Like most things in the PC and gadget world, graphics cards usually get a refresh once every year. We’re used to seeing both AMD and Nvidia launch the highest-end single-GPU models of each new generation in or around March each year, based on a new or improved GPU architecture. These products sit at the top of the heap, pushing their predecessors down to the mid-range. Eventually, previous-generation products disappear from the market over the course of the year as the new line is fleshed out with mid-range and low-end products.

This year, however, neither GPU maker seems to have a new architecture ready. AMD is relying on the age-old trick of slapping two high-end GPUs on a single card while Nvidia has taken a completely different approach. The GeForce GTX Titan, which we’ve recently had the pleasure of testing, is based on silicone originally designed for the company’s Tesla line of workstation “GPU computing” cards. The GK110 GPU at the heart of the Titan was primarily designed for accelerating parallel computing tasks for scientific research and other such tasks that can take advantage of a GPU’s programmable and highly parallel architecture. In fact, some of today’s most powerful supercomputer clusters are powered by thousands of Tesla cards based on the very same GPU.

The GTX Titan is one of the most impressively built graphics cards we've ever tested.

The GTX Titan is one of the most impressively built graphics cards we've ever tested.

Features and architecture

The Titan is not part of a new GeForce 700-series, though it does foreshadow some of the features these cards will have. It supersedes the GTX 680 as Nvidia’s fastest single-GPU gaming card, but doesn’t replace it. The unconventional numberless name will allow the Titan to remain at the top of the line-up even after 700-series parts are introduced, which makes us wonder how (and when) exactly Nvidia’s forthcoming generation will take shape. Titan cards based on Nvidia’s reference design are priced at approximately Rs 68,000 in India, which is only slightly less than what two GTX 680s would cost. That’s also roughly equal to the cost of a dual-GPU GTX 690. The Titan might not outperform a GTX 690, but it’s far less hot and noisy, doesn’t suffer from any of the scaling problems that dual-GPU cards still have, and can be used in three-way SLI configurations.

The enormous GPU is supported by 6 GB of GRRD5 RAM.

The enormous GPU is supported by 6GB of GDDR5 RAM.

The GK110 architecture, codenamed Kepler, has a number of traits that set it apart from common GeForces. It’s a much beefier version of the GK104 that powers the highest of the 600-series GeForces. The specifications are almost dizzying—7.1 billion transistors, 2,688 shader units (which Nvidia calls “CUDA cores”), 224 texture units and 48 ROPs put everything else we’ve seen so far to shame, and add up to a roughly 50 percent increase in raw power over the GTX 680. Memory bandwidth has similarly been bumped up to 288GBps, thanks to a 384-bit bus, and each GPU is matched with 6GB of GDDR5 RAM on a Titan card. Because of its workstation heritage, the Titan can also handle double-precision floating point operations, although no game or consumer application today requires this kind of math. Another neat feature is GPU Boost 2.0, a software feature that uses temperature and power consumption data to allow clock speeds to ramp up automatically if and when needed.

We received a Zotac GeForce GTX Titan for testing. The card itself is surprisingly small and light. At 10.5 inches long, it’s a lot less imposing than some of the top-end cards we’ve seen in the past. However, that’s more than made up for by its distinguished look and high-quality manufacturing. The solid aluminium cooler and windowed shroud make the Titan feel like a very premium product, and the glowing “GeForce GTX” label on top will stand out in any gaming PC. On the rear panel, you’ll find two DVI ports plus full-sized HDMI and DisplayPort sockets. The card requires one six-pin and one eight-pin PCIe power connector, and its TDP is rated at a surprisingly low 250 watts. Most flagship cards are much larger, noisier and hungrier for power—the Titan feels refined and understated in comparison. The Titan is also unique in that it could actually be practical in extremely compact gaming PCs thanks to its small size, low power requirements and sealed design that pushes hot air out through the rear panel.

Block diagram of the GK110 GPU core showing all 15 SMX units

Block diagram of the GK110 GPU core showing all 15 SMX units

Test Bench

Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K CPU @ 3.40GHz

Motherboard: GIGABYTE P67A-UD3R

Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB (4GB x 2) @1600MHz

Storage: Plextor PX-256M2S SSD (boot drive), WD Velociraptor 300GB (secondary)

PSU: Cooler Master Silent Pro 1000W

OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

3DMark 11

3DMark is a computer benchmarking tool created and developed by Futuremark Corporation to determine the performance of a computer's 3D graphic rendering and CPU workload processing capabilities. The latest version makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11, including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. We used the “Performance” preset for this benchmark.

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Battlefield 3
Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and is based on the new Frostbite 2 game engine. The game only supports DX10 and DX11, which enables enhanced in-game destruction with Destruction 3.0, creating more refined physics than its predecessor and quasi-realtime radiosity using Geometrics' Enlighten technology. The game is a visual treat and a nightmare for graphics cards, which makes it perfect for our test. We used the “Ultra High” preset, Post AA – High, Blur – Full, Field of View – 90, Level – “Fear no Evil”.

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3

Dirt 3
Dirt 3 is a rallying video game and the third in the Dirt series of the Colin McRae Rally series, developed and published by Codemasters. The game is extremely scalable and features DX11 tessellation effects. We used the built-in benchmark tool, along with “Ultra” quality preset.

Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Metro 2033
Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter video game that continues to bring even the toughest graphics cards down to their knees. The game has a lot of DX11 eye-candy, which really puts a strain on any GPU. All DX11 features were enabled for the benchmark and we used the “Tower” level for our test.

Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Batman: Arkham City
A sequel to Arkham Asylum, Arkham City features a more open world gameplay as well as DX11 elements. For this test, we disabled Nvidias’s PhysX, since it would be unfair to AMD’s cards. Everything else was maxed out.

Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City

Verdict and Price in India

As expected, the Titan’s scores were by far the highest we’ve ever seen for a single-GPU card in both games and synthetic benchmarks; effortlessly beating the GTX 680 and Radeon 7970 and only very slightly trailing the GTX 690. All benchmarks were run at 1920 x 1280, and keeping in mind the fact that the card’s specs are total overkill for single-monitor gaming even at full HD, we’ve excluded scores for lower resolutions. At all times during testing, the Titan remained surprisingly quiet and it was very easy to forget that a top-end graphics card was running on our test bench.

There’s no doubt that the Titan is an expensive card, but then, there’s never been a lack of people willing to pay anything for luxury hardware. However, those people now have a choice—the more brutish, powerful GTX 690, or the more subtle, refined GTX Titan. If you’re OK with spending that much money, you should know that the 690 will perform better. However, if the Titan’s performance is good enough for you and you appreciate the finesse it will bring to your gaming rig, it’s easily the better choice.

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