What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

GTX 780 Ti vs R9 290X; The Rematch

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
I’ll be the first to admit that like many press, I have a tendency to look ahead to future products rather than dwell in the past. It’s unavoidable since the latest and greatest is what drives traffic. However, my reality doesn’t reflect what the vast majority of buyers actually experience, particularly when it comes to expensive core components like graphics cards and processors. Financial constraints typically dictate that an investment in hardware –be it leading edge or more affordable- should last a good amount of time. How long would that be? The longevity of a particular piece of hardware will vary from person to person but buyers do expect support for their purchases past the respective End of Life dates. This leads us to the reasoning behind this article.

While the GTX 780 Ti was considered a class-leading card and the very pinnacle of NVIDIA’s Kepler architecture when it was launched in November of 2013 (yes it’s been nearly two years) it has since been replaced with Maxwell-based cards like the GTX 980 and GTX 980 Ti. Meanwhile, the 700-series has faded into that dreaded EOL status, though there were assurances that driver support would continue.


After the GeForce product stack transitioned to Maxwell, several discussion threads popped up everywhere from NVIDIA’s own forums to Reddit claiming that driver optimizations for Kepler in newer games have become nearly nonexistent. This supposedly caused performance issues with nearly-new and very expensive GPUs in some key games. Imagine buying a GTX 780 Ti in July 2014 only to have its drivers hobbled from September 2014 (the GTX 980’s launch date) onwards. Two words for that: no thanks.

On the flip side of this equation, many have claimed that AMD has effectively supported their Hawaii-based cards far better than NVIDIA has with their own older architectures. The end result is supposedly more consistent performance in newer titles, so much so that some benchmarks I’ve seen put the R9 290X -a card that the GTX 780 Ti once handily beat- well ahead of its erstwhile competitor. Writing this introduction before the tests are actually conducted has me thinking that this may indeed be possible since the Hawaii-based cores live on in two of AMD’s many rebranded cards: the R9 390X and R9 390. Hence, AMD has to absolutely support them.


If there’s one bit of information you need before skipping the rest of this introduction and moving to the benchmarks, it is the chart above. This is the way the market stood once the GTX 780 Ti was launched and again after the GTX 980 was released. In short, NVIDIA’s flagship Kepler card remained just behind Maxwell’s GM204 in September of 2014 and managed to convincingly beat AMD’s R9 290X back when it was first introduced.

If NVIDIA has been lax in their duties of optimizing for Kepler, the percentage differences detailed above should dramatically swing into the favor of AMD and the GTX 980 while the GTX 780 Ti could potentially be left in the dust. The same goes for AMD and the R9 290X. It won’t be a subtle shift either since driver-based performance enhancements can make a world of difference to framerates.

In order to test whether or not these cards’ performance has stood the test of time, I decided to put them through our usual list of an even dozen games at 1440P (none of the cards here is exactly acceptable for high setting 4K duties). Of those games, only four were around when the GTX 780 Ti was first available while one of those -Battlefield 4- received the lion’s share of its key updates after our launch-day review.

As for the newer games, Dying Light, Dragon Age, Far Cry 4, Shadow of Mordor, GTA V, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Total War: Attila and the Witcher have varying release dates, some of which are quite recent. Among these, I have seen forum reports of GTA V, Total War, The Witcher, Far Cry 4 and Shadow of Mordor all featuring some kind of performance hiccup for one architecture or another. Many of these are cited whenever the subject of the GTX 700-series’ falling performance metrics are brought up.

For comparison purposes I’ve added a GTX 980 for good measure and our standard benchmark runs and test setup are being used. One important note is that our R9 290X is custom cooled but stock clocked so it will have no problem avoiding the throttling that plagued reference designs. Drivers being used are NVIDA's 355.69 and AMD's 15.7.1.

While this quick article isn’t meant to be a definitive overview of possible issues with 700-series cards since the GTX 980 was launched, it should give you a snapshot of how the GTX 780 Ti and R9 290X perform now, nearly two years after their initial launches. Has driver support been allowed to lapse or has NVIDIA and AMD kept up with the times in an effort to keep performance of their previous generation GPUs in line with expectations?
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
AC:Unity / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed: Unity


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8V96SFIvFKg?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

While it may not be the newest game around and it had its fair share of embarrassing hiccups at launch, Assassin's Creed: Unity is still one heck of a good looking DX11 title. In this benchmark we run through a typical gameplay sequence outside in Paris.



Assassin’s Creed Unity is out first test and one that could post a bit of an issue for a 3GB card. Our settings push memory requirements to 3.45GB, which causes some performance loss but even then the GTX 780 Ti grants some very respectable framerates. Even the R9 290X which is arguably the “older” card here has completely playable performance.


Battlefield 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/y9nwvLwltqk?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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.



