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Tested: Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 Is The Video Card to Get

By Loyd Case

Most people, even hard core PC gamers, have budgets. So buying the latest, greatest and absolutely fastest piece of hardware sounds great, until you digest the price. Nvidia's GTX 780 is incredibly fast, but it's also $650. But with the new GTX 770, Nvidia has won the price-performance war.

If you’ve been told that PC gaming is all about (insert booming voice here) maximum performance, you’ve been told wrong. Most people, even hard core PC gamers, have budgets. So buying the latest, greatest and absolutely fastest piece of hardware sounds great, until you digest the price.

Last week, we tested Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 780. It’s certainly true that the GTX 780 is one fast card. It’s also true that it costs $649 or more. That’s a pretty serious amount of cash. Ideally, you want to maximize your performance per dollar. Enter the GTX 770.

The GTX 770 reference card looks almost identical to the GTX 780, but the GTX 770 uses a GK104 GPU.

I’m not going to talk much about the GTX 770 architecture, because the 770 is really a beefier GTX 680. That is, it’s a GK104 chip, just like the GTX 680, with the same number of shader cores. But it also boasts two or four gigabytes of 7 gigabit per second GDDR5 – the fastest graphics memory you can get today.

Nvidia is targeting a $399 price point for the 770. That’s only a little more than the current 670, cheaper than the existing 680s and much less than the new GTX 780. It’s also about on par with average price for Radeon HD 7970 GHz Editon cards, and about $75 more than the average Radeon HD 7950. However, the higher speed memory and higher clock speeds do come at a cost. Let’s first parse the specs, comparing the GTX 670, 680 and 770.

FeatureGTX 670GTX 680GTX 770
GPU DesignationGK104GK104GK104
Shader Cores134415361536
Texture Units112128128
ROPs323232
Memory Width256-bit256-bit256-bit
Frame Buffer2GB2 or 4GB2 or 4GB GDDR5
TDP170W195W230W
Core Clock Speed (ref)915 MHz1006 MHz1046 MHz
Boost Clock980 MHz1058 MHz1085 MHz

The main difference between the GTX 680 and GTX 770 comes down to faster core clock speeds, faster memory and power. The GTX 770 is rated at 230W TDP, so now requires one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI Express power connector, as opposed to the GTX 670 and GTX 680, which only used a pair of 6-pin connectors. The GTX 770 reference board arrived using the same souped up cooling system as the GTX 770, which runs quieter than the stock GTX 670, but the net result is a physically larger card.

The GTX 770 is both longer than the GTX 670 and consumes more power.

I ran a number of performance tests on the same Core i7 3770K system as was used in the GTX 780 review. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a GTX 570 to compare, but as we’ll see soon, the 770 essentially slaughters the GTX 580, so the 570 would perform even worse. I also included benchmark runs from the latest Radeon HD 7950. How does that all that stack up in terms of price/performance? Let’s look at the test results.

Power First

As you might expect from the faster memory and higher core clock speeds, the GTX 770 uses more power than the GTX 670. However, our 4GB GTX 680 sample uses more power than the 2GB 770. All of the new cards are substantially more power efficient than the GTX 670.

The GTX 770 is more power efficient than you’d expect given the added 8-pin power connector.

The GTX 770 is considerably quieter on a subjective level than the GTX 580 and both Radeon cards. It’s also quieter than eVGA’s single fan GTX 670.

3DMark FireStrike

FutureMarks’ FireStrike synthetic tests hammers all aspects of DirectX 11 capable GPUs. While it’s synthetic in nature, it still gives an idea of relative performance differences between cards in an idealized DirectX 11 environment, but the result doesn’t always reflect actual game performance.

The GTX 770 pretty much draws even with the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition in FireStrike.

Previously, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition outperformed the GTX 680. It still beats the GTX 770, but the margin is much narrower.

Games Running Maxed Out

As with the GTX 780, I tested the cards with Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and Metro Last Light. At maxed out (“Ultra”) detail levels, the GTX 770 acquits itself quite well.

AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 pulls out a narrow win here, but it’s worth noting that the reference HD 7970 GHz Edition gets quite loud when running this test.

What we have, ladies and gentlemen, is a dead heat between AMD’s flagship card and the new GTX 770.

Metro Last Light is incredibly demanding when you dial up all the eye candy. The GTX 770 still manages to hit over 30fps in this test at 1080p.

Games running at High

Using the generic high preset yields higher frame rates, as expected. But the landscape shifts a bit as well. It’s closer to a dead heat between AMD’s best and the new GTX 770.

Once we turn off Tomb Raider’s TressFX hair effects, the GTX 770 and Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition are in a dead heat at both 2560 x 1440 and 1920 x 1080.

It’s still pretty much a dead heat, though the ultra-thin margin now flips in favor of AMD. Note that the GTX 580 can’t hit 60 fps at 2560 x 1440.

It’s another dead heat between AMD and Nvidia. But remember, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition is the current fastest single GPU card in AMD’s lineup.

GTX 770 and Price / Performance

I used the result of the more demanding Ultra settings running at 1920 x 1080p and generated the geometric mean of the frame rates. Using the geometric mean is one way to boil a disparate set of data in one number.

Then I took that number and divided it into the estimated cost for the cards. This means that the lower the number, the better the price-to-performance ratio.

The GTX 770 wins the price performance at $7.04 per FPS (based on the geometric mean of the FPS.) AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition isn’t far behind, though, at $7.67. These numbers will shift back and forth depending on what price you find for particular cards, but it’s a good snapshot of price / performance.

The reason the GTX 580 number looks so high is that I used the average price for cards when they were first released. As you can see, graphics cards have gotten substantially better over time. In terms of price/performance, even the $1K-plus GTX Titan is a better deal today than the GTX 580 was at launch. To be fair, however, high end PC games are somewhat more demanding today than they were when the 580 first shipped.

Final Thoughts

The GTX 770 is probably the best single card available for 1080p gaming today, if price is a factor. The GTX 770 also manages to run pretty well at higher resolutions, if you’re willing do dial back detail levels just a bit, or give up on anti-aliasing.

The GTX 770 is certainly the winner in the price-performance battle. It’s also quiet and is relatively power efficient. While $399 is still a pretty steep price, it feels like a more realistic cost for this level of performance. While I might hesitate in recommending anyone plunk down $649 for a GTX 780, I have no reservations about the GTX 770. It’s a great upgrade from the GTX 570/580 and even offers substantial performance gains over the GTX 670. This card is a win-win all around.