With the recent release of the GTX 780, almost all the models available are sporting the reference clocks and reference coolers from NVIDIA. The exception happens to be EVGA, they had factory overclocked models and even a custom cooling solution ready for launch day. Today’s review sample happens to feature both of those exclusives. EVGA’s new Active Cooling Xtreme (ACX) dual axial fan cooler is meant to compete with and beat the competitors’ custom cooling designs. We’ll be testing this cooler and, of course, GPU performance of EVGA’s factory overclocked GTX 780 Superclocked ACX.
Specifications & Features
The GTX 780 uses a slimmed down version of the GK110 GPU used in the GTX TITAN. The major differences in the GTX 780 are 384 fewer CUDA cores (shaders), 32 fewer texture mapping units (TMU), and half the amount vRAM as GTX TITAN.
Features courtesy EVGA:
- NVIDIA SMX Engine – The new Kepler SMX streaming multiprocessor is twice as efficient as the prior generation and the new geometry engine draws triangles twice as fast. The result is world class performance and the highest image quality in an elegant and power efficient graphics card.
- NVIDIA GPU Boost 2.0 – Dynamically maximizes clock speeds to push performance to new levels and bring out the best in every game. Boost 2.0 allows complete control over Temperature Target and Power Target, allowing a new way to customize your overclock. Also, with the new EVGA Precision X, you can increase the voltage for maximum over clock!
- NVIDIA FXAA – Anti-aliasing smoothes out jagged edges but can be demanding on framerates. FXAA is a new antialiasing technology that produces beautiful smooth lines with minimal performance impact. And with Kepler based GPUs, you’ll be able to enable FXAA in hundreds of game titles through the NVIDIA Control Panel.
- NVIDIA TXAA – An in-game option that combines MSAA, temporal filtering, and post processing for even higher visual fidelity. Get the image quality of 8X MSAA with the performance hit of only 2X MSAA. This means a smoother gaming experience without the loss in FPS normally associated with this level of eye candy.
- NVIDIA Adaptive Vertical Sync – Nothing is more distracting than framerate stuttering and screen tearing. The first tends to occur when framerates are low, the second when framerates are high. Adaptive V-Sync is a smarter way to render frames. At high framerates, V-sync is enabled to eliminate tearing, at low frame rates, it’s disabled to minimize stuttering. It gets rid of distractions so you can get on with gaming.
- Frame Rate Target – Set a target Frame Rate with EVGA Precision X and your card will automatically adjust the power/performance to meet that target. This feature delivers the ultimate in efficient gaming.
- NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround – Imagine expanding your gaming real estate across three displays in full HD 3D for a completely immersive gaming experience. With the EVGA GeForce® GTX 780, you can also use award-winning NVIDIA 3D Vision® technology to build the world’s first multi-display 3D gaming experience on your PC. Additionally, the GeForce GTX 780 supports an accessory display for the ultimate gaming experience!
- PCI Express 3.0 – Offers double the bandwidth of PCI Express 2.0, for the highest data transfer speeds to allow for maximum performance in bandwidth-hungry games and 3D applications. The GTX 780 is still backwards compatible with all existing PCI Express motherboards.
- Pixel Clock Control – Use EVGA Precision X to “overclock” your refresh rate. With the latest EVGA Precision X, you can now increase your pixel clock! This allows for increased refresh rates on select monitors, meaning smoother gameplay and reduced screen tearing!
Packaging & Accessories
EVGA’s packaging is pretty standard with plenty of information about the product scattered around the box. One thing to note is the “4-way SLI” logo on the front of the box, this will be removed from retail packaging because NVIDIA only supports up to 3-way SLI with the GTX 780. The front also shows EVGA’s logo, the product name, a “SC” logo signifying the Superclocked model, vRAM amount, and GPU Boost 2.0. On the back of the box, there are much more detailed specifications and features listed, and there’s also a picture of the card and its display output options.
