Graphics, Hardware, Reviews

GTX 780 Review ? A Slumbering Titan and a Great Upgrade

The GeForce GTX 780, as many of you may already know, is Nvidia?s planned response to AMD?s Radeon HD 7990, which released after Nvidia?s GeForce GTX Titan. The HD 7900 is a $1000 dual GPU card, which is designed to compete with Nvidia?s $1000 single GPU GeForce Titan, which we reviewed and found to be the single fastest GPU, ever.

In this review, we?ll be comparing the GTX 780 against the GTX 680 to see how much of an improvement it is, whether or not it?s a worthy upgrade, and how it compares against a Titan and the AMD competition.
The GeForce GTX 780 is Nvidia?s refresh of their Kepler desktop graphics cards after the initial release of the first GK-104 based GPUs with the GTX 680, GTX 670 and GTX 660 Ti. This time around, Nvidia decided to make the GTX 780 a cut-down version of the GeForce GTX Titan which is GK-110 and a fully featured Kepler GPU. Titan is what Kepler was originally designed to do, but we all know that it takes time to get yields to high enough levels to enable 7.1 billion working transistors. Not to mention, Nvidia needed to make sure they sold plenty of K20 GPUs to their server customers before they brought down the power of GK-110 down to gamers. Nvidia?s marketing with GeForce GTX Titan was that it was the power of a supercomputer (there is a supercomputer called Titan powered by GK-110 Kepler GPUs).

Getting back on the GTX 780, this card looks like and feels like and for most intensive purposes, is a GTX Titan. I like to call it baby Titan just because it has the same cooler and PCB and simply has 3GB of memory instead of 6GB and fewer shader cores (2304 vs. 2688 in Titan) as well as much slower double precision. Since it has fewer texture units and shader cores as well as much weaker FP64, Nvidia was able to increase the boost clock of the card up to 900MHz, up from the Titan?s 876 MHz. The base clock was also increased from 837 MHz on Titan to 863 MHz on the GTX 780. To us, this indicates that we?ll likely experience higher overall clocks with the 780 than we would with the Titan. Both cards technically have the same TDP of 250w, however, it is highly likely that we?ll see a lower effective consumption on the GTX 780.

GTX 780 (left) and GTX 680 (right)

Now, when you compare the GTX 780 to the GTX 680, it?s a difference of day and night. Since the GTX 780 is based on GK-110 and the GTX 680 on GK-104, there are a lot of differences between the two. The GTX 680 has 1536 shader cores and a base clock of 1006 MHz, 2GB of RAM and a 256-bit memory bus and a TDP of 192w. By comparison, the 780 beefier with 2304 shader cores (50% more) and a slightly lower base clock of 863 MHz. The GTX 780 also has 50% more RAM and 50% more memory bandwidth as a result of the additional gigabyte of RAM and added memory bus speed. In our findings, the GTX 680 managed to overclock to 1.3GHz giving us some astonishing performance figures. We have yet to see how far we can push the GTX 780 compared to its aggressively overclocking predecessor.

The GTX 680 launched at the price of $499 while the GTX 780 launches at the (30%) higher $649. Considering that the GTX 780 is a low-yielding Titan, which sells for $1000, this doesn?t seem ridiculous but it still does mean that Nvidia has increased the overall price of their flagship cards (ASP). We?ll compare this price against the current cards on the market and their performance later in this review to evaluate whether or not this is a fair price.

Architecturally, the GTX 780 is essentially a GTX Titan (GK-110) so there isn?t much that we need to explain on the hardware side. However, on the software side of things, Nvidia has finally taken their GeForce Experience out of Beta and launched it with new features with the GTX 700 series of GPUs. The GeForce Experience is designed to help gamers find the best playable settings for their graphics cards while simultaneously enabling technologies like game streaming to an Nvidia SHIELD. In addition to that, Nvidia will be releasing Shadow Play as an update to the GeForce Experience which will enable a constant recording of someone?s game play without consciously having to press any hotkeys or press save anywhere.

There are also some additional fan speed improvements implemented with the GTX 780, which enable the fluctuations between the fan RPMs to be lower, further reducing the temperature and noise generated by the card. These fan profiles will be available to both Nvidia reference cards as well as 3d party coolers like EVGA?s ACX.

