When Nvidia launched the GeForce GTX 680 nearly a year ago, it announced that the GK104 GPU that powered the video card was the first in a series of new parts. Last November, the company took the wraps off the GK104's big brother, the GK110. The GK110 was designed for supercomputers and deployed as the Tesla K20/K20X.
Today, GK110 comes to Nvidia's high-end consumer business as the GeForce GTX Titan. This £830 single-GPU card packs seven billion transistors, 6GB of RAM, and 2,688 shader cores. That's significantly larger than the Nvidia GTX 680, which packs 1,536 cores and 2GB to 4GB of RAM depending on the card model.
In the past, Nvidia's workstation and supercomputing products (Quadro and Tesla) have used the same silicon as the company's consumer graphics products. This is the first time Nvidia has brought a specialised niche product over to the general consumer market, even if the £830 price tag puts this well out of reach for the majority of buyers.
Design and features
Not all Tesla-class features are enabled on Titan; the new card lacks the K20/K20X's support for dynamic parallelism, Hyper-Q, and GPU virtualisation.
The one capability it keeps is the option to perform double-precision floating point maths at the full rate of 1.48TFLOPS per second. The GTX 680, in contrast, offers just under 192GFLOPS per second of double-precision floating point. That's not an important metric for games, but it expands the potential audience for the card – Tesla cards with this capability cost way more than a grand.
The GTX Titan doesn't replace Nvidia's current card in this high-end price bracket, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 690, but is meant to sit beside it. The two cards are fundamentally different – the GTX 690 combines two GTX 680's in SLI on a single circuit board with a 2GB frame buffer for each GPU. The GTX Titan is a single-GPU product with more memory bandwidth (288.4GBps compared with 192.25GBps per GPU on the GTX 690) and 6GB of video RAM.
Which card is faster will depend on how well the game is optimised for SLI and how much video RAM it uses. Well optimised games that fit within a 2GB frame buffer may be faster on the GTX 690, while titles that don't scale as well or have higher memory footprints are likely to be faster on the GTX Titan.
We tested Nvidia's latest card using an Intel Core i7 3770K Ivy Bridge CPU, 16GB of DDR3-1600 memory, a 256GB OCZ Vector solid-state drive (SSD) , and a 27in Asus VG278HE monitor at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. All of our real-world game tests were run with 8x MSAA enabled, 16x Anisotropic filtering, and High Quality texture filtering.
The Titan is significantly faster than Nvidia's previous single-GPU solution, the GTX 680, and the AMD Radeon 7970 GHz Edition. In 3DMark 11's Extreme Preset, the GTX Titan's score of 4948 is nearly half again as fast as the GTX 680's 3,381 or the Radeon 7970 GE's 3,106. In the brand new Futuremark test Fire Strike Extreme, the Titan hits 4,475, compared with 3,155 and 3,076 for the Nvidia 680 and Radeon 7970 respectively.
Real-world performance mirrors these results. In Civilization V's Late Game View benchmark test, the Radeon 7970 GE and GTX 680 trade shots at 77 frames per second (fps) and 81 fps respectively. The GTX Titan, meanwhile, establishes its own weight division at 111 fps. In Batman: Arkham City, the Radeon 7970 pulls ahead of the GTX 680 (96 to 84 fps) but doesn't come close to the GTX Titan's 111 fps.
In Shogun 2 and Metro 2033, the Radeon 7970 GE loses to the GTX 680 in feudal Japan (51 to 58 fps) but wins the battle for Russia's frozen subway tunnels (35 plays 31 fps). The GTX Titan sneers at both cards, and turns in frame rates of 83 fps and 46 fps respectively.
Nvidia's goal with the GTX Titan was to deliver the smoothest possible game experience as opposed to the highest frame rate. They've succeeded. While we didn't have a GTX 690 to test, it's an established fact that splitting the graphics load between two cards can result in uneven frame times. This creates visible split-second stuttering on screen as the graphics card struggles to keep both frames running smoothly.
The Titan avoids this problem. Its single GPU is easily the most powerful graphics processor any company has ever fielded. Power consumption is also excellent – our testbed idled at 74 Watts when equipped with the GTX Titan, compared to 78 Watts with the Nvidia GTX 680 and 82 Watts with the AMD Radeon 7970 GE. Load power was similarly excellent – the Titan topped out at 320 Watts compared with 250 Watts for the Nvidia GTX 680 and 300 Watts for the AMD Radeon 7970 GE.
So, the big question is, should you scamper out and buy a Titan? There’s no straightforward answer here, though. The GTX Titan's price/performance ratio isn't as good as that of the GTX 680; it offers 35 per cent to 50 per cent improved performance but for twice the price (a little more, in fact).
Strictly in terms of performance-per-pound, the GTX 680 or Radeon 7970 GE are still a better deal. On the other hand, if you're a programmer who wants to take advantage of the GTX Titan's 1.48 TFLOPs of double-precision floating point, the GTX Titan is a fabulous deal. This card packs all the floating-point performance of a high-end Tesla and costs far less than one of those beasts.
Customers who prefer to buy high-end hardware on a three-to-four-year replacement cycle should also seriously consider the GTX Titan. The card's 6GB of VRAM will be current for years. Ditto for the huge amount of memory bandwidth and Kepler's already excellent performance characteristics. The GTX Titan really is an early adopter product – buy one now, and you'll be ahead of the mainstream for several years.
If you're into multi-monitor gaming, the GTX Titan is an easy fit there, too. While we don't have comparative figures for other solutions, the GPU has no trouble driving 5,760 x 1,080 resolutions across three 27in displays. That means it'll also have no trouble driving single monitors at 2,560 x 1,440, and could likely handle even a 4K HDTV with aplomb.
If the GeForce GTX 680 was Nvidia's response to a resurgent AMD 12 months ago, the GeForce GTX Titan cements Team Green's position in the driver's seat. It’s expensive, but if you've got the cash, this card is an easy recommendation to make in the high-end video card market.