Nvidia GTX 780 Review: Titan Performance on the Cheap

$649 is still steep for a graphics card, but if you're playing games at higher than 1080p there's no better option than the GTX 780.

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It's hard to talk about the new GTX 780 without mentioning the GTX Titan. After all, thanks to Titan being based on the same GK110 chip as the workstation-focused Tesla K20 and K20X, it remains the fastest single-GPU card money can buy. At $1000 though, it's out of reach for all but the most well-heeled of gamers. Enter the GTX 780, a GPU that not only shares the same beautiful metallic enclosure of Titan, but is also based on the same high-performance GK110 chip, albeit with a few tweaks. The best part, though, is the price: retailing at $649 (£549), the GTX 780 nets you almost the same performance as Titan, but for less cash.

Of course, some compromises have been made to bring the cost of the GTX 780 down. The amount of RAM has been halved to 3GB, while the CUDA cores drop from 2688 to 2304. On the plus side, there's a small increase in the base clock and boost speeds to 863 MHz and 900 MHz, and a new version of GPU boost.

GTX 780 GPU Specs
GTX 780 Memory Specs
2304 CUDA Cores
863 Base Clock (MHz)
900 Boost Clock (MHz)
165.7 Texture Fill Rate (billion/sec)
6.0 Gbps Memory Clock
3072 MB Standard Memory Config
GDDR5 Memory Interface
384-bit GDDR5 Memory Interface Width
288.4 Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)
GTX 780 Support
Display Support
4.3OpenGL
PCI Express 3.0
GPU Boost 2.0, 3D Vision, CUDA, DirectX 11, PhysX, TXAA, Adaptive VSync, FXAA, 3D Vision Surround, SLI-readySupported Technologies
Microsoft DirectX 11.1
4 displaysMulti Monitor
4096x2160Maximum Digital Resolution
2048x1536Maximum VGA Resolution
One Dual Link DVI-I, One Dual Link DVI-D, One HDMI, One DisplayPort
GTX 780 Graphics Card Dimensions
Thermal and Power Specs
10.5 inchesLength
4.376 inchesHeight
Dual-slotWidth
250 WGraphics Card Power (W)
600 WMinimum System Power Requirement (W)
One 8-pin and one 6-pin Power Connector

Software

Hardware is only half the story with the GTX 780. GPU Boost--an automatic increase in the GPU’s clock frequency to improve performance--gets an update to version 2.0 and a new set of software tools to go with it. The key difference between the original GPU boost and its latest incarnation is the switch from boosting clock speeds by monitoring power consumption to boosting clock speeds based on temperature. By default, the temperature target is 80 degrees, but you can increase it using the bundled software to whatever you like for increased performance at the cost of heat. You can also now adjust the fan curve--at what speed it spins at a specific temperature--for better cooling at cost of more noise.

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With the GTX 780, Nvidia is making its GeForce Experience (GFE) software part of its driver package for the first time. For the uninitiated, GFE is an application that automatically optimises the graphics settings of your games based upon your hardware. It's designed to take the pain out of PC gaming for newcomers and make for a more console-like experience. For the most part it works well. GFE automatically updates your drivers and scans your games library for supported games. Then it's simply a case of hitting the optimise button and loading up your game.

Most games are targeted to run at around 40 to 60 frames per second, and we found that to be the case with vast majority of games we tried. That said, GFE isn't infallible, and there were a couple of occasions where we could boost the graphics settings of a game further than GFE suggested and still maintain a decent frame rate. Also, there are many games that aren't currently supported by the system, but Nvidia promises to support more games in GFE in the future.

Also coming in the future is ShadowPlay, a gameplay capture system that's being built into GFE. The hook is that it leverages the H.264 encoder built into Kepler (600, 700 series) GPUs, making it far more efficient than software encoders like FRAPS. Nvidia estimates around a 3 percent performance hit when using it. Unfortunately, ShadowPlay isn't due for release until this summer, so we've been unable to test it, but it's a neat idea and one that should appeal to the growing number of players uploading clips to YouTube.

GFE is a useful system, but it's arguable that anyone spending $649 on a graphics card is more likely to want to tweak settings manually than rely on an automated piece of software to do so. For cheaper GPUs, GFE makes a lot more sense. That said, if you'd rather go in and tweak your own settings, then you can choose to ignore GFE altogether and simply install the drivers without it.

Benchmarks

Motherboard
Asus P8Z68-V Motherboard
Processor
Intel Core i5 3570k @ 3.4Ghz
RAM
8GB 1600Mhz DDR3 Corsair Vengeance RAM
Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1 TB
Power Supply
Corsair HX850 PSU

If you're just playing games on a single 1080p monitor, then forking out $649 for a GTX 780 is overkill. Cards like the 660 Ti, 670, and perhaps future entries in the 700-series will happily max out games at 1080p, and cost you far less. So to really put the GTX 780 to the test, we hooked it up to a 30-inch monitor running at a 2560x1600 pixel resolution. Pushing those extra pixels is a challenge for any graphics card, but even with just a single GTX 780 we got some great results.

Metro: Last Light - Max Settings
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Batman: Arkham City - Max Settings (FXAA)
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Tomb Raider - Max Settings (FXAA, TressFX)
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Bioshock Infinite - Max Settings
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Battlefield 3 - Max Settings
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Crysis 3 - Max Settings (FXAA)
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A $649 bargain?

What's interesting is that, in some cases, the GTX 780 posted better frame rates than Titan. That's most likely down to the increased clock speeds of the GTX 780. It should be noted that such speeds are possible on Titan with a little overclocking, but it's an interesting turn of events nonetheless. For anyone that forked over $1000 dollars for a Titan for gaming, the GTX 780 is something of a kick in the teeth. Here you have a card that performs almost identically, for less money, just three months after Titan's release.

If, however, you've been considering a Titan but have yet to take the plunge, then the GTX 780 is something of a bargain, even more so than Titan was against the Tesla K20. It puts Nvidia's top-of-the-range chip within the reach of more gamers than ever before, and offers outstanding performance across the board. 1080p gamers need not apply, but if you've got the high-res monitor to back it up, Nvidia's GTX 780 is a brilliant graphics card that lets you crank every game to the extreme. AMD has got some serious catching up to do.

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