The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review

August 3rd, 2016 by Mark Daly in Industry News No Comments »
The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

As a surprise to nearly everyone, on July 21st NVIDIA announced the existence of the new Titan X graphics cards, which are based on the brand new GP102 Pascal GPU. Though it shares a name, for some unexplained reason, with the Maxwell-based Titan X graphics card launched in March of 2015, this is card is a significant performance upgrade. Using the largest consumer-facing Pascal GPU to date (with only the GP100 used in the Tesla P100 exceeding it), the new Titan X is going to be a very expensive, and very fast gaming card.

As has been the case since the introduction of the Titan brand, NVIDIA claims that this card is for gamers that want the very best in graphics hardware as well as for developers and need an ultra-powerful GPGPU device. GP102 does not integrate improved FP64 / double precision compute cores, so we are basically looking at an upgraded and improved GP104 Pascal chip. That’s nothing to sneeze at, of course, and you can see in the specifications below that we expect (and can now show you) Titan X (Pascal) is a gaming monster.

Titan X (Pascal) GTX 1080 GTX 980 Ti TITAN X GTX 980 R9 Fury X R9 Fury R9 Nano R9 390X
GPU GP102 GP104 GM200 GM200 GM204 Fiji XT Fiji Pro Fiji XT Hawaii XT
GPU Cores 3584 2560 2816 3072 2048 4096 3584 4096 2816
Rated Clock 1417 MHz 1607 MHz 1000 MHz 1000 MHz 1126 MHz 1050 MHz 1000 MHz up to 1000 MHz 1050 MHz
Texture Units 224 160 176 192 128 256 224 256 176
ROP Units 96 64 96 96 64 64 64 64 64
Memory 12GB 8GB 6GB 12GB 4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB 8GB
Memory Clock 10000 MHz 10000 MHz 7000 MHz 7000 MHz 7000 MHz 500 MHz 500 MHz 500 MHz 6000 MHz
Memory Interface 384-bit G5X 256-bit G5X 384-bit 384-bit 256-bit 4096-bit (HBM) 4096-bit (HBM) 4096-bit (HBM) 512-bit
Memory Bandwidth 480 GB/s 320 GB/s 336 GB/s 336 GB/s 224 GB/s 512 GB/s 512 GB/s 512 GB/s 320 GB/s
TDP 250 watts 180 watts 250 watts 250 watts 165 watts 275 watts 275 watts 175 watts 275 watts
Peak Compute 11.0 TFLOPS 8.2 TFLOPS 5.63 TFLOPS 6.14 TFLOPS 4.61 TFLOPS 8.60 TFLOPS 7.20 TFLOPS 8.19 TFLOPS 5.63 TFLOPS
Transistor Count 11.0B 7.2B 8.0B 8.0B 5.2B 8.9B 8.9B 8.9B 6.2B
Process Tech 16nm 16nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
MSRP (current) $1,200 $599 $649 $999 $499 $649 $549 $499 $329

GP102 features 40% more CUDA cores than the GP104 at slightly lower clock speeds. The rated 11 TFLOPS of single precision compute of the new Titan X is 34% higher than that of the GeForce GTX 1080 and I would expect gaming performance to scale in line with that difference.

Titan X (Pascal) does not utilize the full GP102 GPU; the recently announced Pascal P6000 does, however, which gives it a CUDA core count of 3,840 (256 more than Titan X).

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

A full GP102 GPU

The complete GPU effectively loses 7% of its compute capability with the new Titan X, although that is likely to help increase available clock headroom and yield.

The new Titan X will feature 12GB of GDDR5X memory, not HBM as the GP100 chip has, so this is clearly a unique chip with a new memory interface. NVIDIA claims it has 480 GB/s of bandwidth on a 384-bit memory controller interface running at the same 10 Gbps as the GTX 1080.

Other than these changes, and corresponding improvements in texture units and ROP count, there really isn’t anything architecturally different in the Pascal-based Titan X over a GeForce GTX 1080. Just more, better and faster. If you are new to NVIDIA’s latest Pascal architecture, product features and what the move to 14nm nets them, you definitely should read our GeForce GTX 1080 review that covers all of that!