There’s all kind of stuff bundled in the box. The most useful, other than the GPU of course, two 6-pin to 8-pin adapters, two Molex to 6-pin adapters, and the DVI to VGA adapter. I like the card with the exploded view of EVGA’s new ACX cooler and the typical brushed aluminum/carbon case badge. Other inclusions are the driver/software CD, user guide, a couple stickers, and a cheesy “Game of Pwns” poster.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 780 SC ACX
Yeah, the picture above with the GPU in its plastic clam shell is a major tease…so close to seeing the card. Now it’s time for the photo shoot, so here’s EVGA’s GTX 780 Superclocked sporting the new Active Cooling Xtreme (ACX) cooler. As you can see, EVGA’s new cooler is a dual axial fan cooler with heatsink fins almost running the entire length of the card, which happens to be 10.5″ (266.7 mm). In my opinion, this GPU looks very sleek with its rounded edges, matte black finish, and brushed aluminum accents.
The GTX 780, like its big brother TITAN, uses an 8-pin and a 6-pin PCIe power connectors. The small white connector seen behind some heatsink fins is used for the LED lit logo on the reference coolers. On the other end there are two SLI connectors, typical of high-end GPUs. However, like I mentioned before, only up to 3-way SLI is supported by NVIDIA on the GTX 780. The display output options are Dual Link DVI-D, Dual Link DVI-I, HDMI, and DisplayPort as usual from NVIDIA. Don’t forget that EVGA includes a DVI-to-VGA adapter for those in need of a VGA connection.
To remove the ACX cooler from the GPU, it takes four spring-loaded screws and pulling the fan power cable. The stock TIM is spread well and it looks like just the right amount was used during assembly. Under the ACX cooler and attached to the top of the PCB is a plate that serves a dual purpose: 1) preventing the PCB from bending and 2) cooling the RAM chips and VRM.
After removing the top plate, we can see than the gray thermal pads were making good contact with all 12 RAM chips and 8 VRM. Now we’re just left with the bare PCB
Here are a couple full PCB shots. I also have 4000×3000 versions of these, if anyone is interested. Just post in the comments, and I’ll get them uploaded.
A closer look at the core shows that it is indeed a GK110-based GPU. Personally, I don’t like the bare GPU cores, which is probably from the fact that I’ve killed GPUs in the past by chipping a corner of the core when changing their cooler. The Samsung K4G20325FD-FC03 GDDR5 RAM chips are rated for 6000 MHz at 1.5 V according to their graphics memory product guide. The vRAM on the GTX 780 is also set to that rating, or close to it at 6004 MHz.
Test Setup & Methodology
|CPU||Intel i7 3770K @ 4.0 GHz|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus V Gene|
|RAM||4×2 GB Corsair Dominator GT @ DDR3-1866 9-9-9-24|
|Graphics Cards||NVIDIA GTX TITAN*
EVGA GTX 780 SC ACX
EVGA GTX 680
EVGA GTX 670 SC
MSI HD 7970 TwinFrozrIII OC Boost Edition*
HIS HD 7950 IceQ X2 Boost Clock*
|Hard Drives||50 GB OCZ Vertex 2
2 TB Hitachi GST Deskstar 7K3000
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Pro x64 SP1|
|Graphics Drivers||NVIDIA 314.09 (GTX TITAN)
NVIDIA 320.18 (GTX 780)
NVIDIA 314.22 (GTX 680 and GTX 670)
AMD 13.4 (HD 7970)
AMD 12.1 (HD 7950)
|Tenma Sound Level Meter|
|Fluke 52 II Dual Input Thermometer|
* These GPUs were previously tested by other reviewers.
- GPU performance testing is done according to our video card testing procedures.
- Peak system power consumption was measured using a Kill-A-Watt meter during both Unigine Heaven and 3DMark11′s Combined Test.
- For ACX cooler performance testing, I increased the temp target in Precision X to the max (94 °C) to let the GPU get at hot as it wanted up to the 95 °C maximum safe temp for operation. I used Unigine Heaven to load the GPU at each ~10% increment from 39-100% and let Precision X keep track of the max GPU temp reached during the test.