Battlefield 4 may have been a ball-buster for GPUs back with it was launched but it seems that both AMD and NVIDIA have effectively given their older cards optimizations to insure adequate framerates, even at 1440P. As expected for a slightly dated title, the positioning of each respective card hasn’t changed all that much since we first reviewed them.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z7wRSmle-DY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most popular games around due to its engaging gameplay and open-world style. In our benchmark sequence we run through two typical areas: a busy town and through an outdoor environment.



The latest Dragon Age game looks great and was heavily backed by AMD during its development cycle. It also happens to gobble up system resources to the tune of 3.2GB of graphics memory at the settings we chose. The R9 290X does hold a slight advantage here over the GTX 780 Ti but in a relatively slow-paced title, every solution here provides adequate performance.


Dying Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MHc6Vq-1ins" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dying Light is a relatively late addition to our benchmarking process but with good reason: it required multiple patches to optimize performance. While one of the patches handicapped viewing distance, this is still one of the most demanding games available.



Unlike Dragon Age which is an AMD-centric title, Dying Light was a showcase for a few of NVIDIA’s GameWorks technologies. Here, the GTX 980 surges ahead of the R9 290X and GTX 780 Ti. While the GTX 780 Ti’s performance was more than adequate, its distance from a Maxwell-based card that it should be competing against has grown. However there is no indication of performance crippling or anything else on NVIDIA’s part.

Truth be told, I can’t put a reason to this one given the modest 2.8GB worth of framebuffer our settings require. It could be that the GTX 980’s core architecture is a bit more efficient at processing the draw calls in this game.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Far Cry 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

Far Cry 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sC7-_Q1cSro" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest game in Ubisoft’s Far Cry series takes up where the others left off by boasting some of the most impressive visuals we’ve seen. In order to emulate typical gameplay we run through the game’s main village, head out through an open area and then transition to the lower areas via a zipline.



Far Cry 4 is often pointed towards as a title where the GTX 780 Ti’s performance has been handicapped in some way or another. Our results show the exact opposite. Even though memory requirements hit the 3.62GB mark at most points within the benchmark, the 780 Ti remained less than 5% behind the newer GTX 980.

The R9 290X is something of a revelation though. AMD’s issues with Far Cry games are well documented but their latest 15.7.1 driver allows this older card to compete on a more level footing with its NVIDIA competitors.



Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.



This is another title that has been pointed to as problem-prone for 700-series cards and there’s some well documented proof of that since right after GTA V’s launch, there were numerous reports of issues across NVIDIA’s lineup. However, it looks like NVIDIA has pushed aside those speedbumps and is now operating at full speed on both the GTX 780 Ti and GTX 980. Once again, the GTX 780 Ti is right within spitting distance of the GTX 980 which is where it was from day one.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Hitman Absolution


<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.



Absolutely nothing has changed in Hitman, one of the oldest games in our benchmarking suite. All of the cards are exactly where they were years ago. The only reason why we keep it around is that with 8x MSAA enabled it pushes GPU memory requirements right up to the 4GB mark.


Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1MHjhIxTGE?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles.



With its Texture Pack enabled, Shadow of Mordor should have been a massive challenge for the 3GB GTX 780 Ti but that wasn’t really the case. Yes, the GTX 980 was able to pull to a ~10% lead but the older Kepler card remained very competitive, particularly against the R9 290X. While higher memory allotments do seem to make some difference, that wasn’t enough to drag the 780 Ti to the sharks.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/p-a-8mr00rY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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.



Once again we have an older title in Thief so performance was something of a foregone conclusion. What is surprising is that the GTX 780 Ti now outperforms the R9 290X whereas the opposite used to be true.


Tomb Raider


<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.




Older game means no changes in performance….which is good since that points towards NVIDIA retaining the GTX 700-series’ performance metrics.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Total War: Attila / Witcher 3

Total War: Attila


Total War: Attila is the only strategy title in our benchmarking suite simply because it is one of the most resource-hungry. It gobbles resources with good reason too: this game happens to be one the best looking of the series thus far. Our benchmark sequence uses the in-game tool since, after hours of gameplay, it seems to show a perfect blend of in-game elements.



If you thought other titles were system hogs, wait till you see the Total War games. Nonetheless, the GTX 780 Ti and GTX 980’s performance remain within less than 10% of one another while the R9 290X falls back. We highly doubt this has anything to do with drivers on AMD’s part though since Attila’s performance has been known to gyrate up and down from one patch to the next.


Witcher 3


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EBSQMEqpqro?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Other than being one of 2015’s most highly regarded games, The Witcher 3 also happens to be one of the most visually stunning as well. This benchmark sequence has us riding through a town and running through the woods; two elements that will likely take up the vast majority of in-game time.