What will you be asked to pay for this performance? $1200, going on sale today, and only on, at least for now. Considering the prices of GeForce GTX 1080 cards with such limited availability, the $1200 price tag MIGHT NOT seem so insane. That’s higher than the $999 starting price of the Titan X based on Maxwell in March of 2015 – the claims that NVIDIA is artificially raising prices of cards in each segment will continue, it seems.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) Graphics Card

Our time was short with the new Titan X, as our team prepares for a three week whirlwind of events, but we wanted to get a quick review of this beast out the door ASAP.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

The new Titan X features the same design language started with the GTX 1080, a rif on the now aging design for NVIDIA reference products. This includes a blower style cooler with an illuminated GeForce GTX logo along the top of the card (interestingly, one of only a few places I see referencing GeForce with this product) and a window to see the heatsink under the shroud.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Rotating the card around the back we find a full cover backplate on the Titan X with an optional segment on the back half you can remove to improve airflow on adjacent graphics cards in SLI. The backplate even has a custom Titan X stamp on it.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Though the shroud design is shared with the GTX 1080, the Titan X goes with a black out color scheme and a chrome “TITAN X” logo along the front.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Display connectivity remains unchanged: three full size DisplayPort connections, one HDMI 2.0a and a dual-link DVI connection for legacy displays.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

With a 250 watt TDP, the card includes both a 6-pin and an 8-pin external power connection. This is more than enough to hit 250 watts but allows the card to draw as much as 300 watts when overclocked.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Titan X (Pascal) includes a set of SLI connections to support the new high bandwidth SLI connections, though still only in 2-Way SLI officially.

Testing Suite and Methodology Update

If you have followed our graphics testing at PC Perspective you’ll know about a drastic shift we made in 2012 to support a technology we called Frame Rating. Frame Rating use the direct capture of output from the system into uncompressed video files and FCAT-style scripts to analyze the video to produce statistics including frame rates, frame times, frame time variance and game smoothness.

Readers and listeners might have also heard about the issues surrounding the move to DirectX 12 and UWP (Unified Windows Platform) and how it affected our testing methods. Our benchmarking process depends on a secondary application running in the background on the tested PC that draws colored overlays along the left hand side of the screen in a repeating pattern to help us measure performance after the fact. The overlay we have been using supported DirectX 9, 10 and 11, but didn’t work with DX12 or UWP games.

We’ve been working with NVIDIA to fix that, and I can report that we now have an overlay that behaves exactly in the same way as before, but it now will let us properly measure performance and smoothness on DX12 and UWP games! This is a big step to maintaining the detailed analytics of game performance that enable us to push both game developers and hardware vendors to perfect their products and create the best possible gaming experiences for consumers.

So, as a result, our testing suite has been upgraded with a brand new collection of games and tests. Included in this review are the following:

  • 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme and Ultra
  • Unigine Heaven 4.0
  • Dirt Rally (DX11)
  • Fallout 4 (DX11)
  • Gears of War Ultimate Edition (DX12/UWP)
  • Grand Theft Auto V (DX11)
  • Hitman (DX12)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider (DX12)
  • The Witcher 3 (DX11)

We have included racing games, third person, first person, DX11, DX12, UWP and some synthetics, going for a mix that I think encapsulates the gaming market of today and the future as best as possible. Hopefully we can finally end the bickering in comments about not using DX12 titles in our GPU reviews! (Ha, right.)

Our GPU testbed remains the same since our update late in 2015, including an 8-core Haswell-E processor and plenty of memory and storage.

PC Perspective GPU Testbed
Processor Intel Core i7-5960X Haswell-E
Motherboard ASUS Rampage V Extreme X99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 16GB DDR4-3200
Storage OCZ Agility 4 256GB (OS)
Adata SP610 500GB (games)
Power Supply Corsair AX1500i 1500 watt
OS Windows 10 x64
Drivers AMD: Crimson 16.5.2
NVIDIA: 348.13
The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

GPU-Z needs updating for the new Titan X

Picking out graphics cards for our comparison was easy enough, we are only looking at the best of the best.

  • NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB – $1199
  • GeForce GTX 1080 8GB – $599/$699
  • GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB – $649 (prior to GTX 1080 announcement)
  • Radeon Fury X 4GB – $629
  • GeForce GTX 980 SLI 4GB – $999 (prior to GTX 1080 announcement)

For our comparison we are going to pit the new Titan X against the GTX 1080, the GTX 980 Ti, a pair of GeForce GTX 980 cards in SLI and the AMD Radeon Fury X. I decided to not include the previous Titan X here, as it cluttered our graphs quite a bit more and the GTX 980 Ti is a very close surrogate for most purposes.