- For ACX cooler noise testing, I first turned off all external sources of noise possible (TV, ceiling fans, A/C, etc.) and only fed 4 V to the Gentle Typhoon AP-15 fan on my Thermalright AXP-100. Then, I measured sound level at 10 cm from the intake side of the card and varied the fan speed manually in~10% increments from 39-100%.
- All testing was performed before disassembling the graphics card.
Surprising results here in the synthetic tests. The EVGA GTX 780 SC ACX at stock beats the TITAN at stock in ALL of the synthetic tests. The culprit of these unexpected results is most definitely the difference in the Boost Clock of the two cards. Our TITAN sample boosts from 837 to 1006 MHz while the GTX 780 SC ACX boosts from 967 to 1110 MHz, so the GTX 780 SC ACX has a 104-130 MHz advantage over the TITAN at all times. The HD 7970 tries to keep up in 3DMark03 and 3DMark Vantage, but the newer and more GPU-bound the benchmark is, the further it falls behind.
The GTX 780 SC ACX and TITAN fight it out in the game tests, with each coming out on top in half of the tests. The only game that TITAN runs away with the show is Metro 2033, where it’s 44.4% better than the GTX 780. The HD 7970 comes closest to the competition in Battlefield 3, which is good for them since BF3 is one of the most popular games. All of the cards tested get playable framerates (~30+), but the TITAN and EVGA GTX 780 SC ACX are a leap ahead of the other offerings overall.
GPU Boost 2.0
In general, GPU Boost 2.0 includes everything good about GPU Boost 1.0, but allows higher max voltage and higher average boost clocks. GPU Boost 2.0 also lets temperature have more of a say in how high to allow the core clocks to boost by introducing a temperature target that’s much like the power target. The boost clock will throttle when the temp target is reached to keep the GPU at the set temperature. Overvoltage is also allowed by NVIDIA with GPU Boost 2.0 since they are concentrating on letting the combination of voltage and temperature dictate boost clocks.
For more details about GPU Boost 2.0, check out our GTX TITAN intro.
The rated boost clock on the GTX 780 SC ACX is 1020 MHz, but it actually boosts 90 MHz higher than that coming in at 1110 MHz. Not bad at all for being right out of the box. Here are the boost results from a stock clocks Unigine Heaven run:
EVGA’s Precision X and OC Scanner X software has all that’s needed for overclocking the GPU. There are many familiar settings and a new one that can be changed with Precision X: power target, temperature target, core clock, vRAM clock, core voltage, fan speed, fan curve, frame rate target. The new setting is temperature target. Temperature target allows one to set the maximum temperature the GPU will allow the core to reach before throttling it back by reduced boost clock. The default temp target is 79 °C and it can be adjusted up to 94 °C since 95 °C is the maximum temp in which the GPU can safely operate, according to NVIDIA. Voltage control… On the reference GTX 680 and GTX 670 cards I was able to get no voltage adjustment on the GTX 680 and 0.0125 V on the GTX 670, and after learning about NVIDIA not allowing partners to implement voltage adjustment on the 600 series last year, I wasn’t expecting much of anything out of the voltage control department. However, thanks to GPU Boost 2.0, I was surprised to have three 0.0125 V increments of voltage control on the GTX 780 for up to 0.0375 V (rounded up to three decimal places in monitoring software). It’s a sad day when enthusiasts have to be happy, excited even, when we get a such a meager amount of voltage control. But hey, at least it’s something.
While dialing in your overclock, Precision X can also stress the GPU with OC Scanner X, which checks for graphical artifacts while running a static FurMark-like test. Finally, you can also monitor everything about the GPU and then some with Precision X while loading the GPU and working on overclocking.
