As the two year GPU cycle continues in earnest, we’ve reached the point where NVIDIA is gearing up for their annual desktop product line refresh. With the GeForce 600 series proper having launched over a year ago, all the way back in March of 2012, most GeForce 600 series products are at or are approaching a year old, putting us roughly halfway through Kepler’s expected 2 year lifecycle. With their business strongly rooted in annual upgrades, this means NVIDIA’s GPU lineup is due for a refresh.

How NVIDIA goes about their refreshes has differed throughout the years. Unlike the CPU industry (specifically Intel), the GPU industry doesn’t currently live on any kind of tick-tock progression method. New architectures are launched on new process nodes, which in turn ties everything to the launch of those new process nodes by TSMC. Last decade saw TSMC doing yearly half-node steps, allowing incremental fab-driven improvements every year. But with TSMC no longer doing half-node steps as of 40nm, this means fab-drive improvements now come only every two years.

In lieu of new process nodes and new architectures, NVIDIA has opted to refresh based on incremental improvements within their product lineups. With the Fermi generation, NVIDIA initially shipped most GeForce 400 Fermi GPUs with one or more disabled functional units. This helped to boost yields on a highly temperamental 40nm process, but it also left NVIDIA an obvious route of progression for the GeForce 500 series. With the GeForce 600 series on the other hand, 28nm is relatively well behaved and NVIDIA has launched fully-enabled products at almost every tier, leaving them without an obvious route of progression for the Kepler refresh.

So where does NVIDIA go from here? As it turns out NVIDIA’s solution for their annual refresh is essentially the same: add more functional units. NVIDIA of course doesn’t have more functional units to turn on within their existing GPUs, so instead they’re doing the next best thing, acquiring more functional units by climbing up the GPU ladder itself. And with this in mind, this brings us to today’s launch, the GeForce GTX 780.

The GeForce GTX 780 is the follow-up to last year’s GeForce GTX 680, and is a prime example of refreshing a product line by bringing in a larger, more powerful GPU that was previously relegated to a higher tier product. Whereas GTX 680 was based on a fully-enabled GK104 GPU, GTX 780 is based on a cut-down GK110 GPU, NVIDIA’s monster GPU first launched into the prosumer space with GTX Titan earlier this year. Going this route doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises since GK110 is a known quantity, but as we’ll see it allows NVIDIA to improve performance while slowly bringing down GPU prices.

  GTX Titan GTX 780 GTX 680 GTX 580
Stream Processors 2688 2304 1536 512
Texture Units 224 192 128 64
ROPs 48 48 32 48
Core Clock 837MHz 863MHz 1006MHz 772MHz
Shader Clock N/A N/A N/A 1544MHz
Boost Clock 876Mhz 900Mhz 1058MHz N/A
Memory Clock 6GHz GDDR5 6GHz GDDR5 6GHz GDDR5 4GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 384-bit 256-bit 384-bit
VRAM 6GB 3GB 2GB 1.5GB
FP64 1/3 FP32 1/24 FP32 1/24 FP32 1/8 FP32
TDP 250W 250W 195W 244W
Transistor Count 7.1B 7.1B 3.5B 3B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm
Launch Price $999 $649 $499 $499

As the first of the desktop GeForce 700 lineup, GeForce GTX 780 is in almost every sense of the word a reduced price, reduced performance version of GTX Titan. This means that on the architectural side we’re looking at the same GK110 GPU, this time with fewer functional units. Titan’s 14 SMXes have been reduced to just 12 SMXes, reducing the shader count from 2688 to 2304, and the texture unit count from 224 to 192.

At the same time because NVIDIA has gone from disabling 1 SMX (Titan) to disabling 3 SMXes, GTX 780’s GPC count is now going to be variable thanks to the fact that GK110 packs 3 SMXes to a GPC. GTX 780 cards will either have 5 GPCs or 4 GPCs depending on whether the 3 disabled SMXes are all in the same GPC or not. This is nearly identical to what happened with the GTX 650 Ti, and as with the GTX 650 Ti it’s largely an intellectual curiosity since the difference in GPCs won’t notably impact performance. But it is something worth pointing out.

Moving on with our Titan comparison, much to our surprise NVIDIA has not touched the ROP/memory blocks at all (something they usually do), meaning GTX 780 comes with all 48 ROPs tied to a 384bit memory bus just as Titan does. Clockspeeds aside, this means that GTX 780 maintains Titan’s ROP/memory throughput rather than taking a performance hit, which bodes well for ROP and memory-bound scenarios. Note however that while the memory bus is the same width, NVIDIA has dropped Titan’s massive 6GB of RAM for a more conservative 3GB, giving GTX 780 the same memory bandwidth while giving it less RAM overall.

