NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Review

ccokeman - 2011-10-03 19:55:05 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: May 23, 2013
Price: $649

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Introduction:

Here we are just a scant few months removed from the introduction of the fastest single GPU on the market, NVIDIA's GTX Titan that rewrote the book on single GPU performance. Priced at $1000 it was and is a part for the uncompromising gamer with deep pockets, especially when you look at running more than one in an SLI configuration. The cash outlay adds up fast when you get in that rarefied air. So where do you go from that point with the single fastest GPU and one of the best implemented DUAL GPU solutions in the GTX 690? Refreshing the lower end of the product stack? With parts like that no way! How about stepping down the performance just a notch to improve on what the GTX 680 has to offer or just adding another performance layer into the product stack? Nope!

NVIDIA's strategy with the GTX 780 is to replace the aging GTX 680 by using the GK110 core used in the GTX Titan but scaling it back a bit allow it to fit into a more attractive price/performance point. Surely we don't need another $1000 behemoth running around. At $649, the GTX 780 is going to fill that price point that the GTX 680 filled at introduction but bring with it that measurable up swing in the level of performance it is capable of delivering.

NVIDIA's GTX 780 is built around the Kepler GK110 core with a core clock speed of 863MHz and a boost clock of 900MHz by way of NVIDIA's GPU Boost 2.0 technology. GPU Boost 2.0 dynamically adjusts the clock speeds and voltages to fit within not just a power envelope but to fit within a temperature envelope that really lets the clock speed scale as long as cooling is up to the task. You want higher clock speeds you raise the thermal limit. As long as the cooling keeps up you get a higher clock speed when under boost conditions. To further improve the GTX 780's noise profile, an adaptive fan controller is employed to even out the fan speeds of the card while under load.

Having drivers ready and available for new games are a source of pride for NVIDIA and with this card the GeForce Experience is coming out of beta and will be officially launched with the 320 series launch driver for the GTX 780. GeForce Experience takes the guesswork out of finding the best settings for the games you play. NVIDIA does all the back end work to ensure you get the best possible experience when playing your games, new or old. Along with the new you still get the added value support items including 3D Vision/Surround support, Adaptive VSync, PhysX, TXAA, and SLI that all add in value to the gaming experience. A few months back we saw what the Titan could deliver; let's see what the GTX 780 can do to try and live up to that legacy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Closer Look:

Straight out of the packaging we get a card that for all intents and purposes looks like the GTX Titan from all angles. You get the great looking aluminum shroud with a clear polycarbonate window that shows off the vapor chamber cooling solution. The look is still just a stunning as when introduced on the GTX 690. The one key give away that shows this is not the GTX Titan is the GTX 780 logo at the front end of the aluminum fan shroud. The GTX 780 is 10.5 inches in length, allowing it to fit in a vast majority of the chassis on the market today. The efficient dual slot vapor chamber-based cooling system is coupled with a blower style fan to exhaust all of the thermal load generated by the card outside of the chassis. This brings up some interesting possibilities when it comes time for small form factor builds; one of the tenets when putting together the GTX Titan. Along the top of the card is the GeForce GTX logo that lights up to show your competition what's inside your rig.

 

 

 

Display connectivity is a carryover from GTX Titan with a pair of Dual Link DVI ports, a single full size DisplayPort 1.2 port, and an HDMI 1.4a port. With this configuration up to four monitors are supported in a 3+1 configuration. The thermal load is all exhausted through the mounting bracket and surprisingly does not impact the noise signature of the card with the single slot opening. Along the back end of the card is an opening with part of the finned aluminum heat sink packages that takes incoming airflow to help cool the VRM circuit before running through the main vapor chamber heat sink.

 

 

 

Much like the GTX Titan, the GTX 780 should support up to 4-Way SLI solutions for those looking for the ultimate in gaming horsepower. By using a dual slot cooling solution it should fit a board that supports a 4-Way SLI solution. A pair of SLI Bridge connections are used to interconnect the cards through an SLI bridge. NVIDIA suggests a power supply of at least 600 watts with both 6-pin and 8-pin PEG connectors standard to supply the 235 watt max TDP for the card and components.

 

 

By constantly evolving the cooling solutions and hardware controls, NVIDIA hit a high point with the design used on the GTX Titan. It leverages that design on the GTX 780 with new enhancements that include an adaptive temperature controller to improve acoustics. Using this controller and a new fan algorithm the fan speed stays almost at a consistent level during load situations. This eliminates the constant fan cycling under load for a more pleasant experience. An aluminum base is used to cool the 6+2 phase power circuit and eliminate board flex to improve longevity.

