Computers & Networks

X99 HPC unboxing 03: ASUS STRIX GTX 980 Video Card

morreale Monday 22 of June, 2015
I got hooked on photograph in my high school journalism class, but I did not realize it then. My dad bought me a used Yashica TL Electro SLR camera for the class. I took black and white photos for the class. I did not photograph much until I got out of college and started working. I bought a Minolta Maxim 7000i to take photographs when I traveled. I prefer to photograph nature and landscapes and like high color saturation so I used Ektrachrome 100 film generally. My photographs have been inspired by photographer Galen Rowell who wrote the wonderful book Mountain Light. It was a wonderful camera and it survived me riding and slipping my mountain bike in to a canal. Mountain biking with a SLR has some challenges.

We were on vacation and I was photographing on the middle of a jetty near Dana Point, CA when two giant waves crashed over the jetty knocking everyone over. One person was taken to the hospital with maybe a sprained or broken wrist (not sure). It was a beautiful sunny day with calm seas up until that moment. It was pretty scary and totally unexpected. Seawater poured out of the camera and the display gave an error message. Everyone was lucky to survive with mostly minor injuries but the camera did not survive this encounter with the waves.

Quite a few years went by and I bought a Nikon D300 DSLR in 2008. The digital camera technology really seemed to be as good if not better than film at that point. It was expensive and I had mixed feelings about spending so much on such a new an unknown technology. It also weights a ton, but was the best camera out on the market at the time. It turned about to be a great investment and a fantastic camera. I really can do most anything, and can be used any situation all though I need to get the book out to learn how to use some of the setting occasionally. Shooting in RAW mode and using Photoshop and Lightroom gives you the chance to correct camera exposure errors and achieve as little or as much color saturation as I like. We returned from a two week vacation from Seattle with four 4 GB memory cards. My ASUS P4PE based computer pitched over. I could not find better AGP graphics card (NVIDIA Geforce Ti 200) or processor to upgrade it at the time.

I had to setup another computer up just for my digital photography (Dell Dimension 8400). I upgraded with a 1 TB hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+ in September 2008. The graphics card made a huge difference in performance. It made editing and producing photo galleries for sharing possible and practical. Table 1 shows the comparison of the GeForce 9800 GTX+, the standard GTX 980, and the ASUS STRIX GTX 980.

Table 1 NVIDIA Graphics Card Specifications

The ASUS STRIX GTX 980 is overclocked by 5% over the standard GTX 980 from NVIDIA. ASUS also provides tools so that you can adjust the overclocking and maintain a target frame rate during gaming. The GPU processing power has roughly increased 7 times in 7 years. The performance is comparable to Intel Paragon XP/S 140 built in 1993. It had max speed of 143 GFLOPS and cost Sandia National Labs $9 M to build at the time.

Floating point performance is generally measured with the LINPACK benchmark which calculates the solution to a large system of linear equations. The benchmark uses 64 bit floating point (FP64) calculations. For the GTX 980, the 64 bit floating point is considered double precision floating point. The double precision floating point rate is 32 times slower than that of the single precision floating point rate due to reduced double precision hardware and this is designed to improve power efficiency. Single precision performance was optimized for gaming. For scientific computing where double precision floating point performance in important the 700 series GTX Titan Black, Tesla K40 and K80 GPU accelerators, or an Intel Phi are better choices.

The ASUS STRIX GTX 980 is nicely packaged. Figure 1 shows the front of the retail box.

Figure 1 ASUS GTX 980 Video Card Box Front

Figure 2 shows the back of the box.

Figure 2 ASUS GTX 980 Video Card Box Back

Figure 3 shows the contents of the box which includes an installation manual, installation disk, decals, and power cable.

Figure 3 ASUS GTX 980 Video Card Box Contents

Figure 4 shows the front of the graphics card. The card is really nicely built and the thermal management looks really good.

Figure 4 ASUS GTX 980 Video Card Front

Figure 5 shows the video connects. I use the DVI connector with my KVM switch.

Figure 5 ASUS GTX 980 Video Card Connectors

Figure 6 shows the back of the video card. The back of the video card is a metal plate that is probably part of the thermal management of the card. It’s very flat and allows for use with large CPU coolers. I was concerned that this card and 140 mm by 140 mm CPU cooler would interfere. The graphics card, the CPU cooler, and motherboard companies don’t provide enough information on the mechanical dimension to know for sure that these components will all fit without interference. The low profile back was a key feature of the card. Without it I would have needed to use a smaller CPU cooler which would limit my CPU overclocking performance.

Figure 6 ASUS GTX 980 Video Card Back

The GTX 980 unboxing video is shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7 GTX 980 Video Card Unboxing Video

The photos for this series of blogs were taken with my D300 and processed with Lightroom 3.6 on this system (Blackbird15). The videos were also produced using a Canon S95 and Adobe Premier CS 5. Both programs run very fast with minimal lag. Exporting a 6 minute video in YouTube widescreen HD format takes about 130 seconds with the processor overclocked at 4.0 GHz. It takes about 1.5 hours on my laptop (2.3 GHz Core 2 Duo). This is the only performance indicator that I’ve run. It’s not clear how much of this performance is associated with the CPU or GPU. I’d like to run a LINPACK benchmark on the GPU but have not found one yet. I have not stressed the GTX 980 at all and have not found any complaints with it after several months of working with it. It's also been totally silent throughout this time. The game Witcher 3 came free with the video card. I have not played enough of the game to see the fans active or an increase in GPU temperature.

Photographing the components used to construct Blackbird15 is akin to taking still life photographs and has been more challenging than I expected. I bought a couple of the Cree 100W equivalent (1620 lumens) Daylight (5000k) LED light bulbs to light up my subjects. I also have fluorescent light fixtures with two 40 W 5000k tubes in them. This generally provides enough light to photograph objects with high depth of field and at a low ISO number most of the time. The 5000k color temperature bulbs were selected to try to give a light spectrum that covers the full Adobe RGB color spectrum for a better color balance in my still life photographs. Electronic components and associated packaging can be reflective so my lighting arrangement produces highlights at certain angles or the exposure isn’t so good. Better light diffusers would help here. Photographing the Corsair 750D case was especially difficult as there is no contrast. Even with the bright light lights, getting good detail was hard. It makes me wonder how Kubrick filmed the monolith in 2001: A space Odyssey.

My photograph catalog has reached more than 47000 images in 455 libraries since getting the D300. It’s a fabulous hobby and I’m looking forward to learning what new things can be achieved with this new hardware. The following photos are just two examples from my collection. Figure 7 shows an image I took from the top of Observation Point trail in Zion National Park in the late 90s with my 7000i using Ektrachrome 100 film that was scanned by Kodak on to a Photo CD, and processed with Adobe Photoshop to a PSD format.

Figure 7 Observation Point Trail Zion National Park circa 1998

Figure 8 is a photograph I took at a local arboretum and demonstrates my fondness for high color saturation. It was taken with my D300 and processed with Adobe Lightroom 3.6.

Figure 8 Flowers in Color High Saturation

For a good overview and review of the GTX 980 video card see posting at Anandtech.