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ASUS GTX 780 STRIX OC 6GB Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
NVIDIA’s GTX 780 may not be the newest card on the block but from a price / performance standpoint it is still one of the best options available. ASUS is aiming to capitalize upon the affordability factor by introducing a product family into the GTX 780 lineup dubbed the STRIX.

Alongside the DirectCU II, Matrix, Striker, Poseidon, MARS and a number of other products, ASUS’ product lineup has begun to look increasingly unwieldy as of late. However, like its siblings, the STRIX nameplate has been created in an effort to put a name to some new technology. In this case ASUS is billing the GTX 780 STRIX OC as one of the first truly “silent” high end graphics cards on the market, in some scenarios at least. That’s right; due to the advanced cooling design being used the STRIX has the capability to completely shut off its fans provided the core remains below a 65°C temperature threshold. As you can imagine that has some serious implications for any gamers looking for a quiet rig.


Adding an advanced heatsink and calling it a day isn’t going to cut it anymore so ASUS ensured the STRIX would stand out in a number of other aspects as well. While not the fastest overclock around, its core speeds parallel those found on the DirectCU II OC edition but remain far behinds the likes of MSI Lightning, GIGABYTE’s WindForce OC and EVGA’s ACX SC edition. There is however plenty of room to overclock and NVIDIA’s Boost algorithms do take advantage of the extra cooling potential ASUS provided.

Backstopping these numbers is 6GB of GDDR5 memory which doubles up on the reference design’s 3GB. It remains at reference speeds but the additional capacity should help performance in some scenarios.

While the GTX 780 STRIX OC Edition hasn’t quite seen a widespread launch yet, its price is supposed to hit the $580 mark. That’s a pretty hefty $100 premium over ASUS’ own GTX 780 DirectCU II OC (which currently goes for $479 after rebates) but is actually a bit less expensive than other 6GB GTX 780 cards from EVGA and MSI.


On paper at least the STRIX is no different from most other custom GTX 780 cards despite its inclusion of additional memory. However, in this case ASUS has done a massive amount of legwork to ensure it is the quietest running high end card on the market. To that end, they have added a large heatsink which sits atop an expanded PCB.

Despite housing a significant amount of cooling power (which is necessary considering the card can run without any fans rotating) the STRIX is actually quite compact. At 11.3” long, it should have no trouble fitting into smaller enclosures, though its large 5.8” width may hamper installation into thinner chassis.


As you might expect, that heatsink is one of ASUS’ major selling points and even though it uses the same DirectCU II moniker as past cards, there are plenty of changes. It consists of two large 92mm fans that sit atop a 4112cm² fin array which is being fed by five 10mm direct-contact copper heatipipes. That equates a stunning 425W of heat dissipation power which is more than ASUS’ classic DirectCU II design and goes a long way towards granting this card an ability to run fanless in certain situations.


Flipping the GTX 780 STRIX over reveals an extensive backplate that covers a wider-than-reference PCB and the rear-mounted GDDR5 memory modules. ASUS has also rolled their Digi+ VRM and Super Alloy Power technologies into this card, granting it a claimed 30% cleaner power (essential for overclocking stability) and roughly 2.5x the lifespan of a reference design. It achieves these numbers through the use of an all-digital 8-phase VRM, concrete-core chokes and a dedicated SAP CAP behind the GPU core to provide additional overclocking capacity.


The inclusion of voltage read points is now a ubiquitous feature on nearly every single custom GPU so their appearance here isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Some overclockers will appreciate them though.

What is interesting is the manner in which ASUS designed their SLI connectors. Since the heatsink exceeds the PCB by a significant amount, accessing them in a standard position would have proven to be challenging in some instances. How did ASUS overcome this? By simply attaching the connectors to a PCB outcropping so they’re in-ling with the heatsink shroud’s leading edge. It’s a brilliant solution; albeit one that looks a bit odd.


