Benchmarking the Titan X’s performance
So why does the Titan X rock such a ridiculous amount of RAM? The massive 12GB frame buffer is frankly overkill for today’s games, but it helps future-proof one of the Titan X’s biggest strengths: Ultra-high-resolution gaming. Higher resolutions consume more memory, especially as you ramp up anti-aliasing to smooth out jagged edges even more.
The Titan X is the first video card that can play games at 4K resolution and high graphics settings without frame rates dropping down to slideshow-esque rates.
Not at ultra-high-level details, mind you—just high. And still not at 60 frames per second (fps) in many cases. But you’ll be able to play most games with acceptable smoothness, especially if you enable MFAA and have a G-Sync-compatible monitor.
Nvidia sent a G-Sync panel—Acer’s superb, 3840x2160-resolution XB280HK gaming monitor—along with the Titan X for us to test, and it’s easy to see why. When enabled in a compatible monitor, Nvidia’s G-Sync technology forces the graphics card and the display to synchronize their refresh rates, which makes stuttering and screen tearing practically disappear. (Monitor makers are expected release displays with AMD’s competing FreeSync soon.)
Merely reading the words on a screen doesn’t do the technology justice. It rocks. G-Sync makes games buttery smooth. When it’s paired with the Titan X at 4K resolution, you won’t even care that the games aren’t technically hitting 60fps.
That said, I disabled G-Sync and MFAA during our benchmark tests to level the playing field for Radeon cards. For comparison benchmarks, we included AMD and Nvidia’s top-end mainstream consumer cards—the R9 290X and GTX 980, respectively—as well as two 980s running in SLI and AMD’s Radeon R9 295x2, a single-card solution that packs a pair of the same GPUs found in the 290X. And, of course, the original Titan.
Since most people don't commit GPU specs the memory the same way they do obscure baseball statistics from 64 years ago, here's a quick refresher chart to help. The Radeon R9 295x2 isn't on the chart but it's essentially two 290X GPUs crammed into one card.
An interesting side-note: The R9 290X refused to play nice on the G-Sync monitor, flickering constantly. A 4K Dell UltraSharp was called in as cavalry. All tests were done in our DIY test bench consisting of the following components. (You can find full details in our build guide for the system.)
- Intel’s Core i7-5960X with a Corsair Hydro Series H100i closed-loop water cooler
- An Asus X99 Deluxe motherboard
- Corsair’s Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory,Obsidian 750D full tower case, and 1200-watt AX1200i power supply
- A 480GB Intel 730 series SSD (I’m a sucker for that skull logo!)
- Windows 8.1 Pro
First up we have Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. While our reviewer wasn’t blown away by the game itself, Shadow of Mordor garnered numerous industry awards in 2014 for its remarkable Nemesis system—and with the optional Ultra HD Texture pack installed, it can give modern graphics cards a beating. The add-on isn’t even recommended for cards with less than 6GB of onboard RAM, though it'll still run on more memory-deprived cards. (Click to enlarge any graph or image in this article.)
The game was tested by using the Medium and High quality presets, then by using the Ultra HD texture back and manually cranking every graphics option to its highest setting (which Shadow of Mordor’s Ultra setting doesn’t actually do). You won’t find numbers for the dual-GPU Radeon R9 295x2 here, because every time I tried change the game’s resolution or graphics settings when using AMD’s flagship, it promptly crashed the system, over and over and over again. Attempts to fix the problem proved fruitless.
Sniper Elite III was released in the middle of 2014. While it’s not the most graphically demanding game, it scales well across various resolutions, and it’s an AMD Gaming Evolved opposite to Shadow of Mordor’s Nvidia-focused graphics. Plus, it’s always fun to snipe Nazis in the unmentionables in slow motion.
Next up: Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. This recent remaster of the surprisingly excellent Sleeping Dogs actually puts a pretty severe hurting on graphics cards. Even the highest of highest-end single-GPU options hit 60fps in Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition with detail settings cranked, at 4K or 2560x1600 resolution.
