Just when you thought that all had settled down in the world of graphics cards, with the nVidia GTX680 and the AMD Radeon HD7970 almost inseparable, along comes a new card from nVidia. Freed from the restrictions of a number, it's interesting to see what the Titan has to offer.
Come with us for a moment down the meandering path that leads to the rumour mill.
The battle between nVidia and AMD has swung both ways in recent years. AMD have had some awesome cards, such as the HD5870 and the HD7970, and some duffers (HD6970). nVidia haven't been freed from that either, as anyone who brought the turbine barbecue disguised as a GTX480 can attest. The GTX580 won the most recent battle and when AMD returned with the HD7970 we all wondered what nVidia would bring to the table.
We heard word that the newest Kepler chip was a complete stormer, that it was going to annihilate whatever AMD had conjured up. Then it all went rather quiet. There was a bit of a lull and finally the GK104 powered GTX680 appeared, nearly identical in performance to its red team competition. Whisper went round that this was deliberately engineered to be so, that nVidia had produced something that would keep them in the game without leaving themselves nowhere to go in the immediate future. Certainly it's not great for the consumer if this is the case, but it makes good business sense.
So in a lot of ways it's no great surprise to find ourselves in possession of a new GPU from nVidia, the GK110 'Kepler' powered GTX Titan. This is assuredly what nVidia had in the R&D department when the HD7970 appeared. Indeed it was a suite of these that were a key part of the Cray-built Titan Supercomputer, a 17 petaflop behemoth. Each node of the Titan Supercomputer had an Opteron CPU, as well as a nVidia Tesla K20X GPU tied to 6GB of GDDR5. The K20X was a GK110 in the Tesla naming convention. All of which lengthy preamble explains why today's review is of a GK110 powered GPU with 6GB of GDDR5 and named the GTX Titan, in honour of the supercomputer that was the testbed for our card.
The vastly expensive world of the supercomputer could bring the well-heeled of us a graphics card to redefine how much power we thought we could put in our own PCs.
As with most graphics cards, the technical specifications don't reveal all the secrets. However, there are a couple of things that are worth noting.
Firstly the Titan has a whopping 2688 CUDA Cores on board. To put that into perspective the GTX680 had 1536. Quite the leap in potential performance.
Secondly whereas the GTX680 used two 6pin power inputs and had a TDP of 195W, the Titan reverts back to the GTX580 arrangement of a 6pin and 8pin power input (side by side again) and the TDP is back up to the full 250W. Just in case you had any doubts about the cut-down nature of the GTX680.
Under the Hood
Let us refresh your memory for a moment. On the left is the new GK110 chip that beats at the heart of the Titan. On the right, the GTX680. So say this is a monumental leap in computing power is understating things. In every department the Titan lives up to its name. 48 Raster Processors compared to the 32 on the GTX680. 6GB of GDDR5 compared to 2GB. 1152 more CUDA Cores. In every conceivable number the Titan dwarfs its predecessor.
So what does all this mean? A good place to start is the GigaFlops number. A measure of pure calculative performance the Kepler GK110 has the capability to perform 4,500 billion floating point operations per second. If that doesn't seem like a lot to you, then compare it to the current CPU king, the Intel Core i7-3960X, with its measily 316 billion, and the insane power of the nVidia effort starts to become clear.
For comparison, the HD7970 has 3800 GigaFlops and 4.3 billion transistors..
There are a lot of tweaks and clever things going on beneath the hood of the GK110, but we've never been ones to baffle you with meaningless science here at OC3D. Certainly not for the sake of just making our reviews needlessly lengthy. You're busy people. What we care about is the end product and how fast it is, and we're sure you're the same. So perhaps the biggest change to the way that the Titan works is the adjustment in the GPU Boost. Whereas the GTX6xx series adjusted the clockspeed of the GPU relative to the amount of power that was being drawn, the GPU Boost 2.0 on the GTX Titan takes the temperature of the card as the limiting factor.
This might seem like a small change, but if the thermals are the only limit, and you can water cool them or even go sub-zero, then hopefully you're all smiling like us at the practical applications of this tweak. Lastly nVidia believe that the Titan should give a substantial performance boost over its predecessor, but that's what we're here for.
So enough preamble, let's take a look at today's card, the Gainward GTX Titan.
One thing that nVidia is still behind AMD is the included accessories. When you look at the Never Settle bundle, with ton of top games, and nVidia provide precisely nothing, that can make a big difference in sales. Hopefully the Titan will be enough to tip the balance.
