Introduction, Design, Performance (Part 1)
Ever since the launch of the original GeForce GTX Titan graphics card in 2013, the Titans have been Nvidia’s go-to cards for those who recently won the lottery, received an inheritance, or just had to have the absolute fastest single GPU money can buy. Back then, the Titan was ostensibly conceived (from a gaming standpoint, at least) as an answer to the craze of living-room computing, as customers didn’t want to have to put a bulky multiple-card mid-tower in their living room for gaming. At the time, graphics cards and their core chips (GPUs) were such that running an extremely high-resolution panel required at least two, if not more, cards arranged in SLI (for Nvidia) or CrossFire X (AMD) mode.
Along came the Titan, which allowed system builders to build slim, quiet PCs with a single graphics card and chip that could still deliver tremendous gaming performance. But there’s another aspect to the Titan cards, and it has nothing to do with gaming.
The Titan was also originally designed for people who need a GPU that can do mass computation, bridging the gap between Nvidia’s expensive, workstation-focused Quadro GPUs and its less-expensive, gaming-oriented GeForce cards. You’ll note that the Titan no longer carries the “GeForce” branding, indicating it’s a card designed for people who need to do some serious math first, and for gamers second.
That said, make no mistake: Despite its missing GeForce moniker, the Titan X is still a serious piece of gaming hardware. Indeed, it’s easily the most powerful single-chip gaming GPU ever created.
If you’re wondering why Nvidia would launch the Titan X now, when its GeForce GTX 1080GeForce GTX 680 for “Kepler,” the GeForce GTX 980 for “Maxwell,” and, now, the GeForce GTX 1080 for its new-for-2016 “Pascal” architecture. Though each of these GPUs was impressive in its time, little did we know that Nvidia was sandbagging a bit, as at the end of the GeForce GTX 680 launch cycle it unleashed the original GTX Titan, featuring a chip that was twice the size of the one used on the formerly class-leading GTX 680. Naturally it was a surprise to everyone, and it established a pattern we’d see again in the future with the GTX 980 and now the GTX 1080. Both of these flagship GPUs were followed by Titan variants based on a new, much larger GPU die, and with both cards (interestingly enough) named “Titan X.” For the sake of clarity, we’ll be referring to the latest model as the Pascal Titan X.
To properly understand the new Pascal Titan X’s place in the GPU hierarchy, we’ll first examine how it’s different from the GTX 1080. Unlike the previous Titans, which were roughly twice as large as the x80 chip they superseded, this one is approximately 1.5 times larger. In terms of die size, the Titan X is a bulky 471mm square, compared to the GTX 1080’s 314mm-square die.
The new Titan X also packs an additional 4.8 billion transistors, so it’s quite a jump from the formidable GTX 1080. Since it’s a much larger chip, it naturally has a lot more of everything compared to the GTX 1080, including 12GB of RAM (versus the GTX 1080’s 8GB), and 3,584 CUDA cores (against the GTX 1080’s 2,560). Unlike the original Titan, the Pascal-based Titan X doesn’t offer hardware designed for double precision compute tasks, and consumer-focused cards like the GTX 1080 don’t either. But since the new Titan X has more processing power than the GTX 1080, it should be roughly 35 percent faster than that card when running those types of tasks.
The new Titan X also has a wider (384-bit) memory bus, compared to the GTX 1080’s 256-bit bus. This wider path allows it to pump through 100GB per second more data than the GTX 1080.
When it comes to clock speeds, the Titan X is, unsurprisingly, downclocked a bit compared to the GTX 1080—in the appreciated endeavor of keeping such a powerful card from melting through your chassis. The Titan X’s maximum Boost clock is listed as 1,531MHz, compared to the higher-clocked GTX 1080 at 1,733MHz. Despite the lower clocks, it still consumes a lot more power, due to all those extra transistors; its thermal design power (TDP) rating is 250 watts, compared to the 180-watt rating of the GTX 1080.