Connectivity is a straightforward affair with this card. It uses a 6+8 pin power input that’s backstopped by ASUS handy LED indicators that shine green for a good connection and red when a power cable isn’t plugged in properly. Meanwhile, the GTX 780 STRIX’s backplate retains NVIDIA’s reference design with a pair of DVI outputs alongside connectors for HDMI and DisplayPort.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Main Test System & Setup

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 4930K @ 4.7GHz
Memory: G.Skill Trident 16GB @ 2133MHz 10-10-12-29-1T
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79-E WS
Cooling: NH-U14S
SSD: 2x Kingston HyperX 3K 480GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Dell 2412M (1440P) / ASUS PQ321Q (4K)
OS: Windows 8.1 Professional


Drivers:
AMD 14.6 Beta
NVIDIA 337.88 WHQL


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 2 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FCAT on the other hand has the capability to log onscreen average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing and where the Frame Time Analysis Tool gets factored into this equation.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render and display each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

We are now using FCAT for ALL benchmark results, other than 4K.


Frame Time Testing & FCAT

To put a meaningful spin on frame times, we can equate them directly to framerates. A constant 60 frames across a single second would lead to an individual frame time of 1/60th of a second or about 17 milliseconds, 33ms equals 30 FPS, 50ms is about 20FPS and so on. Contrary to framerate evaluation results, in this case higher frame times are actually worse since they would represent a longer interim “waiting” period between each frame.

With the milliseconds to frames per second conversion in mind, the “magical” maximum number we’re looking for is 28ms or about 35FPS. If too much time spent above that point, performance suffers and the in game experience will begin to degrade.

Consistency is a major factor here as well. Too much variation in adjacent frames could induce stutter or slowdowns. For example, spiking up and down from 13ms (75 FPS) to 28ms (35 FPS) several times over the course of a second would lead to an experience which is anything but fluid. However, even though deviations between slightly lower frame times (say 10ms and 25ms) wouldn’t be as noticeable, some sensitive individuals may still pick up a slight amount of stuttering. As such, the less variation the better the experience.

In order to determine accurate onscreen frame times, a decision has been made to move away from FRAPS and instead implement real-time frame capture into our testing. This involves the use of a secondary system with a capture card and an ultra-fast storage subsystem (in our case five SanDisk Extreme 240GB drives hooked up to an internal PCI-E RAID card) hooked up to our primary test rig via a DVI splitter. Essentially, the capture card records a high bitrate video of whatever is displayed from the primary system’s graphics card, allowing us to get a real-time snapshot of what would normally be sent directly to the monitor. By using NVIDIA’s Frame Capture Analysis Tool (FCAT), each and every frame is dissected and then processed in an effort to accurately determine latencies, frame rates and other aspects.

We've also now transitioned all testing to FCAT which means standard frame rates are also being logged and charted through the tool. This means all of our frame rate (FPS) charts use onscreen data rather than the software-centric data from FRAPS, ensuring dropped frames are taken into account in our global equation.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Clock Speed Stability & Thermal Imaging

Clock Speed Stability & Thermal Imaging


While NVIDIA cards don’t typically have any problems maintaining their advertised clock speeds, it’s conceivable that if a heatsink allows temperature to get too high throttling may occur. What we are more interested in this case is seeing how ASUS’ 0db Fan Technology impacts performance and temperatures.


While the STRIX boasts some extremely low temperatures, we can actually see where the fans began increasing their rotational speed. Up to the 30 second mark they remained completely off and then began a gradual ramp-up. During that time temperatures continued to rise until the fans’ airflow began reigning things in again. Oddly enough, unlike most other graphics cards the STRIX’s temperatures fluctuates as much as 5 degrees but this isn’t something that’s overly worrying since the fans are more than able to pick up the slack without negatively impacting acoustics.


Regardless of a slight temperatures fluctuation every now and then, frequencies remain completely constant at 1032MHz without any hint of throttling.


With stable clock speeds, performance is constant as well. It seems like even though ASUS has taken a slightly different approach to balancing temperatures and acoustics, there isn’t any negative impacts on the performance front.