Besides the green GeForce GTX logo on the side, the Titan is very neutral. The card is absolute chock full of Samsung memory chips. That 6GB of GDDR5 has got to go somewhere. Two SLI fingers will be getting the enthusiasts salivating at the possibility of three of these.
The cooler and shroud for the Titan is simple, and yet devastatingly effective as we'll see on the next page. We really like the look of it. Simple, inoffensive and the steel grey colour will blend in with anything.
The stacked power connectors on the GTX680 were clearly an idea that didn't pan out, as the Titan reverts to the side-by-side connection option. The business end has a DisplayPort, HDMI and two DVIs. We like seeing a good selection of outputs rather than the AMD array of endless mini-DisplayPorts.
So this is where the photos get more adult and carry an 18 year old plus warning. Thats assuming you do want to see this little stuff undressed right....?
Finally here we get down to the really rude bits of the vapor chamber heat sink, and the bare PCB which is surprising simple and clean looking for a card capable of such high numbers. Shouldn't be too hard for the water cooling manufacturers to get their blocks out quickly!
Gainward GTX Titan
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.6GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Corsair Dominator Platinum
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
This is a double-edged thing. When we first tested the Titan's overclocking ability we used the latest beta of the always good MSI Afterburner. All of today's overclocking results were based upon that overclock. However, and it's a big however, we weren't happy with our initial findings and further testing has made it clear that Afterburner isn't quite up to scratch.
Moving on to EVGA Precision we finally saw the overclocks we were hoping for and got the results that we expected. As you can see the Gainward ended up at nearly 300MHz faster than stock. So the results in this review are using Afterburner, and we'll be revisiting the overclocking results in a follow up review next week.
With the GPU Boost 2.0 the card always hits the stops, so pure temperature isn't so important. What is the most jaw-dropping part is that the card is near silent. We don't mean near silent if you're using headphones, or playing Far Cry 3. We mean silent in the "is it still working" way.
Our first test is underwhelming. Alien vs Predator isn't the most demanding of titles. Let's hope that the rest of our tests show better performance.
Batman Arkham City
Due to the frame limit imposed upon Arkham City the average and maximum frame-rate isn't anything special. The minimum frame-rate is very good though, dropping down to a mere 51. Some smooth cape action to be had.
Far Cry 3
We have loved all the Far Cry games and the third instalment is the finest of the bunch. It looks spectacular on the Titan, and whilst it's not in the same league as our Crossfire test, the Titan is a leap ahead of the GTX680. Which makes it the fastest single GPU in this particular title so far.
The good performance continues in Hitman, with the GTX Titan 9 FPS better than the best of the HD7970s and nearly double our reference model and the GTX680 itself.
That's more like it. Finally nVidia have cracked Metro 2033, with the Titan capable of scores equivalent to most dual-card setups. Stunning stuff.
Resident Evil 5 - DX9
The gentler of the two APIs for Resident Evil 5 is eaten by the Titan. The highest minimum frame-rate we've seen, as well as out performing all the dual-card offerings.
Resident Evil 5 - DX10
The DirectX 10 version is slightly more demanding than the DirectX 9 one, but the Titan handles it with aplomb, albeit without the same domination of the high scores.
If you ever want a graphics card that makes roaming the streets of Hong Kong a joy, the Gainward GTX Titan is the one for you. Vastly superior to the reference models of the previous/current generation.
Finally Crysis 3 is upon us, and we're sure that many of you are enjoying the fun that can be had from a cloaked archery kill. Being so new we're short of test setups, but looking just at the HD7970 Crossfire versus the GTX Titan it's clear that there is only one winner when it comes to shifting next generation games around. Such is the dominance of the Titan you can up the resolution to the whopping 2560x1440 and still be 2 frames ahead on average of the Crossfire setup. Outstanding.
The Witcher 2
There is some extra performance to be found in The Witcher 2 when compared to the GTX680. It isn't the massive leap we were expecting, but it's nice to see an improvement and Geralt has never looked so good.
A quick glance down the list gives a true indication of how much ahead of the game the Titan is in pure horsepower. The only arrangements that get close to it are multi-GPU ones, and even then we've got a couple that the Titan is neck and neck with. Nothing involving a single GPU is even in the same ballpark.
Increasing the anti-aliasing until there isn't a jagged edge to be found barely impacts the result at all. The Gainward GTX Titan is definitely, ahem, titanic.
The most recent benchmark in the OC3D suite, Unigine Valley is even more of a visual feast than the Heaven benchmark was. We'd expect two cards to be better than one, especially as Unigine always optimise their benchmarks far beyond that which we see from gaming companies. However, the Titan is greatly superior to the best of the HD7970s, and has enough power to get through the extreme resolution tests without turning into a slideshow.
