Nvidia GTX 770 (Reference Design) Review

The really amazing thing about this “generation” of PC gaming lies not just in the power and graphical capabilities that are possible on a PC, but in all that, and the price that it’s available in. If you take away all other components of PC gaming and focus just on the graphics card, high end 1080p gaming is available with more choices and at a more affordable price than ever before.
I mentioned in my review of the GTX 660 that “Ferrari performance is now available at Honda prices.” I was deliberate in my choosing of the cars to use as an example; there are bigger and badder cars our there than Ferrari’s, but at a much higher price. Eventually, I knew there would be something bigger and better in the GPU world as well; at a higher price, yes, but something still relatively affordable. At first I thought it was the Radeon 7970, which retails for approximately $450. Now it seems the next tier of performance GPUs (above the 500 and 600 series but below the Titan tier) has a new competitor.
The GTX 770 is essentially a GK104 GPU internal pushed to its limit with a GTX Titan board design encasing it. It’s a GTX 680 that decided to do some pushups and pound down a few protein shakes. It’s a very capable card going for $400 (give or take a few bucks here or there depending on which Nvidia partner board you decide to go with). Speaking of Nvidia’s partners, it seems that they are all moving in a fairly radical direction for the design of their 770s. Some I have seen with three fans and other such additions, but really, I feel the reference design is perfect. It’s a Titan with internals that are less taxing that the Titan’s internals. The Titan “shell” is very high quality and attractive (it’s made of a cast aluminum housing and baseplate, and contains a vapor chamber that provides heat transfer between the GPU and heatsink); it’s too bad that so much forking is happening between the different companies in regards to the board design. As it stands, since the unit I was provided is the reference design, keep in mind that any info culled from my own tests will differ, sometimes fairly dramatically, than any off those you might be able to buy in the store.
As is the case with all my GPU reviews, I’m making a conscious attempt to avoid as much “techspeak” as possible and try to present my review in layman’s terms. I’m under no delusions that our site can compete with Tom’s Hardware or PC World as far as our hardware reviews go; we simply don’t have the resources. My “test bed” is simply my daily use PC; but on that note, I feel like we can offer a more realistic, daily-use perspective on things. Numbers and graphs are great, and we’ll include some here, but mostly I’m here just to tell you how my new GTX 770 affects my daily gaming.
I originally had a GTX 290. Then I bumped up to a GTX 660. Then I added a GTX 650Ti BOOST and used it power my 2nd and 3rd monitors, and dedicated it to PhysX. Now, I’m using a single GTX 770. Out of all the different configurations, which one was best? Obviously, my current setup with the 770, but only by a very slight margin over the 660/650Ti BOOST combo. And if I could, I would pop my 660 in there to power additional monitors and dedicate to PhysX, but as it stands, my power supply probably couldn’t handle that.
I mentioned earlier that the GTX 770 is essentially a beefed up GTX 680. Why would you buy a 770 over its older cousin? First of all is the price; given whichever partner board you decide to purchase, the GTX 680 will retail from anywhere between the upper $300s to well over $500, though the listed price according to the company line is $499. The GTX 770? Obviously there will be variations in price depending on where you purchase it from and whether or not you get the 2GB or 4GB versions, but the official company line for the 770’s price is $400. More performance for less price? Yes please.
Performance-wise you get an increase in clock rates (1,046MHz vs 1,006MHz or boosted rates of 1,085MHz vs 1,058MHz). You also get more memory bandwidth, with the 770 pushing 2 or 4GB of GDDR5 memory at 7GHz vs the 680’s 6GHz. Since the 770 is housed in the same shroud as the Titan (even though it sports less invasive internals), you’re dealing with a situation where the 770 has more headroom for overclocking while running at a lower TDP than the Titan or its big brother, the 780. However, despite the lower TDP, a 6-pin and 8-pin are both required. Pretty much everything else is the same between the 770 and 680.
