GeForce GTX Titan SLI Review: Crysis 3 and Battlefield 3 vs HD 7970 GHz Edition
2/21/2013 by: Anshel Sag
The Nvidia GeForce Titan has been one of the most anticipated cards for the past year or so with most computer enthusiasts. We’ve known for quite some time now that Nvidia would be making a GK-110 based gaming GPU, and it was merely a matter of time until they did. Because the GeForce GTX Titan is a 7 billion transistor chip, the yields of them weren’t so great. As a result, Nvidia opted to sell them as TESLA K20s first, which also happen to be their most expensive server and professional cards.
The GK-110 based GeForce GTX Titan is a card that is designed to make up for the inadequacies of the GTX 680, which is also a Kepler based card, but is a cut-down version of the full Kepler architecture. The Titan cards are 90% of what Kepler was supposed to be and the GTX 680s (GK-104) are the cut-down versions of that to optimize for gaming performance and power consumption. Since the Titan launch is a two-part launch, most of the architectural details and improvements can be found in our article that we published earlier this week. If you’re interested in the technical details of the architecture and new features of the GTX Titan, I recommend you go here.
The simplistic details for the Titan are that it features 2688 shader cores and an 837 MHz core clock, with a boost clock of 876 MHz. It features 6GB of memory running at 6gbps and sports a TDP of 250w which is powered by an 8+6 pin PCIe power solution. The card uses a PCIe 3.0 interface and is expectedly backwards compatible with PCIe 2.0, however, this card’s sheer power stands to benefit from PCIe 3.0. Finally, the card has four video outputs with two dual-link DVIs, an HDMI 1.4a and a DisplayPort 1.2.
We also wanted to mention that the build quality of this graphics card is like none that we've ever experienced before. It definitely reminds us of the GTX 690, however, it feels even more solid and in my opinion looks even better. Nvidia have definitely outdone themselves this time in the looks department.
Nvidia GTX Titan Vs AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
For our review, we’ll primarily be testing the GeForce GTX Titan against AMD’s fastest single GPU. While we perfectly understand the price delta between the two, getting $1000 ARES cards isn’t necessarily an easy task (much like these Titans). As such, our initial goal was to compare Three Titans against Three HD 7970s and compare scaling as well as performance per dollar. We also wanted to see if Nvidia had closed the gap on compute capability. All games were tested at their maximum graphical settings at 1920x1080, we’ll follow up this review with a 4K review as well.
Because the Powercolor HD7970’s are outside of the spec of two PCIe slots, we were forced to run a maximum of two of these cards on our X79 board, which mind you, is supposed to be capable of Quad SLI and CrossFire. However, because the Titans were skinny enough, we were able to include three way SLI in some of our benchmarks. However, during our testing, we discovered a bug with our motherboard (still in the process of a solution) where the board defaults the third PCIe 2.0 x8 slot into PCIe 1.1. Until that issue is resolved, we can’t necessarily speak accurately to scaling from 2 Titans to 3 Titans.
Our Testing Platform:
Intel Core i7 3960X
16GB of Kingston HyperX Anniversary Edition RAM @ 2400MHz
Thermaltake ToughPowerXT 1475w Gold
120GB Patriot Pyro SSD
Cards We Tested:
Three Nvidia GeForce GTX Titans
Three Powercolor AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition PCS+
Slew of older cards from previous reviews.
Benchmarks – What You’ve All Been Waiting For
In 3DMark 11, we opted to compare the GTX Titan against most of the latest GPUs. These include the HD7970, HD7970 GHz edition, GTX 680 and GTX 690. We also included a few overclocks for measure. As you can tell from the chart above, the GTX Titan pretty much beats every single GPU including a 680 heavily overclocked by yours truly.
