MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G review

Based on Nvidia’s high-performance GeForce GTX 980 GPU, this enthusiast card from MSI offers a sizeable cost saving over a GTX 980 Ti while still delivering plenty of performance for all but the most demanding of gamers. If you like your quality settings cranked right up, then this card may be exactly what you need. Here's our MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G review. See also: What's the best graphics card?

The GPU features Nvidia’s Maxwell architecture launched just under a year ago when both the GTX 980 and the more cost-conscious GTX970 were both unveiled. While the GTX 970 has been a runaway hit, the GTX 980 offers quite a sizable speed boost for around £100 more.

There are almost too many GTX 980-based cards available, MSI alone lists no fewer than six different versions, but the Gaming 4G is the fastest of that range. In the default “Gaming” mode, the core runs at 1190MHz with a boost speed of 1291 MHz, selecting “OC” mode increases these speeds to 1,216MHz and 1,317MHz, while a silent mode reduces them to the reference clock speeds of 1,127 MHz and 1,216MHz - okay so that's actually 1MHz higher than stock speed, but who’s counting?

With this Card, MSI has further built upon the reference specification by deploying upgraded electrical components, which MSI claims will offer double or even triple the lifetime of standard versions, though it should be noted that other vendors also make similar claims. The most obvious upgrade however is external and comes in the form of MSI’s TwinFrozr V cooling system with its pair of independently variable fans and large heat pipe cooler. Two 8-pin PCI-Express connectors are required to power the card.

MSI’s bundled gaming app lets you select from different performance profiles according to your needs. The app also provides monitoring functions and on-screen overlays so you can check your card’s performance in real time, while an LED control function allows the card’s illuminated logo to perform tricks in the form of a selection of flashing or pulsing effects.

Also supplied is a separate fan control app, which gives you more precise control over the cards two cooling fans. Interestingly, these fans can be controlled independently of each other and when left in auto mode will spin up and down individually as required. This app lets you override the automatic settings as you wish in order to balance cooling and noise. Much like with the Asus Strix card, the TwinFrozr cooler is efficient enough to allow the fans to stop entirely until the GPU temperatures reach celsius temperatures above the mid sixties. This card runs very quietly indeed, which is unusual for a high-performance model.

The third and most complex app is MSI Afterburner, an overclocking tool designed to give you full control over the operation of your graphics card while monitoring its performance. You can also download a companion app for your Android or iOS device, to control your graphics card without having to leave your current game. MSI Afterburner also works on graphics cards from other vendors, but full control over voltage adjustments is reserved just for MSI customers.

MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G review: performance

Falling in the middle of the price range of our group test, the MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G offers a very noticeable performance boost over the less expensive cards at 1920 by 1080 resolution, although this gap can narrow once you try to push resolutions much higher as the less expensive AMD Radeon R9 380 and 390X cards come with double the amount of RAM, enabling them to work with more detailed textures required at higher resolutions. This effect varies from game-to-game however.

Unfortunately, in a quick test of the card’s OC mode showed no appreciable increase in the 3DMark score, with increases and occasional decreases in sub-scores falling well within the margins of experimental error.

This Gaming 4G card is a really good example of a GeForce GTX 980. It doesn’t cost much more than a standard model, but offers many improvements not only in performance but also in cooling, quiet operation and software support. Power consumption is also kept low, enabling compatibility with less powerful system PSUs, especially if you’re considering a multi-card configuration.

MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G: Specs

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 GPU Codename: Maxwell G204 Process: 28nm Core clock: 1216MHz (base) 1317MHz (boost) Gaming mode (default): 1190MHz (base) 1291MHZ (boost) Memory clock: 7010MHz Memory bus width: 256-bit Processor cores: 2048 Texture units: 128 ROPs: 64 APIs: DirectX 12, OpenGL 4.4 Memory type and capacity: GDDR5 4GB Cooling system: Twin Frozr Power connectors: 2x 8-pin PCIe Ports: 3x DisplayPort 1.2, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x DVI-D Simultaneous outputs: 4 Card width: 2 slots Dimensions: 279 x 149 x 36mm Cosmetic enhancements: Illuminated logo Software: Gaming APP, Live Update 6, Afterburner, Fan control Accessories: 1x power cable, DVI-to-VGA adaptor Warranty: 3 years
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 GPU Codename: Maxwell G204 Process: 28nm Core clock: 1216MHz (base) 1317MHz (boost) Gaming mode (default): 1190MHz (base) 1291MHZ (boost) Memory clock: 7010MHz Memory bus width: 256-bit Processor cores: 2048 Texture units: 128 ROPs: 64 APIs: DirectX 12, OpenGL 4.4 Memory type and capacity: GDDR5 4GB Cooling system: Twin Frozr Power connectors: 2x 8-pin PCIe Ports: 3x DisplayPort 1.2, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x DVI-D Simultaneous outputs: 4 Card width: 2 slots Dimensions: 279 x 149 x 36mm Cosmetic enhancements: Illuminated logo Software: Gaming APP, Live Update 6, Afterburner, Fan control Accessories: 1x power cable, DVI-to-VGA adaptor Warranty: 3 years

OUR VERDICT

The MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G is an excellent graphics card for those who want to run games at the highest quality settings, but who don’t want, or can’t afford a 4K setup. The factory overclock, control applications and Twin Frozr V cooler allow for full control over performance, consumption and noise output.