As for clockspeeds, clockspeeds have actually improved slightly, thanks to the fact that fewer SMXes need to be powered. Whereas GTX Titan had a base clockspeed of 837MHz, GTX 780 is 2 bins higher at 863MHz, with the boost clock having risen from 876MHz to 900MHz. Memory clocks meanwhile are still at 6GHz, the same as Titan, giving GTX 780 the full 288GB/sec of memory bandwidth to work from.

Taken in altogether, when it comes to theoretical performance GTX 780 should have 88% of Titan’s shading, texturing, and geometry performance, and 100% of Titan’s memory bandwidth. Meanwhile on the ROP side of matters, we actually have an interesting edge case where thanks to GTX 780’s slightly higher clockspeeds, its theoretical ROP performance exceeds Titan’s by about 3%. In practice this doesn’t occur – the loss of the SMXes is far more significant – but in ROP-bound scenarios GTX 780 should be able to stay close to Titan.

 

For better or worse, power consumption is also going to be very close between GTX 780 and Titan. Titan had a 250W TDP and so does GTX 780, so there won’t be much of a decrease in power consumption despite the decrease in performance. This is more atypical of NVIDIA since lower tier products usually have lower TDPs, but ultimately it comes down to leakage, binning, and the other factors that dictate how GPU tiers need to be structured so that NVIDIA can harvest as many GPUs as possible. On the other hand the fact that the TDP is still 250W (with the same +6% kicker) means that GTX 780 should have a bit more TDP headroom than Titan since GTX 780 has fewer SMXes and RAM chips to power.

On a final note from a feature/architecture standpoint there are a couple of differences between the GTX 780 and GTX Titan that buyers will want to be aware of. Even though Titan is being sold under the GeForce label, it was essentially NVIDIA’s first prosumer product, crossing over between gaming and compute. GTX 780 on the other hand is a pure gaming/consumer part like the rest of the GeForce lineup, meaning NVIDIA has stripped it of Titan’s marquee compute feature: uncapped double precision (FP64) performance. As a result GTX 780 can offer 90% of GTX Titan’s gaming performance, but it can only offer a fraction of GTX Titan’s FP64 compute performance, topping out at 1/24th FP32 performance rather than 1/3rd like Titan. Titan essentially remains as NVIDIA’s entry-level compute product, leaving GTX 780 to be a high-end gaming product.

Meanwhile, compared to the GTX 680 which it will be supplanting, the GTX 780 should be a big step up in virtually every way. As NVIDIA likes to put it, GTX 780 is 50% more of everything than GTX 680. 50% more SMXes, 50% more ROPs, 50% more RAM, and 50% more memory bandwidth. In reality due to the clockspeed differences the theoretical performance difference isn’t nearly as large – we’re looking at just a 29% increase in shading/texturing/ROP performance – but this still leaves GTX 780 as being much more powerful than its predecessor. The tradeoff of course being that with a 250W TDP versus GTX 680’s 195W TDP, GTX 780 also draws around 28% more power; without a process node improvement, performance improvements generally come about by moving along the power/performance curve.

Moving on to pricing and competitive positioning, it unfortunately won’t just be GTX 780’s performance that’s growing. As we’ve already seen clearly with the launch of GTX Titan, GK110 is in a class of its own as far as GPUs go; AMD simply doesn’t have a GPU big enough to compete on raw performance. Consequently NVIDIA is under no real pricing pressure and can price GTX 780 wherever they want. In this case GTX 780 isn’t just 50% more hardware than the GTX 680, but it’s about 50% more expensive too. NVIDIA will be pricing the GTX 780 at $650, $350 below the GTX Titan and GTX 690, and around $200-$250 more than the GTX 680. This has the benefit of bringing Titan-like performance down considerably, but as an x80 card it’s priced well above its predecessor, which launched back at the more traditional price point of $500. NVIDIA is no stranger to the $650 price point – they initially launched the GTX 280 there back in 2008 – but this is the first time in years they’ll be able to hold that position.

At $650, the GTX 780 is more of a gap filler than it is a competitor. Potential Titan buyers will want to pay close attention to the GTX 780 since it offers 90% of Titan’s gaming performance, but that’s about it for GTX 780’s competition. Above it the GTX 690 and Radeon HD 7990 offer much better gaming performance for much higher prices (AFR issues aside), and the next-closest card below GTX 780 will be the GTX 680 and Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, for which GTX 780 is 20%+ faster. As a cheaper Titan this is a solid price, but otherwise it’s still somewhat of a luxury card compared to the GTX 680 and its ilk.

Meanwhile as far as availability goes this will be a standard hard launch. And unlike GTX Titan and GTX 690 all of NVIDIA’s usual partners will be participating, so there will be cards from a number of companies available from day one, with semi-custom cards right around the corner.

Finally, looking at GTX 780 as an upgrade path, NVIDIA’s ultimate goal here isn’t to sell the card as an upgrade to existing GTX 680 owners, but rather as with past products the upgrade path is targeted at those buying video cards at 2+ year intervals. GTX 580 is 2.5 years old, while GTX 480 and GTX 280 are older still. A $650 won’t move GTX 680 owners, but with GTX 780 in some cases doubling GTX 580’s performance NVIDIA believe it may very well move Fermi owners, and they’re almost certainly right.

May 2013 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
AMD Radeon HD 7990 $1000 GeForce GTX Titan/GTX 690
  $650 GeForce GTX 780
Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition $450 GeForce GTX 680
Radeon HD 7970 $390  
  $350 GeForce GTX 670
Radeon HD 7950 $300  

 

Meet The GeForce GTX 780
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  • ambientblue - Thursday, August 08, 2013 - link

    you are a sucker if you are willing to pay so much for twice the vram and 10% performance over the 780... if you got your titans before the 780 was released then sure its a massive performance boost over 680s but that's because the 680s should have been cheaper and named 660, and titan should have cost the amount the 680 was going for. You wont be so satisfied when the GTX 880 comes out and obliterates your titan at half the cost. THen again with that kind of money youll probably just buy 3 of those. Reply
  • B3an - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    I'd REALLY like to see more than just 3GB on high end cards. It's not acceptable. With the upcoming consoles having 8GB (with atleast 5GB+ usable for games) then even by the end of this year we may start seeing current high-end PC GPU's struggling due to lack of graphics RAM. These console games will have super high res textures, and when ported to PC, 3GB graphics RAM will not cut it at high res. I also have 2560x1600 monitors, and theres no way X1/PS4 games are going to run at this res with just 3GB. Yet the whole point of a high-end card is for this type of res as it's wasted on 1080p crap.

    Not enough graphics RAM was also a problem years ago on high-end GPU's. I remember having a 7950 G2X with only 512MB (1GB total but 512MB for each GPU) and it would get completely crippled (single digit FPS) from running games at 2560x1600 or even 1080p. Once you hit the RAM limit things literally become a slideshow. I can see this happening again just a few months from now, but to pretty much EVERYONE who doesn't have a Titan with 6GB.

    So i'm basically warning people thinking of buy a high-end card at this point - you seriously need to keep in mind that just a few months from now it could be struggling due to lack of graphics RAM. Either way, don't expect your purchase to last long, the RAM issue will definitely be a problem in the not too distant future (give it 18 months max).
    Reply
  • Vayra - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    How can you be worried about the console developments, and especially when it comes to VRAM of all things, when even the next-gen consoles are now looking to be no more than 'on-par' with todays' PC performance in games. I mean, the PS4 is just a glorified midrange GPU in all respects and so is the X1 even though they treat things a bit differently, not using GDDR5. Even the 'awesome' Killzone and CoD Ghost trailers show dozens of super-low-res textures and areas completely greyed out so as not to consume performance. All we get with the new consoles is that finally, 2011's 'current-gen' DX11 tech is coming to the console @ 1080p. But both machines will be running on that 8GB as their TOTAL RAM, and will be using it for all their tasks. Do you really think any game is going to eat up 5 Gigs of VRAM on 1080p? Even Crysis 3 on PC does not do that on its highest settings (it just peaks at/over 3gb I believe?) at 1440p.

    Currently the only reason to own a gpu or system with over 2 GB of VRAM is because you play at ultra settings at a reso over 1080p. For 1080p, which is what 'this-gen' consoles are being built for (sadly...) 2 GB is still sufficient and 3 GB is providing headroom.

    Hey, and last but not least, Nvidia has to give us at least ONE reason to still buy those hopelessly priced Titans off them, right?

    Also, aftermarket versions of the 780 will of course be able to feature more VRAM as we have seen with previous generations on both camps. I'm 100% certain we will be seeing 4 GB versions soon.
    Reply
  • B3an - Friday, May 24, 2013 - link

    The power of a consoles GPU has nothing to do with it. Obviously these consoles will not match a high-end PC, but why would they have to in order to use more VRAM?! Nothing is stopping a mid-range or even a low-end PC GPU from using 4GB VRAM if it wanted to. Same with consoles. And obviously they will not use all 8GB for games (as i pointed out) but we're probably looking at atleast 4 - 5GB going towards games. The Xbox One for example is meant to use up to 3GB for the OS and other stuff, the remaining 5GB is totally available to games (or it's looking like that). Both the X1 and PS4 also have unified memory, meaning the GPU can use as much as it wants that isn't available to the OS.

    Crysis 3 is a bad example because this game is designed with ancient 8 year old console hardware in mind so it's crippled from the start even if it looks better on PC. When we start seeing X1/PS4 ports to PC the VRAM usage will definitely jump up because textures WILL be higher res and other things WILL be more complex (level design, physics, enemy A.I and so on). Infact the original Crysis actually has bigger open areas and better physics (explosions, mowing down trees) than Crysis 3 because it was totally designed for PC at the time. This stuff was removed in Crysis 3 because they had to make it play exactly the same across all platforms.

    I really think games will eat up 4+GB of VRAM within the next 18 months, especially at 2560x1600 and higher, and atleast use over 3GB at 1080p. The consoles have been holding PC's back for a very very long time. Even console ports made for ancient console hardware with 512MB VRAM can already use over 2GB on the PC version with enough AA + AF at 2560x1600. So thats just 1GB VRAM left on a 3GB card, and 1GB is easily gone by just doubling texture resolution.
    Reply
  • Akrovah - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    You're forgetting that on these new consoles that 8GB is TOTAL system memory, not just the video RAM. While on a PC you have the 3GB of VRAM here plus the main system memory (probably around 8 Gigs beign pretty stnadard at thsi point).

    I can guarantee you the consoles are not using that entire amount, or even the 5+ availabe for games, as VRAM. And this part is just me talking out of my bum, but I doubt many games on these consoles will use more than 2GB of teh unified memory for VRAM.

    Also I don;t think the res has much to do with the video memory any more. Some quick math and even if the game is tripple buffering a resolution of 2560x1600 only needs about 35 Megs of storage. Unless my math is wrong
    2560x1600 = 4,096,000 pixels at 24 bits each = 98,304,000 bits to store a single completed frame.
    divide by 8 = 12,288,000 bytes /1024 = 12,000 KiB / 1024 = 11.72 MiB per frame.

    Somehow I don't think modern graphic card's video memory has anythign to do with screen resolution and mostly is used by the texture data.
    Reply
  • inighthawki - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    Most back buffer swap chains are created with 32-bit formats, and even if they are not, chances are the hardware would convert this internally to a 32-bit format for performance to account for texture swizzling and alignment costs. Even so, a 2560x1600x32bpp back buffer would be 16MB, so you're looking at 32 or 48MB for double and triple buffering, respectively.

    But you are right, the vast majority of video memory usage will come from high resolution textures. A typical HD texture is already larger than a back buffer (2048x2048 is slightly larger than 2560x1600) and depending on the game engine may have a number of mip levels also loaded, so you can increase the costs by about 33%. (I say all of this assuming we are not using any form of texture compression just for the sake of example).

    I also hope anyone who buys a video card with large amounts of ram is also running 64-bit Windows :), otherwise their games can't maximize the use of the card's video memory.
    Reply
  • Akrovah - Friday, May 24, 2013 - link

    I was under the impression that on a 32 bit rendering pipeline the upper 8 bits were used for transparancy calulation, but that it was then filtered down to 24 bits when actually written to the buffer because that's how displays take information.

    But then I just made that up in my own mind because I don't actually know how or when the 32-bit render - 24-bit display conversion takes place.

    But assuming I was wrong and what you say is correct (a likely scenario in this case) my previous point still stands.
    Reply
  • jonjonjonj - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    i wouldn't be worried. the lowend cpu and apu in consoles wont be pushing anything. the consoles are already outdated and they haven't even been launched. the consoles have 8GB TOTAL memory not 8GB of vram. Reply
  • B3an - Friday, May 24, 2013 - link

    Again, the power of these consoles has absolutely nothing to do with how much VRAM they can use. If a low-end PC GPU existed with 4GB VRAM, it can easily use all that 4GB if it wanted to.

    And it's unified memory in these consoles. It all acts as VRAM. ALL of the 8GB is available to the GPU and games that isn't used by the OS (which is apparently 3GB on the Xbox One for OS/other tasks, leaving 5GB to games).
    Reply
  • Akrovah - Friday, May 24, 2013 - link

    No, it doesn't all act as VRAM. You still have your data storage objects like all your variables (of which a game can have thousands) AI objects, pathfinding data, all the corodiantes for everything in the current level/map/whatever. Basically the entire state of the game that is operating behind the scenes. This is not insignifigant.

    All the non OS used RAM is available to the games yes, but games are storing a hell of alot more data than what is typically stored in video RAM. Hence PC games that need 2 GB of RAM also oly require 512 Megs of VRAM.
    Reply

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