That?s all that there is that?s new in terms of specs, features and now we?ve got to move on to performance. In our benchmarks, we?ll be running some synthetic benchmarks, followed by a few game benchmarks. Because of the way that we test, we do not test with many GPUs, however, we do test every single GPU with the latest drivers available from the manufacturer and all of the latest games. Here, we?ll be testing with Crysis 3, Bioshock Infinite and Battlefield 3. Since we had a bad DisplayPort on our GTX 780, we were forced to do all of our testing in 1080P instead of 3840×2160, which was what we had initially planned. Alas, we will have to wait until our next GPU review to do that, or we?ll simply do a separate article altogether.

Synthetic Benchmarks
3DMark 11

In 3DMark11 we?re simply looking at the purest synthetic benchmark, with some lesser intensive scenes to allow for mor
e visible scalability, etc. In this benchmark, you can clearly see that the GTX 780 its exactly where you?d expect it to, between the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition and the GTX Titan. In fact, it outperforms a GTX 680 at 1.3 GHz in our 3DMark 11 testing with scores of E16715, P12097, X4541. Here, we see the GTX 780 outperform the GTX 680 by about 20% in the Performance benchmark.

3DMark ? Fire Strike Extreme

In 3DMark, we?re looking at Fire Strike Extreme, their most intensive graphical test to date. This test will separate the men from the boys and give us a good idea of raw GPU performance. Here, we see the GTX 780 once again sandwiched between the GTX Titan and HD 7970 GHz edition, however the GTX 780 is MUCH closer to the Titan in terms of performance than it is the HD 7970 GHz edition. The GTX 780 scores 4372 points while the HD 7970 GHz scores 3525 and the Titan 4463. A difference of only 2% separates the GTX Titan from GTX 780 in terms of 3DMark score. Also take into consideration that it is 30% faster than the GTX 680 at 3112.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

In this test, we?re really testing the GPUs tessellation capabilities and seeing how it handles incredibly detailed and complicated scenes, but as with all synthetic benchmarks, they can be optimized for. In Heaven, the GTX 780 found itself in a familiar place between the GTX Titan and HD 7970 GHz edition, with it being much closer to the Titan in performance than the HD 7970 GHz. The GTX 780 came in at 1587 points while the GTX Titan came in at 1748 and HD 7970 GHz at 1158. The GTX 780 is only 10% slower than the GTX Titan in this test?

Unigine Valley

Unigine Valley is one of Unigine?s latest benchmarks and is designed to help simulate kilometers upon kilometers of wildlife and forest. This is clearly a benchmark designed to help benchmark vegetation and long viewing distances and anti-aliasing. In this benchmark we saw more of the same from the GTX 780 with it giving us a score of 2505 points, a bit lower than the GTX Titan?s 2661 and much higher than the HD 7970 GHz?s 1903.

CLBenchmark 1.2

We test CLBenchmark purely because of the growing importance of OpenCL in productivity applications and the acceleration of other applications. This benchmark tends to favor AMD?s architecture purely because AMD?s architecture is fundamentally better for OpenCL, at least in most synthetic benchmarks. With that said, we?re not surprised to see that the GTX 780 performed the slowest out of all of the high-end current generation GPUs that we tested with a score of 210,201. This score is 12% slower than the GTX Titan which scored 238019 and the HD 7970 GHz edition, which scored 281928.

Luxmark v2.0

LuxMark is yet another OpenCL benchmark, and we seem to see the same from LuxMark that we did from CLBenchmark. The GTX 780 is just a bit slower than the GTX Titan, however, the performance difference between the GTX 780 and HD 7970 is almost 2x in favor of the HD 7970, which is pretty astonishing. The GTX 780 manages to score 1211 samples/sec while the GTX Titan scores 1383 and the HD 7970 scores 2278.

Game Benchmarks
Since we were unable to get the DisplayPort on our GTX 780 to work properly, we were forced to use DVI and connect to our 1080P display. As such all of our games are run at maximum possible settings at 1080P, which still yield relatively interesting results. We will follow up soon with a 4K related article showing performance in 4K for different GPUs.