Frame Rating: Our Testing Process

If you aren’t familiar with it, you should probably do a little research into our testing methodology as it is quite different than others you may see online.  Rather than using FRAPS to measure frame rates or frame times, we are using an secondary PC to capture the output from the tested graphics card directly and then use post processing on the resulting video to determine frame rates, frame times, frame variance and much more.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

This amount of data can be pretty confusing if you attempting to read it without proper background, but I strongly believe that the results we present paint a much more thorough picture of performance than other options.  So please, read up on the full discussion about our Frame Rating methods before moving forward!!

While there are literally dozens of file created for each “run” of benchmarks, there are several resulting graphs that FCAT produces, as well as several more that we are generating with additional code of our own.


The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Previous example data

While the graphs above are produced by the default version of the scripts from NVIDIA, I have modified and added to them in a few ways to produce additional data for our readers.  The first file shows a sub-set of the data from the RUN file above, the average frame rate over time as defined by FRAPS, though we are combining all of the GPUs we are comparing into a single graph.  This will basically emulate the data we have been showing you for the past several years.


The PCPER Observed FPS File

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Previous example data

This graph takes a different subset of data points and plots them similarly to the FRAPS file above, but this time we are look at the “observed” average frame rates, shown previously as the blue bars in the RUN file above.  This takes out the dropped and runts frames, giving you the performance metrics that actually matter – how many frames are being shown to the gamer to improve the animation sequences.

As you’ll see in our full results on the coming pages, seeing a big difference between the FRAPS FPS graphic and the Observed FPS will indicate cases where it is likely the gamer is not getting the full benefit of the hardware investment in their PC.


The PLOT File

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Previous example data

The primary file that is generated from the extracted data is a plot of calculated frame times including runts.  The numbers here represent the amount of time that frames appear on the screen for the user, a “thinner” line across the time span represents frame times that are consistent and thus should produce the smoothest animation to the gamer.  A “wider” line or one with a lot of peaks and valleys indicates a lot more variance and is likely caused by a lot of runts being displayed.


The RUN File

While the two graphs above show combined results for a set of cards being compared, the RUN file will show you the results from a single card on that particular result.  It is in this graph that you can see interesting data about runts, drops, average frame rate and the actual frame rate of your gaming experience.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Previous example data

For tests that show no runts or drops, the data is pretty clean.  This is the standard frame rate per second over a span of time graph that has become the standard for performance evaluation on graphics cards.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Previous example data

A test that does have runts and drops will look much different.  The black bar labeled FRAPS indicates the average frame rate over time that traditional testing would show if you counted the drops and runts in the equation – as FRAPS FPS measurement does.  Any area in red is a dropped frame – the wider the amount of red you see, the more colored bars from our overlay were missing in the captured video file, indicating the gamer never saw those frames in any form.

The wide yellow area is the representation of runts, the thin bands of color in our captured video, that we have determined do not add to the animation of the image on the screen.  The larger the area of yellow the more often those runts are appearing.

Finally, the blue line is the measured FPS over each second after removing the runts and drops.  We are going to be calling this metric the “observed frame rate” as it measures the actual speed of the animation that the gamer experiences.


The PERcentile File

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Previous example data

Scott introduced the idea of frame time percentiles months ago but now that we have some different data using direct capture as opposed to FRAPS, the results might be even more telling.  In this case, FCAT is showing percentiles not by frame time but instead by instantaneous FPS.  This will tell you the minimum frame rate that will appear on the screen at any given percent of time during our benchmark run.  The 50th percentile should be very close to the average total frame rate of the benchmark but as we creep closer to the 100% we see how the frame rate will be affected.

The closer this line is to being perfectly flat the better as that would mean we are running at a constant frame rate the entire time.  A steep decline on the right hand side tells us that frame times are varying more and more frequently and might indicate potential stutter in the animation.


The PCPER Frame Time Variance File

Of all the data we are presenting, this is probably the one that needs the most discussion.  In an attempt to create a new metric for gaming and graphics performance, I wanted to try to find a way to define stutter based on the data sets we had collected.  As I mentioned earlier, we can define a single stutter as a variance level between t_game and t_display. This variance can be introduced in t_game, t_display, or on both levels.  Since we can currently only reliably test the t_display rate, how can we create a definition of stutter that makes sense and that can be applied across multiple games and platforms?

