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Gigabyte GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Nearly a month after its much-publicized launch, the GTX 780 Ti may selling quite well but custom designed cards from NVIDIA’s board partners are hard to come by. Things are about to change as the likes of Gigabyte, ASUS, MSI and others follow in the footsteps of EVGA’s ACX Superclocked by introducing their own personalized solutions in mid-December. Among what promises to be a deluge of great cards Gigabyte will be front and center with the aptly named GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition.

In direct contradiction to some of their competitors’ upcoming cards which take a slightly more pedestrian approach, Gigabyte is going for the highest possible clock speeds this time around. How high? We’re talking about a Base Clock of 1085MHz and an average Boost frequency of 1150MHz. To give you some idea of where this stands, EVGA’s Superclocked is rated at 1006 / 1072 and the reference card boasts a paltry 875 / 928 ratio. To say Gigabyte is pushing things is an understatement of epic proportions considering the slower Superclocked was nearly able to compete against a GTX 690.


Boost and Base clocks are really only a small fraction of the story when it comes to NVIDIA’s latest creations. As we have seen time and again, when equipped with advanced coolers Kepler-based cores like the GK110 used in the GTX 780Ti can take advantage of the additional thermal headroom and enhance clock speeds even further. This is why we had such high expectations for the GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition; it comes equipped with Gigabyte’s WindForce 3X heatsink which promises to handle a thermal load of some 450W without batting an eyelash.

True to form, the low temperatures afforded by the WindForce paid dividends throughout our testing by pushing engine frequencies to some impressive levels. Even when under heavy load, the card didn’t deviate much from the 1203MHz mark, pushing it above EVGA’s aforementioned ACX SC and thoroughly trouncing the reference card. Memory frequencies did remain at their default values but with a massive 336GB/s of memory bandwidth on tap, it’s not like the GTX 780 Ti is starved for memory access.


One important thing to remember is that Gigabyte isn’t marketing their GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition as a particularly overclocker-friendly card since it’s already operating near NVIDIA’s predetermined maximum voltage and power limits. However, with lower temperatures working to increase the TDP overhead perceived by the Boost algorithms, there may very well be the potential to further push this card before voltage limits rain on the party. We’ll explore this more in the overclocking section.

With all of this interesting window dressing going on, pricing will sometimes be ignored but Gigabyte is actually focusing on limiting the premium they charge for custom cards like the GHz Edition. This has led to a target price of $729 or just $30 more than a reference design and perfectly aligned with EVGA’s GTX 780 Ti ACX Superclocked. Sure, it’s not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination but for a 4% premium you get a custom heatsink and, as the benchmarks will show, some rather impressive performance benefits as well. Is that enough to entice gamers over from the EVGA camp? Gigabyte is certainly hoping so.

Now before we go on, there may be some confusion about Gigabyte’s lineup come mid-December due to the multiple, yet similar-looking SKUs they will have. Starting off at the bottom is their reference GTX 780 Ti which uses a standard exhaust-style heatsink and goes for $699. Above this but still listed at $699 is the GTX 780 Ti OC which has a WindForce 3X heatsink and Base / Boost frequencies of 1020MHz and 1085MHz respectively so it could technically be called a “GHz Edition”. The honest-to-goodness GHz Edition is the card we’re reviewing here today and it makes use of a secondary backplate heatsink alongside the WindForce 3X cooler, has a higher price of $729 and includes significantly higher clock speeds than either of its siblings. Make sure to take these things into account before hitting that “Add to Cart” button.


Upon first glance the GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition looks like nearly every single custom Gigabyte card from the past year or so. Naturally the triple fan WindForce 3X heatsink sits front and center, dominating the landscape and pushing the card’s overall length to 11.5”. That may prove to be a bit too much for some older ATX enclosures but any case bought within the last three years should have no trouble swallowing it.


An interesting addition of the GHz Edition is an anodized aluminum backplate, a feature we haven’t seen on a Gigabyte card since their last Super Overclock edition. This one sports the GHz Edition logo and is supposed to further reduce PCB temperatures in an effort to maximize the amount of achievable Boost frequencies.