That also means you’ll need more supplementary power plugs. The GTX 1080 requires a single eight-pin PCI Express power connector, while the Titan X needs an eight-pin and a six-pin connector.
Despite being “bigger” in every way on the inside than the GTX 1080, the Titan X is the same length, measuring 10.5 inches long. Of course, it’s a dual-slot card, and like all previous Titans is offered only in a single version with a blower-style cooler that exhausts most of the heat out the back of the chassis. The cooler housing itself uses the very same angular design that Nvidia used for its GTX 1080 Founders Edition, except it’s in black, and so looks a bit stealthier and more understated, to our eyes.
Finally, we come to the price: a whopping $1,200 per card! At the time of this writing in early December 2016, the card was available directly from Nvidia at that price. And, unless plans change, Nvidia will be the only source for this card; third parties won’t be selling Titan X variants.
Performance (Part 1)
As we’ve mentioned in our other recent card reviews, things are in flux these days when it comes to testing cards, because the two emerging technologies that current-gen cards are built for are proving tricky to test in these early days.
The first of these is DirectX 12 (DX12), which is just now coming on the scene. There are very few real-world benchmarks for it. Still, DX12 will likely be the standard graphics API in the future, and this card was designed to last for a few years, if not longer. So it’s important to know if a card can handle DX12 well before buying. We tested the Pascal Titan X with the newest DX12-capable games we had on hand, including Hitman (the 2016 edition), Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Ashes of the Singularity, as well as Futuremark’s 3DMark DX12 benchmark, Time Spy. We tested a load of games using DirectX 11, too, because that API will still be in wide use for at least another year, and probably much longer.
The other angle is virtual reality (VR) support. A few VR-focused benchmarks are emerging, including FutureMark’s VRMark. But given we haven’t had a chance to test other cards for their VR abilities yet, for now we’re going to stick with the requirements from the headset manufacturers, HTC in the case of its HTC Vive, and Oculus with its Oculus Rift. At the moment, VR support for those headsets starts with the AMD Radeon RX 480 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060. Since the Pascal Titan X is much more powerful than either of those cards, it should have no problems handling VR titles for years to come.
And so, on to the benchmarks. Since this GPU has no real competition in its $1,200 price space, we’ll be comparing it to all the high-end GPUs we’ve tested recently. from both Nvidia and AMD. AMD is expected to launch its high-end “Vega” competitor to the Pascal cards in 2017, but details are scarce, so we’ll have to wait and see if it can give Nvidia a run for its money. Until then, the extreme high-end portion of the market is strictly Nvidia’s playground, as you’ll see below.
3DMark Fire Strike Ultra
We started off our testing with Futuremark’s 2013 version of 3DMark, specifically the suite’s Fire Strike Ultra subtest. Fire Strike is a synthetic test designed to measure overall gaming performance. Ultra is meant to simulate the stresses of game graphics rendering at 4K.
In this incredibly demanding test, we see the Titan X stomping every GPU we’ve tested previously, which will most likely be a repeating pattern in these tests. Compared to the uber-extreme Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 Amp Extreme, which is highly overclocked, nearly 13 inches long, and munches up an effective three PCI Express expansion slots, the Pascal Titan X was 22 percent faster on the Overall Score, despite being much smaller in size. Compared to the similarly sized GTX 1080 Founders Edition, the Titan X was an astonishing 35 percent faster. In the graphics-card arena, that’s a drubbing of epic proportions.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Let’s start with some older games. Here, we fired up the 2013 reboot of the classic title Tomb Raider, testing at the highest detail preset (“Ultimate”) and three resolutions.
Ignoring the gonzo 238fps at 1080p, we can see that even at the punishing resolution of 4K, the Pascal Titan X was able to hold down a silky-smooth frame rate of 83 frames per second (fps). That’s 31 percent faster than the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme card, and a whopping 46 percent faster than the GTX 1080 Founders Edition.
