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I have a Zotac GTX 980, with latest drivers and a new build. A fresh windows install with nothing running in the background.

For reasons I don't understand, the card is simply dropping its load - according to GPU-Z, for utility reasons - while running games as simple as Kerbal Space Program, sitting idly with no simulations going on, at 10-15 FPS.

Here's a screenshot of GPU-Z:

screenshot of GPU-Z

One interesting part is the "reason" orange/blue bands indicate "limited by reliability/operating voltage", but it's only peaking at ~50% utility at that point. Also note that sometimes the clock just dials down to near-zero while it's in use.

More details:

  • Sometimes it does go to 99% utilization for a while (from 5 minutes to an hour) until it starts getting bottlenecked by temperature - games run at 80-90 FPS during this time. Then something happens and it drops to low load again. This is most common after restarts.
  • This happens across many different games, so it doesn't seem to be specifically related to anything specific - I've tried games of multiple genres: KSP, Cities: Skylines, Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV. Even youtube jitters.
  • Lowering settings on any game doesn't improve FPS at all - the load simply drops further.
  • Power settings are set to max performance, both in Windows and in NVidia Control Panel.
  • All temperatures are under 70C - generally 50-60C due to the extremely low load. I've also cleaned fans and replaced thermal paste to be sure. The whole build is 2 months old.
  • CPU is a i7 4790k. It's not passing 50% use on any of my tests.
  • PSU is at 860W.
  • No VSync is set up.
  • I've also tried removing NVidia Experience (or something named like that), as searches told me to exclude it. I've also tried 5 different WHQL drivers.
  • Motherboard BIOS is also newest.

Any clue what I'm doing wrong? All signs point to the card throttling itself for some reason, but I can't find any indicators why.

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    Sounds like defective hardware. The particular card you are using, should have zero trouble with ANY of those programs, honestly even the performance you are getting is actually pretty low. I would contact Zotac. – Ramhound Jul 12 '15 at 5:46
  • Yeah, I'm going to get it RMA'd if I can't pinpoint another cause. I'm really trying to avoid it as this CPU doesn't have integrated graphics, so the box will effectively be completely dead without a temporary replacement GPU. – keyboardoctopus Jul 12 '15 at 15:02
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Turns out it was actually the motherboard (a Z97 MSI Gaming 7). I had some issues with it where it just stopped booting up at all (to the point where the debug LEDs simply didn't light up), and after getting that RMA'd putting everything back together solved all my problems. The card now goes to 99% utilization when I'm doing anything demanding, and I get 100 fps on any of the games listed above.

I'm not entirely sure how a defunct motherboard could lead to poor graphics performance, but from a day's use it looks to be the cause.

  • Poor communication to the card perhaps? Or to any device on the PCI-e bus? – Hennes Mar 18 '16 at 13:21

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