For much of the last year now, the story of the high-end video card market has been the story of NVIDIA. In September of 2014 the company launched the GeForce GTX 980, the first and at the time most powerful member of their Maxwell 2 architecture, setting a new mark for both power efficiency and performance, securing their lead of high-end of the video card market. NVIDIA then followed that up in March with the launch of the GeForce GTX Titan X, NVIDIA’s true flagship Maxwell part, and a part that only served to further cement their lead.

Based on the very powerful (and very large) GM200 GPU, GTX Titan X is currently untouched in performance. However priced at $1000, it is also currently untouched in price. In NVIDIA’s current lineup there is a rather sizable gap between the $550 GTX 980 and $1000 GTX Titan X, and perhaps more significantly GTX Titan X was the only GM200 part on the market. With NVIDIA launching their fully enabled flagship card first, it was only a matter of time until they released a cheaper card based on a cut-down version of the GM200 GPU in order to fill that pricing hole and to put salvaged GM200s to good use.

Now just a bit over two months since the launch of the GTX Titan X, NVIDIA launching their second GM200 card, GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Based on the aforementioned cut-down version of GM200, GTX 980 Ti is the expected junior version of GTX Titan X, delivering GM200 at a cheaper price point. But calling GTX 980 Ti a cheaper GM200 may be selling it short; “cheaper” implies that GTX 980 Ti is a much lesser card. At $649, GTX 980 Ti is definitely cheaper, but the card that is launching today is not to be underestimated. GTX 980 Ti may be intended to be GTX Titan X’s junior, but with the excellent performance it delivers, GTX 980 Ti may as well be GTX Titan X itself.

NVIDIA GeForce Specification Comparison
  GTX Titan X GTX 980 Ti GTX 980 GTX 780 Ti
CUDA Cores 3072 2816 2048 2880
Texture Units 192 176 128 240
ROPs 96 96 64 48
Core Clock 1000MHz 1000MHz 1126MHz 875MHz
Boost Clock 1075MHz 1075MHz 1216MHz 928Mhz
Memory Clock 7GHz GDDR5 7GHz GDDR5 7GHz GDDR5 7GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 384-bit 256-bit 384-bit
VRAM 12GB 6GB 4GB 3GB
FP64 1/32 FP32 1/32 FP32 1/32 FP32 1/24 FP32
TDP 250W 250W 165W 250W
GPU GM200 GM200 GM204 GK110B
Architecture Maxwell 2 Maxwell 2 Maxwell 2 Kepler
Transistor Count 8B 8B 5.2B 7.1B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Launch Date 03/17/2015 06/01/2015 09/18/2014 11/07/2013
Launch Price $999 $649 $549 $699

Taking a look at GTX 980 Ti from a specifications perspective, NVIDIA’s latest card is in a somewhat unusual place. Its direct predecessor, GTX 780 Ti, was a fully enabled GK110 card, differing from that generation’s Titan only in double precision compute capabilities and a trivial clockspeed difference. However with GM200 being a pure graphics chip – and hence GTX Titan X not pulling double-duty as a prosumer level compute card – NVIDIA has needed to turn to cutting down the chip itself in order to differentiate the products. In this sense the GTX 980 Ti is probably closer to being the GTX 780 of its generation, a very timely situation given the fact that GTX 780 launched almost exactly 2 years ago.

In any case, compared to GTX Titan X NVIDIA has made just two changes to create GTX 980 Ti. The first is that the company has disabled 2 of GM200’s 24 SMMs, bringing it down to 22 SMMs for a total of 2816 active CUDA cores. The second change was to dial back the amount of VRAM, from GTX Titan X’s 12GB to the 6GB we see on GTX 980 Ti. And that’s it.

In every other aspect the GTX 980 Ti is identical to the GTX Titan X. Both are clocked at 1000MHz, with a boost clock of 1075MHz. Both feature their VRAM on a 384-bit memory bus with their respective VRAM modules clocked at 7GHz. Both are set for a 250W TDP, and are equipped with NVIDIA’s high end metal-shrouded cooler. And finally, GTX 980 Ti retains all 96 ROPs and 3MB of L2 cache, which means that in pixel-heavy situations like 4K it is as no disadvantage compared to GTX Titan X.

