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We'll cover the R9 290X "Golden Sample" controversy below, but for now let's focus on the GTX 780 Ti. Like all Kepler cards it runs very cool, and very quiet. Even with its extra cores and faster RAM it is typical to see it hit about 82C under load, and at that temperature it was barely audible in testing. This is the exact same experience we had with the GTX 780 before it, and the GTX Titan as well. These cards run very quiet, and never get too hot. And now that the R9 290X is out, the Nvidia cards seem downright chilly by comparison.
As far as overclocking is concerned, we've always had a very easy time overclocking Kepler boards, and the GTX 780 Ti was no different. Though Nvidia claims this board overclocks better than the GTX 780 and GTX Titan thanks to its load-balancing tech, we didn't experience that. Instead we achieved results which were just a tad bit lower than what we experienced with boards like the Asus GTX 780 DC2 and EVGA GTX 780 ACX. Overall we were able to hit 1,225MHz boost clock with a 250MHz memory overclock, which is pretty damn good. When overclocked the board hit 85C and had its fan spinning at 67 percent, though it was quieter than the R9 290X fan at 49 percent. Keep in mind we were unable to overclock the Radeon R9 290X since out of the box in its default "quiet" mode it hits 94C quite easily, leaving no headroom for overclocking. Sure, the R9 290X is already running at or around 1,000MHz during normal operation, which is higher than the stated Boost clock for the GTX 780 Ti, but in reality the R9 290X's typical clock speed is more around 950MHz or so. Nvidia would say it's actually around 800MHz, but more on that later.
Our default resolution for cards of this stature is 2560x1600 with 4XAA enabled, and all details fully maxed out. We play with everything turned up as high as possible, because, well, this is Maximum PC you are reading. Let's examine the numbers:
Now then, with the numbers in front of us we can begin to explore the complicated question of where these three cards stand in the current leader boards. We are just kidding, of course, because one look at this chart and one thing is immediately clear. The GTX 780 Ti kicks the crap out of everything, by a lot. We're used to seeing a few frames per second difference between one card and another when comparing cards of the same generation, but the GTX 780 Ti is just in a league all by itself. Nothing else even comes close, not even the mighty Titan, which costs $300 more. Of course, the R9 290X costs $150 less, so there's that to consider, but the end result from these tests is one simple statement -- Nvidia makes the fastest single GPU in the world, period. Unless AMD has a new piece of silicon that is even faster than Hawaii up its sleeve, which would be pretty amazing if it were true, it will be handing the fastest GPU crown back to Nvidia for the time being. We imagine Nvidia will hold onto this title for awhile now too, as AMD can't push the R9 290X any further than it already has. We suppose a water-cooled R9 290X or super-air-cooled version could boost performance a bit, but the best AMD could hope for would be to match Nvidia's card. We doubt it will be able to beat it any time soon.
With a card this powerful, you can certainly run most of the latest games at 4K resolution. And if you have the type of cash to spring for a $700 GPU, you might have the $5k or so required to land one of these sexy LCDs on your desk. Our hats are off to you, rich PC gamer, as gaming in 4K is truly breathtaking. Okay, here are the numbers:
At 4K the GTX 780 performs quite well but not as well as the more expensive Titan, and it also performed slightly worse in Battlefield 3 than the R9 290X. That said, the reviews of the R9 290X and the R9 290 generally showed the AMD cards performing better than their Nvidia counterparts at 4K. As we stated in our review of the R9 290X, AMD sent us a 4K panel in order to highlight this advantage it had over Nvidia, presumably due to their card having higher memory bandwidth and more memory too. However, with the GTX 780 Ti that advantage has largely been wiped out. However, it's worth keeping in mind that the $550 R9 290X performed quite well at 4K against its more expensive competition from Nvidia, so in a way it still holds a slight advantage, at least at this resolution. That's not worth very much in the real world though, as we can't imagine many people are gaming at 4K yet. It's just too expensive at this time, though it's amazing that a single GPU can run the latest games at decent frame rates at this resolution. We are truly living in an amazing time given all the GPU power at our disposal.
