GTX 780 Ti: the Full Power of GK110
Nvidia's GTX Titan had been holding the title of the fastest single GPU card since its release in February, using the massive GK110 GPU, consisting of 7.1 billion transistors. It was not even a fully enabled GPU, with 1/15 of its compute units turned off, but it was enough to completely beat HD 7970 GHz Edition and Nvidia put a high premium pricing of $1000 on that GeForce card. Later, GTX 780 was released with a lower price, but still much more expensive than anything below it. AMD had remained competitive against other Nvidia cards, but at the time they had no GPU powerful enough to compete against those monsters.
At the end of September, however, AMD announced their new Rx 200 series, consisting mostly of rebranded HD 7000 cards up to a $300 price point. The highest end was a different story – R9 290X, using a new large GCN-based Hawaii GPU with 6.3 billion transistors, was announced as a potential competitor to Nvidia's GK110 based cards. Nvidia has reacted to the news, announcing $700 GTX 780 Ti as their new top end card. When R9 290X released at $550, its gaming performance has beaten even $1000 GTX Titan, forcing Nvidia to drop prices of GTX 770 and 780 and in turn AMD has adjusted the performance of $400 R9 290 to match GTX 780 at its new $500 price.
Unlike AMD, Nvidia does not bring the new top performing card at a cheaper price than theor competitor this time, but asking a premium for the best performance. In terms of gaming performance GTX 780 Ti goes ahead of Titan in almost every way – 7% more computing cores, 6% higher clocks, 7 GHz GDDR5 memory (just like in GTX 770) at 384-bit bus brings 336 GB/s bandwidth, higher than the 320 GB/s in R9 290X (512-bit, 5 GHz). The card has the same metal cooler as GTX Titan in reference configuration, but with more black paint this time around, which looks quite stylish. Its maximum boost temperature has been raised to 83 °C and it consumes more power and is slightly noisier at load, while still rated for 250W TDP limit. FP64 performance remains limited on GTX 780 Ti, as even $1000 Titan is cheap compared to $5000 Quadro K6000 with full GK110 which Nvidia sells for professional graphics work, with unlocked FP64 and ECC memory.
While this last compromise is not so crucial for gaming, the 3 GB of memory in the default configuration seems a little short for a card aimed at the top end. Nvidia loves to push 4K and surround gaming and in those cases, high quality can require more than 3 GB VRAM. While GTX 680 and GTX 770 had 4 GB configurations, Nvidia restricted its partners to a 3 GB version GTX 780, likely to single out GTX Titan a little more. While it did not seem too problematic before, if such restrictions pass on to GTX 780 Ti, this will put it in a weird position against $550 R9 290X and even $400 R9 (both with 4 GB VRAM) for high resolution gaming.
As expected from its specifications alone, on average, GTX 780 Ti manages to be 10% faster than GTX Titan and 20% faster than GTX 780 based on cut versions of the same GK110 chip. Looking at averages across multiple games puts it 10% beyond R9 290X as well, but this difference becomes lower at higher resolutions. There are also games running better on GCN architecture, where R9 290X still easily outperforms GTX 780 Ti, just at a lower margin. The multi-GPU situation is not so clear cut however, as R9 290X in CrossfireX go head to head against SLI GTX 780 Ti and AMD has fixed their CrossfireX issues with those cards. While the reference cooler on R9 290X can hurt it a lot in multi-card setup due to temperature throttling, the price difference would allow for a different custom cooling or even just overclocking water-cooled R9 290 cards for a much cheaper high performance setup. In case of 7680x1440 and higher resolutions, which need multiple top cards, having only 3 GB VRAM becomes a problem for GTX 780 Ti as well.
Overall, GeForce GTX 780 Ti manages to grab the top single-GPU card spot, but not as cleanly as GTX Titan and with a smaller margin than GTX 780 had against HD 7970 GHz. Just like its predecessors, its price premium goes beyond its performance advantage, limiting its appeal to those who absolutely need the top performance from each GPU. While Nvida's blower cooler does a better job with GTX 780 Ti than AMD's design on R9 290X, this advantage will be irrelevant for most people as soon as R9 290 and R9 290X with non-reference coolers appear in stores. Nvidia's return to the top GPU performance spot is interesting, but not relevant with its price for most PC gamers. As TSMC should finally begin mass manufacturing of 20 nm chips next year, GTX 780 Ti and R9 290X are likely to remain the most powerful 28 nm single-GPU cards. It seems the next big GPU hardware news will come with the new GPU generation and architectures on 20 nm. Meanwhile, we can look forward to some more price adjustments and appearance of AMD's Mantle in some actual games we play.