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Gigabyte GTX 770 WindForce 3X OC Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
The GTX 770 may be thins generation’s most popular graphics card. At $399 it slots perfectly into a price point which will appeal to anyone who doesn’t want to invest the $649 needed for entry into GTX 780 territory yet wants more performance than a GTX 760 can offer. More importantly, it acts as a perfect upgrade path for anyone still using a GTX 570 or GTX 580 by outperforming a GTX 680 when in stock form.

Gigbayte is seeking to capitalize on this burgeoning popularity by taking a road they’ve frequently travelled. By equipping a GTX 770 with their iconic WindForce 3X heatsink a custom PCB and higher clock speeds, they hope to redirect some attention towards the newly created offering. For anyone who has read our GTX 780 WindForce OC review, much of this will be déjà vu but there is one key difference: while the GTX 780 version tacked on a $30 premium to NVIDIA’s reference SRP, the GTX 770 WindForce OC doesn’t cost a penny more than a stock card. In a segment which is increasingly populated with gamers looking for great value, this could be a well-positioned broadside against the competition.

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Like its predecessors Gigabyte’s GTX 770 strives to deliver higher clock speeds without increasing the reference version’s voltage envelope or power limit. Nonetheless, it hits some impressive frequencies right out of the box. Both Base and Boost speeds have received substantial upgrades but the most important metric here is the average core speed, which tops out at about 130MHz higher than a stock GTX 770.

The WindForce OC also remains at this higher speed unlike other cards which tend to fluctuate between their maximum Boost level and slightly reduced frequencies. This has been achieved through lower temperatures which allow the core to remain well under its 80°C threshold, meaning there’s more headroom for better performance. This won’t allow Gigabyte’s card to catch up with the faster GTX 780, but it should grant their GTX 770 to put some additional breathing room between itself and the HD 7970 GHz Edition

In what seems to be a standing agreement between NVIDIA’s board partners these days, memory speeds haven’t been touched. It’s not like the GK110 core would benefit all that much from a memory interface that surpasses the 7Gbps mark but it would still be nice to see some effort on their part.

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Earlier we mentioned déjà vu and for anyone who has read our Gigabyte GTX 780 review, you’ll see many similarities between that card and their GTX 770. Once again the WindForce 3X heatsink is being used, extending the length to 11.5” and providing a high performance cooling platform upon which a stable graphics card can be built. With that being said, there isn’t anything terribly unique about this approach other than Gigabyte’s insistence on sticking with a dual slot height.

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The WindForce X cooler is equipped with a trio of 80mm fans which, when used with Gigabyte’s so-called “triangle cool” heatsink, are able to disperse up to 450W. This is well in excess of what the GK110 core can produce so there’s plenty of overhead for overclocking, provided NVIDIA’s tight control over the voltage and power limit can be overcome. There’s also a secondary heatsink which covers the VRM modules and GDDR5 ICs.

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Gigabyte has also equipped their card with a secondary aluminum stiffening bracket which runs the heatsink’s length. This ensures the card doesn’t bow due to the WindForce 3X’s weight or its mounting pressure.

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Connection options once again follow the path laid out by NVIDIA’s reference design, though Gigabyte has decided to maintain commonality between this card and their similarly branded GTX 780 by using 6+8 pin power inputs. The backplate meanwhile consists of a simple dual DVI, HDMI and Displayport layout which grants multi monitor Surround capabilities.

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On this particular card, Gigabyte has gone with a custom PCB which uses the same basic PWM layout as the reference card but includes slightly upgraded components. The actual difference between it and a standard iteration will likely never be tangible but it’s still nice to have peace of mind in your new purchase’s abilities.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 320.18 Beta
NVIDIA 320.14 Beta
AMD 13.5 Beta 2



*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 3 benchmark runs

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


Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 320.18 Beta
NVIDIA 320.14 Beta
AMD 13.5 Beta 2



*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 3 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.


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
12,841
Location
Montreal
Assassin's Creed III / Crysis 3

Assassin’s Creed III (DX11)


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

The third 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 Boston area which features plenty of NPCs, distant views and high levels of detail.


2560x1440

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Crysis 3 (DX11)


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

Simply put, Crysis 3 is one of the best looking PC games of all time and it demands a heavy system investment before even trying to enable higher detail settings. Our benchmark sequence for this one replicates a typical gameplay condition within the New York dome and consists of a run-through interspersed with a few explosions for good measure Due to the hefty system resource needs of this game, post-process FXAA was used in the place of MSAA.


