So it can't have escaped your notice that recently AMD have emerged from the shadows to finally put up a fight against the all-conquering GTX780 by releasing the R9 290X. A card which had us singing hooray at the amount of performance there was available to us from both brands, even if AMD seem to be desperately scrambling to catch up to the GK110.
In the best demonstration of moving the goalposts that we've seen in a while, no sooner had the Radeon finally caught up with the nVidia offering and breathlessly muttered 'your it', than nVidia coughed slightly and reached into its coat and pulled out the GTX780Ti and chuckled off into the night.
Now the Ti suffix has had a variable life, with some cards benefiting far more from the tweaking than others. The difference between a GTX650 and a GTX650Ti is quite pronounced, the GTX550Ti .. less so.
Given that the GTX780 not only came out of the traps as a beast of a thing, but in MSI Gaming guise is still our favourite card on the planet, we have to say we're somewhat sceptical about how much extra performance can be squeezed from the Kepler GPU, so let's crack on and see if this is merely an attempt to distract the buying public from the R9 290X, or a genuine upgrade.
The original GTX780 was somewhat of a cut-down GTX Titan. Whereas the Titan had 2688 CUDA Cores and 224 Texture Mapping Units to go with its 6GB of GDDR5, the GTX780 only had 2304 CUDA Cores and 192 TMU's respectively, as well as a reduction to 3GB of VRAM.
So it's far to say we were shocked to see that the GTX780Ti has not only returned the reduced CUDA Cores but gone beyond the GTX Titan, bringing us a whopping 2880 CUDA Cores and 240 TMU's. The level of memory has remained at 3GB but it's seen a huge increase in speed from the 6008MHz effective of the Titan and vanilla GTX780, to 7000MHz on the GTX780Ti.
On paper at least this has the potential to be something very special.
The Titan/780 cooler is probably the best reference cooler around. It looks spectacular and manages to keep the GK110 cool and does so at an almost inaudible volume. So it makes perfect sense that nVidia have kept this for the GTX780Ti.
The R9 290X dispensed with Crossfire fingers and used the PCI Express slots for multi-GPU setups. nVidia have kept the SLI bridge option, which should provide greater compatibility with older chipsets. The big change between the GTX780 and GTX780Ti is the logo is now coloured, and the perspex is smoked. We prefer these two adjustments as they make the cooler look even more visually arresting than it already is.
The input/output parts remain the same on the GTX780Ti with a 8+6 power input, and two DVIs alongside a HDMI and DisplayPort output.
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.6GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Corsair Dominator Platinum
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
As we'll see on the next page there are some under the hood tweaks that allow the GTX780Ti to overclock better than its predecessor. Rather than draw all the power from either the PCI Express 3.0 slot, or the power inputs, the GTX780Ti manages the balance between them better. This has an enormous benefit to the overclocking with incredible speed attainable. The GPU Core is bumped from 876MHz to 1101MHz thats a 225MHz offset and the the boost pushes this even further up to an amazing 1244MHz! The already blisteringly quick 7GHz GDDR5 manages a further 600MHz, which should make a big difference in our high resolution tests.
As both AMD and nVidia now use any thermal headroom to increase the performance of their card, so the temperature testing is less about the cooler than it used to be. However, it's clear that the reference nVidia cooler is a much better proposition for the rest of your system when compared to the Radeon. That heat has to go somewhere and with the GTX780Ti there is less of it to disperse.
The first two slides cover things we've already discussed in the preceding pages.
One of the big pushes that nVidia are making is their GeForce Experience software which can automatically select the best settings for your system. Although the majority of us are comfortable with tweaking graphics settings, at least there is an option for those who don't know, or perhaps when future driver updates greatly increase the performance in a particular title. The ShadowPlay might seem like a strange thing to introduce, but when you consider that the upcoming PS4 and XBone both utilise gameplay recording and sharing, it actually makes sense to harmonise the PC platform with those that live beneath your television.