The GTX 770 currently boasts these specs:
– Graphics Processing Clusters – 4
– Streaming Multiprocessors – 8
– CUDA Cores – 1536
– Texture Units – 128
– ROP Units – 32
– Base Clock – 1046 MHz
– Boost Clock – 1085MHz
– Memory Clock (Data rate) – 7010 MHz
– L2 Cache Size – 512KB
– Total Video Memory – 2048MB or 4096MB GDDR5
– Memory Interface – 256-bit
– Total Memory Bandwidth – 224.3 GB/s
– Texture Filtering Rate (Bilinear) – 133.9 GigaTexels/sec
– Fabrication Process – 28 nm
– Transistor Count – 3.54 Billion
– Connectors – 2 x Dual-Link DVI
– 1 x HDMI 1 x DisplayPort
– Form Factor – Dual Slot
– Power Connectors – One 8-pin and one 6-pin
– Recommended Power Supply – 600 Watts
– Thermal Design Power (TDP) – 230 Watts
– Thermal Threshold4 – 95° C
The only real way to test the 770 is to use it with a variety of games, so that’s what I did; however, I understand a lot of decision-making will go into direct comparisons with similar GPUs. In that sense, I cannot give you any hands-on comparisons since I don’t own any other comparable GPU. I can, however, provide you with some info from AnandTech and their benchmarks:
For my personal tests, I am running off my daily use PC:
– Intel Core i7 920 @2.67GHz (overclocked to 3.20GHz)
– Asus Rampage III Gene motherboard (LG 1366) Intel X58 chipset
– Nvidia GTX 770
– 18 GB DDR3 RAM
– stock Alienware Aurora R3 575W power supply
– Windows 8 Pro
– triple Dell Ultra-slim S2230MX 21.5 monitors
– GPU driver: latest Nvidia 320.18
– DX11
As you can see, a fairly pedestrian system setup. I’m especially struggling in the PSU department, which prevents me from overclocking the 770 and adding a second GPU to my rig (Nvidia recommends at least a 600W PSU; even though it works on my 575W PSU and I can push it to stock load, I would NOT recommend doing it). When I obtain a larger PSU, I will update this review with overclocking info, but in the meantime, everything you see here is based off of stock clock rates. It should also go without saying that this review will only focus on a single GPU setup, no SLI.
Heaven 4.0
AVG 41.8
MIN 17.4
MAX 85.4
SCORE 1053
Ultra settings/Tessellation on
Sanctuary Demo
AVG 127.6
MIN 92.9
MAX 154.5
Max settings
Tomb Raider
AVG 57.1
MIN 45.3
MAX 60.3
High settings/TressFX On
Batman: Arkham City
AVG 50
MIN 17
MAX 60
High settings/DX11
DiRT 3
AVG 62
Max settings
Bioshock: Infinite
AVG 89.52
MIN 11.41
MAX 162.05
Max settings
Judging by some of AnadTech’s comparison benchmarks and my own personal experiences, I can say that while there is a noticeable bump in the quality of my games, there wasn’t enough for me to drop my jaw. I’m still not able to run something like Batman: Arkham City with everything maxed out, and since I cannot overclock the 770, at stock settings, I’m not seeing a huge jump in quality. For instance, with Arkham City, I will need to go through and pick and choose certain settings to dial down just to make the game run at a consistent framerate. The same with other graphically heavy games like Tomb Raider. If I’m still having to tweak settings instead of being able to run everything at max settings, what’s the point of jumping from my 660 to a 770?
The people who will notice the biggest difference are those who are coming from considerably older GPUs, or even some as recent as the 500 series. If you’ve been using a “last gen” GPU or older and are in the market to upgrade, the 770 is a fantastic card at a fantastic price. It wasn’t that long ago where something with an equivalent level of performance was considered the upper echelon of available GPUs, and came with a premium asking price. $400 for performance of this kind is nothing to sneeze at.
At the same time, I can’t help wondering why the 4GB option was not the standard option. Why have a 2GB one at all? Games are moving rapidly away from being playable on 1-2GB, and while currently games don’t really pose any problems, AnandTech brings up a great point: next gen consoles will sport 8GB of RAM. While it may take a long time, if ever, for the next-gen consoles to utilize the 8GB fully, there poses a risk that the current crop of GPUs, including the one we’re reviewing right now, could be at a disadvantage when you consider that most PC versions of games are console ports. While that’s not a problem today (especially with how much better many PC games perform compared to their console counterparts), what happens when that is flipped around and PS4/Xbox One games start utilizing more VRAM than the 770 can handle? I doubt we’ll see dumbed down PC ports, but this thought makes the current line of GPUs less “future proof” than we may have initially imagined, especially if you’re stuck with a 2GB option.
For a card of its price coupled with the performance, the GTX 770 is a fantastic buy, especially if you don’t currently own one of Nvidia’s Kepler cards. Anything from the Fermi era and older will benefit greatly from upgrading to this card. Considering we will always see gpu refreshes year after year (we might even see the new Maxwell cards this year!) the GTX 770 should serve all our gaming needs for the time being. Yes, there are more powerful cards out there, but as with most things in life, cost vs performance comes into play. You get what you pay for, and in the case of the GTX 770, you get a LOT with what you’re paying for.

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