Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

It may not seem like it, but we've been gaming on DirectX 11 graphics hardware for half a decade. The AMD Radeon HD 5870 arrived in September 2009, while Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480 shipped six months later — a trivial delay considering there were so few DX11 games available at the time.

The first game to support DX11 was EA's Battleforge in early 2009, a real-time strategy title that tanked big time, selling less than 100,000 copies and eventually becoming a freemium title. More to the point, the DX11 designation was used to hype the product and virtually offered no eye candy to justify the moniker.

It wasn't until 2011 that we started to see games that truly took advantage of the API. Today, most big titles use DX11 thoroughly, and while some offer backward compatibility for DX10, games including The Crew, Far Cry 4, Battlefield 4, and many others use DX11 exclusively.

Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

Upon arrival of every new graphics processor, we usually compare them to their predecessor but rarely go back more than one generation. However, considering how far DX11 support has come and how many driver optimisations there have been, we'd like a better look at past and present performance. Many of you who haven't upgraded GPUs in a year, two, or even more may be pleased to see how performance scales and what to expect in modern games.

Before we jump to the benchmarks, here's a comparison table of the six GPUs we'll be testing. The list includes three major Nvidia architectures released between March 2010 and September 2014: Fermi ( GTX 480 and GTX 580), Kepler (GTX 680 and GTX 780), and the company's most recent GPU architecture, Maxwell (GTX 980).

GeForce GTX 480 GTX 580 GTX 680 GTX 780 GTX 780 Ti GTX 980
Codename GF100 GF100 GK104 GK110 GK110 GM204
Fab (nm) 40 40 28 28 28 28
Transistors (Billion) 3 3 3.54 7.08 7.08 5.2
Die size (mm2) 529 520 294 561 561 398
SPU 480 512 1536 2304 2880 2048
TAU 60 64 128 192 240 128
ROP 48 48 32 48 48 64
Memory (MB) 1536 1536 2048 3072 3072 4096
Bus width (bit) 384 384 256 384 384 256
Bandwidth (GB/s) 177.4 192.3 192.2 288.4 336.4 224
Release date Mar-10 Nov-10 Mar-12 May-13 Nov-13 Oct-14
Price at release $US500 $US500 $US500 $US650 $US700 $US550

The GTX 480, GTX 580 and GTX 680 were clearly the single-GPU flagships for their series, while the GTX 780 was really an extension of the GTX 600 range and when it landed it was second only to the GTX Titan (excluded from this write-up because at $US1000 it was on a different class and hardly made sense to the average gamer for the price).

Six months after the GTX 780 shipped we got an even faster GTX 700 series GPU, the GTX 780 Ti, and then we arrive at the current flagship, the GTX 980. Although the GTX 980 isn't the end of the road for Maxwell with the GTX 980 Ti expected next year, it will be in a similar position to the GTX 780.

Testing Methodology

Although we collected frame time data in our testing, we haven't included it because it's less important for single GPU reviews. Frame time data will still be included in our CrossFireX and SLI reviews.

For this review we tested at 1366x768, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600 resolutions. We are yet to incorporate 4K resolution benchmarks in our reviews because there isn't a single GPU solution available that provides playable performance at this resolution.

Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

System Specs

  • Intel Core i7-4790K (3.60GHz)
  • x2 4GB Crucial DDR3-2400 (CAS 11-13-13-28)
  • Asrock Z97 Extreme6 (Intel Z97)
  • OCZ ZX Series (1250W)
  • Samsung SSD 850 Pro 512GB (SATA 6Gb/s)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 (4096MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 780 Ti (3072MB)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 780 (3072MB)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 680 (2048MB)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 (1536MB)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 (1536MB)
  • Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
  • Nvidia GeForce 344.75 WHQL

Benchmarks: Crysis 3, BioShock

Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

Starting with the 1080p results, the GeForce GTX 480 was good for just 27fps in Crysis 3. Remember all forms of anti-aliasing were disabled, so this is a weak result, though not unexpected from the almost five-year-old flagship part.

The jump from the GTX 480 to the GTX 580 saw a mere 15% increase in performance while the upgrade from the GTX 580 to the GTX 680 was much more impressive with the GTX 680 delivering 45% more performance with 45fps. The GTX 780 also delivered a respectable 20% more performance than the GTX 680.

