The NVIDIA TITAN Z Performance Review
NVIDIA’s TITAN Z is an odd GPU. On one hand it is the most powerful graphics card the company has ever launched and yet the amount of media coverage for it has been surprisingly limited. Reviews have been few and far between and despite a very public announcement, its eventual coming out party was muted at best. Considering the well-oiled PR machine NVIDIA has working behind every one of their new product introductions, the TITAN Z’s somewhat flaccid release was atypical. And yet from our perspective, after some last minute changes it went exactly the way they wanted it to.
To understand the TITAN-Z’s troubled inception and ultimate relegation to a footnote in NVIDIA’s product line, we have to go back to before NVIDIA's chief Jen Hsun Huang actually announced it back at the end of March. NVIDIA had already been working on their dual GPU follow-up to the extremely popular GTX 690 for quite some time. It included a pair of toned-down GK110 cores topped off by an air cooled heatsink and remained true to Kepler’s “efficient, quiet performance” mantra. They took a relatively conservative approach with the knowledge that AMD had no way to roll out a double-dipped R9 290X without either severely limiting its clock speeds or boosting fan speeds to laughably high levels.
Right before that fateful March 25th keynote, the first confirmations of AMD’s so-called R9 295X2 began to trickle out and it wasn’t good news for NVIDIA. Instead of going the air-cooled route, AMD’s engineers and product specialists threw their weight behind what they hoped was the market’s broader acceptance of AIO water cooling units. More importantly, by going the liquid cooled route, the R9 295X2 was able to run at high clock speeds without throttling, had a good amount of overclocking headroom and remained blissfully quiet. With that knowledge, plans were changed.
Instead of announcing a card which had a cost in-line with a pair of GTX 780 Ti’s the so-called TITAN-Z ended up being marketed to “CUDA developers” and had a suitably stratospheric price of $3000. What followed were delays as NVIDIA tried to dial in clock speeds that could speed up gaming scenarios so it could be cross marketed to a broader user base. Not to mention, higher performance would go a long way towards somewhat justifying its extreme cost.
The TITAN-Z was ultimately released with two full-enabled GK110 cores that operated at frequencies which are drastically lower than the GTX 780 Ti and TITAN Black. It does however board a mammoth 12GB of GDDR5 memory operating at 7Gbps so there should be no worries about bandwidth bottlenecks.
NVIDIA decided to go with lower clock speeds for the TITAN Z in order to hit a preset set of thermal and power consumption targets. Without those, the card would either hit temperatures that are beyond an air cooler’s capability to contain or throttle down to frequencies that are lower than its stated Base clock. Neither of those results was optimal so the core speed was reigned in. Make no mistake about it though; the two GK110s sitting on the Z’s PCB are carefully selected so they maximize performance at lower TDP levels. High leakage cores need not apply.
While it may have a triple slot height, the TITAN Z’s defining characteristic is its adherence to an air cooled design. Despite the use a two large vapor chambers, this speaks to the inherent efficiency of NVIDIA’s architecture and does tend to broaden the TITAN Z’s compatibility in some instances when compared against the R9 295X2.
The design language remains faithful to other high end Kepler-based cards with a glowing GeForce logo, windows that look down onto the internal heatsinks and a TITAN Z logo etched into the aluminum heatsink shroud. We should also mention that it uses a pair of 8-pin power connectors and requires a good 850W power supply.
The card’s back has a black anodized heatsink that covers half of the included GDDR5 memory modules and also helps with the cooling of other PCB-mounted components. What you can’t see here is a state-of-the-art 12 phase PWM design which features dynamic load balancing so both cores can expand their performance envelopes if needed while remaining within the same strict TDP constraints.
Before we get any further into this review, some transparency is in order. While the rumor that NVIDIA actively worked on preventing TITAN Z cards from getting into the heads of reviewers may be nothing more than hearsay, they had no active hand in this review. We borrowed this card from a local developer who will be using a pair of them for high level CUDA debugging and development purposes. This review may be late but the tardiness isn’t for lack of us trying to get loaner samples from board partners and NVIDIA directly. Due to the limited time we had, comprehensive GPU Compute benchmarks weren’t possible so we approached this one solely from a gaming standpoint which, according to NVIDIA’s launch video, is the TITAN Z’s primary task.
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