Metro Last Light Redux is a remaster of the intensely atmospheric Metro Last Light, using the custom 4A Engine. Not only is the game gorgeous, it’s an utter blast to play. It’s tested with SSAA disabled, because SSAA drops frame rates by roughly 50 percent across the board.
Alien Isolation is the best, most terrifying Aliens experience since the original Ridley Scott movie. The game scales well across all hardware, but looks especially scrumptious in 4K.
Bizarrely, we couldn’t coax Bioshock Infinite, a regular in our test suite, into offering a 4K resolution option in its benchmarking utility, despite being able to actually play the game in 4K. Here’s how the Titan X stacks up to the competition at lower resolutions, though.
I also tested the systems using two off-the-shelf benchmarking tools: 3DMark’s Fire Strike, and Unigine’s Valley. Both are synthetic tests but well respected in general.
Finally, here’s the power usage and thermal information. For thermals, we run the Furmark stress test for 15 minutes and record the GPU temperature using SpeedFan. Power usage is the total power consumed by the PC at the wall socket, measured with a Watts Up meter during a Furmark run.
All the various Nvidia reference cards run hotter than the Radeon R9 295x2, which uses an integrated closed-loop water-cooling solution, but none of them ever generated much noise or began throttling back performance. No surprise, our Radeon R9 290X—which is known for running hot on account of its atrocious reference cooler—hangs out at the front of the pack.
Nvidia’s GeForce GTX Titan X: The final verdict
Nvidia was right: Single-GPU graphics cards don’t come more powerful than the Titan X. It’s no contest. The Titan X truly is the first solo GPU card capable of playing 4K games at reasonable detail settings and frame rates. And that ferocious power pushes even further if you’re playing with MFAA enabled, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a G-Sync monitor to match.
Still, that doesn’t mean the Titan X is for everybody.
If you’re in the market for a graphics card this expensive, raw power is obviously a major concern. And when it comes to raw power, both the Radeon R9 295x2 and dual GTX 980s running in SLI outpunch the Titan X. While a pair of 980s is fairly equal in price ($1,100 total) to a $1,000 Titan X, the cooler-running 295x2 is far cheaper, starting at $700 on the street today, and available even cheaper with rebates. Monitors bearing AMD’s FreeSync technology will also likely cost less than competing G-Sync displays when they hit the market, given that G-Sync requires the use of a costly, proprietary hardware module where FreeSync simply works over DisplayPort 1.2a.
Dual-GPU solutions require compromise. For one thing, they suck up a ton of case space—two full-length cards in the case of a pair of GeForce 980s in SLI, and a long, heavy card with a sizeable water cooling setup if you go with AMD's flagship 295x2. Drivers and optimizations for multi-GPU setups also tend to be slower to appear and much more finicky, as evidenced by the Shadow of Mordor wonkiness with the 295x2. (Nvidia has had an initiative to have SLI support on the day of launch for top titles but the lower-tier games don't get the same commitment.)
Likewise, single-GPU graphics cards can also fit in tighter spaces than multi-GPU solutions. You could, for example, squeeze the Titan X into a relatively small form factor PC, which would be downright impossible with the Radeon 295x2 or dual 980s. Dual-GPU solutions consume more power and tend to spit out more waste heat than single cards, too.
Because of all that, our standard recommendation is to rock the most powerful single-GPU graphics card you can buy. If you’re looking for pure, unadulterated, price-is-no-concern single-GPU power, that card is clearly the Titan X, and the 12GB frame buffer helps guarantee the card will continue to be relevant as we move deeper into the 4K resolution era. Hail to the new GPU king, baby—though AMD has a new generation of Radeon cards barreling down the pipeline soon.
And if you’re made of cash and aren’t scared of running multiple graphics cards, can you imagine how potent two Titan Xs in SLI would be? I’m quivering just thinking about it….
Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan X
Nvidia's GeForce GTX Titan X is hands-down the fastest single-GPU graphics card in the world, and the first capable of gaming at 4K without having to resort to a multiple-card setup.
- Incredibly powerful gaming performance
- Capable of playing games at 4K resolutions with high detail settings
- Quiet, relatively cool, and easily overclocked
- 99 percent of gamers can't afford it