We define a single frame variance as the difference between the current frame time and the previous frame time – how consistent the two frames presented to the gamer.  However, as I found in my testing plotting the value of this frame variance is nearly a perfect match to the data presented by the minimum FPS (PER) file created by FCAT.  To be more specific, stutter is only perceived when there is a break from the previous animation frame rates.

Our current running theory for a stutter evaluation is this: find the current frame time variance by comparing the current frame time to the running average of the frame times of the previous 20 frames.  Then, by sorting these frame times and plotting them in a percentile form we can get an interesting look at potential stutter.  Comparing the frame times to a running average rather than just to the previous frame should prevent potential problems from legitimate performance peaks or valleys found when moving from a highly compute intensive scene to a lower one.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Previous example data

While we are still trying to figure out if this is the best way to visualize stutter in a game, we have seen enough evidence in our game play testing and by comparing the above graphic to other data generated through our Frame rating system to be reasonably confident in our assertions.  So much in fact that I am going to call this data the PCPER ISU, which beer fans will appreciate as the acronym of International Stutter Units.

To compare these results you want to see a line that is as close the 0ms mark as possible indicating very little frame rate variance when compared to a running average of previous frames.  There will be some inevitable incline as we reach the 90+ percentile but that is expected with any game play sequence that varies from scene to scene.  What we do not want to see is a sharper line up that would indicate higher frame variance (ISU) and could be an indication that the game sees microstuttering and hitching problems.

Sound Testing, Pricing and Closing Thoughts

We ran the reference cooler on the new Titan X through our standard noise testing.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Under a full load, the new Pascal-based Titan X is not a quiet card – it is louder than the GTX 1080 Founders Edition and basically matches the sound performance of the GTX 980 Ti. This just makes sense – the coolers are nearly the same and the 250 watt TDP means that the work load is essentially identical.

Pricing and Availability

I mentioned it on the first page: the NVIDIA Titan X based on Pascal is only sold through and is priced at $1200.

  • NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB – $1200
  • GeForce GTX 1080 8GB – $599/$699
  • GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB – $649 (prior to GTX 1080 announcement)
  • Radeon Fury X 4GB – $629
  • GeForce GTX 980 SLI 4GB – $999 (prior to GTX 1080 announcement)

Even with prices on the GeForce GTX 1080 staying ABOVE $699 since launch, the Titan X is a significant price increase over the current market. For $500 more, you get 12GB of GDDR5X instead of 8GB, and a ~35% increase in performance over the GTX 1080. The Titan X isn’t going to win any value awards and it won’t win in any graph of performance per dollar either. The Titan X comes in $200 more than the last Titan X launched at (which is a curious and infuriating practice to be sure) but for gamers or GPGPU nuts that want the very best, you can’t argue with the results.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

Closing Thoughts

This is not a card for the budget minded. It’s for people that have more money than time, more money than they need. Or maybe you just value PC gaming above anything else in your life – and that’s fine,  If you worry about how much you are spending on your gaming PC, do not buy the Titan X!

However, if you want the very best and you want it right now, you can’t do any better than the new Titan X based on Pascal. It is 15-40% faster than the GeForce GTX 1080 based on GP104, a card that took the flagship title itself just a little over a month ago! If you are an owner of a GTX 980 Ti, you’ll find the Titan X to be a 40-80% performance improvement with the higher end of that range kicking in if you are playing at 4K.

Do we expect there to be a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti at some point that might split the difference between the GTX 1080 and the new Titan X? Yes. When? No idea – it could be next week the way NVIDIA is pumping out GPUs! If you would be pissed if a 12GB 1080 Ti was released in August with slightly less performance for $999 – don’t buy the Titan X.

The NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB Graphics Card Review ilicomm Technology Solutions

AMD’s lack of competition on the high end is starting to get ridiculous. In every game we tested, except Hitman, the Titan X is 70-120% faster than the fastest single GPU AMD graphics card, the AMD Fury X. Obviously, there is a process technology gap, a cost gap, and a timing gap – but AMD is falling not just slightly behind, but PAINFULLY behind NVIDIA when it comes to flagship performance. The Radeon RX 480 is a great card and gives AMD a competitive option at the $250 price point but there are plenty of gamers buying at higher prices, where margins are fattening NVIDIA up to do this battle again in 12-18 months.

At the end of the day, the new NVIDIA Titan X based on the Pascal GP102 GPU is the fastest graphics card on the market, period.  If you want the best, and have the wallet to support your addiction, you can’t get anything better than this.

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