With the launch of Nvidia’s new line of Maxwell GPUs, the GTX 980 and GTX 970, we had the chance to chat to Scott Herkelman, Nvidia’s head of GeForce GTX, about the Moore’s Law defying graphics cards and also Nvidia’s other anomaly: the Titan series.
No other card manufacturer has a card priced in the same region as the Titan series. Who’s buying them and in what numbers?
Herkelman couldn’t be cracked when it came to exact numbers but he would say that “the Titan sold way above our expectations. It’s more than you’d expect for a $1,000 GPU.”
Part of the card’s success comes from its application outside of games. “I would say the majority of them game and the rest of them use them for professional applications, CUDA type software packages,” Herkelman explained. “It’s a multifunctional graphics card.”
CUDA’s a computing model that lets developers turn graphics cards into processing powerhouses. It basically turns a GPU into multiple processors. One benefit of this is for bitcoin mining, you might remember when the ESEA hacked a load of their users graphics cards to make bitcoins for the company.
Considering the Titan Z is built around two Kepler GPUs with 12GB of dedicated memory it’s no surprise it’s popular with CUDA users.
While the Titan cards are a big bombastic statement about what Nvidia can accomplish if they make a card with little regard for cost, the 980 and 970 have gone in a different, subtler direction. For one, they’ve somehow made a card that’s more powerful than most of the competition yet uses significantly less power and generates far less heat.
“Moore’s Law still applies but we kinda disproved it with Maxwell,” Herkelman says proudly.
“Our mobile business, our Tegra line, has taught us to understand power efficient architecture. We’ve learned to manufacture power efficient chips on the Tegra side in order to fit a phone in your pocket that at the same time will give you great graphics. That’s been our advantage. That’s something our competitor hasn’t. Their cards are getting hotter and hotter and we’ve just done the exact opposite.”
There are a number of advantages for us as buyers besides the slight savings it will make on our electricity bill. It should make our whole computer quieter. “If you want to build a small home theatre PC and you want it quiet you can put one of these cards into that environment,” Herkelman says. “You can use a smaller power supply, the box can be smaller, it can be sleeker. It can sit right under your TV and be.” Your GPU, PSU, and CPU fans are usually the loudest components on your PC. With those first two made near silent it’s just the CPU fans you need to worry about.
Another plus, besides bringing powerful graphics cards into the living room is the ease of sliding a couple of these high performance cards into a gaming rig. “If they want to build a rig with three 4k monitors and need as many GPUs as possible we’d love to support them with that,” says Herkelman. “You can put a whole bunch of these things next to each other because you have that much headroom in the watts.”
Finally, as with Nvidia’s Kepler cards, this Maxwell lineup supports ShadowPlay, the card level streaming and capture software they released in 2012. Herkelman tells me that while “it started off a little rough” they’ve “learned a lot since starting in beta”. Nvidia’s managed to get the impact on a card’s performance to less than 5%. “When we did a side-by-side with competitors’ streaming software it’s huge impact of 30-40%, it’s almost unplayable when you’re streaming.
“Gamers can still do what they love, stream and watch streams, but note perfect.”
The Nvidia GTX 980 and GTX 970 are available to buy now, as is the Titan and Titan Z if you feel the need to spend $1,000 or more.