A lot of ink has been spilled this week, at least digitally, on the heat, noise, and power consumption of the card that dethroned the GTX 780, the Radeon R9 290X. The reason for all the hub bub is two fold. First, AMD doesn't state a base clock for this GPU like it has done with previous cards. Instead, it states a "maximum clock speed" that the card could reach given enough thermal headroom. Once it reaches the thermal limit, which is exactly 94C on the R9 290X, it begins to throttle the clock speeds a bit to keep temperatures in check. When clock speeds go down, so does performance. Now, if clock speeds just go down a tiny bit, like 50MHz, performance won't suffer that much. However, Nvidia claims that when the R9 290X is set to its default "quiet" mode that clock speeds can go as low as 700MHz, and then stay in that neighborhood until the card cools down, resulting in reduced overall performance.
In our testing we did not experience a radical decline in clock speeds on the R9 290X. Sure, it fluctuates but generally stays above 900MHz. We even ran some tests to see how much our R9 290X press board would fluctuate, so we let the card get up to 94C and then ran Heaven 4.0 and recorded a score of 33.4 frames per second (we know the chart above shows 36fps). We then let the R9 290X run overnight, which was approximately 16 hours, in order to ensure the card was hot as Hades. We then ran the Heaven 4.0 test again, and the score was 33.6 frames per second, so it did not change over time despite being as hot as possible. We also examined the bar graph showing clock speed changes over that time period, and though there were small dips, it was still pretty consistent. These tests were performed with the card in its stock mode, which is "quiet" as the fan never goes above 40 percent. It's in this mode that you will see the most clock speed fluctuation, as in "Uber" mode with the fan running at about 50 percent, there is very little fluctuation since the card's temps are more under control.
This screenshot was taken after Heaven 4.0 had been running on the R9 290X for 16 hours. In this image you can see the GPU clock speed over time, the fan set to 40 percent (Quiet mode) and the temp of 94C. That is the R9 290X's standard operating temperature under load. Click the image to see it in full-resolution.
Here's the rub: Even though the card provided to us by AMD didn't exhibit drastic clock speed fluctuation, other news outlets are reporting that retail boards acquired through e-tailers are showing major fluctuations. This would indicate that the board provided to the press were "golden samples," or boards tested or configured to not exhibit the same behavior seen in retail boards. This is obviously a problem, for several reasons. The boards we receive should be *exactly* the same as retail boards, period. But in this instance something is amiss, either with the press boards or with the retail boards, at least according to sites like the Tech Report and Tom's Hardware. AMD says the problem lies with the retail boards, and it's working on a driver fix that will "minimize this variance" according to the statement provided to the Tech Report. For what it's worth, a site in Sweden also obtained retail R9 290X boards and found the benchmark scores to be identical to those of the press board. We will be obtaining a retail R9 290X and will post our test results soon.
To Nvidia's credit, it specs its boards with a Base Clock that is guaranteed, and performance can only go up from there if you overclock. AMD, at least this time around, is doing the opposite by stating the maximum clock speed the card can achieve in ideal conditions, with performance only dropping from there. How much it drops is an area of debate currently, but just to be clear, in our testing we did not experience the drastic clock speed fluctuations reported in the retail cards, and by Nvidia. Even in our overnight test of the R9 290X we did not see a drop in performance.
With the release of the GTX 780 Ti Nvidia lays claim to the fastest single GPU in the world title once again. We haven't seen a card dominate the high-end proceedings like this in a while, probably since the GTX Titan was released actually. Not only is it fast, but like the other Kepler cards it's cool and quiet, two traits that have gained new appreciation this week as gamers consider the new Hawaii cards from AMD. Both of those cards represent very strong price-to-performance ratios, but neither of them run hot, and are noticeably louder than their Nvidia equivalents. We don't think the heat and noise are deal breakers, however.
Naturally, the GTX 780 Ti costs significantly more than the R9 290X, so we would expect it to outperform it by the same amount, and it certainly does. Barring some unforeseen new GPU from AMD it seems like Nvidia will remain the uncontested fastest GPU provider for the near future, at least until its new Maxwell cards come online sometime in 2014.