Next, we rolled out the very demanding real-world gaming benchmark test built into the title Sleeping Dogs…
At 4K resolution the Titan X can’t quite achieve the lofty goal of 60fps, which guarantees buttery performance. It is quite close though, hitting 55fps, which is a 26 percent boost over the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme, and a 47 percent improvement over the GTX 1080 Founders Edition at 4K.
The popular title Bioshock Infinite isn’t overly demanding, but it’s a popular one with stellar good looks. In its built-in benchmark program, we set the graphics level to the highest preset (Ultra+DDOF)…
We never thought we’d see the day when a single GPU can hit almost 100fps at 4K with everything maxed, but the Pascal Titan X has done it. It was able to achieve a staggering 95.4fps, which is going to cause us to run out of synonyms for “amazing” pretty soon. Compared to the GTX 1080 Amp card, it was 27 percent faster, and an impressive 38 percent faster than the GTX 1080 Founders Edition card, too.
Next up was Hitman: Absolution, which is an aging game but still pretty hard on a video card.
Even though the numbers on this chart are a bit low considering the hardware in question, realize that we run this test with 8x MSAA, which really isn’t necessary at extremely high resolutions. But even with this sky-high resolution and high MSAA in place, the Titan X was still able to throw down a decent and totally playable 43fps at 4K. Sure, it’s not quite the 60fps we were hoping for, but we’re sure that reducing the MSAA level would allow for that easily. And the new Titan X’s performance here is 26 percent better than the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme card once again, and 38 percent faster than the Founders Edition card, which mirrored our results with Bioshock.
Far Cry Primal
Next, we moved to a more recent game, released in 2016. Ubisoft’s latest open-world first-person hunting game is one of the most demanding titles we use, thanks to its lush foliage, detailed shadows, and otherwise incredible environments.
There was some CPU bottlenecking going on in this game at the lower resolutions, but at 4K, things get more interesting. The Titan X reigned supreme, naturally, beating the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme by a sound 20 percent, and the Founders Edition card by a solid 32 percent.
Grand Theft Auto V
One of the most popular game franchises on the planet, Grand Theft Auto needs no introduction. Version V took a lot longer than many expected to land on the PC. But when it finally did, in early 2015, it brought a number of graphical improvements and tweakable visual settings that pushed the game far beyond its console roots.
Despite GTA V’s reputation for putting a GPU in a headlock and giving its memory a wedgie, the Titan X was still able to deliver over 85fps at 4K resolution. That’s enough horsepower to deliver a 21 percent boost over the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme card, and a decent 30 percent gain over what the GTX 1080 Founders Edition offers.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft rises once again in the early 2016 iteration of Square Enix’s long-running action franchise. As our hero works to unfold an ancient mystery (and reveal the secret to immortality) ahead of the ancient and deadly Order of Trinity, she traipses through a slew of complex atmospheric environments, from arid tombs to the frigid Siberian wilderness. A dynamic weather system, and the complexities of Lara’s wind-tousled hair, add to the game’s visual complexity.
The Titan X struggled mightily in this game to pull ahead of its competitors, making it the first benchmark we’ve run where things were actually quite close. Compared to the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme, it was just 12 percent faster, however it was a very decent 32 percent faster than the GTX 1080 Founders Edition card, so perhaps this game is all about clock speeds. The Titan X generally runs at lower clock speeds to keep its heat in check, so that could have held it back somewhat in this title.
The newest game in the Hitman franchise finds Agent 47 turning over a new leaf, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery as a teacher at a school for underprivileged children. Just kidding, of course; he kills loads of people in this one, just like the rest. It does offer gorgeous graphics in both DX11 and DX12 varieties, though. We’ll tackle the former (DX11) first.
This notoriously AMD-friendly title wasn’t too kind to the Pascal Titan X, allowing it only an 11 percent advantage over the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme, which is exactly what we saw in Rise of the Tomb Raider. It was still 30 percent faster than the GTX 1080 Founders Edition card, though, which is in keeping with previous results. Still, the GTX 1080 Amp Extreme costs a little more than half of what the Pascal Titan X costs, so an 11 percent performance boost is hardly encouraging from a value point of view.