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 is our oldest benchmark to date, and will likely be replaced by Battlefield 4 when it comes out. However, until then, we consider it a pretty fair title when it comes to NV or AMD bias in terms of optimization. In Battlefield 3, the GTX 780 managed an average framerate at maximum settings of 132 FPS, which is 30 more than the GTX 680, indicating an increase of 30% over the GTX 680. When compared to the Titan?s 147 average FPS, the GTX 780 is only 11% slower, even though it?s 35% cheaper.

Crysis 3

In Crysis 3, we ran at maximum settings and this game, as expected, made our videocards cry in agony even at 1080P. The GTX 780 managed an average of 37 FPS and since the minimum FPS was 26 we wanted to make sure that it was playable, and it was in fact playable. It also managed a maximum of 59 FPS, but maximum FPS is rarely important to actually gameplay. This is in comparison to the GTX 680 which had an average of 26FPS, almost 50% faster and a minimum of 17 FPS, which means that the GTX 780 is almost 50% faster than the GTX 680 in Crysis 3. Compared to the Titan, the performance was almost identical, with the GTX Titan reporting an average FPS of 39, only 2 FPS faster and an identical minimum FPS of 26 and a slightly higher maximum of 61.

Bioshock Infinite

In Bioshock Infinite, we weren?t expecting anything graphically insane, but we did get some interesting results from our testing. First and foremost, the GTX 780 had an average frame rate of 110 FPS, with a minimum of 78 FPS and an irrelevant maximum of 168 FPS. This is in comparison to the GTX 680 which had an average of 93 and a minimum of 62. The HD 7970 GHz edition got pretty close to the GTX 780 in terms of performance with an average of 107 FPS and a minimum of 75, which is almost within the margin of error of these tests. Furthermore, when we were testing the fastest card, the HD 7990, we managed to get some sort of stuttering more than once while playing, which indicated to us that even though this is an AMD title and AMD is the fastest card to run this game, it isn?t necessarily the smoothest.

Overclocking and Temperatures
When it comes to overclocking and temperatures,
we really had no idea what to expect considering that the GTX Titan didn?t really overclock too well at all. Yes, the GTX Titan is an awesomely performing GPU with ridiculous amounts of horsepower, but it simply has something holding it back.

Nevertheless, we gradually overclocked the GTX 780 until we managed our highest stable and benchable overclock, which was 1.202 GHz. At 1.202 GHz, the GTX 780 is overclocked 30% over the stock ?Boost Clock?. We used 3DMark 11 in order to measure the performance increases that we gained from the clock increases on the GPU.

In 3Dmark 11 we were actually able to get scores of E18171, P13650 and X5302. This is in comparison to the stock clocks of the GTX 780, where it scored E16715, P12097 and X4551. Purely looking at these figures, we saw an improvement of 15% which isn?t bad at all. Especially when you consider that at 1.202 GHz, the GTX 780 performs better than a Titan at stock clock speeds with a score of E17777, P13026 and X5005.

Looking at stock clock temperatures and power consumption, we ended up getting temperatures no higher than 75C during stock clock usage and stock fan settings. With these same settings, we managed a maximum power draw of 217w.

Looking at the performance of the GTX 780, there is no doubt that it is a significant upgrade to the GTX 680. However, it is also 30% more expensive than the GTX 680 at launch and currently it is around 40% more expensive since the GTX 680 currently retails for about $450 to $500. Taking the current price into account and the performance relative to the GTX Titan, I would say that this card is a definite value for those that want to get a GTX Titan, but can?t afford the $1000 price tag. If you need a new high-end card, but don?t want to drop $1000 this is the card to get, without a doubt. Yes, it is a bit pricier than the standard $499 fare for a high-end GPU, but you are essentially getting Nvidia?s $1000 GPU, crippled for gaming mostly, for $650.

Based on our experiences with the GTX 780 and the overclocking and performance, we can certainly say that this is an Editor?s Choice. However, we were a little concerned that the DisplayPort was shorting out, so we asked around other reviewers and nobody else encountered this issue, so we can safely say that our problem was a fluke and that there isn?t anything to worry about with these cards. The GTX 780 is not the king of the hill, not with the GTX Titan and 7990 being in existence, but it is still quite a good card with a lot of really good gaming attributes for a relatively good price. Not to mention, you basically get a GTX Titan for $650 which is a pretty good deal.