It’s been a short three months since the release of GeForce Titan, NVIDIA’s flagship GFX card for the discrete consumer market, punctuated by high demand despite the £850 price tag. Demand has in fact been so strong that it may turn a few heads at NVIDIA’s strategic planning, encouraging further consideration as to whether they really need a dual-GPU release for every generation. Based on the GK110 GPU – until then only seen as a part of Tesla server and workstation products – the GTX Titan currently holds pride of place as the undisputed single-GPU king, and may well continue to do so until the next generation of cards. And so it was with some interest that those who could not stretch to the price of a Titan wondered if the GK110 would enter more mainstream products; thankfully we can now tell you unequivocally that it has, in the form of the top-end SKU for the new 700-series.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
Today NVIDIA launches the first and most prominent member of the 700-series – GeForce GTX 780, bringing with it a subtle realignment of 28nm Kepler architecture parts within the performance/mainstream range. As with the transition from the GTX400 to 500-series, this initial release will not feature a wholly new architecture or process shrink - that will have to wait until Maxwell. Although only the GeForce GTX780 will be released this week, other SKUs will be along in due time, with details still remaining under wraps.
You’ll notice immediately that the cooling solution bears a striking resemblance to the aluminium of the GTX 690 and Titan – this is intentional. NVIDIA are keen to reinforce the idea that these high-end GFX cards are premium products which justify a premium price, and now that they’re very happy with the heat dissipation and noise of the reference heatsink and blower fan it’s time to concentrate on the aesthetic. Furthermore, the GTX780 is based on the same PCB and GPU as Titan; given the weight of positive feedback they’ve had a redesign seemed unnecessary. Hence the now-familiar aluminium heat shroud and Perspex window, this time labelled with 'GTX 780', although a back-plate isn't part of the implementation.
GTX 780 Specs
Getting down to the specification it will come as no surprise that the GTX780 is a slightly slimmed down version of the GTX Titan. It utilises a variant of the GK110 GPU core with only 2304 CUDA cores, down from 2688 on Titan but a handy 50% improvement over the GTX680 it is ostensively replacing. It also retains a 384bit wide memory bus, matching AMD Tahiti GPUs, for fast 6GBps transfer speeds. One concession to cost is the sheer amount of video RAM: only 3GB on the reference SKU which nonetheless should be more than enough for high resolution and multiple monitor gaming; in this respect it has at least one eye on a future in which 4K resolutions are a significant factor in the consumer market.
Compensating for fewer CUDA cores than the GTX Titan is a higher Base and Boost frequency, 863MHz & 900MHz respectively, made possible at least partially thanks to the retention of Titan's excellent cooling system. The improved sensor technology on the new cards vs the GTX 680 also allows it to make use of GPU Boost 2.0, increasing the effective frequency over time. One great unknown is the absolute overclocking potential of the GTX780 which NVIDIA have been closed-mouthed on, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the GPU will be nip-and-tuck with Titan (and may provoke a few angry exclamations amongst early adopters). The initial partner boards will be released with modest overclock, whilst later variants may well push it far further. For reference we’ve been able to reach a stable Boost Clock of 1.2GHz, so 1GHz as a factory overclock should be easily within reach.
Speaking of factory overclocks, it’s not clear just when partner versions with custom PCBs will arrive in the market. GTX Titan variants have been slow to appear despite AIB demos over the last six weeks, and the GTX780 may be just the push they’re waiting for. Competing with the reference solution will nonetheless be a tough proposition given the high quality in design, to the extent that partners may be relegated to bundling value over the mainstay of promising raw improvements to acoustics.
The listed TDP for the GTX780 is 250W, which demands one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI-E connector and matches that of the GTX Titan whilst being a little more than the GTX680. That’s not quite as frugal as the GK104-based cards, but isn’t beyond the pale and may not require a PSU upgrade if you’re already rocking a quality 600W model.
One concession made by NVIDIA for Titan users is that GTX780 does not have the advanced double-precision performance of Titan. This may be something of a blow to those who wanted a lower-priced part specifically for compute, but like the diminished video RAM won’t impact the vast majority of potential users. That said, given that the GTX780 has improved GPU frequency similar memory speeds and features one wonders why a gamer would buy a GTX Titan.
During development of the GTX780’s cooling solution and in noting that continual changes – even small ones - in fan RPM can be as problematic as high absolute sound level, NVIDIA set upon implementing a less aggressive default fan control. This new fan controller aims to keep fan speed fairly constant over time, oscillating only within +/- 10 RPM rather than the 100RPM of the previous solution, whilst the overall improvements have NVIDIA’s internal testing pegging it as quieter than a GTX680. It’s certainly a win-win if it makes the GTX780 both fast *and* easier to live with.
NVIDIA are undoubtedly targeting performance enthusiasts with this release, but not necessarily owners of the GTX680. Matching previous strategies, they anticipate that the main interested parties will be those who buy new cutting edge GPUs on a 2-year upgrade cycle; for those users, who would be on a GTX580 or similar, NVIDIA are projecting an ~70% performance improvement (averaged over 20 titles at 1080p & 2500x1600). For users currently toting a GTX680 a more modest 32% performance is projected over the same games and resolutions, which may or may not be worth your hard earned pounds.
Which brings us to the price: NVIDIA are quoting an MSRP of £550 inc. V.A.T., representing a new high water mark for their main line single-core GPUs - the launch price of the GTX680 was around the £400 mark, and was seen as expensive at the time. The Pound has weakened against the U.S. Dollar since then, exacerbating the perceived jump, but even so it remains a particularly large pill to swallow. Nor does it require a significant realignment of the high-end 600-series cards, an eventuality which may become necessary with later 700-series release. GTX780 is certainly more affordable and attractive than Titan, but isn’t quite the game changer it could be if priced more aggressively.
Our in-depth review of the NVIDIA GTX 780 by Rich goes into more technical detail and will open many eyes to its overclocking potential. The cards themselves should be available from retailers at launch. For more information from NVIDIA visit the GeForce GTX780 landing page.