Consequently, looking at the specifications tells us that we should expect GTX 980 Ti to be 8% slower than GTX Titan X, a result of losing 2 SMMs. Coupled with the difference in VRAM between the two cards, this would put a decent gap between the two cards. However as we’ll see in our benchmarks, reality begs to differ. Thanks to the combination of a couple of factors GTX 980 Ti ends up coming much closer to GTX Titan X than what the specifications tell us to expect. In the end what we find is that it delivers 97% of GTX Titan X’s performance. This, in a nutshell, is what makes GTX 980 Ti a deceptive card, and is why it’s going to have such a large impact on the high-end market.

Shifting gears, let’s talk about pricing, availability, and the competition. The GTX 980 Ti will be a hard launch, with cards going on sale on June 1st. Due to the fact that Computex is taking place this week in Taiwan and GTX 980 Ti is one of the products NVIDIA is launching at the show, NVIDIA has lifted the embargo on GTX 980 Ti at an atypical 6pm Eastern, which for Taiwan and Computex is June 1st, 6am local time. NVIDIA is launching the card globally on the 1st, so in a reversal of typical launches APAC buyers will get first dibs on the card, followed by European and North/South American buyers several hours later. Along with the GTX 980 Ti reference cards launching today, expect to see semi-custom cards launching very soon thereafter.

Meanwhile for pricing, the GTX 980 Ti will be launching at $649. This is an increasingly persistent price point for NVIDIA that has fluctuated a bit over the last couple of years, with the GTX 780 launching at $649 as well, only for the GTX 780 Ti to launch at $699. The launch of GTX 980 Ti at $649 will be putting pressure on the rest of NVIDIA’s product stack from both above and below. In response to this launch NVIDIA is officially cutting the price of the GTX 980 from $549 to $499 in order to open up a bit more room between the cards and to keep GTX 980 Ti from making GTX 980 redundant. At the same time however GTX 980 Ti puts enormous pressure on GTX Titan X; GTX 980 Ti’s performance is close enough to GTX Titan X that the latter’s only practical advantage is its 12GB of VRAM, and that’s not a lot to justify the Titan’s $350 (54%) price premium.

Not stopping there, in an unusual move for NVIDIA the GTX 980 Ti is getting a game bundle right off the bat. The card isn’t getting NVIDIA’s full Two Times The Adventure bundle that comes with the GTX 980, but it is getting a copy of the forthcoming Batman: Arkham Knight, another one of this year’s major GameWorks titles. The end result is that NVIDIA is being more aggressive than usual this time around, offering what amounts to a GTX Titan X and a game for $649.

Of course the competition may have something to do with it. AMD is pretty much shouting from the rooftops that they are launching a new high-end video card this quarter, which at this point means the card is due by the end of June. While NVIDIA does have other financial incentives for releasing GTX 980 Ti now that GTX Titan X has been on the market for a couple of months, by all appearances this looks to be NVIDIA making the first move. We’ll have to see just what AMD delivers next month, but what is clear is that whatever they do, NVIDIA will not be making it easy by delivering flagship performance at $649.

In the meantime AMD and their partners are also still selling the Radeon R9 295X2 for around $600, though it looks like this is part of an effort to sell off the remaining inventory of cards. AMD has no other cards in this price range, so the GTX 980 Ti is otherwise uncontested until AMD’s new card launches.

Summer 2015 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
  $999 GeForce GTX Titan X
  $649 GeForce GTX 980 Ti
Radeon R9 295X2 $599  
  $499 GeForce GTX 980
Radeon R9 290X $319 GeForce GTX 970
Radeon R9 290 $250  
Meet The GeForce GTX 980 Ti
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  • Refuge - Monday, June 01, 2015 - link

    It is the name of a GPU Architecture. Which could be a one run chip, or it could have multiple versions based on binning. Reply
  • dragonsqrrl - Monday, June 01, 2015 - link

    It's not a GPU architecture. GCN is a GPU architecture, Maxwell is a GPU architecture. Fiji is a GPU, GM204 is a GPU. This isn't exactly a new paradigm we're dealing with here. Oh dear, I think I might be telling someone something (aka trolling***). I've done it again. Reply
  • dragonsqrrl - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    First, that's a terrible analogy. Puma is not a CPU, it's a CPU architecture, successor to Jaguar. Fiji is a GPU, I never once assumed or suggested that there will be a single Fiji SKU (that was all you), right now it's likely there will be 2 for the consumer market.