2560x1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Dirt: Showdown / Far Cry 3

Dirt: Showdown (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/IFeuOhk14h0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Among racing games, Dirt: Showdown is somewhat unique since it deals with demolition-derby type racing where the player is actually rewarded for wrecking other cars. It is also one of the many titles which falls under the Gaming Evolved umbrella so the development team has worked hard with AMD to implement DX11 features. In this case, we set up a custom 1-lap circuit using the in-game benchmark tool within the Nevada level.


2560x1440

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Far Cry 3 (DX11)


<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.



2560x1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Max Payne 3

Hitman Absolution (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/8UXx0gbkUl0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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.


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Max Payne 3 (DX11)


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

When Rockstar released Max Payne 3, it quickly became known as a resource hog and that isn’t surprising considering its top-shelf graphics quality. This benchmark sequence is taken from Chapter 2, Scene 14 and includes a run-through of a rooftop level featuring expansive views. Due to its random nature, combat is kept to a minimum so as to not overly impact the final result.


2560x1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider (DX11)


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

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.


2560x1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Temperatures & Acoustics / Power Consumption

Temperature Analysis


For all temperature testing, the cards were placed on an open test bench with a single 120mm 1200RPM fan placed ~8” away from the heatsink. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped..

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Windows 7 desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.


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Low temperatures are a key metric when it comes to achieving optimal Boost frequencies since NVIDIA’s plateau is currently set at 80°C. Anything above that and clock speeds will be reduced until optimal temperatures are achieved once again. With this in mind, keeping temperatures below that mark should theoretically allow the GTX 770 core to achieve a higher average core frequency and increased performance.

Gigabyte has taken these directives to heart and their WindForce 3X heatsink keeps temperatures well in-hand. Throughout our testing, we never saw readings go above the 77°C mark which is well short of the 80°C limit. This helped the card reach its impressive Boost speeds.


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, a loop of Unigine Valley is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.

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As we’ve come to expect from the WindForce 3X, it remains extremely quiet throughout testing, regardless of the game being played or the load applied. The reference GTX 770’s fan is already close to silent but Gigabyte brings it to a whole new level.


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.

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With an overclocked GK104 core beating at its heart and 7Gbps memory thrown in for good measure, it shouldn’t be surprise this overclocked GTX 770 consumes a fair amount of power. With that being said, it still consumes less than a HD 7970 GHz Edition.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


Our opinions about overclocking on Kepler-based graphics cards have been well publicized but Gigabyte’s GTX 770 WindForce OC was actually a pleasant surprise. It still operates within NVIDIA’s predefined limitations with barely any voltage overhead (a mere 12mV) but due to the lower temperatures it can hit some fairly impressive Boost clocks.

The card’s core clocks hit 1373MHz on a consistent basis which provided great framerates, nearly equaling a GTX 780 in some situations. The memory continued a trend of 7Gbps GDDR5 modules and didn’t really have all that much headroom, topping out at 7448MHz.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


Gigabyte has continually surprised us over the last two years as they have transitioned to value-focused targets for higher end graphics cards. Honestly, no one would have complained if the GTX 770 WindForce 3X OC had a $10 or $15 premium tacked onto a price of $399 but that didn’t happen. Instead, this card hits all the high points without breaking from NVIDIA’s reference cost, making it all that much more enticing.

From a performance standpoint, Gigabyte has been able to substantially increase framerates across the board, neatly bridging the gap between the GTX 770 and the expensive $649 GTX 780. There are many areas where the WindForce OC remains well behind its higher end sibling but until now it has been virtually impossible to find a graphics card that reaches this one’s price to performance ratio. It truly does bring high level gaming within reach of the masses.

These impressive framerates aren’t achieved through sacrifices either. Acoustics and temperatures are much improved over the already cool running and quiet reference design. Heat in particular is a major contributing factor to lower boost clocks and by efficiently reducing temperatures, Gigabyte’s card is able to achieve consistent Boost clocks, thus increasing its performance.

As we have come to expect, both the Power Limit and Voltage Limits imposed by NVIDIA reign in any groundbreaking overclocking achievements. However, this time, Gigabyte’s card was able to stretch its legs by hitting a suitably impressive 1373MHz core frequency that hardly fluctuated within games. Hopefully, their Super Overclock version (if it ever arrives) will have the ability to overcome these limitations.

While we run the risk of sounding like a broken record, the WindForce 3X OC deserves the praise being heaped on it. This GTX 770 thoroughly outclasses more expensive GPUs without costing a penny more than a reference card, is quiet and still has room to overclock. Not only does this make Gigabyte’s $399 offering an enticing option for budget-minded gamers but it also makes reference GTX 770 cards all but obsolete.

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