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Nvidia Titan X Pascal review

Absolute power?

With AMD's focus elsewhere in the graphics market, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1080 has held an iron grip on the GPU top-end, offering a phenomenal level of performance, in exchange for a hefty price-premium. The new Titan X Pascal ups the ante still further: even more power, and an even higher price of entry. The bottom line is clear - the new Titan offers often staggering levels of performance, but we are looking at a 2x increase in price over GTX 1080 for a maximum boost of around 30-33 per cent in frame-rates.

We can argue about the Titan line's value proposition, but it's a moot point - as a brand, it's Nvidia's equivalent to Intel's Extreme Edition processors and obviously, they wouldn't make them if they couldn't sell them. And of course, the Titan serves as a preview of sorts, a precursor for the more mainstream products to come. There was a time when the Maxwell-powered Titan X was similarly unattainable owing to its $999 ticket price. Then GTX 980 Ti came along, offering nigh-on identical frame-rates with a third of the price lopped off. And now, that same level of performance is available at just $380 in the form of GTX 1070, with a 100W power efficiency saving on top for good measure.

In there here and now, Titan X Pascal sees Nvidia iterate on its previous strategy in terms of the make-up of its big chip. In many ways, the new Titan is essentially an upsized version of its existing GTX 1080, adding 50 per cent to everything in the core processor architecture. For example, memory bandwidth rises from 320GB/s to 480GB/s, with the interface expanding from 256 to 384 bits. Memory allocation itself rises from 8GB of GDDR5X to 12GB. ROPs are increased from 64 to 96. However, the CUDA core and texture unit count doesn't see quite as much of a linear jump - we go from 2560 to 3584 shaders in Titan X and from 160 to 224 texture units. It's now been confirmed that the fully enabled GP102 actually has 3840 shaders on the 12bn transistor die - 256 CUDA cores are disabled in order to get more workable chips from the production line.

So at the shading level, there's about 25 per cent more computational power here, a combination of a 40 per cent increase in CUDA cores along with a pared back boost clock - Titan X Pascal's boost clock of 1531MHz is considerably behind GTX 1080's 1733MHz. Going into our tests, our concern was that we wouldn't get all of the expected increase to performance we would want from a Titan product, and that there may have been a compromise too many.

Rich presents a video review of the Titan X Pascal, highlighting its generational leap over the last-gen behemoths, overclocking potential, plus its curious relationship with Nvidia's previous GPU king - the GTX 1080.Watch on YouTube

One area where there are few surprises concerns the physical make-up of the card. The new Titan X Pascal takes the GTX 1080 Founders Edition's polygonal aesthetic and thermal solution and melds it with the distinctive black finish of the Maxwell Titan X. IO is also identical - three DisplayPorts, one HDMI 2.0 and a dual-link DVI output. The new offering has a 250W TDP, requiring one eight-pin and one six-pin power input, and of course, there are two SLI fingers for multi-card connectivity.

Nvidia's GTX 1080 could get pretty toasty even before overclocking, so our second major concern centred on Titan X's thermals - how hot would this 12bn transistor behemoth get, and would this impact its overclocking potential? And in performance terms, rounding off the areas we really wanted to test, we wanted to see whether Nvidia had once again managed to deliver scalability across all resolutions. Some might say that running GTX 1080 or indeed this new GPU offering at 1080p resolutions may well be a monumental waste of GPU resources, but to that we say that there are many high refresh rate monitor owners that still can't run their games at a locked 120Hz.

So full HD is where we'll begin our performance testing. Our benchmark suite at 1080p is designed to put speed first. Yes, we are indeed running at ultra settings in almost all cases, but super-sampling and multi-sampling anti-aliasing are disabled in favour of the best post-process solutions available - for the most part, this is SMAA. The results are intriguing, suggesting that perhaps finally, Nvidia has produced hardware that can outstrip the capabilities of its highly impressive software layer.