 

Last but not least we get to the GK110 core used as the heart and soul of the operation. This implementation of the GK110 core is built on a 28nm process that houses 7.1 billion transistors. This time around we get four or five Graphics Processing Clusters, 12 SMX with 192 CUDA cores that takes us up to the 2304 core count, 1.5MB of shared L2 cache, 198 Texture units, 48 ROPs, and a drop to 3GB of GDDR5 memory running through the still new 6x64-bit (384-bit) bus. Clock speeds are set dynamically based on how GPU Boost 2.0 manages the thermals and power windows. Out of the box we see a base core clock of 863MHz on the 2304 CUDA cores with a boost clock of 902Mhz or higher on the core with 1502MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Samsung once again gets the nod for the memory and supplies 3GB on the GTX 780.

 

 

New with the launch of the GTX 780 is the release candidate for a new tool NVIDIA has been working on to allow gamers to take advantage of the hard work NVIDIA does on the back end to provide the best possible gaming experience, hence the name of the tool called GeForce Experience. This tool is multifaceted as it helps keep your drivers up to date so you have the latest releases for the newest games, provides system information, and most importantly it provides a resource to tweak the settings for each game based on the GeForce hardware you own. Say you get tired of testing and tweaking the visual quality settings trying to find that good balance between FPS performance and visual quality. No problem. Open up GeForce Experience, choose your game from a list, and you see the optimized settings. You can choose to change them on your own or just hit the optimize button and then sit back and enjoy the highest FPS performance/visual quality settings your hardware can use.

 

 

 

Now let's dig into what the GTX 780 has to offer the gamer in us all. As AMD ramps up its operations, is this a preemptive strike or a way to say take your best shot, we got it covered!

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Specifications:

Graphics Processing Clusters
4 or 5
Streaming Multiprocessors
12
CUDA Cores
2304
Texture Units
192
ROP Units
48
Base Clock
863 MHz
Boost Clock
900 MHz
Memory Clock (Data rate)
6008 MHz
L2 Cache Size
1536K
Total Video Memory
3072MB GDDR5
Memory Interface
384-bit
Total Memory Bandwidth
288.4 GB/s
Texture Filtering Rate (Bilinear)
165.7 GigaTexels/sec
Fabrication Process
28 nm
Transistor Count
7.1 Billion
Connectors
2 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI 1 x DisplayPort
Form Factor
Dual Slot
Power Connectors
One 8-pin and one 6-pin
Recommended Power Supply
600 Watts
Thermal Design Power (TDP)1
250 Watts
Thermal Threshold2
95° C

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Features:


 

All information courtesy of NVIDIA

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Testing of the NVIDIA GTX 780 will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of a range of capabilities to show where each card falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which should be able to provide an idea of how the cards perform relative to each other.

The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustments will be made to the respective control panels during the testing to approximate the performance the end user can expect with a stock driver installation. I will first test the cards at stock speeds, and then overclocked to see the effects of an increase in clock speed. The cards will be placed in order from highest to lowest performance in each graph to show where they fall by comparison. The NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 320.00 drivers while AMD-based cards will be using the Catalyst 13.5 beta drivers and latest CAP profile. The results generated in my testing reached by utilizing the latest FCAT tools to illustrate the true picture of the gaming experience. To do so will require a second PC setup to capture the data stream generated by the compared video cards.

 

Testing Setup:

FCAT Capture Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

With the GTX 780 we get a bit of added voltage to increase the clock speeds to meet our needs. Most importantly more performance in games and synthetic benchmarks. Based on some history with the rest of the Kepler architecture, it was pretty easy to reach the limits of the card with the factory air cooling solution. GPU Boost 2.0 allows some additional leeway when it comes to overclocking by allowing the end user to set both power and thermal limits on the clocks or each one independently. Initially they are linked together so that when you increase one the other follows with a maximum limit of 106% on the power limit and 94 °C for the thermal limit. As you will see in the temperature section we came no where near that thermal limit so the limit for this card was the available voltage and clock speeds it would run with that voltage.

Firing up the latest beta version of EVGA's PrecisionX overclocking and tuning utility, I increased the fan speed to the maximum level; this is to provide the best possible cooling scenario as well as looking at the worst noise levels the fan would ever deliver. I then maxed out the voltage and started increasing clock speeds. The first adjustment netted a dynamic boost clock of 1100MHz on the core for a hefty 200MHz boost over the reference boost clock. Further tuning got the boost clock up to 1202MHz, which proved stable through all of the gaming tests. I could run higher clock speeds through some of the games but not all with 3DMark being the primary failure point. Even so that's about a 34% boost in clock speed on the Kepler core. The memory was a lot less forgiving when it came to overclocking, only reaching 1612MHz or about 7%. Every bit helps when you chase benchmark scores.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consisted of looping Unigine Heaven 4.0 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds failed when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment failed, then the clock speeds and tests were rerun until they passed a full hour of testing.