HiRes - Batman Arkham City
As we've come to expect from Batman, it's easy to reach a point after which no amount of hardware will bring a benefit. The Titan is such a card, and almost doesn't care what resolution you're running at.
HiRes - Far Cry 3
The Titan is miles ahead of the GTX680 it replaces. There is still a fair performance hit from the higher 1440P resolution, but the Gainward card remains the finest of the top end models around at the moment.
HiRes - Hitman Absolution
Putting things into perspective, Hitman Absolution is capable of running at 2560x1440, with a higher framerate than we saw from the GTX680 at 1080. A big leap forward indeed.
HiRes - Metro 2033
The pattern is repeated in the hugely demanding Metro 2033. Whilst we were originally impressed enough with nVidia finally getting great single card performance, the higher resolution performance batters any single card into submission.
HiRes - Sleeping Dogs
Without the Crossfire results in the graph, the big shift in performance that the Titan brings is more evident. Very nearly 10 extra frames per second is a vast amount, especially when generally the average FPS is this low.
HiRes - The Witcher 2
The Witcher is slightly disappointing in the higher resolution test. The numbers are still good, and the performance hit still tolerable, but if you consider how much extra power is available we expected more.
It doesn't matter if you have no anti-aliasing, or the full 8x MSAA, the Titan is capable of delivering higher frame-rates at 2560x1440 than the GTX680 can at 1920x1080. Now if that doesn't make you sit up a little straighter in your seat we don't know what will.
Unigine 0xAA @ 2560x1440
Unigine 8xAA @ 2560x1440
3D Mark Vantage
Vantage puts the Titan in pole position for a single GPU equipped card. Or, if you prefer, it's as good in the Extreme preset as a GTX580 is in the Performance one.
3D Mark 11
In 3D Mark 11 the Titan is capable of keeping up with a GTX690 in the P Score, and it's only in the Extreme preset that the dual cards take a lead.
Finishing with the most recent benchmark, 3D Mark, the Gainward GTX Titan really comes through with flying colours, especially as the scene gets ever more complicated. A 25% improvement over the HD7970 in the ultimate Fire Strike Extreme test is nothing to be sniffed at.
Summing up the GTX Titan isn't as easy as we might have assumed. The reason is isn't necessarily a case of "best thing ever, go buy it" is two fold.
Firstly, the potential of the card is clearly barely tapped at the moment. All new GPUs are better than the previous generation and then, as the drivers mature and developers unlock the potential, it becomes even more spectacular. Secondly the GTX680 and HD7970 are already running on very mature drivers whereas the Titan is on the betas. This clearly has some issues as we saw in our overclocking results, but the biggest issue is that the GTX680/HD7970 are as outstanding as they are ever likely to be, but the GTX Titan has barely had the surface scratched. So although the results are good right now, in the future they should be even more jaw-dropping. Of course we can't, and never would, review something based on theoretical future performance.
Even with the beta drivers though the GTX Titan is a special card. Unquestionably the fastest single GPU currently available, it often ran dual-card setups close. Perhaps the thing that has us salivating the most is the performance in the very latest titles. Whereas, for example, The Witcher 2 showed good results, titles such as Unigine Valley, 3D Mark Fire Strike, and Crysis 3 had a vast improvement when running on the Titan. If this is the level of performance that we can expect to see from the very early samples then once the drivers are mature and the games companies take advantage of the incredible amounts of power available to them, then we're certain that this will be the card that you want in your rig.
Indeed with the recent announcement of the Playstation 4, as well as the forthcoming XBOX 720, the gap between a console port and a great looking PC game is even narrower, so we're sure that soon we will finally get the range of games that make these expensive GPU purchases a worthwhile investment.
Overclocking is now limited by temperature rather than power-draw, so once some watercooled variants appear the sky is now the limit, and the card will automatically achieve those levels of performance. In current trim there clearly is a bit of tweaking still needing to be done as our sample didn't seem to give the same temperate readings across all programs. We do however think this needs further investigation before we decide whether its a glitch or faulty.
If you want to be ready for the future, then the Gainward GTX Titan is the card for you. It's certainly capable of some incredible frame-rates and with the combination of Adaptive Vsync, GPU Boost 2.0 and TXAA (all technologies that benefit gamers) it is the next generation now. This Gainward model is near silent too. Performance and silence in one easy to use package, a worthy winner of the OC3D Performance Award.
NOTE - Following the writing of this review it became apparent that the failure lay with the Afterburner software, and we'll be doing a follow-up review on our new overclock results next week.
Thanks to Gainward for supplying the GTX Titan for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.