3DMark – Fire Strike Extreme
Since 3DMark’s Fire Strike is a relatively new benchmark, we actually managed to get a fairly good spread of different GPUs ranging from the GTX 650 up to Titans in SLI. As you can see from the graph, the GTX Titan sits somewhere between an HD7970 GHz edition and GTX 680 in SLI. Considering that GTX 680s in SLI cost about the same as a Titan, this doesn’t appear to be good for the Titan. However, if you want absolute performance two Titans in SLI are without a doubt the fastest solution with a score of 7391. AMD’s HD7970 GHz edition in CrossFire came in second at 6384, however, two of those cards still don’t equal the cost of one GTX Titan.
Unigine Heaven 4.0
Heaven is one of the most well known synthetic benchmarks and is commonly quoted by manufacturers and this version is relatively new. So, looking at our results, you can clearly see that the GTX Titan is the leader of the pack with one GTX Titan being 50% faster than a single HD7970 GHz. In multi-GPU, however, this gap narrows to 20% and AMD achieves more than 100% scaling with the addition of the second card, unlike Nvidia. Obviously, with the third GTX Titan, Nvidia takes the top two spots for this benchmark, but it’s quite clear that Nvidia wins this benchmark in overall performance while AMD wins with scaling.
Valley is Unigine’s newest benchmark launched at the same time as Heaven 4.0. This benchmark is designed to simulate extremely large scenes with plenty of nature and very far fields of view. In this benchmark, we see more of the same with the single Titan being almost 29% faster than the HD 7970 GHz edition. Following that, the gap narrows with SLI and Crossfire, with the CrossFire HD 7970 GHz almost achieving 100% scaling once again, while the SLI Titans only win by 11%.
In Battlefield 3, we didn’t quite know what to expect in terms of FPS, however, we realized that we were hitting an FPS cap with one HD7970 GHz edition, so we decided that anything above two would be pointless to test. So, we tested one HD7970 GHz Edition against a Titan and the results were interesting. With one card, the HD7970 wins, while in SLI and CrossFire the Titan wins. The Titan had an average framerate of 197.44 while the HD7970s in CrossFire had an average of 189.47, clearly a big enough margin to determine a winner. Similarly, the average framerate for a single card was 120.94 for the Titan and 158 even for the HD 7970 GHz Edition, a fairly resounding victory.
In Crysis 3, we saw exactly what you’d expect from a Titan vs. an HD7970 GHz. With one 7970, we were getting an average of 23.76 FPS, while the GTX Titan was getting 34.23 FPS a fairly big difference in terms of percentages, nearly 50% faster. Looking at the HD7970s in CrossFire, however, we can see that they scale almost perfectly delivering an average of 47.25 FPS with two cards. Two HD7970s cost a little bit less than a single titan and are about 37% faster; this is something to consider when you are taking price into account. Now, if absolute performance is your goal, then two Titans will give you an average FPS of 58.61, which is nearly the golden number of 60 FPS that most gamers shoot for. Now, going for the third card, as we’ve stated before, may be handicapped by our motherboard, but it still delivered an improvement on the average FPS to 64.64 FPS. The Titan is without the winner of this benchmark, but AMD definitely wins the value aspect of things.
This benchmark is from Kishonti, someone whom I’m very familiar with from the mobile graphics benchmarking world. They have this benchmark, CLBenchmark, which is specifically designed for desktops. So, we decided to give it a spin. Looking at our results it is quite clear that AMD’s cards are faster at OpenCL, with one HD7970 scoring 281,928 points and a Titan scoring 238,019. Now, looking at SLI and CrossFire, we can see that they both scale very well in terms of performance with two Titans scoring 450,085 points and two HD7970s scoring 544,761. Looking at the third Titan, we once again see three Titans beating two HD7970s, but not with very good scaling, which we believe could be a result of the motherboard or drivers. Nevertheless, three Titans take the cake here; even though it’s quite obvious three HD7970 GHz editions would win by a mile.
