NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan Reviewccokeman - February 19, 2013
Category: Video Cards
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NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan Introduction:
It's been just shy of a year since NVIDIA debuted the Kepler architecture with the launch of the GTX 680, a card that ratcheted up the heat on AMD to deliver something that could outshine the beast that was Kepler. This weeks news that AMD is going to keep riding the wave of its HD 79XX series for the rest of the year puts NVIDIA in the driver's seat for now with the introduction of the GeForce GTX Titan. However, what we were treated wih the introduction of Kepler was a cut down version of the architecture in the form of GK104 instead of the full implementation GK110. Much the same story line we had with the Fermi-based GTX 480 then a year later the GTX 580 making for a comparable timeline and strategy between the two generations. Each time the cards were delivered late in the game with AMD gaining market share only to be outperformed once NVIDIA delivered its card to the market.
GTX Titan is named after the world's fastest super computer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, aptly named Titan. The Titan Super Computer is home to 18,668 NVIDIA Tesla K20X GPU accelerators built using the GK110 Kepler core to deliver 17.59 petaflop/sec in the LINPACK benchmark. Tesla K20X's compute performance firmly entrenched allowed for the GK110 architecture to filter down to the consumer level with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX Titan. The hallmarks of this card are a new set of features including GPU Boost 2.0, Overvoltage controls, display overclocking, new vapor chamber cooling solution, small form factor PC compatibility, Tri-SLI, improved double precision compute performance, and improved fan acoustics.
Basic specifications for GTX Titan include five GPC, 14 SMX, 2688 CUDA Cores (Single Precision), 896 CUDA Cores (Double Precision), 448 texture units, 48 ROPs, 6GB of GDDR5 memory though a wider 384-bit bus, 28nm process, and finally 7.1 billion transistors with a 1536K L2 cache. Base clock speed on the CUDA cores comes in at 837MHz with a boost clock of 876MHz while the 6GB frame buffer is clocked at 6008MHz (1502MHz effective). Just the specifications alone show the performance potential that Titan should deliver on the gaming front. However, for this introduction to Titan we'll focus on the card itself and what the feature set will do for the end user with benchmarks to follow up in another article shortly. So let's dig into Titan.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan Closer Look:
First off, we can take a look at the card to see just where NVIDIA put the performance. The card I have is a pure reference card. If you have seen a GTX 690 you get an idea where the styling cues come from. As much as the GTX 690 was a thing of beauty for a video card, the GTX Titan follows in the same mold with an aluminum frame and clear polycarbonate window over the vapor chamber-based cooling solution. At 10.5 inches long, the GTX Titan is able to fit into more small form factor chassis to deliver world class gaming performance without the need to have at least a mid-tower chassis. Using a blower style fan, it's able to push all the thermal load out of the chassis rather than heat up the other internals. The back side of the PCB shows that half the 6GB frame buffer is populated here but without any additional cooling for the modules. The GeForce GTX logo on the top of the card lights up to show just what kind of graphics horsepower you are running, functions as a power indicator, can be manually adjusted with board partner tools, and can also function as a graphics load indicator. The GTX Titan is PCIe 3.0 compliant with backwards compatibility built in.
Display connectivity does not change from earlier Kepler-based video cards with a pair of Dual Link DVI ports, a single full size DisplayPort 1.2 port, and an HDMI 1.4a port. This configuration supports up to four monitors in a 3+1 surround configuration. As a card built to run cool and quiet with an expressed goal of running in small form factor PCs, the airflow pushed through the GTX Titan is pushed outside the chassis to keep from heating up the PC components in an SFF build. It's functionality that the GTX 690 cannot provide. A series of openings on the mounting plate seemingly provide for the airflow requirements without impacting noise levels so that the thermal load is pushed completely out of the chassis. The back end of the card is open to draw air in through a fin array starting the cooling process early in the cycle, most likely cooling the VRM components.
As a single GPU card, the GTX Titan supports up to a four-way SLI solution to offer the highest possible gaming performance/experience. It's being touted as the only GPU solution that can run Crysis 3 maxed out at playable frame rates. The efficient dual slot cooling allows the cards to fit into a board that supports a four-way solution. A pair of SLI bridge connections are found in the usual spot. The GTX Titan will need a power supply of at least 600 watts and 6-pin and 8-pin PCIe power connectors. NVIDIA states the GTX Titan has a max board TDP of 250 watts with a 100% power target and 265 watts with a 106% maximum power target, which makes sense based on the power inputs to the GTX Titan.
NVIDIA has made great strides in reducing the thermals and noise signature of its Kepler-based products. The GTX Titan is no exception to this trend. Titan is equipped with a new copper vapor chamber-equipped cooling solution; a proven solution in the past that uses an extended fin design to deliver the best cooling solution possible in the footprint available. An aluminum base is used to cool the 6+2 phase VRM and DRAM modules on the PCB. This base assembly functions not only as a heat sink but as added structural rigidity to keep the PCB from flexing. Blower-style cooling solutions using a squirrel cage style fan have gotten a bad rap in the past for good reasons. NVIDIA has solved these issues on both the GTX 690 and the product most like Titan, the GTX 680. That continues here with added enhancements that include acoustic dampening materials on the fan as well as improved fan control algorithms that provide the optimum voltage to control the fan speed, noise, and temperature. A temperature target of 80 °C is the intended range before the fan speed really starts ramping up the duty cycle.
NVIDIA's PCB on the GTX Titan differs from its K20 cousins and is designed for use in a high performance gaming computer. To that end NVIDIA's engineers provided a 6+2 phase power circuit with six phases feeding the GK110 core with the additional two phases feeding the 6GB of GDDR5 memory. The power design supports overvoltage controls that can be taken advantage of with its GPU Boost 2.0 feature set.
The Kepler core used in the GTX Titan is built on a 28nm process that houses 7.1 billion transistors. It is the full implementation of the Kepler architecture first seen in March of 2011 as GK104 on the GTX 680. This time we get five Graphics Processing Clusters, 14 SMX with 192 CUDA cores that make up the 2688 core count, 1.5MB of shared L2 cache, 224 Texture units, 48 ROPs, and a full 6GB of GDDR5 memory running on a new-for-NVIDIA 6x64-bit (384-bit) bus. A total boost of 75% over the GTX 680's core, texture, and ROP count with a massive jump in frame buffer size. GPU Boost 2.0 is an upgrade over the prior versions that dynamically sets the clock speeds of the GPU core to the max possible clock based not only on the power threshold but more importantly the thermal threshold of 80 °C. By tweaking the power profile you can improve performance with your card. Samsung is the memory supplier of choice for the GTX Titan with its 6GB of memory to manage. Clock speeds are dynamic on the GPU cores due to how GPU Boost 2.0 operates, but a base core clock of 837MHz on the 2688 CUDA cores is the lowest you will see on the core with 1502MHz on the GDDR5 memory. The GTX Titan is more than a one trick pony however, as it's capable of running in double precision mode with 896 CUDA cores active to deliver over one teraflop of double precision performance. The clock speed is reduced but provides a pathway to bring developers into the fold with an easy entry point into CUDA programming.
Just on paper the GTX Titan, with its massive jump in core and memory count, is that as a single GPU gaming is no where near finished. The specifications flat out rock and should provide an interesting performance head to head with the GTX 690 and a 6GB GDDR5-equipped HD 7970. Now that we have seen that the GTX Titan is a great looking card in the vein of the GTX 690, we can look at the feature set that the GTX Titan comes equipped with.