 

 

  1. Metro: Last Light
  2. Crysis 3
  3. Far Cry 3
  4. Battlefield 3
  5. Batman: Arkham City
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0
  7. 3DMark

 

  1. Temperatures
  2. Power Consumption

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro Last Light is the followup to the extremely popular game Metro 2033. Developed by 4A games and published by Deepsilver, this game uses the 4A game engine. In this game set a year after the missile strike on the Dark Ones you continue on as Artyom as he digs deeper into the bowels of the Metro.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this game we see the results scale well with the card's capabilities. The GTX 780 starts out strong here with a massive performance increase over the HD 7970 in both resolutions. At 5760x1080 it still has a substantial increase over the HD 7970 but falls much further against the GTX Titan. Yes the charts say Metro 2033 as the scripts I am using will need an update.

 

FCAT Results:

The percentile charts follow the results shown above with a smooth transition downward as you reach the 99th percentile. We see some spikes in the frame time charts from all of the cards in the comparisons. Although not really felt in game they are a factor. The FPS charts show how we get to the averages with the GTX 780 nicely filling the void between the GTX Titan and GTX 680.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

This third installment of the Crysis franchise, developed by Crytek and distributed by Electronic Arts, uses the CryEngine 3 game engine, and requires a DirectX 11 ready video card and operating system due to its demanding graphics engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After running the GTX Titan and GTX 780 through the game a half dozen times each, the GTX 780 was faster through the game at 1920x1080. At 5760x1080 the GTX Titan takes over but the GK110-equipped GTX 780 delivers excellent results.

 

FCAT Results:

The strongest runs on the percentile charts are from the GTX 780 and GTX Titan; as they should be with this new title. The tighter the variances are in the frame time charts lead to improved game play. There are some outliers here but for the most part are quite tight. The FPS charts at the bottom represent a 60 second run through the game.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Far Cry 3 is the latest iteration in the Far Cry series. Released in the US in early December 2012 the it uses the Dunia 2 game engine and is published and developed by Ubisoft. This Action Adventure First Person Shooter offers both single player and multi-player modes.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As strong as the GTX Titan is the GTX 780 is right on its heels at 1920x1080. Comparing the GTX 780 to the factory overclocked HD 7970 we see an almost 20FPS margin again at 1920x1080. At 5760x1080 the gap shrinks but the GTX 780 is still 30% faster than the HD 7970. The driver concerns plague this game on the AMD side with dust swirls and small shadows that show as little brown boxes you end up chasing down the road.

 

FCAT Results:

Flat trajectories downwards on the percentile charts show we do not have a major concerns with the GTX 780 as it falls right right between the GTX Titan and GTX 680. The frame times are tight with some outliers to drop the average FPS as the 99th percentile.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In BF3, NVIDIA's GTX 780 holds close to a 20% performance increase over the HD 7970 in both resolutions.

 

FCAT Results:

Flat trajectories and a marked split between the GTX 780 and HD 7970 shows that the GTX 780 is a much higher performing card. The frame times are tight and have some outliers but the frame times start to swing a bit with the GTX 780 and GTX Titan.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009. This action adventure game based on DC Comics' Batman super hero was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Batman: Arkham City uses the Unreal 3 engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we see the GTX 780 with an almost 25% advantage over the HD 7970 at 1920x1080. At 5760x1080 the positive margin for the GTX 780 drops to 10%.

 

FCAT Results:

Again we see just flat drops in the FPS as the percentage of the run increases until around the 95% range. Tight frame times will lead to smoother game animation.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark to allow testing of DX 11 features. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes – Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 1920x1080 the GTX 780 has a substantial performance increase over the HD 7970 that shrinks up as you get to 5760x1080 where the 6GB of onboard memory surely is helping it out.

 

FCAT Results:

With all four cards tested we see the same FPS drop as we hit the 20% mark of the run. The frame times for each of the cards look pretty tight throughout the runs at 1920x1080 yet the GTX 680 starts to have troubles at 5760x1080.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

3DMark: The just released version of Futuremark's popular 3DMark suite is designed to let a wider range of the user base the ability to make a comparative analysis of the gaming prowess of their systems from entry level PCs to notebooks and Extreme Gaming PCs.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 3DMark, you can see the reasoning behind replacing the GTX 680 with a more powerful card. When you have competition that performs that much better out of the box (albeit a factory overclocked GHz Edition card) you have to step up. The GTX 780 does just that and more. When overclocked in this test it eclipses the stock Titan numbers showing the apple does not fall far from the tree!