    I'm honestly not sure what you meant by "segment", perhaps you could clarify? Are you talking about AMD's XT/PRO convention? They're still the same GPU, pro is typically just a harvested XT.
    Reply
  • Refuge - Monday, June 01, 2015 - link

    They released more than four if you include mobile GPU's I believe it goes up 2 more to 6. Reply
  • dragonsqrrl - Monday, June 01, 2015 - link

    What do you mean mobile GPU's? Are you talking about the 900m series? There are no mobile specific GPU's in that lineup. It's all binned GM204 and GM107 SKU's. Reply
  • eanazag - Sunday, May 31, 2015 - link

    Interesting observation. I see the same behavior, but the situations are different. Both major graphics vendors are stuck on 28 nm. The 285 is a new product. AMD's graphic situation is not even close to the same as CPU. They are not even competitive in most of the markets for CPU. AMD will likely release a very competitive GPU, which is why NV is releasing the Ti now. Reply
  • dragonsqrrl - Sunday, May 31, 2015 - link

    Yes, the 285 is a new product, and while it is an improvement and a step in the right direction, Tonga just isn't enough to address the issue of AMD's profit margins this coming generation, or make them anymore competitive in mobile (M295X). It would be as though Nvidia were selling the 980 at the $200 price point. Not exactly, but from a memory interface, die size, PCB complexity, power consumption perspective, that's basically what AMD is doing right now, with no solution forthcoming. But I guess it's better than selling Tahiti for $200.

    "AMD's graphic situation is not even close to the same as CPU. They are not even competitive in most of the markets for CPU. AMD will likely release a very competitive GPU, which is why NV is releasing the Ti now."
    Some might argue they aren't competitive in the dGPU market with Nvidia market share approaching 80%... some might say that's like Intel levels of dominance...
    And I didn't say it's the same as their CPU situation, I said it's becoming more similar. While AMD will likely be competitive in raw performance, as I've tried to explain in my past 2 comments, that's kind of besides the point.
    Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, May 31, 2015 - link

    Yes, both are stuck on 28nm, but only Nvidia came out with a comprehensive ASIC line-up knowing we'd be stuck here for another 2 years (going back to 2H 2014). It is obvious now that AMD's cost-cutting in staff and R&D is starting to manifest itself as they simply can't keep up while losing ground on 2 fronts (CPU and GPU).

    The culmination of this will be AMD going to market with a full series of rebrands of mostly old parts going back to 2011 with a single new ASIC at the top of their stack, while Nvidia has fully laid out its arsenal with GM107 (1 SKU), GM206 (1 SKU), GM204 (2 SKU), and now GM200 (2 SKU).
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Monday, June 01, 2015 - link

    Is it unprecedented? I recall the Geforce 9000, GTS 100 and most of the GTX 200 series being various rebrands from 'generation' to 'generation'. In fact, the 8800GTS 512 MB, 9800GTX, GTS 150 and GTS 250 were all the same chip design (the GTS 250 had a die shrink but was functionally unchanged).

    nVidia has gotten better since then, well with the exception of the GF108 that plagued the low end for far too long.
    Reply
  • chizow - Monday, June 01, 2015 - link

    Yes, its unprecedented to launch a full stack of rebrands with just 1 new ASIC, as AMD has done not once, not 2x, not even 3x, but 4 times with GCN (7000 to Boost/GE, 8000 OEM, R9 200, and now R9 300) Generally it is only the low-end, or a gap product to fill a niche. The G92/b isn't even close to this as it was rebranded numerous times over a short 9 month span (Nov 2007 to July 2008), while we are bracing ourselves for AMD rebrands going back to 2011 and Pitcairn. Reply

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