LuxMark is also an OpenCL based graphical ray tracing application. The first oddity that we noticed was that it wouldn’t run a Single Titan, but two and three Titans ran just fine. We believe that there might need to be a driver update or an update to this application to fix this crashing issue. This benchmark measures the number of samples per second and the HD7970’s proved faster than GeForce GTX Titan, so much so that two HD7970s beat three Titans by more than 10%. Three Titans came in at 4026, while two HD7970s came in at 4679, a fairly sizeable margin.
We didn’t have much time to mess with overclocking this card yet, but we were able to get the card to 946MHz and even toyed with some clocks around 1.2GHz, however, they weren’t very stable. The 109 MHz offset that we did make, however, did yield us about a 5% increase in 3DMark 11, scoring 13,737 up from 13,000 at stock clocks.
We’ll come back to you once we’ve had more time with this card and have had a chance to find the one that overclocks best out of our three. We believe that we can probably get this card to overclock somewhere near 1.2GHz since we were able to do 1.3 GHz with our GTX 680.
Temperature and Power Consumption
In terms of power consumption and temperatures, we have to hand it to Nvidia, during the week or so of testing that we did the cards never went above 79C. That is, even when all three cards were stacked next to each other and running games at high settings. In addition to that, these cards ran incredibly quietly and cool with the idle being somewhere around 25C, which is impressive for most graphics cards, let alone a reference design.
In terms of power consumption, this card at it’s very max only consumed 237W, which isn’t bad at all when you consider the fact that the GTX 680 consumed 186W. Take into account that the Titan is twice the amount of transistors as the GTX 680 and only draws 50 more watts, that’s a pretty big deal for Nvidia.
Based on what we were able to test with our GeForce GTX Titans, we can say without a doubt in our minds that the GeForce GTX Titan is the fastest GPU for gamers. If you like to do computational stuff as well, it isn’t half bad either, but I believe that there is some tweaking that needs to be made to it to get the maximum performance out of the computational side of things. When it comes to being the fastest GPU in the world, there is no doubt that the GeForce GTX Titan is the fastest single GPU, bar none. Nvidia really amazed us with the power consumption, as we were expecting something near 300w, and they did the same with all of the new features and overall performance.
However, there’s no avoiding the fact that it costs $1000 and for that money, you can get a lot more GPU in a lot of scenarios from both Nvidia and AMD. There is not much arguing that the GTX Titan is a value unless you compare it to it's K20C brother that sells for 4 times as much money. When talking about $1000 cards, value isn't usually a topic. However, not all games scale that well with multiple GPUs and performance can be spotty. I’m personally a believer in having one fast GPU and simply upgrading it once every generation or two. As such, the GTX Titan would be my recommendation to someone that isn’t concerned about price and wants the fastest GPU. You could get something like a GTX 690, but that would primarily be reserved for lower resolutions and isn’t as fast as two GTX 680s in SLI. If you want to have a fast and simple system a single Titan is great, and two Titans are absolutely awesome.
Oh, and in our conversations with Nvidia, they were asked about a dual Titan GPU card and they returned their generic statement about not commenting on unreleased products, which to us isn’t a complete denial. When you consider that the GTX Titan is a 250W card that only really draws 237W, there is a semblance of a chance that Nvidia could make a 14 billion transistor dual GK-110 card. Now, that would be terrifying.
We’ll be following up this review with our 4K review of the GeForce GTX Titan against the AMD Radeon HD7970 GHz edition. In 4K, I believe we’ll really see what the Titan was intended to be used for. We’re thinking about running Crysis in 4K, which should be fun no matter what.
Based on everything that we found in this review, there’s no doubt that this card certainly delivers on the promise of being a very fast card at a surprisingly quiet and cool level. As such, we’re giving this card our Editor’s Choice Award for Prosumers, considering the $1000 price tag.
Nvidia, GeForce, GeForce GTX, GeForce GTX Titan, GTX Titan, SLI, CrossFire, AMD, AMD Radeon, AMD Radeon HD 7970, HD 7970 GHz Edition, 3Dmark, 3Dmark11, Graphics, GPU, GK-110, GTX 680, GTX 690, GK-104
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