Today Nvidia pulls the wraps off its $650 GK110-based 700 series flagship card, the GeForce GTX 780. This board slides directly into the yawning chasm that exists between the $500 GK104-based GTX 680 and the $1,000 GK110-based GTX Titan, though despite its price it's actually much closer in specs and performance to the Titan than it is to the GTX 680.
Like the Titan, the GTX 780 is a GK110 board, so it has all 7.1 billion transistors, a 384-bit memory bus care of six 64-bit memory controllers and two less SMX clusters with 12 for a total of 2,304 CUDA cores. Its 3GB of memory runs at the usual 6GHz clock speed, and its 863MHz core clock speed is just a smidge higher than the Titan’s 836MHz clock. Its 900MHz boost clock is also a bit faster than the Titan’s 876MHz. Overall, it would be fair to refer to the GTX 780 as the so-called Titan LE that has been rumored for a while now, as it’s a basically a slightly neutered version of the Titan, at least as far as gamers are concerned. Performance in games is extremely competitive with the Titan, more so than we thought it would be given its price. When it comes to compute performance, however, the GTX 780 is heavily neutered compared to the Titan, and for good reason. The 1.5 Teraflops of double precision performance that was so welcome in the Titan is nowhere to be seen in the GTX 780, as Nvidia is reserving that feature for the pricier Titan, and is also billing the GTX 780 as strictly a gaming card. The GTX 780 still offers respectable single precision performance though, clocking in at 4 Teraflops compared to the Titan's 4.5 Teraflops. For comparison, the GK104-based GTX 680 can only push 1 Teraflop of single precision, and its double precision performance is just 1/24th of that by Nvidia's design. It wants these "cheap" cards to be used for gaming, period, and its expensive Tesla cards to be used for Compute. This is why the Titan costs $1,000 and the GTX 780 costs $650.
Otherwise the card looks, feels, and runs almost exactly like a Titan. It has the same 10.5-inch length, the same six-pin and eight-pin PCIe connectors, and the same HDMI, DisplayPort , and DVI connectors. It supports up to three-way SLI. The minimum power supply required is 600w, and the card's TDP is 250w, just like the Titan.
Nvidia is releasing the GTX 780 with a fair bit of cool new technology that helps round out the package a bit, so let's look at each of them one by one.
Nvidia's all-new Adaptive Fan Control smooths out the speed at which the fans spin up and down, resulting in less noticeable noise during operation.
Even though the GTX Titan was and is a "quiet" GPU by our standards, Nvidia tells us that it's not necessarily fan noise that people notice as much as changes in fan speed, and we have to say there's some truth to that. Once a fan is spinning at a certain RPM we tend to not notice it, especially as the Titan and the GTX 780's fans never really spin very fast. It is certainly noticeable though when the fans spin up or down suddenly; we all hear that. So on the GTX 780 Nvidia has smoothed out the speed at which the fans spin up and down so you don't hear the change in fan speed.
ShadowPlay is designed to improve the in-game video recording experience over FRAPS by consuming less system resources and compressing the videos. It will work with any Kepler GPU and will be released this summer.
Now this is a cool feature, albeit one we have not tested as it was not available just yet. This is software that only works with Kepler GPUs to record your gaming sessions by using the GPU's built-in H.264 video encoder. The software will just record everything you do and keep only the portion that you just played, hence it's name, as it records everything that you just did, like a shadow. You can tell the software to just keep the last five minutes, 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, and it'll intelligently delete what is not needed, helping keep file sizes down by both deleting unneeded video and also through video compression. Nvidia also claims the peformance hit from turning on Shadowplay is less than five percent, so it's main advantages over FRAPS are that it only records what just happened instead of everything, and it requires less system resources to do so. This software will be rolling out this summer and will be available via Nvidia's GeForce Experience software, and will be supported on any Kepler GPU. It should be noted that beginning with this launch driver, the GeForce Experience software will replace the Nvidia Update software in the driver package, and though users can opt out of installing it, by default it will be installed with all Nvidia drivers going forward.