Stock Air OC Results
Something odd I noticed about the core adjustment is that the +X adjust doesn’t add X to your core clock directly, it does something else. Based on the stock rated boost clock for this card (1020 MHz), whatever Precision X shows as the +X, the core is really increased by 2 * X. In my example below 1020 MHz + (2 * 110 MHz) = 1240 MHz. Now, if i take the actual stock boost clock of 1110 MHz and add 110 MHz, I should get 1220 MHz, not 1240 MHz. So, I’m not sure exactly how the final core clock gets calculated and set, so just keep an eye on the monitoring program for actual GPU core clock.
I was pleased with the 1241 MHz on the core, but a little disappointed that the unused 0.0125 V didn’t help me get higher. The extra voltage actually seemed to limit me more, I suspect it was making the GPU reach the power target quicker. I’d rather have more clocks make it reach the power target
The following overclock passed multiple 3DMark Firestrike runs.
Cooling & Noise
Active Cooling Xtreme (ACX)
Let’s start off with the features of the new ACX cooler straight from EVGA.
- Ultimate GPU Cooling – 15% average lower GPU and Memory temperatures give you the low temperatures needed for extreme overclocks, and with GPU Boost 2.0, it ensures your card maintains the maximum boost clock possible.
- No Compromise Heatsink Design – An increase of 40% in heatsink fin volume distributes heat evenly and efficiently.
- Low Noise Levels – The dual fan design dramatically increases airflow, meaning the fans only need to spin at a much lower RPM, reducing noise levels significantly. In fact it is 15% quieter on average!
- Double Ball Bearing Design – The EVGA ACX cooler features a double ball bearing design, meaning the fans have an average lifespan of 12 Years! This is 4X longer than the competitors sleeve bearing fans.
- Superior Blade Design – EVGA even went as far as crafting each individual fan blade with the utmost in quality. The fan blades on the EVGA ACX Cooler are 734% stronger and weigh 28% less than competitors fan solutions.
- Dual Slot Design – No need to worry about bulky heatsink designs that cover unnecessary PCI-E lanes, the EVGA ACX cooler is dual slots, the optimal size for all forms of NVIDIA SLI.
- Dual Cooling Subsystems – Minimizing air turbulence between fans, this makes sure that the airflow is distributed evenly, and reduces noise level.
So, according to EVGA there are quite a few things they have done to make a better all-around cooler than both the reference design and the competitors’ dual fan offerings. In the exploded diagram below, the numbers with an asterisk by them are compared to the competitors’ dual fan solutions while the ones without the asterisk are comparing to the reference cooler. The only one of these metrics I’ll be able to try to verify is the 15% less noise than the reference cooler.
EVGA sent some bearings to show off what their fans use versus the competitors’. EVGA uses two ball bearings per fan, as seen on the left. The bearing on the right is a sleeve bearing. Ball bearings have higher life expectancy since there is less contact surface inside the bearing resulting in less friction (each steel ball touching the circumference at one point), the lubrication is of higher quality since it can’t be replaced, and the bearing is enclosed so it takes longer for the lubrication to evaporate. Sleeve bearing have contact surface along the length of the shaft causing more friction, the lubrication can evaporate or degrade quickly since the lube is exposed, and the bearing needs to be re-lubed every so often. However, sleeve bearings are typically quieter than ball bearings at low RPMs, but ball bearings are quieter at higher RPMs.
EVGA’s Active Cooling Xtreme cooler seemed to perform very well, although I do not have a reference cooler for a performance comparison. What impresses me about the ACX cooler’s performance is that even with the lowest possible speed (39%) locked in, the GPU just did reach the default temp target of 79 °C. As a reminder, I had the temp target set to 94 °C during testing to allow it to get as hot as it wanted. The temps drop exponentially as the fan speed increases, showing that it doesn’t take much airflow to quickly get the temps down.
The dBA numbers graphed below come from the raw measurement at 10 cm and two estimated dBA levels calculated for different distances (1 m and 2 ft). Why estimate instead of measure at further distances? It’s because the meter I’m using gets more accurate as the dB increase, so I wanted to measure really close to the source to get the most accurate measurements. The following equation is what was used for estimation of sound level at different distances.