While the backplate connectors get the reference treatment with a pair of DVI outputs alongside the usual HDMI and DisplayPort. Where things take a change is on the power connector front where Gigabyte has elected to go with two 8-pin inputs which should be better able to cope with the GHz Edition’s increased current demands.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
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 331.70 Beta
AMD 13.11 v8 Beta



*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
13,410
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.


2560 x 1440




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.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
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.


2560 x 1440





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.



2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
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.


2560 x 1440





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.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Metro: Last Light / Tomb Raider

Metro: Last Light (DX11)


<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




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.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
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.



This is a Gigabyte card with a WindForce 3X heatsink. What did you expect, horrible temperatures? Of course not. Naturally, the GHz Edition delivered in a big way with excellent thermal results despite a hot-running GK110 core that pumps out the frequencies like no one’s business. These results are impressive to say the least.


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.


As usual, the WindForce 3X delivers low temperatures and absolutely excellent acoustics. This is the quietest GTX 780 Ti we have tested to date and we wouldn’t be surprised if it continued its dominance after every other board partner releases their custom cards.


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.


As you might expect, such high clock speeds result in significantly higher power consumption numbers. With that being said it is in interesting to see that even with a mammoth performance advantage, the GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition really doesn’t consume all that much more than an R9 290X.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


By now, you should all be well accustomed to the current state of NVIDIA cards and their ability (or lack thereof) to overclock. Much of their headroom is determined by an intricate dance between Power Limits, Temperature Limits and Voltage Limits but there is an added wrinkle to this equation: Power and Voltage are both capped by NVIDIA. If a board partner chooses to ignore these limits, they effectively loose NVIDIA warranty support on that particular SKU. That could lead to a substantial financial hit and most board partners, including Gigabyte, have chosen to remain within the reference specifications in both of these areas.

With such high out of box frequencies, Gigabyte’s GHz Edition flirts with the voltage limitations before even thinking about overclocking. This means the amount of clock speed overhead is minimal at best since there just isn’t a way to add more than the usual 75mV. As a result, we ended up hitting a wall at 1258MHz with frequency dips to 1190MHz which is higher than the EVGA Superclocked but there seemed to be much more in the tank. Memory frequencies eventually hit 7776MHz, a great result but one that didn’t do all that much for performance.


 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


Over the next few weeks, gamers will be treated to a deluge of custom GTX 780 Ti cards but we have a feeling that even after the dust settles, Gigabyte’s GHz Edition will remain one of the most sought-after examples. It successfully achieves the golden trifecta of mind-blowing performance, low temperatures and near-silent acoustics; a combination that typically alludes most graphics card manufacturers.

There was a time when we would have said that NVIDIA’s Boost algorithms and their associated limitations would constrain the creativity of their board partners. Gigabyte once again proves this assumption wrong by working within that same fenced-off territory but still delivering framerates that challenge a GTX 690 without any of the associated SLI scaling issues. The GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition even outstrips the similarly priced EVGA GTX 780 Ti ACX Superclocked by hitting a constant speed of 1203MHz which is nothing short of spectacular considering the reference design runs at just 992MHz.

One of the primary factors behind the GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition’s ultra-high frequencies is the excellent WindForce 3X heatsink. Time and again Gigabyte has used this cooler and it seems to be unflappable in nearly every situation. In this particular instance it cools down the GK110 core to some impressively low levels and provides more than enough headroom for some additional overclocking as well. More importantly, the WindForce remained near-silent throughout testing which proves there still more left in its tank should Gigabyte ever release an even more powerful GTX 780 Ti.

Unfortunately, with clock speeds already being pushed so high, overclocking the GHz Edition was a lesson in futility. While there’s still some gas left in its tank (particularly on the memory side), NVIDIA’s voltage and power limits stepped in again and again, limiting achievable overclocks as the card stepped down to lower levels. This is the price one pays for extreme out-of-box frequencies and it seems like Gigabyte cut this one exceedingly close.

With an enviable combination of performance and excellent day-to-day usage characteristics makes Gigabyte’s GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition one of the best cards currently available. It may be extremely expensive, but with a premium of just $30 over the reference version, this is a no-brainer in terms of value for anyone looking for a high end graphics card.

 

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