort in playing with the Asus GPU Tweak software.
The negative is the same negative that plagues all cards of this ilk, the Price. £600 at time of review, a massive £150+ more than a standard GTX980. Heck it's £120 more than ASUS' own Strix variant. So in the real world it's not going to win any wards for value, but let's face it those of you (and Im sure there will be a lot of you) really wont care and it's more a case of wanting in on some of the action. So the Matrix 980 looks amazing, goes quick out of the box but when overclocked it's like a stabbed rat, has lots of bells and whistles, but you're paying for exclusivity.