The NVIDIA TITAN X Performance Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: March 16, 2015
Product Name: TITAN X
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NVIDIA’s TITAN series has always been about delivering the highest possible performance to both gamers and developers but the new TITAN X does things a bit differently. While it is still a processing powerhouse with roots firmly planted in the CUDA developer field, the goals this time around are distinctively more gamer-centric.

When the GTX 980 and its GM204 core was introduced to widen their lead against AMD’s Hawaii, everyone knew that the Maxwell architecture had so much more to offer. The GM204 was and will always be NVIDIA’s mid-tier core that parades around in an enthusiast graphics card due to a lack of pressure from the Radeon lineup. With that in mind, NVIDIA was able to hold onto their larger cores until inventory built up and yields improved. Why prematurely launch something if there’s nothing for it to compete against, right? Hence TITAN X has been born with a fully enabled GM200 core and it represents a “catch me if you can” challenge for AMD who now know exactly what it’s going to take to challenge the Maxwell in its current form.

With an incredible 8 billion transistors, sized at 601mm² and boasting a TDP of 250W, NVIDIA’s GM200 core is based on the mature 28nm manufacturing process and is one of the largest they’ve ever developed. It is composed of six Graphics Processing Clusters, each of which holds a quartet of Streaming Multiprocessors. In total that means TITAN X has access to 3072 CUDA cores and 192 Texture units or 50% more than are rolled into the GTX 980.

The GM200’s secondary processing stages include 3MB of share L2 along with 96 ROPs which have access to six 64-bit GDDR5 memory controllers which are combined for a 384-bit interface. Once again these specifications put TITAN X a good 50% above its sibling. Like other Maxwell cores, this one includes advanced delta color correction algorithms which effectively boost theoretical bandwidth and a new video engine that grants higher pixel clocks alongside native support for 5K resolution. You can find a deeper dive into those features HERE.

If we go back to when the “original” TITAN, TITAN Black and insanely powerful (for the time) TITAN Z were announced, NVIDIA specifically highlighted their abilities for budding CUDA developers. Unlike the GeForce lineup, TITAN cards’ DP units could operate at full speed which proved to be a boon for some developers who weren’t initially looking for the extra driver features and back-end support provided by NVIDIA’s workstation-class products. TITAN X takes a different stance by offering the same simplified 1/32 speed double precision floating point throughput as the GeForce lineup.

The move away from raw DP throughput was made due to pure space and power limitations. Adding additional Double Precision units would have consumed valuable die space and forced NVIDIA to make sacrifices in other key areas to insure the TITAN X remained at a nominal 250W TDP. As it stands, they were able to maximize gaming horsepower for this particular card but expect a GM200 specifically tailored for the Quadro market very soon.

On paper at least the TITAN X represents a significant step up from the Kepler-totting TITAN Black but many enthusiasts will understandably compare it to the GTX 980. In that respect NVIDIA is huge improvements in the core count, TMU and ROP departments but the most noteworthy area of change is the memory interface. With so many games pushing past the 4GB mark at 4K and higher resolutions some gamers began to run face-first into the GTX 980’s 4GB framebuffer limit. Even SLI solutions were held back by this cap. The TITAN X’s 384-bit interface has been paired up with 12GB of 7Gbps GDDR5 which should make memory bottlenecks a thing of the past, particularly for anyone developing virtual reality applications.

While 50% improvement (or even more if memory-limited situations come into play) over the GTX 980 sounds like a dream come, the TITAN X’s core speeds may conspire to limit that hope. While the GTX 980 can harness its Boost algorithms to push its engine frequency to 1216MHz and higher in some instances, the 250W card should top out around 1075MHz so we can’t expect a linear framerate difference based on architecture alone. Luckily, NVIDIA has added a bit of overclocking headroom into the TITAN X so those numbers are anything but a foregone conclusion.

Leading edge performance does of course come with some sacrifices as well. While the TITAN X is still able to maintain an air cooled heatsink in part due to the Maxwell architecture’s inherent thermal efficiency, its TDP hits 250W. We do have to remember that older TITAN parts had similarly high TDPs and yet they offered substantially less performance.

The real question many will likely have about the TITAN X is price, one aspect which was a closely guarded secret until an hour before this review went live. With previous iterations retailing between $999 and a spectacular $2999 for the TITAN Z, some were pegging this card to hit the $1499 mark. However, NVIDIA no longer has that double precision / CUDA developer crutch to lean on so some rethinking is in order and the GTX 980 fits in quite well at just $549. Add 50% to that and a few bucks for the convenience of a single GPU solution and you’ve got a $900 graphics card but that isn’t quite the case here.

NVIDIA is following in the footsteps of TITAN cards past by pricing the X at $999 which is a far cry from what some were predicting. Does that make for a good value on paper? Nope. However, avoiding the tiresome eccentricities of a dual card solution does have a certain allure.

All things considered, the TITAN X's price and its potential capabilities certainly put it within reach of gamers. But can it actually provide enough raw performance to justify a $1000 investment? Let's find out...


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