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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  • Gigaplex - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    If it's the 4th time as you claim, then by definition, it's most definitely not unprecedented. Reply
  • chizow - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    The first 3 rebrands were still technically within that same product cycle/generation. This rebrand certainly isn't, so rebranding an entire stack with last-gen parts is certainly unprecedented. At least, relative to Nvidia's full next-gen product stack. Hard to say though given AMD just calls everything GCN 1.x, like inbred siblings they have some similarities, but certainly aren't the same "family" of chips. Reply
  • Refuge - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    Thanks Gigaplex, you beat me to it... lol Reply
  • chizow - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    Cool maybe you can beat each other and show us the precedent where a GPU maker went to market with a full stack of rebrands against the competition's next generation line-up. :) Reply
  • FlushedBubblyJock - Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - link

    Nothing like total fanboy denial Reply
  • Kevin G - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    The G92 got its last prebrand in 2009 and was formally replaced on in 2010 by the GTX 460. It had a full three year life span on the market.

    The GTS/GTX 200 series as mostly rebranded. There was the GT200 chip on the high end that was used for the GTX 260 and up. The low end silently got the GT216 for the Geforce 210 a year after the GTX 260/280 launch. At this time, AMD was busy launching the Radeon 4000 series which brought a range of new chips to market as a new generation.

    Pitcairn came out in 2012, not 2011. This would mimic the life span of the G92 as well as the number of rebrands. (It never had a vanilla edition, it started with the Ghz edition as the 7870.)
    Reply
  • chizow - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    @Kevin G, nice try at revisionist history, but that's not quite how it went down. G92 was rebranded numerous times over the course of a year or so, but it did actually get a refresh from 65nm to 55nm. Indeed, G92 was even more advanced than the newer GT200 in some ways, with more advanced hardware encoding/decoding that was on-die, rather than on a complementary ASIC like G80/GT200.

    Also, at the time, prices were much more compacted at the time due to economic recession, so the high-end was really just a glorified performance mid-range due to the price wars started by the 4870 and the economics of the time.

    Nvidia found it was easier to simply manipulate the cores on their big chip than to come out with a number of different ASICs, which is how we ended up with GTX 260 core 192, core 216 and the GTX 275:

    Low End: GT205, 210, GT 220, GT 230
    Mid-range: GT 240, GTS 250
    High-end: GTX 260, GTX 275
    Enthusiast: GTX 280, GTX 285, GTX 295

    The only rebranded chip in that entire stack is the G92, so again, certainly not the precedent for AMD's entire stack of Rebrandeon chips.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, June 3, 2015 - link

    @chizow
    Out of that list of GTS/GTX200 series, the new chip in that line up in 2008 was the GT200 and the GT218 that was introduced over a year later in late 2009. For 9 months on the market the three chips used in the 200 series were rebrands of the G94, rebrands of the G92 and the new GT200. The ultra low end at this time was filled in by cards still carrying the 9000 series branding.

    The G92 did have a very long life as it was introduced as the 8800GTS with 512 MB in late 2007. In 2008 it was rebranded the 9800GTX roughly six months after it was first introduced. A year later in 2009 the G92 got a die shrink and rebranded as both the GTS 150 for OEMs and GTS 250 for consumers.

    So yeah, AMD's R9 300 series launch really does mimic what nVidia did with the GTS/GTX 200 series.
    Reply
  • FlushedBubblyJock - Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - link

    G80 was not G92 not G92b nor G94 mr kevin g Reply
  • Yojimbo - Monday, June 1, 2015 - link

    After some research, I posted a long and detailed reply to such a statement before, I believe it was in these forums. Basically, the offending NVIDIA rebrands fell into three categories: One category was that NVIDIA introduced a new architecture and DIDN'T change the name from the previous one, then later, 6 months if I remember, when issuing more cards on the new architecture, decided to change to a new brand (a higher numbered series). That happened once, that I found. The second category is where NVIDIA let a previously released GPU cascade down to a lower segment of a newly updated lineup. So the high end of one generation becomes the middle of the next generation, and in the process gets a new name to be uniform with the entire lineup. The third category is where NVIDIA is targeting low-end OEM segments where they are probably fulfilling specific requests from the OEMs. This is probably the GF108 which you say has "plagued the low end for too long now", as if you are the arbiter of OEM's product offerings and what sort of GPU their customers need or want. I'm sorry I don't want to go looking for specific citations of all the various rebrands, because I did it before in a previous message in another thread.

    The rumors of the upcoming retail 300 series rebrand (and the already released OEM 300 series rebrand) is a completely different beast. It is an across-the-board rebrand where the newly-named cards seem to take up the exact same segment as the "old" cards they replace. Of course in the competitive landscape, that place has naturally shifted downward over the last two years, as NVIDIA has introduced a new line up of cards. But all AMD seems to be doing is introducing 1 or 2 new cards in the ultra-enthusiast segment, still based on their ~2 year old architecture, and renaming the entire line up. If they had done that 6 months after the lineup was originally released, it would look like indecision. But being that it's being done almost 2 years since the original cards came out, it looks like a desperate attempt at staying relevant.
    Reply

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