Since this is a relatively cool-running core hooked up to a phenomenal heatsink, the amount of built up heat is minimal at best. There are some spikes on the rear heatsink due to the presence of GDDR5 memory modules but that shouldn’t be a concern. With that being said, due to the nature of ASUS’ DirectCU II’s design, the card will dump the vast majority of its heat back into its surroundings rather than exhausting it outside an enclosure.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Acoustical Testing / System Power Consumption

Acoustical Testing


What you see below are the baseline idle dB(A) results attained for a relatively quiet open-case system (specs are in the Methodology section) sans GPU along with the attained results for each individual card in idle and load scenarios. The meter we use has been calibrated and is placed at seated ear-level exactly 12” away from the GPU’s fan. For the load scenarios, Hitman Absolution is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.


ASUS continues to impress on the acoustical front with the STRIX going completely silent when it's at an idle state. Even when the going gets tough in higher load scenarios, the fans remain blissfully quiet. It should be quite obvious that this heatsink has a ton of thermal overhead left unspent.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we used 15 minutes of Unigine Valley running on a loop while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 15 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.


Considering the STRIX 6GB uses heavily upgraded PWM components, it only uses a bit more power than the reference design. This is most likely due to its lower temperatures rather than any real differences in component selection.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


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The fourth iteration of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is the first to make extensive use of DX11 graphics technology. In this benchmark sequence, we proceed through a run-through of the Havana area which features plenty of NPCs, distant views and high levels of detail.


2560 x 1440




Battlefield 4


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Amidst its teething problems since its release, BF4 has been a bone of contention among gamers. In this sequence, we use the Singapore level which combines three of the game’s major elements: a decayed urban environment, a water-inundated city and finally a forested area. We chose not to include multiplayer results simply due to their randomness injecting results that make apples to apples comparisons impossible.

2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Call of Duty: Ghosts / Far Cry 3

Call of Duty: Ghosts


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The latest Call of Duty game may have been ridiculed for its lackluster gameplay but it remains one of the best-looking games out there. Unfortunately due to mid-level loads, getting a “clean” runthrough without random slowdowns is nearly impossible, even with a dual SSD system like ours. Hence why you should ignore any massive framerate dips as they are anomalies of poor loading optimizations. For this benchmark we used the first sequence of the 5th Chapter entitled Homecoming as every event is scripted so runthroughs will be nearly identical.

2560 x 1440




Far Cry 3


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mGvwWHzn6qY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

One of the best looking games in recent memory, Far Cry 3 has the capability to bring even the fastest systems to their knees. Its use of nearly the entire repertoire of DX11’s tricks may come at a high cost but with the proper GPU, the visuals will be absolutely stunning.

To benchmark Far Cry 3, we used a typical run-through which includes several in-game environments such as a jungle, in-vehicle and in-town areas.



2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Metro: Last Light

Hitman Absolution


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Hitman is arguably one of the most popular FPS (first person “sneaking”) franchises around and this time around Agent 47 goes rogue so mayhem soon follows. Our benchmark sequence is taken from the beginning of the Terminus level which is one of the most graphically-intensive areas of the entire game. It features an environment virtually bathed in rain and puddles making for numerous reflections and complicated lighting effects.


2560 x 1440




Metro: Last Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/40Rip9szroU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest iteration of the Metro franchise once again sets high water marks for graphics fidelity and making use of advanced DX11 features. In this benchmark, we use the Torchling level which represents a scene you’ll be intimately familiar with after playing this game: a murky sewer underground.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


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When it was released, Thief was arguably one of the most anticipated games around. From a graphics standpoint, it is something of a tour de force. Not only does it look great but the engine combines several advanced lighting and shading techniques that are among the best we’ve seen. One of the most demanding sections is actually within the first level where you must scale rooftops amidst a thunder storm. The rain and lightning flashes add to the graphics load, though the lightning flashes occur randomly so you will likely see interspersed dips in the charts below due to this.