Head on over to page 2 to read about the rest of the new features, see the benchmarks, and our final thoughts.
The GTX 780 features GPU Boost 2.0 temperature target settings as well as the ability to overvolt the board.
This feature first appeared on the GTX Titan and it works beautifully. Its main goal is to prevent the GPU from throttling itself due to excessive heat, which results in reduced performance. To prevent this from happening, users can now set the peak temperature for a card, which by default is set to 81C but it can be pushed up to 95C if you like (the card can handle it). Nvidia tells us these cards can go all the way up to 105C before the hardware is damaged, but you'd be lucky to push either a Titan or a GTX 780 past 80C typically since their coolers are so effective. However, the GPU will overclock as high as it can until it reaches that pre-determined temperature, so you can nudge the temperature GPU Boost 2.0 also allows for overvolting a card, so you can overclock it as high as you can get away with by pushing the core clock power target, temperature target, memory, and voltage. Only the Titan and the GTX 780 offers these features at this time. If you try to use them on a GTX 680, for example, they are simply greyed out.
When we first heard of this card we figured it would land squarely in between the $500 GTX 680 and the $1,000 GTX Titan, both in performance and price. Then Nvidia informed us the card was priced at $650, and we looked at the benchmark charts and thought this was either a very competitively priced product, or the Titan is really overpriced, at least for gamers. Looking at the benchmark chart (below) you can see the GTX 780 is within five to 15 percent of the Titan in all benchmarks, which is seriously impressive given it costs $350 less. In general we run all games at 2560x1600 with 4XAA enabled, which is extremely taxing on even the most hardcore systems, and yet the GTX 780 was just on the cusp of playing all games extremely smoothly, with the exception of Metro: Last Light, which will remain a ball buster for the forseeable future it seems. Even though we'd prefer to have at least 40-50fps, that is just not possible with a single GPU at the resolution we run, and only the Titan can get close to achieving it. That said, the GTX 780 is damn close, and easily puts some distance on both the GTX 680 and the Radeon HD 7970, making it the fastest sub-$1,000 GPU available at this time. It should also be noted that the card ran cool and quiet throughout testing, and we were able to run it at 1,084MHz with no problems at all.
This is one wicked fast GPU, and if it was $750 or so like we thought it would be you would see us waffling a bit between this card and the Titan. However, at $650 it is very competitive, though we've yet to compare it to dual GTX 660 Ti cards or GTX 670 cards in SLI, but then you have to deal with dual GPUs. Also, add-in board partners will be releasing their own versions of the GTX 780 with custom cooling solutions, but we do not know at this time whether the boards will be overclocked or offer larger frame buffers.
In our opinion, the best news about the GTX 780 is at the resolution we use for testing there was no such thing as an affordable GPU that could handle it. The GTX 680 and the HD 7970 were all stuck around 20fps or so for newer games, though the Titan could handle them much better. With the GTX 780 we have a truly semi-affordable card that can run newer games at these resolutions and AA settings just fine. Nvidia says the GTX 780 is 34 percent faster than a GTX 680 and that seems about right to us, and 70 percent faster than a GTX 580, so people with older cards will see quite a jump in performance by upgrading. There also might be other 700-series cards in the pipeline, so anyone looking to upgrade might want to wait just a bit before pulling the trigger on a new card.
As far as how AMD will respond, that remains to be seen. The company reminded us that the HD 7970 GHz edition is still the fastest card at its price point of roughly $420, and that is certainly true. Whether or not it will respond with a GCN 2.0 board dubbed Radeon 8790 or similar is anyone's guess, but given the ferocity of the GPU wars as of late we'd be shocked if AMD sat on the sidelines for very long.
PS: Here is a promotional video Nvidia sent us that walks you through the GTX 780's hardware and software.