1080p is Titan X Pascal's weakest area. Frame-rate uplifts vs GTX 1080 are weaker than expected, though the card performs well against Titan X Maxwell and especially R9 Fury X.Watch on YouTube
1920x1080 (1080p) Titan X Pascal GTX 1080 GTX 1070 Titan X Maxwell R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 119.2 98.1 79.1 75.0 61.9
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 87.6 75.0 57.0 59.8 70.0
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 153.9 128.3 107.0 105.9 99.9
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 117.9 92.8 78.3 73.9 67.7
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 132.2 105.6 88.8 81.8 75.3
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 136.8 115.8 92.5 84.4 93.7
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 167.2 133.5 105.0 100.1 81.2
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 137.6 114.0 94.2 86.6 78.2

The lowest increases vs GTX 1080 actually come from two DX12 titles - Ashes of the Singularity and Hitman post just a 16.8 per cent and 18.1 per cent increase. Crysis 3 manages just a 20 per cent uptick, but the big surprise is Assassin's Creed Unity at 21.5 per cent. Typically this game will take any GPU and absorb its shading and bandwidth potential - it's the reason it's still in our benchmark line-up, as borne out by the GTX 1080 vs Titan X Maxwell differential of 30.8 per cent. The Division scales best at 28.2 per cent vs GTX 1080, followed by Rise of the Tomb Raider at 25.2 per cent.

The delta vs AMD's R9 Fury X ranges from 25 per cent with Ashes of the Singularity to a gargantuan 105.9 per cent in Tomb Raider. Perhaps this offers a preview of the challenges to come - AMD's weaker driver is holding back some excellent hardware at this relatively low resolution. Compared to the original Maxwell-powered Titan X, its successor is holding up well with anything from a 45.3 per cent uplift in Ashes of the Singularity through a hugely impressive 67 per cent boost in Tomb Raider. Across the selection of titles, we have an aggregate 55 per cent improvement.

So where are the bottlenecks then? Well, take a look at Far Cry Primal and Crysis 3 and you'll see 'throttle points' - only evident if you can study performance in context. Crysis 3 might be 20 per cent slower as an average, but this is not a consistent delta. You'll see Titan X Pascal shoot away of GTX 1080, then occasionally come crashing down in detail-intensive scenes. Clearly the hardware is not at fault - it's simply that the GPU is stalling owing to the lack of instructions from the CPU. And that's quite a state of affairs, bearing in mind we're running the Titan X Pascal with the Core i7 6700K overclocked to 4.6GHz. Nvidia's new GPU king will deliver a boost at full HD resolution, but bottlenecking isn't conducive to a smooth, consistent gameplay experience. For this reason, we need to push harder on resolution to show this GPU at its best.

Titan X practically demands running at a higher resolution. For our money, 2560x1440 or its ultrawide 3840x1440 equivalent, are the best entry points for utilising this card.Watch on YouTube
2560x1440 (1440p) Titan X Pascal GTX 1080 GTX 1070 Titan X Maxwell R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 79.4 64.0 51.0 48.8 40.8
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 83.7 64.3 56.8 51.6 62.0
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 102.8 83.0 65.8 65.4 65.6
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 84.8 67.1 55.4 54.2 52.8
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 96.3 75.8 61.9 57.1 58.1
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 102.4 86.1 67.4 61.5 73.6
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 109.4 87.7 68.5 67.4 59.1
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 108.3 83.7 67.0 62.1 60.1

Moving onto 2560x1440, or qHD resolution, the new Titan X shows far more consistency in its performance uplift compared to its predecessor. Only two titles - Crysis 3 and The Division - show increases less than 60 per cent (57.2 and 56.5 respectively). Elsewhere, we're well up, with The Witcher in particular showing a huge 74.4 per cent boost. The gap only widens with comparisons to Fury X, where The Witcher 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are 80.2 and 85.1 per cent faster and AC Unity sees a colossal 94.6 per cent boost. Titan X Pascal is much faster than AMD mainstays Ashes of the Singularity and Hitman, though the gap closes to 35 per cent and 39.1 per cent respectively.