One of the major attractions of the AMD cards has been their Never Settle bundles, which provide some good titles so you can be up and running instantly. Indeed this has been something that we've liked very much and has led to us leaning towards recommending the Radeon cards for first-time buyers. Not ones to be left out, nVidia are bundling the GTX780Ti with three triple A titles; Assassin's Creed IV : Black Flag, Batman Arkham Origins and Splinter Cell Blacklist. AC4 should be enough to have a lot of people reaching for their wallets.
3D Mark Vantage
The major competitor for the GTX780Ti is the R9 290X and, from their own stable, the highly overclocked MSI GTX780s. The GTX780Ti definitely has the edge at stock, indeed it's so good it makes the R9 290X look positively pedestrian. The overclock is where the real gains are to be had though. No gentle handful of points here, we're pushing close to the performance of the HD7990 Devil 13 and nearly 3000 X Marks ahead of the MSI GTX780 OC.
3D Mark 11
At stock the P score of the two heavy hitters are almost inseparable, but the GTX780Ti is nearly 500 points better in the Extreme preset. Overclocking, which is free performance remember, moves the GTX780Ti into an entirely new sphere of excellence, improving by 2000 points in the P-Score and 1500 points in the Extreme preset. To put that in perspective, that's 500 points better than a GTX690!
The low end isn't really worth paying attention to, so let's concentrate on the two Fire Strike tests. Our current records are the MSI Lightning OC at 10453 and 5298 respectively. The 290X gave us 9902 and 4945. The GTX780Ti returns an almost unbelievable 11859 and 5950 when overclocked and 10048 and 5013 at stock. Hugely impressive.
Alien vs Predator
We begin our games with a demonstration of how far nVidia have come in a short space of time. Down the bottom of the graph we have a GTX680 SLI setup which produces 185FPS average in AvP. The GTX780Ti is half a frame shy at 184 FPS. Unbelievable.
Batman Arkham City
All Arkham City tests run smoothly on nVidia hardware and the GTX780Ti is no different.
There is no question that BioShock is happier on the nVidia cards than the Radeon, and as the resolution increases the GTX780Ti only increases its lead. Given that the stock card annihilates the R9 290X it's no surprise that the overclocked option wins by miles. A 33% increase in 1080 becomes a 42% increase in the higher 1440 resolution. It's still over a 20% increase at stock.
If you ever desire a vulgar display of power, then the GTX780Ti is the one for you in Crysis 3. The first card we've tested that has passed the magical 60FPS barrier, and by some margin too. At stock the 290X finally gets a victory in the higher resolution test, but it's merely a crumb of comfort so far.
Far Cry 3
At higher resolutions the stock GTX780Ti and R9 290X are inseparable, although the GTX780Ti gains at the regular 1080P. Even when overclocked there isn't much extra performance in the 2560x1440 test, although the 1920 ends up about 10 frames better off.
Finally a win for the stock 290X compared to the stock GTX780Ti, with 55/37 going against 54/34 on the nVidia card. Of course you can overclock the GTX780Ti and that improves things to 60/40 at the respective resolutions, with only the HD7970 Crossfire setup performing better.
Despite the mediocre engine behind both the Metro offerings, the results are as linear as we've seen so far, with the R9 290X in third, the GTX780Ti at stock in second and the GTX780Ti overclocked redefining single GPU performance. The difference between the stock Ti and the overclocked one is marked.
Metro Last Light
Resident Evil 6
The benefits of overclocking the GTX780Ti cannot be overstated. It's great at stock, but when overclocked it's utterly barnstorming. Comfortably the best result we've seen from Resident Evil 6, and increasing the resolution only makes it seem more impressive.
It's becoming difficult to find new ways to say how impressive the GTX780Ti is. It doesn't matter whether we're running tightly focussed efforts or sandbox style games, it just gets it done and makes the R9 290X look somewhat average.
