Usually a new Nvidia architecture is accompanied by the launch of new high-end GPU: Kepler launched with the GTX 680, and Fermi with the GTX 480. But with Maxwell, the company is taking a different approach. Not only is it launching Maxwell within the existing 700-series lineup, it's doing it with a midrange card, the £115 ($149) GTX 750 Ti.
The question is, why? The answer lies in Maxwell's architecture, which focuses on efficiency and performance per watt. That was partly true of Kepler too, but Nvidia has doubled down with Maxwell, and it's done so without shrinking its fabrication process down from 28nm. The company is claiming twice the performance per watt of Kepler, and--in the case of the GTX 750 Ti--performance on par with a GTX 480, but with a power consumption of just 60 watts.
Its resulted in a card that's very small, very quiet, and works without the need for a 6-pin power connector. This makes it an ideal fit for small form factor PCs like Steam Machines, or as an upgrade for cheap, off-the-shelf computers from the likes of Dell and HP that feature small power supplies without extra power connectors.
Nvidia's not revealing exactly how it's managed to get to such power savings without shrinking its fabrication process, and instead is citing "improvements to control logic partitioning, workload balancing, clock-gating granularity, compiler-based scheduling, and number of instructions issued per clock cycle" on Maxwell's streaming multiprocessor (SM).
|GPU||GK107 (Kepler)||GK107 (Maxwell)|
|Base Clock||1058 Mhz||1020 Mhz|
|GPU Boost Clock||N/A|
|Texel fill-rate||33.9 Gigatexels/sec||40.8 Gigatexels/sec|
|Memory Clock||5000 Mhz||5400 Mhz|
|Memory Bandwidth||80 GB/sec||86.4 GB/sec|
|L2 Cache Size||256KB||2048KB|
|Transistors||1.3 Billion||1.87 Billion|
|Die Size||118 mm||148 mm|
We also know that the SM itself is physically smaller thanks to a new design that splits them into four separate processing blocks, each with its own instruction buffer, scheduler, and 32 CUDA cores. Essentially, this means Nvidia can stuff more of these efficient SMs onto each GPU than it could with Kepler, resulting in better performance with less power usage. A beefy 2048KB of L2 cache, and a faster memory clock and bandwidth helps things along too.
Given it's a midrange card, the GTX 750 Ti isn't the best choice for pushing anything higher than 1080p, or indeed anything at ultra settings. However, its performance is impressive for a GPU that doesn't need a power connector (Nvidia is claiming substantial overclocking is possible too), and for one that retails at such a low price--and of course, it spanks the hell out of Intel's integrated graphics.
We tested the GTX 750 Ti on our trusty Ivy Bridge test rig, which features an Intel Core i5 3570K @ 3.4Ghz, 16GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3 RAM, an ASUS P8Z68-V Motherboard, Corsair HX850 PSU, Arctic Cooling Freezer 13 Pro, and a Corsair Force GT SSD.
|Tomb Raider (High)||61|
|Tomb Radier (Ultra, no tressfx)||41|
|Metro Last Light (High, no tessellation)||45|
|Metro Last Light (Normal, no tessellation)||57|
|Bioshock Infinite (Very high)||63|
|Battlefield 4 (High)||52|
|Battlefield 4 (Ultra)||31|
|Crysis 3 (High)||35|
|Crysis 3 (Medium)||45|
|Titanfall Beta (High, 2XAA)||58|
As our benchmarks show, the card does a brilliant job at 1080p, with most games running just shy of a steady 60fps at high settings. Amusingly, it also does a better job with Titanfall than the Xbox One does, running the beta of the new mech-based shooter at a cool 58fps at 1080p with 2XAA on. If you were thinking of plonking down a hefty £429 or $499 for an Xbox One just to play Titanfall, why not just chuck a 750 Ti into an old PC at home?
The GTX 750 Ti runs cool, runs incredibly quiet, and is fantastic value. You can chuck this thing into pretty much any old PC with a spare PCI slot and run the latest games without having to worry about crazy cooling or if your power supply can take the strain. Plus, you're getting all the great stuff that comes with an Nvidia card: the brilliant driver support, Shadowplay for recording gameplay clips, and GeForce Experience for one click setup of your games.
If you're after a great performing midrange budget card without any of the fuss, there's no better option than the GTX 750 Ti right now. High-end users hold tight: hopefully this a sign of great things to come from Nvidia's brand new Maxwell chips too.