L2 = L1 – 20 * log10(r2/r1)
- L1 = Sound level at reference distance
- L2 = Sound level at desired distance
- r1 = Reference distance
- r2 = Desired distance
Sound level at 1 m is easy to calculate when measured at 10 cm since log10(1/0.1) = log10(10) = 1, so all that needs to be done is subtract 20 dBA from the measured numbers. That’s why I chose the 10 cm measuring distance.
EVGA claims their Active Cooling Xtreme cooler to be 15% quieter than the reference cooler, so let’s see if that claim holds true. Since dBA measurements use a logarithmic scale we can’t use typical linear scale percentages. The general rule of thumb for perceived loudness is that a 10 dB increase is about twice as loud (+100%), so ~10% more loud per 1 dB. Looking at the data below, the ACX cooler is quieter than the reference cooler when both are running at 50% fan speed or higher; anything lower and the reference cooler is quieter. From 50% fan speed and up, the ACX cooler is anywhere between 0.5-2.8 dBA lower than the reference cooler and 1.83 dBA lower on average. So, based on our rule of thumb, that translates to the ACX being ~18.3% quieter than the reference cooler on average when they’re running at 50% fan speed or higher.
System Power Consumption
The system power consumption falls in line as expected with the EVGA GTX 780 SC ACX coming in just under the TITAN by 33-54 W.
Performance per Dollar
The GTX 780 SC ACX is neck and neck with the GTX 680 in how much performance you get for your money; not the greatest, but not TITAN bad either. Really, this section is where the AMD cards shine. The HD 7950 and HD 7970 provide the highest performance for your money, with the GTX 670 coming in close behind. Considering AMD’s game bundles as well, there are no better GPUs than the HD 7950 or HD 7970 for someone looking to get the most out of their money.
Performance per Watt
The EVGA GTX 780 SC ACX clearly wins in this category. You probably already figured that out by looking at the performance results and system power consumption earlier in the review, but it’s nice to see it laid out in its own graph as well for confirmation.
By now, it should be apparent that EVGA has a great GTX 780 in their hands with the Superclocked ACX model, but let’s sum up what’s been presented:
Stock performance in our testing suite far exceeded my expectations; who would have bet on the GTX 780 SC ACX beating TITAN in 8 of our 11 tests? The high stock boost clock (1110 MHz) of the GTX 780 SC ACX is most definitely the cause of such surprising results. Of course, TITAN can be overclocked, and it reached the 1050-1150 MHz range in Jeremy’s review for a score of 9796 in 3DMark’s Firestrike benchmark. However, the GTX 780 SC ACX exceeded 1200 MHz when overclocked and was able to score 9859 in Firestrike. So, even OC -vs- OC, the GTX 780 SC ACX does very well against its bigger brother TITAN.
Performance per dollar is around the same as the GTX 680, so I think the price is okay; especially since a good looking and great performing custom cooler is included for only a $10 premium. Of course, we all would love to see lower prices to push competition.
Overclocking the card was rather easy with Precision X and I ended up getting pretty good results at 1241 MHz on the core using +25 mV and 1592 (6368) MHz on the vRAM.
Cooling performance is superb, only reaching 79 °C when manually setting the lowest possible fan speed of 39%. EVGA’s claim of 15% quieter operation with their Active Cooling Xtreme than with the reference design cooler holds true, and even a little better in my testing. I’d say the sweetspot for the ACX cooler would be running it at around 60% for a good combination of low temps (62 °C) and low noise.
Performance per Watt is high with the GTX 780 SC ACX since it uses less power than the TITAN, but outperformed it in the tests used for measuring system power consumption.
After re-reading this article many times and trying my best to come up with a con, I just can’t seem to find one. The EVGA GTX 780 SC ACX did very well in all facets of my testing, and it was pure joy to experience this GPU firsthand. It seemed to surprise me around every turn, and I would not hesitate to recommend this GPU to anyone looking for a high-end graphics card.
Click the Approved stamp for an explanation of what it means.
- Matt T. Green (MattNo5ss)