However, while the comparison with prior gen hardware are exceptional, the GTX 1080 is still putting up spirited resistance to Titan X Pascal's sheer brute force, with only Ashes of the Singularity and The Witcher 3 coming close to (or breaking) the 30 per cent increase in frame-rates we would expect from a big chip Nvidia product. The aggregate boost in performance from across all eight titles rises from 1080p's 22 per cent to 25.6 per cent.

This is mostly in line with the specs boost we see on paper and highlights that while the last-gen Titan X was a beast, Nvidia really did an excellent job with the GTX 1080 in pushing what was possible from its debut 16nmFF Pascal processor. Bearing in mind the scalability in memory bandwidth offered by Titan X Pascal, we should see the performance differential push on with a much higher resolution. 4K offers a 2.25x boost to resolution over 1440p, so it should be the best test of Titan X's credentials on attainable, consumer-level display technology.

Titan X Pascal shows the biggest boosts over all other 'uber cards' at 4K resolution. GTX 1080 works really well at this resolution - the new Titan can blow it out of the water on many titles.Watch on YouTube
3840x2160 (4K) Titan X Pascal GTX 1080 GTX 1070 Titan X Maxwell R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 43.1 32.9 25.4 25.6 24.3
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 63.7 53.6 43.1 40.9 46.2
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 50.0 39.6 31.5 31.3 31.5
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 49.6 38.5 31.0 30.7 31.1
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 49.6 38.5 31.0 30.7 31.1
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 54.7 42.4 33.5 33.5 34.3
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 62.1 49.0 38.5 36.2 41.2
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 63.2 47.5 37.3 34.0 36.4

Titan X Pascal continues its domination over the last-gen powerhouses at UHD, with a fantastic 65.6 per cent cumulative average in performance boost over its Maxwell predecessor, and a 61.2 per cent boost over the R9 Fury X. It's interesting to note that at 4K, the Fury X finally shows signs of truly succumbing in the challenging Hitman DX12 bench - it held its own fairly well at lower resolutions, but at 4K, the Titan X Pascal is 50.7 per cent faster. Also of interest is The Witcher 3, which really does like Nvidia's new offering - it's a mammoth 85.9 per cent faster than the last-gen Titan.

The GTX 1080 continues to hold its own though: Titan X Pascal is faster, but across all eight titles, the uplift averages at 27.6 per cent. It's dragged down to a certain extent by a mystifyingly low resut in Ashes of the Singularity (in marked contrast to its 1440p showing). Generally speaking, it seems to be the case that Titan X Pascal offers a 27-30 per cent increase in 4K performance over GTX 1080, depending on the title. And we should expect some bigger boosts in select titles too - The Witcher 3 comes in 33 per cent faster.

A couple of weeks ago, we put together a 4K 'let's play' video showing our attempts to run an overclocked GTX 1080 at UHD resolution, the aim being to lock at 60fps on challenging, modern games. By and large, with sensible compromises, we could hit 50-60fps in most titles, producing a superb experience overall. We're in the process of repeating this test with Titan X Pascal and the benchmark leap translates into palpable increases in the quality of the actual gameplay experience. The Witcher 3 proved troublesome to lock at 60fps on high settings with the overclocked GTX 1080. With Titan X Pascal, we're at ultra with only momentary drops below the desired frame-rate target. Put simply, it's beautiful.