The last of our games is Tomb Raider, the poster child of the R9 290X marketing with their TressFX technology. Given that in the higher resolution the GTX780Ti is capable of a 50% improvement, it's clear that for all the talk if you want to make the most of the adventures of Lara then the nVidia card is the way to go. Indeed it's only in the high resolution stock test that the R9 290X has any advantage at all.
Another benchmark, another dominating performance by the GTX780Ti. It's ridiculous that a simple overclock, and be in no doubt that overclocking the GTX780Ti is simple, can bring the next test up close to the level of the easier one on the R9 290X. For example on the Radeon the 720P test scores 18712, whereas on the GTX780Ti the 1080P test scores 16689 and the 720P test is 4000 points ahead of the R9 290X at 576P.
It would be easy to focus solely upon the overclocking performance because it's so jaw-dropping, but even at stock the GTX780Ti puts a hurting on the R9 290X. Heck it's not far behind the overclocked MSI GTX780 Lightning.
The increased amount of CUDA Cores are definitely working hard in Unigine Heaven and the difference is staggering. At stock the GTX780Ti is comfortably ahead of the 290X, but with the overclock it's as if you're running a different title, even in the extreme 8xMSAA setting.
The King is dead, long live the King.
We don't quite know where to begin. The GTX Titan appeared and redefined what we thought we could expect from a single-GPU. Then the GTX780 appeared and showed that the Titan was too expensive for what you got, as even reducing the CUDA Core count and amount of GDDR5 didn't really limit the performance. Finally AMD returned triumphantly with the R9 290X which, despite the excellent performance, lacked any ability to overclock which we felt left the pure speed title with the GTX780, even if the R9 290X was a great buy.
Now with the GTX780Ti the R9 290X is still a good buy but the main thing it had to offer, namely some quality games, has been stolen by nVidia's decision to include the latest Splinter Cell and Batman games alongside the game second only to Battlefield 4 on the lips of gamers everywhere, Assassins Creed IV. But games are just the icing on the cake, and what a cake the GTX780Ti is. We didn't think that there was much else to be squeezed from the GK110 GPU by the time the partner vendors had overclocked it within an inch of its life, but nVidia have bumped up the amount of CUDA Cores and Texture Units, tweaked the delivery of power between the PCI Express slot and the 8+6 pin power connectors, and produced a truly mind-blowing card.
We know we've made much of the overclocked performance of the GTX780Ti when compared to a stock R9 290X, but it's not as unfair a comparison as you might think, so before you leap upon our forums in a rage froth; AMD decided to give the R9 290X the poor cooler it has, and push the thermal limit to 95°C. This leads to zero headroom for overclocking. nVidia have put the excellent Titan cooler on the GTX780Ti and thus it overclocks like a bat out of hell. This is free performance. It's not related to having a Tri-Frozr or DCUII cooler. It's how the manufacturer supply it. AMD supplied it in a manner that didn't overclock, nVidia did. So because you're not reliant upon a third-party option and price premium to obtain that overclock, it would be pointless to not utilise it just because AMD didn't cough up for a good cooler.
The move to better split the power delivery between the PCI Express slot and the power connectors really allows the GTX780Ti to overclock to new heights. We got 225MHz extra out of the Kepler GPU, and even squeezed another 600MHz out of the memory. It's hardly slow out of the box, but 225MHz is an enormous overclock and one of the biggest we've ever achieved.
We have to look for faults and there are a couple of little niggles. Firstly if you've already got a stonking GTX780 (the MSI Gaming for example) then there isn't enough extra performance to justify the cost. Secondly at a street price around £550 the GTX780Ti is hardly cheap. On the flip side of that though it makes the GTX Titan seem wheezy in comparison, and that was a hugely expensive card when it was released.
We really can't fault it. It's blisteringly quick whether you're at stock or overclocked, 1920x1080 or 2560x1440, benchmarking or free-form playing. Everything you throw at it is eaten up and spat out with all the ease of Pacman on a power pill. It's near silent and so of course it gets a Gold, and you should all go and buy one.
Thanks to nVidia for supplying the GTX780Ti for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.