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Nvidia unveils GeForce GTX 980, 970 GPUs using Maxwell chips

The GPU leader in the high-end gaming PC market has two new powerhouse components to sell ahead of the flurry of fall video game releases.

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Nvidia's new top of the line graphics processing unit, the GeForce GTX 980, goes on sale tonight for $549. Nvidia

Nvidia announced two new additions to its line of graphics processing units (GPUs), the Geforce GTX 970 and 980, during its Game 24 livestream event on Thursday. Game 24, which is hosted on the popular game streaming site Twitch.tv and began at 6 p.m. PT, is billed as a 24-hour celebration of PC gaming.

The GPUs use Nvidia's second-generation Maxwell microarchitecture, the successor to Nvidia's Keplar, and focus on high-end performance for PC gaming and unprecedented energy efficiency. The results allow Nvidia-powered machines to render game environments with higher resolution, better lighting and more sustainable high frame rates. With Maxwell, Nvidia also places a special focus on energy efficiency, with the GTX 970 and 980 halving power consumption compared with the previous GPUs -- the GeForce GTX 750 and the GeForce GTX 750 Ti -- that were based on its first-generation Maxwell.

The GTX 980 will sell for $549 and the GTX 970 will sell for $329. Both components will be available later tonight and will built into full systems from PC makers like CyberPower, Digital Storm and Falcon Northwest.

"Maxwell has been years in the making, inspired by our gamers, and created by the best mindsin 3D graphics," Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia's co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Its extraordinary performance, efficiency and technologies will empower developers to do their finest work and delight gamers worldwide."

As PC gaming continues grow, thanks in part to surging markets in China and Russia, Nvidia is aiming to maintain its position as the leading supplier of high-end GPUs. It's rival, Advanced Micro Devices, powers the video game console hardware for Microsoft's Xbox, Sony's PlayStation, and Nintendo's Wii, but claims only around a third of the PC GPU market with its Radeon line. Nvidia controls much of the remaining 70 percent since accelerating its growth starting in 2010, when the two GPU makers were near even in market share.

Nvidia's GPU line has grown 15 percent in 2014 and accounts for the lion's share of the company's annual revenue. The success of game consoles like Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4, which have promoted entertainment ecosystems not exclusively dedicated to gaming, has helped the high-end PC gaming market continue catering to enthusiasts.

E-sports -- the fast-growing space for competitive gaming streamed live over the Internet -- is also aiding the GPU market. Largely centered on PC games like League of Legends and Dota 2, e-sports competitions draw tens of millions of viewers with international championships awarding $11 million prizes. Considering those factors, Nvidia is confident that the dedicated PC gamer is here to stay and will keep pushing its GPU-centric business upward.

"There are 300 million PC gamers in the world -- 200 million are GeForce," Scott Herkelman, Nvidia's GeForce general manager, said in an interview. "They either need a graphics card or they have a graphics card they will upgrade. If you're playing FarmVille on Facebook, we don't consider you a hardcore gamer, but if you're playing League of Legends or Dota, you need a GPU."