Up close with Nvidia's latest-gen graphics tech: the GeForce GTX 780

29th May 2013 | 08:49

Up close with Nvidia's latest-gen graphics tech: the GeForce GTX 780

Nvidia unleashes its next-gen graphics tech

So, just as we're all getting used to the idea that Intel's Haswell was going to be the only one to really make any waves in the graphics market any time soon, Nvidia came and released the new GTX 700 series of graphics cards.

Chances are though that you've already heard a fair amount about the new top-end card. The rumours of a GTX Titan LE turned out to be true, but it has now been branded as the top SKU in the new GTX 700 series, the GTX 780, which we'll be reviewing soon on TechRadar.

Realistically though, the Titan LE name is actually far more of an accurate description of this new top-end graphics card. There is surprisingly very little actual difference between this card and the £800- £900 GTX Titan, and according to Nvidia's Ben Berraondo the performance ought to be a bit of a shock too.

"You'll be surprised just how close you get to something like Titan," he says. "And just how much lower-priced it is as well. I think it's for everyone who loved Titan but couldn't stump up to an £800 graphics card."

So what is it? Well, it is just a slightly cut down GTX Titan, with the same GK 110 GPU with just around 300 fewer CUDA cores. But with some 2,304 of the little unified shaders to call its own, that's not going to really hobble the GTX 780 too much. It is also running with less VRAM too, with 'just' 3GB GDDR5, but is still making use of the same 384-bit memory bus. The GPU is, however, running slightly faster than the standard GTX Titan, with a slightly higher base clock straight out of the box.

Before you pro-graphics folk get all excited about the prospect of a very serious professional card filtering down for half the price of a GTX Titan, it's worth pointing out that Nvidia has taken the decision to disable double precision for the GTX 780. That's a bit of a shame, but perfectly understandable given a large percentage of the GTX Titan sales were probably people looking for a cheaper Tesla card.

But from the sounds of it that has been a marketing decision rather than an engineering one, so we wouldn't be surprised if some enterprising tweaker manages to find a way to unlock the double precision performance of the GTX 780's GK110 GPU.

Proper-gen

GTX 780 tesselation

Despite the fact the entire GTX 700 series is going to based around the same existing architecture as the GTX 600 series, Nvidia is keen to point out that this is a 'proper generation', so we'll see an entire line-up of cards being released before the end of the summer.

To that end we've also got a GTX 770 and GTX 760 on their way too. Nvidia wouldn't be drawn on just how far down the stack it's going to go - after all we've got the Haswell parts potentially making things more uncomfortable for the lower-end discrete cards. While it was keeping any juicy details of the GTX 760 close to its chest - as arguably the most interesting card presumably being in the volume segment - Nvidia was keen to talk about the GTX 770.

GTX 780 textures

With the GTX Titan's GPU making its way into the top card of this new generation, it has chosen to shift down the same version of the GK104 GPU from the GTX 680 into the second tier GTX 770. Essentially, we're going to see performance which actually ought to exceed the GTX 680 from this new card.

Despite reports to the contrary this isn't simply a rebadged GTX 680, though it is mighty close. "We have learnt from bad examples in the past," says Berraondo. "So the obvious one is the 9800GTX+ to GTS 250 - none of these are direct rebrands of what's come before."

But Nvidia hasn't done anything to change the GPU, or any of the power components - as was the case with the change from GTX 480 to 580 - but it has introduced a brand new level of graphics memory to the mixing pot and more of it to boot. The GTX 770 will have a full 2GB of GDDR5 that's running at a headline-grabbing speed of 7Gbps. So yeah, it should easily outpace the GTX 680, and, according to Nvidia, it's either on par or better than a HD 7970 GHz edition.

Costing up

GTX 780 bare

Pricing is inevitably going to be key for these two new cards, and that's likely to be our main concern with them. At the time of writing Nvidia hasn't released final prices, but did confirm to me the GTX 780 was going to come out pricier than the GTX 680 was at launch.

This is simply feeding into the ever-growing cost of the top-end cards in a generation. I wouldn't expect to get much change out of £450, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see some manufacturers' SKUs coming in closer to £500.

The GTX 770 is again likely to cost more than a GTX 670, but given that it's going to be level in performance to the HD 7970 GHz I'd hope that it wouldn't be much more than £300. I'm not going to hold my breath though. Manufacturers are going to be allowed to mess with the cooling and introduce their own versions this time around, despite the Titan-esque aesthetic the reference cards are sporting.

Whether many will is another question. The chromium plating and general design of both the GTX 780 and GTX 770 (it's not going to filter all the way down to the GTX 760, sadly) is still quite beautiful, and most AIBs' cooling solutions are likely to look amateurish by comparison.

By contrast though, AMD is unlikely to have its new cards - themselves probably still using AMD's existing architecture - until Q3/Q4 this year, "by which point it wont be too long until Maxwell - which is a very exciting new architecture," says Berraondo with a final tease.

Before then, why not check out our 14 best graphics cards for every budget?

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