Curious to see how Titan X Pascal performance scales running the same gaming workloads across 1080p, 1440p and 4K? We were too, which is why we put together this analysis.Watch on YouTube

One of our primary concerns with Titan X Pascal was the reduced boost clock compared to GTX 1080 - a straight 200MHz drop, based on Nvidia's spec. A 1.53GHz boost is still creditable, but the happy news is that in-game performance is typically higher. Where GTX 1080 tops out at 1866MHz, we noted Titan X at around 100-120MHz lower. And begs the question, to what extent can the big chip Pascal be overclocked? Typically we've found ourselves hitting a brick wall on the smaller processors at around 2050MHz. Well, GP102 can still be pushed well beyond its boost clock spec, and seems to hit similar limits at around 1950MHz.

We achieved a rock-solid overclock by adding 140MHz to the core frequency, while the G5X memory scaled like a champ. Artefacting started to creep in at a mammoth +750MHz, so we dialled that down to +700MHz and didn't have to worry about it again. However, what's clear is that to get the most out of the overclock, you'll need to manually ramp up the fan - it seems that frequency throttling seems to kick in around 82-83 degrees Celsius. For our tests, I upped the fan to 65 per cent (beyond that it gets obtrusively loud), settled it on our Crysis 3 test scene (see below) for 30 minutes to ensure stability and topped out thermals, then ran the test suite.

Generally speaking, you're looking at 11 to 16 per cent of additional performance here, but some titles are less impressed with the additional power, with Hitman DX12 posting a paltry 8.3 per cent increase in frame-rate. The peak 1950MHz clock drops back pretty quickly by 100-150MHz presumably owing to the temperature limit - so it is a shame that only Nvidia's cooler is available (a GP102-based GTX 1080 Ti with third party coolers should be very interesting). However, Nvidia's power efficiency continues to impress. Pushed to its limits, we noted a peak system power draw of just 434W from the wall while stock power consumption was effectively on par with the Radeon R9 Fury X. Even overclocked it's on par with a stock Radeon R9 390.

This scene from Crysis 3 is easily repeatable and incurs a heavy, sustained load on the GPU - good for testing overclocks and heavy power draw.
Titan X Pascal Titan X Pascal OC GTX 1080 GTX 1070 Titan X R9 Fury X R9 390
Peak System Power Draw 384W 434W 303W 263W 361W 385W 437W

Nvidia Titan X Pascal - the Digital Foundry verdict

Fast just got a whole lot faster. In terms of the generational leap, Nvidia has succeeded in providing a 60 per cent improvement in performance compared to its last-gen Titan, living up to the firm's claims. However, the differential with GTX 1080 isn't quite so clear-cut - Nvidia pushed the boat out with its GP104 flagship and it's punching a touch above its weight here. Mostly, it comes down to just a few percentage points though, and in the majority of use-case scenarios, Titan X Pascal delivers the palpably faster experience you would want, assuming you're not gaming at 1080p.

4K is where this product excels, and from a personal standpoint, I've been trying to find a good, desktop experience where those extra pixels really count. UHD displays in 23/27/28-inch range just don't cut the mustard - the pixel density is simply insane, and even trying out the 32-inch Asus PQ321Q produces a similar experience. However, a 40-inch Samsung KU6400 positioned as a desktop screen paired with the Titan X Pascal is handing in some epic results where 4K really shines. This is something we'll be returning to in more depth soon, but running the Witcher 3 on this set-up on ultra settings at 60Hz (HairWorks off though, naturally) offers the kind of generational leap over console that can't be ignored - 2x the frame-rate, 4x the resolution and massively improved quality settings. It's remarkable.

Titan X Pascal is obviously expensive, and clearly aimed at the niche that can afford to double their cash outlay for 30 per cent more performance - but Nvidia carved out the market here and makes no secret that where there's a Titan, a Ti follows thereafter, sometimes just by a matter of months. So in this sense, this review almost acts as a preview of sorts for the inevitable GTX 1080 Ti that lurks around the corner. Based on GTX 980 Ti's emergence, we should expect it to launch in line with, or just prior, to AMD's new Vega 'uber card'. But right now, there is no Vega, and Nvidia has absolute domination of the GPU top-tier. If you want absolute power, be prepared to pay a hefty price for it.

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