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Has Nvidia Forgotten Kepler? The GTX 780 Ti vs. the 290X Revisited

Has Nvidia neglected Kepler?  This evaluation will revisit 13 games from our Kepler GTX 780 Ti launch evaluation which was originally published on November 7, 2013. We focused on its performance versus the then recently released R9 290X, and also versus the original $1000 Titan.  We will use 13 of the same games that we benched then with the GTX 780 Ti launch drivers, and compare them with the very latest drivers available today using these very same three video cards.  Also, we will also feature these cards in our very latest 25-game benchmark suite to compare them with the top cards of today for a much bigger picture.290xv780ti

The GTX 780 Ti was released in 2013, not long after AMD’s launch of the R9 290X at $550 which beat the $1,000 Titan.  Nvidia wasted no time in releasing the 780 Ti as their flagship card at $699 which soundly beat the Titan and also beat the 290X.  However, in the 2-1/2 years since then, Nvidia has refreshed their architecture completely with Maxwell, replacing the Kepler GTX 780 Ti with the faster and cheaper GTX 980, followed by the Titan X, and then by their even faster GTX 980 Ti gaming flagship.  However, although AMD introduced new Fiji architecture with the Fury lineup, the Hawaii 290X was not refreshed, but rather rebranded into a Grenada 390X by increasing the reference vRAM capacity from 4GB to faster 8GB GDDR5 with tighter timings.

Although the Maxwell GTX 980 still trades blows with the Fury X at 1920×1080 and the GTX 980 Tis is faster than either card for most games and resolutions, the Kepler GTX 780 Ti appears to have gotten slower compared with the 290X in newer games.  We want to see if the 3GB limitation of the vRAM is an issue by comparing it with the original Titan 6GB and with the 290X 4GB.  Has Nvidia neglected Kepler in favor of the newer Maxwell architecture, or has AMD simply continued optimizing for Hawaii/Grenada as their Hawaii/Grenada architecture has not changed for more than 2 years?TombRaider 2016-02-17 21-16-45-86

When it launched in 2013, the GTX 780 Ti was solidly faster than the original Titan, and it also beat the 290X.  However, that was 2-1/2 years ago, and PC games have become far more demanding. The newest generation of consoles and console ports to PC have placed new demands on lower-capacity vRAM-equipped video cards.

Below is the main performance chart from the GTX 980 Ti Launch Evaluation article published by AlienBabelTech in 2013.Launch-Chart-780-Ti

Our game benchmark suite has changed from 2013 as we always strive to update our tested games to include the latest and most popular titles at the time of writing.  We have also added minimum frame rates in addition to averages, and we are now testing at resolutions up to 4K, with a strong emphasis on the very latest games.  We now benchmark at 2560×1440 instead of at 2560×1600, but we have returned to benching 13 of these original games at that resolution to compare our current results with the above chart. We also want to see how these formerly flagship GPUs stand now in relation to each other by playing the latest games with updated drivers at demanding settings that we usually bench at as well as by replicating the test conditions of our 2013 GTX 780 Ti launch evaluation article as well as we can.

Over the past 2 years, Nvidia has reworked their Kepler architecture into the even more efficient Maxwell, and the 6GB vRAM-equipped GTX 980 Ti has replaced the Kepler 3GB GTX 780 Ti as a faster and more power-efficient GPU flagship by Nvidia in their line-up.  We want to test how well our original R9 290X performs after also being degraded as AMD’s flagship, and after being replaced by the nearly identical 390X, and by the Fury X as the current flagship.  We want to see how the 290X can perform now against our same reference GTX 780 Ti about 2-1/2 years after their respective launches.  And we will also test the Titan to see if its 6GB of vRAM has made any practical difference over using 3GB or 4GB vRAM.

It will be interesting to see which of our three featured GPU turned out to be more “future proof”, and if the 3GB of vRAM that the GTX 780 Ti is equipped with has any current disadvantage.  So let’s compare today’s performance of the GTX 780 Ti versus the R9 290X and versus the GTX Titan after we look over our test configurations on the next page.