2560 x 1440





Tomb Raider


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Tomb Raider is one of the most iconic brands in PC gaming and this iteration brings Lara Croft back in DX11 glory. This happens to not only be one of the most popular games around but it is also one of the best looking by using the entire bag of DX11 tricks to properly deliver an atmospheric gaming experience.

In this run-through we use a section of the Shanty Town level. While it may not represent the caves, tunnels and tombs of many other levels, it is one of the most demanding sequences in Tomb Raider.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


Even though we run the risk of sounding like a broken record, as with nearly all GTX 780 cards, the STRIX 6GB has some overhead but it is curtailed by NVIDIA’s voltage and power limits. This means it still has plenty left in the tank but a limited amount of power adjustability alongside only a few millivolts of upwards voltage movement means that once again our efforts were stymied by strict roadblocks rather than any failings on ASUS’ behalf.


With all of this being said, we did hit a constant Boost clock of 1137MHz while the GDDR5 modules had no problems hitting the 6722MHz mark. The amount of additional performance that granted wasn’t spectacular but it did allow the STRIX to come within spitting distance of the much more expensive GTX 780 Ti.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


The ASUS GTX 780 STRIX 6GB is without a doubt one of the most impressive GTX 780’s we’ve come across so far. It is fast, boasts 6GB of memory so 4K gaming is a possibility and it happens to have one of the more innovative heatsink designs around. However, with the market being so cluttered with alternatives, does this card really stack up fromt a value perspective? Yes and no.

When buying a higher end graphics card, gamers are looking for performance above all else and in that respect, it’s nearly impossible to find fault with the STRIX. It offers enough of a pre-overclock to ensure there are noticeable framerate improvements in some games, even though not every title benefits equally from higher frequencies. Actual chartable performance is about equal to ASUS’ other highly regarded GTX 780, the DirectCU II OC but its 6GB of memory allows the STRIX to stretch its legs in certain instances. For example Battlefield 4, Far Cry 3 and Hitman Absolution can take advantage of the additional memory at 4K. However, more often than not, ultra high resolutions prove to be a bottleneck for the core architecture long before a reference card reaches its memory limits. This means the STRIX’s additional 3GB is rarely beneficial but you’ll be happy is there as a backstop just in case a game can actually realize some benefits.

With small form factor, unobtrusive systems becoming more popular manufacturers like ASUS have been on a mission to deliver unique features that specifically cater to this expanding market. In some cases we’ve seen a drastic decrease in the size of certain GPUs while in others acoustics have taken the lead. The STRIX has focused on the latter by implementing an advanced heatsink design that dissipates heat faster than ever before. As a result, the dual fans will only start spinning when temperatures hit 65°C so games that put less load on the core will benefit from completely silent operation. This technology works exceedingly well and we saw the fans remain stagnant in Civilization V, StarCraft 2 and Trine. If your case has good enough airflow towards the graphics card, it’s conceivable that the STRIX’s fans will remain off even in some higher end titles.

Even when the fans do spool up, they remain blissfully quiet to the point where your CPU and enclosure fans will likely be the most noticeable. This is pretty much par for the course with any ASUS DirectCU II-equipped graphics card but it’s still fun to marvel at what’s been achieved from an acoustical standpoint.

As with any enthusiast-oriented product, overclocking headroom will likely play a major role in any purchase decision. While the STRIX did allow for some very good clock speeds, NVIDIA’s overclocking limits (particularly on the Power and Voltage settings) once again stopped things short. We know there’s more in the tank but it remains tantalizingly out of reach.

The GTX 780 STRIX isn’t cheap either. At $600 it will make potential buyers wonder whether the start/stop fan technology and an additional 3GB worth of memory is really worth $100 more than ASUS’ own GTX 780 DirectCU II OC. With that being said, the STRIX is priced perfectly in line with other 6GB-totting GTX 780s but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good value. There is however a certain peace of mind that comes with some extra future-proofing.
 
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