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 4.0, with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1200 using 8xAA and a five-run sequence to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will involve a 20-minute cool-down, with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running overclocked.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The temperatures delivered by the HD 7970 comparison card are going to be lower due to the cooling solution employed by that card. What you see with the GTX 780 though are temperatures that are identical to the GTX 680 it is replacing in the product stack. When you overclock and overvolt the GTX 780 that uses the same cooling solution employed on the GTX Titan, it shows that less hardware in the core equates to better temperatures when the fan speed is maxed out. The GTX 780 was easily able to stay within thermal boundaries that maximize core clock speeds. One of the benefits of the GTX 780 is the ongoing work to improve acoustics as well as cooling. Normally you will hear the fans on the cooling solution speed up and slow down dynamically as you game. It's a fact of life, however NVIDIA has worked in a new adaptive temperature controller that aims to limit the up and down spikes in fan noise while keeping temperatures constant.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Testing:

Power consumption of the system will be measured at both idle and loaded states, taking into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use Unigine's Heaven Benchmark version 4.0 to put a load onto the GPU using the settings below. A 15-minute load test will be used to heat up the GPU, with the highest measured temperature recorded as the result. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. With dual-GPU setups, the two core temperatures will be averaged.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you compare the idle results it's uncanny how the GTX Titan and GTX 780 share the same power consumption levels. Under load the additional hardware in the GTX Titan's core is drawing more current than that of the GTX 780. When compared to an aftermarket HD 7970 GHz edition card, the GTX 780 is dead even consumption wise at the baseline clock speeds. Overclocked the GTX 780 over volted is using more power than the HD 7970 that does not feature any voltage adjustments (on this card).

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Conclusion:

Seeing what the GK110-equipped GTX 780 is capable of just shows that, to coin a phrase again, the apple does not fall too far from the GTX Titan tree. Trimming 2 SMX (384 CUDA cores), 26 texture units, and 3GB of frame buffer have the desired effect of creating a card that is almost as fast as the GTX Titan at a resolution of 1920x1080 for about two-thirds the cost of a GTX Titan to the consumer. At $649 the GTX 780 is still not in the inexpensive bucket to say the least but when compared to a similarly priced (at launch) custom HD 7970 with 6GB of memory, you have some added value there for the hardcore gamer.

Just like with GTX Titan and GTX 690, it is a halo level card that delivers excellent performance metrics. It's got enough under the hood to allow the gamer to fully realize the entire NVIDIA spectrum from PhysX to 3DVision and Surround. New additions with the GTX 780 include a new adaptive temperature controller using an adaptive temperature filter to improve the fan algorithms used to keep it from cycling up and down needlessly. The end result is that you have a noise signature that is consistent. The new GPU Boost 2.0 uses this feature and adds in a temperature target that allows the boost clocks to increase the maximum clock speed potential to a level greater than the default 80 °C level.

NVIDIA has found that more cards are damaged from poor cooling than from overvolting, so it gave us back some additional control over the GPU. Of course this allows for some spirited overclocking. This sample was able to reach 1202MHz on the Kepler core and just over 1600MHz on the GDDR5 memory. In this configuration tested with Futuremark's 3DMark synthetic benchmark suite, the GTX 780 was able to ramp up and improve on the numbers generated by a stock GTX Titan. Some serious firepower indeed.

If you need more graphics firepower you can always step up to a second or third GTX 780 in SLI that should give you a bit more performance headroom than a pair of GTX Titans for roughly the same cash outlay, as long as your motherboard supports this feature. At that point maximum settings at 5760x1080 should be no problem.

Cooling a beast such as the GTX Titan or now Titan Jr., er, oops, the GTX 780 can prove problematic if you don't have an adequate solution. Using the same vapor chamber-equipped cooling solution as the GTX Titan, the GTX 780 performs almost identically at stock speeds. The lower CUDA core count on the GTX 780 pays off here when you run the fan speed up with a 6 °C improvement in cooling performance over that of the GTX Titan. Again an impressive feat but same cooler plus lower core count equals lower temperatures. At maximum speed the fan on the GTX 780 has the same noise signature as the GTX Titan. It is audible but not offensively so. At stock speeds with the new fan algorithms the GTX 780 was inaudible. Again a big win!

NVIDIA's GeForce Experience has been in beta for a while but gets a full launch with the introduction today of the GTX 780. This tool is now part of the download package when you pull in the latest drivers. GeForce Experience is about just that, the experience of playing your games rather than fussing with settings or drivers that do not work. NVIDIA actually has in-house teams that work out the best game settings for each of the video cards and build that into the experience so you can have, from day one, a driver that works and a comprehensive package of settings that provide the best visual quality for your hardware. Sometimes it even enables settings you did not know about or were afraid to try.

While not the cheapest GPU on the block, NVIDIA brings a player to the market that takes the strengths of the GK110 Kepler core DNA and packages them in a more affordable package.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: