Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7392/the-geforce-gtx-770-roundup-evga-gigabyte-and-msi-compared



Although it admittedly sounds derogatory at first, “small and unassuming” has become a good way to describe NVIDIA’s GK104 GPU. Unlike in past generations where NVIDIA’s high-end workhorse and flagship GPU were one in the same, for most of the lifespan of Kepler it has been GK104, not GK110, that has been the company’s high-end workhorse, being used in  products spanning from $200 cards to $500 cards. At under 300mm2, GK104 products have proven capable of beating and/or tying AMD’s contemporary (and comparably more complex) products, which although a very good outcome for NVIDIA is certainly not the one we would have expected going into this generation.

At the same time however, GK104 being NVIDIA’s high-end workhorse has led to some unusual outcomes as NVIDIA attempts to pace themselves over the complete generation. Rather than scale down the more expensive GK110 GPU and its assorted products, NVIDIA has scaled up GK104 to keep their product lines fresh while continuing to hold off AMD, which is something they’ve never done before in this manner. This is especially evident in GeForce GTX 770, a very potent product that has seen NVIDIA release the first video card with 7GHz GDDR5, while in the process sacrificing some of their hard earned efficiency gains to reach their lofty performance goals. As a result of this GTX 770 is a product that is being pushed close to its limits right out of the box.

We bring this issue up because when it comes time to talk about custom vendor cards – as we’ll be doing today – it puts NVIDIA’s partners in an interesting and somewhat difficult position. Partners typically set their products apart by a combination of coolers, factory overclocking, and value added extras such as software and support. With NVIDIA pushing GTX 770 so hard partners aren’t getting access to the same lofty headroom that they enjoy in other products (e.g. GTX 780), which means GTX 770 ends up being a bit more constricting for the partners. To be sure there’s still room for them to maneuver on the clockspeed front, but when it comes to customizing GTX 770 a factory overclock isn’t going to make as much of an impact here.

With that in mind, today we’ll be looking at three such customized GTX 770 cards, from EVGA, Gigabyte, and MSI. All of these are semi-custom and fully custom cards pairing factory overclocks with custom coolers and custom software, so all three vendors are playing all three angles. How do these three partners set apart their products, especially in light of the constraints we just mentioned? Let’s find out.

GeForce GTX 770 Specification Comparison
  GeForce GTX 770 (Ref) EVGA GTX 770 Superclocked ACX Gigabyte GTX 770 OC Windforce 3X MSI GTX 770 Lightning
Base Clock 1046MHz 1111MHz 1137MHz 1150MHz
Boost Clock 1085MHz 1163MHz 1189MHz 1202MHz
Memory Clock 7GHz 7GHz 7GHz 7GHz
VRAM 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB
TDP 230W 230W 230W 260W
Width Double Slot Double Slot Double Slot Double Slot
Length 10.5" 10.5" 11" 11"
Warranty N/A 3 Year 3 Year 2 / 3 Year
Price $399 $399 $399 $434

EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX

Our first card for this roundup is EVGA’s GTX 770 Superclocked ACX. Like its bigger brother who we reviewed last month, the 770SC ACX is a less than typical product for EVGA. The card itself is a semi-custom card, utilizing NVIDIA’s reference board but replacing NVIDIA’s Titan-esque metal blower for EVGA’s new ACX cooler. All of this is then wrapped up with a moderate factory overclock that sees EVGA ship the card at 1111MHz core, 65MHz (6%) over the GTX 770 reference clockspeeds.

Like the 780SC ACX, the 770SC ACX marks the first time we’ve seen EVGA’s new ACX cooler in this category of product. The ACX cooler is a notable departure from the norm for EVGA, who previously did not seriously involve themselves in the branded custom cooler market. With the ACX cooler EVGA is not only looking to tap into that market, alongside the larger market for open air coolers, but the company is looking to make a name for themselves based on build quality of their cooler, something EVGA’s competitors don’t always invest as heavily in and/or call as much attention to.

At its most basic level, the ACX cooler is a typical dual fan open air cooler, as we’ve seen countless times from other manufacturers. This basic design is very effective in moving large amounts of heat for relatively little noise, making the usual tradeoff of moving some of the cooling workload onto the system’s chassis (and its larger, slower fans) rather than doing the work entirely on its own. In EVGA’s case they’re using larger than typical fans for a dual fan cooler, with the ACX cooler’s fans coming in at 90mm diameter.

Meanwhile everyone has their own slight variations in design here, with EVGA focusing on running a full length heatsink to maximize their heatseak surface area. The heatsink itself is a two segment heatsink with 5 aluminum heatpipes running between the segments and the GPU. An aluminum baseplate runs the length of the card below the heatsink, providing both rigidity for the card and cooling for the VRAM and discrete components.

As for EVGA’s quality angle, the company is paying specific attention to the fans on their ACX cooler, using a fan blade design they say is optimized for strength and weight, while driving those fans with a double ball bearing motor. Much like the basic double fan design, ball bearings aren’t a major innovation in this space, but they are inconsistently used, often going unmentioned or interchanged with traditional sleeve bearings from one generation to the next. Mechanically speaking, compared to sleeve bearings, ball bearings typically have greater longevity and a bit less noise under heavy load, in exchange for a bit more noise at idle, making them a good tradeoff for a high-end card. From a practical point of view the longer lifespan of ball bearings will be the greatest gain out of this, while any noise tradeoffs are secondary as the fan itself will usually be the greater factor.

Cooling and factory overclock aside, the 770SC ACX is otherwise standard for a GTX 770 card. The card runs 10.5 inches long for both the PCB itself and EVGA’s ACX cooler. I/O is also standard with NVIDIA’s display I/O configuration of 2x DL-DVI, 1x HDMI, and 1x DisplayPort 1.2. Even the official TDP is the same at 230W, requiring the standard 6pin + 8pin external PCIe power connectors, which will be unlike some of the other cards in our roundup.

Rounding out the package is EVGA’s usual collection of software and hardware accessories, including a pair of PCIe power adapters and a DVI to VGA adapter. As far as EVGA’s software goes there’s little to be said that we haven’t said before: EVGA still shares the gold standard for software, with their fantastic Precision X overclocking utility and their OC Scanner X artifact scanning utility. Despite being based on the same RivaTuner core as MSI’s Afterburner, Precision X has diverged from Afterburner a bit over time, but as far as base overclocking and monitoring functions are concerned Precision X is among the best. And EVGA’s OC Scanner X software is second to none.

Meanwhile, as with all of EVGA’s North American cards, the 770SC ACX comes with EVGA’s standard 3 year transferable warranty, with individual 2 or 7 year extensions available for purchase upon registration, which will also unlock access to EVGA’s step-up upgrade program. Finally, the MSRP on the card is $409, only $10 above the MSRP for the standard GTX 770. However with a $10 mail in rebate active as of the time this was written, it brings the card down to $399, the MSRP of the stock GTX 770. As a result the card is something of a no-brainer within EVGA’s lineup, as it leaves no reason to purchase a slower card. The mild performance gains from the factory overclock won’t burn up the chart, but it makes the stock GTX 770 sufficiently redundant in performance.



Gigabyte GTX 770 OC Windforce 3X

The second card in today’s roundup is Gigabyte’s GTX 770 OC Windforce 3X. As has become the case for Gigabyte in the past year or so, their factory overclocked cards are focused on bigger and better, typically packing larger coolers and higher factory overclocks than the comparable cards from other vendors, and the 770OC Windforce lives up to this standard in full.

The 770OC Windforce is a fully custom card, pairing a custom Gigabyte PCB with Gigabyte’s high end Windforce 3X cooler. As far as clockspeeds go the 770OC Windforce ships with a sizable factory overclock (falling just short of the MSI GTX 770 Lightning), shipping at a core clock of 1137MHz, 91MHz (9%) over the stock GTX 770. It should be noted however like all of the other cards in today’s roundup, the 770OC Windforce does not ship with a memory overclock, so any performance gains must come solely from the core overclock.

Breaking down the construction of the card, Gigabyte’s Windforce 3X cooler, the largest of the company’s line of Windforce coolers, ends up being an inch longer than their custom PCB for this card. As a result while the PCB measures 10 inches, the cooler itself sticks out a further inch, pushing the total length of the card to 11 inches. Consequently the card has a definite “oversized” aspect to it, due to both the heatsink hanging off the rear and the company’s Windforce banner sticking up above the card. Though despite the oversized cooler the construction on the card is quite rugged thanks to a stiffener that runs the length of the card and is mounted to both the heatsink and PCB at just the right points, showing how far Gigabyte and some of the others have come in the last couple of years on build quality for their open air cooled cards.

As far as Gigabyte’s custom PCB is concerned, the company isn’t doing anything particularly exotic here. But for discrete components the company is once more using their Ultra Durable VGA components, which guarantees the use of solid (ferrite core) chokes, Japanese sourced solid capacitors, and low RDS MOSFETs in the name of improving efficiency and overclocking stability; though with a 230W card, it’s hard to imagine Gigabyte going with anything else in the first place. On a side note, Ultra Durable VGA branding also guarantees the use of Hynix or Samsung GDDR5 RAM, however in the specific case of the GTX 770 Elpida/Micron is not yet shipping 7GHz RAM anyhow.

Moving on we have Gigabyte’s Windforce 3X cooler and “triangle cool” based heatsink. This is Gigabyte’s highest end cooling configuration, and while Gigabyte’s claimed 450W capacity isn’t something that’s testable on this configuration it’s clearly an oversized cooler for the 230W GTX 770. The Windforce 3X cooler has 3 75mm fans pushing air along the card, and in practice results in most of the front surface area of the card being made of fans.

Meanwhile the 770OC Windforce’s heatsink is equally oversized, being composed of two segments that run the full 11 inch length of the card, and implement Gigabyte’s “triangle cool” heatsink technology to reduce fan turbulence. 6 copper heatpipes run between the heatsinks and the GPU for transferring heat, and furthermore a simple aluminum baseplate covers the RAM and other components immediately near the GPU, transferring heat to the heatsink directly above. A baseplate also covers the MOSFETs that are part of the primary VRMs, similarly connected to the other heatsink segment above those components.

Moving on, like the other cards in this roundup Gigabyte implements NVIDIA’s standard display I/O configuration of 2x DL-DVI, 1x HDMI, and 1x DisplayPort 1.2. Similarly, with a 230W TDP the card requires the typical 6pin + 8pin external PCIe power connectors, for additional power.

Gigabyte rounds out their package with their OC Guru II overclocking and monitoring software. OC Guru II hasn’t changed much since we’ve looked at it last year; it’s not gold standard software due to some of the clunky interface choices Gigabyte has made – mainly a lack of sliders – but it is competent at its task. OC Guru II offers the full suite of monitoring and overclocking controls we’ve come to expect, including the ability to overvolt (unlock restricted boost bins) on GTX 770.

Finally, as with all of Gigabyte’s North American cards, the 770OC Windforce comes with Gigabyte’s standard 3 year warranty. More enticing however will be the card’s MSRP. The price premium Gigabyte is charging for the highest factory overclock in today’s roundup? Nothing. Gigabyte has set the MSRP of the card at $399, identical to the MSRP for the stock GTX 770 itself, meaning the factory overclock is effectively free. We’ll give the card a full performance rundown in our benchmark section, but so long as Gigabyte doesn’t stumble here they’ve setup a very tantalizing situation, as a 9% factory overclock at MSRP would be very difficult to pass up.



MSI GTX 770 Lightning

The final card in our roundup is MSI’s GTX 770 Lightning. Lightning is MSI’s imprint for overclocking friendly cards, representing MSI’s best, most overbuilt products, designed to be competitive for the highest overclocks for any given video card family. In practice most buyers won’t end up engaging in the extreme overclocking MSI has designed the Lighting series for, but that still means that the resulting cards are solid and well built.

For the GTX 770 Lightning, alongside MSI’s vast suite of customizations the company is also shipping the card with a factory overclock, the highest such overclock of all of the cards in today’s roundup. At 1150MHz the GTX 770 Lightning is 104MHz (10%) over a stock GTX 770, however like the other factory overclocked GTX 770s features no memory overclock to speak of. The fact that these cards are already using 7GHz memory puts everyone in a bind in this respect, including MSI.

Going by design and construction, the GTX 770 Lightning stands alone in that regard. MSI has designed the card for extreme overclocking, which is heavily reflected in the design of the custom PCB. Meanwhile MSI’s custom Twin Frozer cooler, though not quite as extreme, is no slouch either.

The one downside in this setup, and we may as well mention it right away, is that while MSI has overbuilt this card for extreme overclocking, they’re technically not allowed to offer that functionality to the public as per NVIDIA’s Greenlight program. Greenlight requires that MSI is limited to the same 1.212v GPU limit that everyone else is also limited to, and while MSI can unlock this card for specific parties such as the competitive overclockers they work with, they cannot do so for the public at large. As a result the card’s significant overclocking abilities are not available without resorting to 3rd party software hacks or modified BIOSes, which although outside the scope of this article should do the trick.

Moving on, we’ll start with MSI’s custom PCB. The aforementioned work MSI has done to gear this card for extreme overclocking lies primarily in the board itself, which is where MSI has put in significant effort into customizing for the higher voltages and wattages necessary to achieve those clockspeeds. Right off the bat MSI is using 12 VRM phases for the GPU as opposed 5 on the reference GTX 770. The number of phases alone isn’t going to mean much at stock, but again for the extreme overclocking levels MSI is shooting for they will help provide the necessary power while spreading out the work of doing so over more components. For component selection MSI is using their Military Class IV branded components, which are composed of copper based MOSFETs (CopperMOS), a mix of high conductivity tantalum-based capacitors (Hi-c CAP) and traditional solid capacitors (Dark Solid CAP), and the company’s gold plated solid chokes (Golden SSC). Even the PCB itself goes a step beyond, coming in at about an inch higher than a standard PCIe card to fit all of MSI’s components.

Augmenting the base design are a few extra aspects related to the board. Having apparently run out of space on both the front and the back of the card, MSI rounds out their already extensive power delivery system with a further set of capacitors loaded on a separate PCB dubbed the GPU Reactor. The GPU Reactor is mounted to the back of the card and including the plastic cover juts out about half of an inch (which admittedly likely isn’t PCIe legal). The rest of the backside of the board is covered by a backplate that provides protection for the components MSI has loaded on the back of the PCB, though it’s not connected to any of these components so atypically there’s no cooling aspect to this design.

 

At the top of the card MSI has installed a BIOS switch, which is connected to a pair of BIOS banks. The idea behind the switch is that the second (non-default) BIOS is for extreme overclocking, however again due to the limitations imposed by NVIDIA it’s functionally no different than the first BIOS. However this does mean that BIOS flashing is protected on this card, as there’s always another BIOS to fall back on, which makes installing 3rd party modified BIOSes a much safer task. Meanwhile at the tail end of the card are MSI’s typical voltage monitoring points, offering the ability to hook up multimeter leads to directly measure the GPU, memory, and PLL voltages.

Moving on we have MSI’s Twin Frozer IV cooler, which provides the default cooling for the card. As implied by the name, the Twin Frozer is another dual fan cooler, with MSI employing a pair of large, 95mm fans to drive airflow over the card. These dual fans in turn cool MSI’s one-segment aluminum heatsink, which runs the full length of the card. 5 aluminum heatpipes provide thermal transfer between the GPU core and the heatsink, while an aluminum baseplate covers much of the card, providing heat transfer for the VRAM and various discrete components, while also providing rigidity to the card. The complete card is 11 inches long.

Supplying the interface to MSI’s extensive overclocking features is the company’s Afterburner overclocking and monitoring software, which alongside EVGA’s Precision X is currently our gold standard for overclocking software. Along with MSI’s traditional clockspeed and voltage controls, Afterburner also gains some additional abilities to go with the GTX 770’s overclocking features, specifically the ability to control memory and AUX voltage. Memory voltage can be increased by up to 0.1v, while aux voltage can be increased by up to 0.05v. Of all the cards in our roundup these voltage controls are unique to the GTX 770.

On the other hand, due to the aforementioned restrictions by NVIDIA, GPU voltage is still locked to the same 1.212v as any other GTX 770 card. So while those other voltages can be adjusted, the most likely outcome is that it will be the GPU voltage holding the card back; like some of the GTX 770 Lightning’s other features, they’re primary meant for extreme overclockers. The GTX 770 Lightning does pick up one more advantage however: due to MSI’s higher quality power delivery system, they are allowed to ship the card at a higher TDP of 260W, versus 230W on a stock GTX 770. Coupled with this, the maximum power target on the card is 109%, allowing a further increase of 23W to 283W. So although GPU overclocking is going to be limited by the standard voltage limits, in TDP limited scenarios (both stock and overclocked) the GTX 770 Lightning has more TDP headroom than other GTX 770 cards.

Overclocking aside, Afterburner has learned one more trick since we’ve last seen it: hardware accelerated encoding for its built in video recording functionality. Although first popularized by NVIDIA back at the launch of the GTX 780 with the premature announcement of Shadow Play, MSI has beaten NVIDIA to the punch by working in hardware accelerated encoding on their own in Afterburner. The end result is that Afterburner is capable of using Intel’s QuickSync H.264 encoder to do real time encoding, a first for a video capture utility of this nature. Unfortunately our GPU testbed is a Sandy Bridge-E system – and therefore lacking QuickSync – so we weren’t able to test it, but the reports we’ve seen do look promising.

Moving on, like the other cards in this roundup MSI implements NVIDIA’s standard display I/O configuration of 2x DL-DVI, 1x HDMI, and 1x DisplayPort 1.2. As an added perk of being MSi’s top tier GTX 770 card, they’ve gone and gold plated the I/O connectors for corrosion resistance. Meanwhile, the power delivery side of matters MSI has gone with an 8pin + 8pin external PCIe power connector configuration, once more going above and beyond what’s generally necessary for extreme overclocking.

Wrapping things up, the GTX 770 Lightning comes with a slightly unusual warranty policy. The card itself has a 3 year warranty for parts, but the labor is only for 2 years, effectively giving the card a 2 year warranty, a year shorter than the other cards in our roundup. At the same time the GTX 770 Lightning does demand a price premium the other cards do not, due to the fact that it’s not just a factory overclocked card, but a heavily beefed up specialty overclocking card. $435 after rebate gets you a 10% factory overclock, the highest factory overclock of the GTX 770 cards we’ve looked at, and for those striding into the danger zone, the possibility of some significant (and unsupported) GPU overvoltage.



Shogun, Hitman, Far Cry 3, & Battlefield 3

Having taken a look at the specifications and construction of EVGA, Gigabyte, and MSI’s cards, let’s dive into the matter of their performance.

As a reminder the MSI GTX 770 Lightning has the highest factory overclock and the greatest power headroom (TDP 260W). However none of these cards has a memory overclock, and therefore performance gains will not always track the GPU overclock.

Total War: Shogun 2 - 2560x1440 - Ultra Quality

The fastest card here ends up being the MSI card, but not by much. The 4% gain over the stock GTX 770 is enough to be measurable and repeatable, however it doesn’t come close to MSI’s GPU overclock. Consequently at less than 1fps difference between the MSI, EVGA, and Gigabyte cards, it doesn’t really stand out. We’re likely facing a memory bandwidth limited scenario in our very first benchmark.

Hitman: Absolution - 2560x1440 - Ultra

Hitman: Absolution - Min. Frame Rate - 2560x1440 - Ultra

Hitman is much the same story as Shogun. The fastest cards are the MSI and Gigabyte cards, which tie for a 5% gain over a stock GTX 770, but they lack the performance gains to match their GPU overclocks. Furthermore with the EVGA card only behind by less than a frame per second despite it being the lowest of the factory overclocks, they’re really no better than tied. So once more we’re looking at some degree of a memory bandwidth bottleneck. Which just goes to show why it was so important that NVIDIA paired GK104 with 7GHz GDDR5 for this card, as extra memory bandwidth is clearly crucial.

Far Cry 3 - 2560x1440 - Ultra Quality

Interestingly the Gigabyte card technically takes the lead here despite the fact that it has a slightly lower GPU clock than the MSI card, but at .2fps it’s little more than experimental variation. A 3% performance gain from the factory overclock once again points to a memory bandwidth bottleneck, which prevents these factory overclocks from shining.

Battlefield 3 - 2560x1440 - Ultra Quality + 4x MSAA

Battlefield 3 is generally a repeat of Far Cry 3. Gigabyte once again has ever the slightest lead due to the variation in our test results, while no one is improving on the stock GTX 770 by more than 4%. In the case of the Gigabyte and EVGA cards this is essentially free performance, but it’s not much to talk about.



Sleeping Dogs, Bioshock, & Crysis 3

Sleeping Dogs - 2560x1440 - Ultra Quality + High AA

Sleeping Dogs - Min. Frame Rate - 2560x1440 - Ultra Quality + High AA

Moving on to Sleeping Dogs and its resource heavy SSAA implementation, we finally see the factory overclocks on these cards start to spread their wings, and in the process we see the cards separate themselves a bit. The fastest card by a nose is the Gigabyte 770OC Windforce, which picks up 11%. This is actually better than the Gigabyte overclock, which points to thermals also playing a factor. The MSI card follows, also at 11%, and finally the EVGA card 1fps back at 10%. It’s unfortunate for all 3 vendors that their factory overclocks aren’t this potent in every game, as these are the kind of results that help their customized cards stand out.

Bioshock Infinite - 2560x1440 - Ultra Quality + DDoF

With Bioshock we’re back into the previous pattern of limited performance gains over a stock GTX 770, again likely due to memory bandwidth limitations. Gigabyte is once more technically the leader of the pack at 4%, but with EVGA and MSI only .2fps back it’s for all practical purposes a tie.

Crysis 3 - 2560x1440 - High Quality + FXAA

Our final game, Crysis 3 matches our earlier pattern of very limited gains over the stock GTX 770. At 47.7fps, the MSI GTX 770 Lightning takes an insignificant .2fps lead over the other cards in this roundup, with the overall performance gains amounting to just 3% over a stock GTX 770.

What’s clear from all of this is that EVGA, MSI, and Gigabyte are not going to be able to sell themselves on their factory overclocks alone. There are performance gains to be had, but outside of one game (Sleeping Dogs) the gains are only a few percent, which translates into just a frame or two per second in most cases. The fact that EVGA and Gigabyte aren’t charging extra for their designs is in retrospect a wise move here, as it would be difficult to charge anything meaningful for these factory overclocks given the very small performance increases. At least as far as stock performance is concerned, to differentiate themselves all 3 companies will need to rely on differentiation in their coolers, software, and support.



Power, Temperature, & Noise

Having seen the gaming performance of these cards and the limited gains from their factory overclocks, let’s move on to power, temperature, and noise. If these cards are going to differentiate themselves it needs to be accomplished by factors the manufacturers have more control over, and their respective coolers are a good way to do it.

Idle Power Consumption

Load Power Consumption - Battlefield 3

Load Power Consumption - FurMark

With our cards spanning the full spread of possibilities – semi-custom, custom, and custom with heavily modified power delivery – even load power consumption starts separating the cards to at least a small degree. Although it’s just a minor difference, MSI’s GTX 770 Lightning has the lowest power consumption of the three in Battlefield 3, beating every GTX 770, including the lower clocked stock GTX 770, by at least a few watts. Since we are memory bandwidth limited in BF3, and thereby performance limited, for better or worse these cards can’t get too far from each other. But for a few watts difference we’re in all likelihood looking at general chip-to-chip variation rather than some intrinsic advantage in any one card, even with the use of custom components.

FurMark on the other hand shows some larger differences, but as this is our stress test what we’re really seeing is the difference in the cards’ regulated TDP. MSI’s 260W TDP means they have a larger power budget to work with, draw more power, and don’t get throttled quite as hard as the other cards. The end result being that FurMark is not particularly useful in comparing cards in this case. Otherwise the difference between the EVGA and Gigabyte cards is larger than we’d expect even with chip to chip variation, which may mean Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable component selection has some impact under maximal workloads.

Idle GPU Temperature

Load GPU Temperature - Battlefield 3

Load GPU Temperature - FurMark

Moving on to temperatures, despite the difference in both the number of fans and the size of said fans, the end result has all of our cards perfectly tied under BF3. Every card tops out at 66C, EVGA, MSI, and Gigabyte alike. Open air coolers as a general design are difficult to improve on, so despite everyone’s efforts, unless someone uses a wildly different fan curve than the others then any well designed open air cooler should perform similar. Notably, because every card tops out at 66C, they’re all well below the thermal throttle point on the GTX 770 of 80C. This means no card ever throttles, which can be useful for squeezing out a little more performance out of what’s otherwise the same GPU.

Meanwhile FurMark temperatures are less than useful here for the same reasons as power. Gigabyte and EVGA top out at 74C and 75C here respectively, while the higher TDP MSI card tops out at 78C. Though this does go to show that even in our stress test none of these cards reaches the 80C throttle point.

Idle Noise Levels

Load Noise Levels - Battlefield 3

Load Noise Levels - FurMark

Finally looking at our noise results, we find that unlike our performance data there’s some clear and meaningful separation between the cards, especially between the EVGA card and the remaining two cards. For whatever reason the EVGA card hits 47dB under BF3, a hair louder than even the blower based reference GTX 770. Admittedly the Titan cooler on the reference GTX 770 is overbuilt for a card of this configuration, and as such over performs and is by no means easy to catch, but it does mean that EVGA isn’t gaining anything over the blower from a noise perspective. It’s no worse, it’s just not any better, which indicates that EVGA’s ACX cooler may not be scaling down very well.

MSI and Gigabyte on the other hand manage to beat EVGA and the reference GTX 770 by 2-3dB, a small but not insignificant amount. The winner here is Gigabyte at 43.8dB under BF3, followed by MSI at 44.8dB. These noise levels aren’t going to be silent, but they’re also not too far off of it. For the level of performance these cards offer it’s a fairly impressive outcome, albeit the typical one for the open air cooler tradeoff.

Speaking of silence, when it comes to idle noise every card is actually a bit worse than the reference GTX 770 here, owing to NVIDIA’s single fan and use of materials. The roughly 40dB results aren’t by any means bad, but they aren’t going to get as close to being silent as NVIDIA’s reference blower.

In summary, differences in TDP aside all three cards are solid, similar performers when it comes to temperature and power consumption. However when it comes to noise under load, both Gigabyte and MSI have an edge here over EVGA and the reference GTX 770, which for stock performance does give these cards a small but meaningful lead over the competition. Gigabyte is the best performer in this respect, although MSI is right behind them. At the same time however this means that despite the difference in the designs of their coolers – 3 smaller and 2 larger fans respectively – it isn’t creating a practical difference between the Gigabyte and MSI cards.



Overclocking

Last but not least we have our customary look at overclocking performance. Based on the design and the construction of the various cards, MSI’s GTX 770 Lightning has a distinct advantage for GPU overclocking due to its beefed up power delivery system. However with the voltage limits imposed by Greenlight, as we’ll see those power delivery improvements will go largely untapped.

GeForce GTX 770 Overclocking
  GTX 770 (Ref) EVGA GTX 770SC ACX Gigabyte GTX 770 WF MSI GTX 770 Lightning
Shipping Core Clock 1046MHz 1111MHz 1137MHz 1150MHz
Shipping Max Boost Clock 1136MHz 1215MHz 1241MHz 1241MHz
Shipping Memory Clock 7GHz 7GHz 7GHz 7GHz
Shipping Max Boost Voltage 1.2v 1.2v 1.2v 1.2v
         
Overclock Core Clock 1146MHz 1186MHz 1197MHz 1190MHz
Overclock Max Boost Clock 1241MHz 1280MHz 1293MHz 1293MHz
Overclock Memory Clock 8GHz 8.2GHz 7.4GHz 7.6GHz
Overclock Max Boost Voltage 1.212v 1.212v 1.212v 1.212v

When talking about overclocking there are really two stories going on here: GPU overclocking and memory overclocking. In the case of the former it’s a case of where things are progressing entirely as expected, which is to say that every GTX 770 card in today’s roundup is hitting roughly the same limit, as at the end of the day pushing past a base GPU clockspeed of 1200MHz would require higher (and potentially unsafe) voltages. As a result everything from the semi-custom EVGA card to the heavily customized MSI card tops out within an 11MHz spread. Which is clearly unfortunate for MSI given their focus, but there’s nothing else to be done without resorting to 3rd party modifications.

Memory overclocking on the other hand is difficult to get a read on. Even among identical cards there’s a high degree of variability between what one card can hit and the next card can hit, owing to quality variations in both the RAM and the GPU itself. For this roundup that becomes even murkier, as now we’re looking at custom PCBs, which means the traces that form the memory bus itself are changing too.

However in the end it’s the semi-custom EVGA card that claims the highest memory overclock, at an AnandTech record of 8.2GHz, a full 1.2GHz (17%) over stock. The other cards in that respect aren’t nearly as impressive, with MSI getting just half of that for 7.6GHz (9%) and Gigabyte 7.4GHz (6%). Ultimately even with the additional voltage options MSI supplies for their GTX 770 Lightning, those voltage options didn’t seem to help it in the case of this sample size of one. Though it’s interesting to note that of the two GTX 770 cards based on the reference PCB that we’ve overclocked, both have achieved top marks by hitting or exceeding 8GHz, as opposed to the custom PCB cards which have topped out at 7.6GHz. The sample size is too small to draw a definitive conclusion, but based on what we’ve seen thus far NVIDIA’s reference board would appear to be better suited for memory overclocking.

Moving on to overclocked performance, as we’ve alluded to earlier memory bandwidth holds considerable weight in GTX 770 performance. As a result while the factory overclocks alone showed limited gains, pushing even higher core clocks along with higher memory overclocks has allowed overclocking to make a more considerable difference, along with providing some separation among the cards.

Overall overclocking GTX 770 isn’t going to push the GTX 770 into the GTX 780’s performance bracket, owing to the wide gulf between the two cards, but it can still add some performance to an already fast card.  Depending on the game being tested we’re seeing anywhere between a 7% boost over a stock GTX 770 (Crysis 3) to a 15% boost (Hitman), or after factoring in the existing factory overclocks on these cards, the performance gains top out at about 8-10%. These aren’t overclocks that will burn up the performance charts in that respect, but they’re respectable performance increases over both the GTX 770 reference performance and the stock performance of these factory overclocked cards.

From an overall performance perspective EVGA’s GTX 770SC ACX is the winner here, owing to its superior memory overclock. Considering this is the slowest card at stock, this ends up being quite the turnaround for EVGA. In turn the performance advantage over the closely tied Gigabyte and MSI cards varies with the game, ranging from almost nothing (Crysis 3) to 4% (Battlefield 3), which in the long run is a distinct advantage for EVGA and gets them to the top of our charts, but ultimately not a very large advantage.

Moving on to evaluating the power, temp, and acoustic costs of overclocking, as we can see the power costs of overclocking are minimal in the case of the EVGA and Gigabyte cards. Under BF3 the power cost was 6 to 11W at the wall, owing mostly to the combination of unlocked boost bin’s higher voltage and the increased TDP limits when overclocking. Meanwhile since we did crank up the standard adjustable memory and AUX voltages on the MSI card, coupled with its higher TDP we did see a much larger 29W increase at the wall. But as we’ve already pointed out before, in this case it doesn’t look to have done MSI any favors.

FurMark on the other hand shows larger increases in power consumption, however at this point we’re essentially measuring the higher TDP limits we use for overclocking.

Temperatures meanwhile are generally boring in a good way. With a minimal increase in power consumption the EVGA and Gigabyte cards hold at 66C under BF3. The MSI card on the other hand rises only slightly to 68C. So even with overclocking these cards have no trouble staying cool and staying well below the default 80C thermal throttle point, never mind the 95C throttle point we test with. This goes for FurMark too, where the temperature increases are at most 2C, and again stop below 80C. Which just goes to show how powerful these coolers are.

Finally we have noise, which given the fact that power consumption and temperatures have barely moved from overclocking, means that noise levels aren’t significant affected either. Already the leader of the pack on noise, under BF3 the Gigabyte 770OC Windforce continues to impress here, hitting the same low 43.8dB level it hit at stock, making the additional overclock effectively free from a noise standpoint. EVGA’s card also holds steady at 47dB, while MSI ticks up to 45.1dB. FurMark on the other hand reflects our power and temp data, with EVGA and Gigabyte picking up less than a decibel, while MSI picks up 2.5dB, again owning to the TDP differences in play.

Unfortunately for prospective buyers, as has become clear the best overclock and the best noise results are going to be opposite each other. EVGA gets the best memory overclock and consequently the best overclocked performance, but 47dB under BF3, while not bad, is not as good as what Gigabyte can do. On the other hand the Gigabyte card is certainly quieter, but it’s not going to hit quite the high marks of the EVGA card on the performance charts. MSI meanwhile sits in the middle; performance is just a hair better than the Gigabyte card, but it’s also just a bit louder too.



Final Words

Bringing this roundup to a close, as we mused about in the beginning the fact that the GeForce GTX 770 and its GK104 GPU is already being pushed close to its limits at stock puts NVIDIA’s partners in an interesting position. There’s still room for differentiation, but with NVIDIA having already extracted most of the clockspeed headroom of GK104 along with the memory bandwidth needs at these performance levels, GTX 770 requires that partners do more than just factory overclocks if they wish to stand apart from the crowd. The end result is that each card we’ve looked at today still comes with its own unique attributes – both good and bad – we just have to look a bit deeper than just price and performance to find them.

We’ll start then with the EVGA GTX 770 Superclocked ACX and the Gigabyte GTX 770 OC Windforce 3X since the cards are so similar. Both are currently priced at $399, the MSRP of the GTX 770 itself, offering a step up above the performance of the reference GTX 770 for no additional cost. The performance gains from their factory overclocks aren’t particularly notable, but at the same time all of this comes for free. Ultimately they’re functionally indistinguishable as far as performance is concerned, with Gigabyte’s slight overclock advantage making little difference.

As far as the hardware and its design considerations, we do finally see some interesting differences that set the cards apart. Both cards are using similar cooling principles – open air cooling – and both use it very effectively with GPU temperatures never exceeding the mid-60s under gameplay. However when it comes to noise Gigabyte has the edge, with their Windforce 3X equipped card producing around 3dB less noise under load than EVGA’s ACX cooler. If hardware performance is the most important consideration then this is a distinct advantage that tips the scales in Gigabyte’s favor.

On the software and support side however EVGA will have the edge. Gigabyte’s OC Guru II software and 3 year warranty are perfectly adequate, but they will fall short of EVGA’s excellent Precision X software and the options EVGA makes available for extended warranties and stepping up to other EVGA cards. A choice between the two ultimately comes down to Gigabyte’s acoustic advantage, or EVGA’s value added features.

On the other hand the MSI GTX 770 Lightning is something of the odd man out here. MSI has put quite a lot of effort into the design of their card in the name of chasing overclocking, and as a result the GTX 770 Lightning is quite the impressive card from a construction standpoint, clearly putting it a tier over cards like EVGA and Gigabyte’s designs. However since that enhanced overclocking functionality isn’t available without 3rd party modifications, the additional construction and customization MSI has gone through is lost on the average buyer, for whom asking to turn to 3rd parties is asking a bit much. Then again much like the construction of the card itself, one can certainly argue that the GTX 770 Lightning isn’t targeted at the average buyer either.

The out of the box experience in any case has the GTX 770 Lightning performing very similarly to the EVGA and Gigabyte cards, to no great surprise. The fact that MSI has built a card that gets to ship with higher TDP limits should not go unmentioned, as that’s one of the throttle points for the GeForce 700 series, but at the same time we realize that GTX 770 isn’t TDP throttling enough for that difference to manifest itself in the stock configuration. The end result being that MSI has put together a very good card that’s easily competitive with everything else we’ve seen, but without crossing the line into unofficial modifications, MSI's $35 price premium is hard to justify.

Otherwise at stock and within the official overclocking limits it’s a strong performer that never the less doesn’t appreciably distance itself from the likes of the Gigabyte GTX 770 Windforce 3X in either performance, overclocking headroom, or cooling performance. MSI’s best foot to put forward in this situation, like EVGA, is going to be their overclocking software, which also like EVGA remains the gold standard for overclocking software.

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