This is another game that initially had extremely poor performance on every single graphics card I used. In some cases it was simply broken, in others its framerates were slideshow-like. Nonetheless, it looks like both NVIDIA and AMD have come a long way towards optimizations and now every single card in this article performs within 5% of its opposite. There’s really nothing to worry about here regardless of if you use a 700-series, 900-series or AMD 200-series card.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Conclusion; Standing The Test of Time

Conclusion; Standing The Test of Time


So we’ve now come to the end of this article and somehow I find myself wishing for more. There have been a lot of suppositions lately and I was hoping to recreate something, anything, that led to a partial confirmation of even the most basic premise of forum-bound critique. Some said AMD’s drivers were lacking while others went so far as to claim NVIDIA may have purposely crippled Kepler’s performance in an effort to drive 900-series sales. None of that was evident after running through each game’s respective benchmark scene at least four times over.

Some explanation of our benchmark results is necessary because they tend to fly directly in the face of what I was expecting. I thought at least some games would see framerates on the GTX 780 Ti and to a lesser extent the R9 290X falling by the wayside. These are slightly older architectures (though only one generation removed in NVIDIA’s case) that boast framebuffer sizes which may pose a challenge in the newest games at 1440P situations. Witcher 3, GTA V, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Shadow of Mordor and others require excessive amounts of video memory. This is why NVIDIA has moved on to 4GB and 6GB cards with framebuffer optimization algorithms while AMD has moved to 8GB and 4GB HBM configurations for their own higher-end offerings.

So how did these year old cards do? Not too bad actually….


If you looked over the benchmark results before skipping right to the conclusion these numbers won’t come as any surprise. The GTX 780 Ti retained most of its lead over the R9 290X and still loses slightly against the GTX 980. There has been some movement into the negative territory on both sides but there’s absolutely nothing here that would lead anyone to believe it was somehow hamstrung in driver development.

Given its 3GB framebuffer and the fact that some newer titles are pushing up against a requirement of well over 3GB at 1440P, the performance results from Kepler’s flagship are actually quite impressive. We expected massive drop-offs in GTA V and a number of other titles since they tend to gobble up memory but that didn’t happen. There were very slight hits in some games where the 4GB cards were able to make up ground, which likely contributed to the small averaged drop-off seen above.

As it stands, I couldn’t find any instance where the GTX 780 Ti exhibited debilitating performance problems. That includes newer games I’m currently playing that aren’t in the benchmarks like Trine 3 and the Call to Arms beta. All of the results were in line, if not better than expected given this card’s memory limitations and relative age.

Performance shortfalls in some titles obviously aren’t happening at this point but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have never been around. There were well-publicized problems for the 700-series in GTA V, Total War: Attila and The Witcher 3, not to mention some other triple-a games, shortly after their respective launches. The 900-series initially suffered from them as well. AMD’s cards were affected too. Meanwhile, what’s shown in the results points towards both NVIDIA and AMD addressing the underlying compatibility issues at some point. How long did they last? That tends to vary from one game to another.

Now this isn’t to say that optimizations for Kepler cards will be present and accounted for in all future titles. Like it or not, architectures do reach End of Life status and it is up to each respective company to invest a not-so-insubstantial amount of money to support them after shelf life expires. Contrary to the belief of some, NVIDIA seems to be supporting the 700-series parts quite well even though their architecture isn’t being used in newer cards. Granted, there could be some instances where optimizations are delayed but I can’t see that happening too often. At least not until NVIDIA’s purpose-built DX12 Pascal architecture is introduced….

On the flip side of that equation AMD must[/] support their older architectures since most of their current lineup is based upon rebrands. The R9 200-series, HD 7000-series and even some of the HD 6000-series cores are still being utilized in some capacity. I can only imagine what kind of resource drain that causes in AMD’s driver development and quality assurance teams. Nonetheless, it gives users of their legacy products some peace of mind and that’s a pretty big selling point.

So there you have it. Be it new games or old, the GTX 780 Ti still manages to keep its head above water in our benchmarks. Unfortunately that won’t placate everyone regardless of how many times these benchmarks are run. No matter what I say or what the benchmark numbers show, there will always be a very vocal majority that believe major corporations are trying to fleece them in some way. There’s no avoiding that.

Regardless of all this, if you bought either the R9 290X or GTX 780 Ti back when they were the new hotness, you should still be extremely happy with your purchase since both continue to deliver very good performance at 1440P and will likely grant even more impressive results at 1080P. Moving 4K without image quality sacrifices may be a bridge too far given the limitations of the each core’s architecture and memory layout but there’s a good amount of time until anyone with a GTX 780 Ti or R9 290X need to think about upgrading. We’ll be sure to stay on top of this as new games are released and make these look-back reviews part of our regular article rotation.
 

Latest posts

Twitter

Top