Has there ever been a better time to be a PC gamer? There are some terrific titles currently available, plenty others are in the pipeline, game sales are soaring, and there's the promise of DirectX 12 and virtual reality just around the corner. All we're missing, it seems, is the return of Gordon Freeman.
This momentum is being driven, in part, by cutting-edge hardware that is setting new standards in what PC games can achieve. The amount of power available to today's graphics cards is frankly mind boggling and the likes of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 Ti are enough to make PlayStations feel impotent by comparison.
The range-topping GTX 900-series card arrived just last month to plenty of fanfare and Nvidia's partners are now racing to get their cards reviewed and onto store shelves. All the usual suspects are banging on our door, but their eagerness does make us wonder: are they simply keen to be first to retail, or are they perhaps worried about the Fury that will soon be directed their way?
We can't share all the answers just yet - you'll need to wait until June 24 to find out how the Radeon R9 Fury X compares - but we can get warmed up for the main event by taking a look at another eye-catching GeForce in the form of Zotac's GTX 980 Ti AMP!.
Currently available to order at a cost of around £590, Zotac's custom-cooled and factory overclocked beastie fetches a small £30 premium over reference cards and undercuts the impressive EVGA Superclocked+ ACX 2.0+ that went under the microscope last week.
Measuring 300mm from tip to toe, the AMP! edition card is comfortably longer than reference and needs to be in order to incorporate Zotac's trio of 90mm "IceStorm" fans. Looking closer reveals that the underlying PCB is a fair bit shorter than the cooling solution, yet while the card might have been smaller, the end result does look good. Taking a rugged approach, Zotac's black shroud has the feel of something from a Batman movie and the pattern on the full-size backplate makes it look as though it has already been through the wars.
Such an elaborate cooler suggests that shipping frequencies will be sky high, but Zotac has played it safe with base and boost frequencies of 1,051MHz and 1,140MHz, respectively. That's a mere six per cent increase over reference and we've already seen rival cards push higher. Out-the-box performance shouldn't be too dissimilar to a standard card, and in keeping with Nvidia's default specification, Zotac also has the 6GB frame buffer dialled-in at a regular 7,012MHz.
Performance purists will be thinking surely Zotac has something even faster in its coffers? And yes, of course it does. If every last drop counts, there's a £620 GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme that raises boost clock to a staggering 1,355MHz and memory to an effective 7,220MHz.
However, while massively overclocked, the AMP! Extreme does arrive in a bulkier triple-slot form factor, so it's the regular AMP! that's the sleeker and better-looking of the two. A few faux carbon-fibre highlights add to the appeal, though it's a shame the rubberised Zotac logo on top isn't backlit. And if you are ultra-picky about your graphics cards, it's also worth noting that the thermal contact pads stuck between memory and heatsink are light green in colour. You can just about see them from a side-on view, and black would have been a better match.
Elsewhere, Zotac keeps many of the card's essential features in line with reference. Dual SLI fingers are present to allow for 2-, 3- or 4-way configurations, power is sourced from 6+8-pin connectors, and the familiar array of five display outputs - dual-link DVI, HDMI 2.0 and a trio of DisplayPort 1.2 - is present and accounted for.
As with all GTX 980 Tis, Nvidia is currently throwing in a free copy of Batman: Arkham Knight for a limited time and Zotac also sweetens the deal by offering a five-year warranty upon registration. Our first impressions of the card itself are good, however based on look-and-feel alone, we'd be inclined to lean toward EVGA's Superclocked+ ACX 2.0+ which we believe has already set the standard for custom GTX 980 Tis. Zotac's bigger board doesn't quite offer the same level of finesse, though our assumption could be swayed by real-world performance so let's move on to the benchmarks.