Although the GTX 780 Ti and GTX 780 are of the same family we still saw a 13% increase in performance which was a similar gain from the GTX 480 to the GTX 580. Finally the weakest performance gain was seen from the new GTX 980 which was just 8% faster than the GTX 780 Ti.

Boosting the resolution to 2560x1600 provided similar performance margins, though this time the GTX 980 was 11% faster than the GTX 780 Ti.

Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

The GTX 480 managed a playable 47fps at 1080p in BioShock Infinite while the GTX 580 was 19% faster with 56fps. Moving from the GTX 580 to the GTX 680 produced a massive 43% performance increase.

Likewise, GTX 780 provided strong gains over the GTX 680 with 29% more frames and the GTX 780 Ti was 11% faster than the vanilla GTX 780. As we saw when testing Crysis 3 the GTX 980 was only marginally faster than the GTX 780 Ti, this time 10% faster.

Again increasing the resolution to 2560x1600 had little impact on performance, though keep in mind anti-aliasing was disabled.

Benchmarks: Metro Redux, Tomb Raider

Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

The GTX 480 delivered 28fps at 1080p in Metro Redux while the GTX 580 only offered 4fps (14%) more. The performance jump from the GTX 580 to the GTX 680 was much larger, though at 34% it wasn't quite as significant as the 40% plus gains seen in Crysis 3 and BioShock.

Next we have the GTX 780 which was 28% faster than the GTX 680, while the GTX 780 Ti was 13% faster than the GTX 780.

Alhtough we saw gains of 10% or less when comparing the GTX 980 to the GTX 780 Ti in Crysis 3 and BioShock, we find rather different results when testing with Metro Redux as the GTX 980 was 27% faster than the GTX 780 Ti, hitting 79fps.

This margin was reduced to 21% in favour of the GTX 980 at 2560x1600, while most of the other figures remained within a 3%~ margin.

Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared

Tomb Raider was playable on the GTX 480 at 1080p with anti-aliasing disabled. Nonetheless, with the GTX 480 only offering 31fps, the GTX 580's 19% performance bump wouldn't go unnoticed. Again, the GTX 680 provided a significant jump from the GTX 580, as we saw 43% more performance in Tomb Raider.

This time the GTX 780 was 32% faster than the GTX 680 while the GTX 780 Ti was 14% faster, and the GTX 980 was just 10% faster than the GTX 780 Ti with 8fps more.

Interestingly, boosting the resolution to 2560x1600 went in favour of the GTX 780 Ti as the current flagship GTX 980 was just 4% faster.

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Then And Now: Five Generations Of GeForce Graphics Compared


    So the new flagship 980 is only 2-3 times faster than the ancient GTX480?
    Wow, I was expecting a bigger difference.

      ...2-3 times faster. Dude that's fast.

        I don't know, 5 generations and on some games that equals only twice as fast, not exactly earthshaking.
        Considering the SPU count has gone from 480 to 2880 (a 6 fold increase), and the increase in bandwidth and memory tech, I would have expected a bigger performance increase.

        Interesting that in 5 years the transistor count has barely doubled, Moore's Law seems to be stalling somewhat.

        Last edited 24/12/14 7:30 am

      2 -3 times is pretty good but what you need to take into consideration is the 480 ran hot and fast with raw power, the 980 runs quiet, efficient and cool.

      Why there first priority was to make it energy efficient is beyond me.. I'm buying a card for power everything else is a secondary.

        Well now that we've stampede efficiency into it, Making a powerful card with more power would be...well super powerful by this sounding logic, right?

    The 480 is what the PS4 and XB1 are comparative to.

    Whilst the focus is obviously on Nvidia, this article does make think it's time to upgrade the ol' 6950 (unlocked to 6970 of course).

      I was in the same boat, jumped up to a MSI 970, big big difference! The 6950/70 is now in my work PC, and replaced the 8800GTS it was using!

    Advances in GPU development has come down to a game of 'profit maximisation'. nVidia & AMD move the bench marks along 'ever so incrementally' ever year and have planned out their tech release roadmaps to generate the highest sales possible for each new development. It's not about 'forging ahead' and 'breaking new ground' so much as 'how can we milk every cent out of every little tech improvement'.

      Need to get dem profits.

        There is a downside to incremental advancement, that is people hold onto their older gear for longer. My video card isn't even on this chart (GTX295) and I don't feel I'm missing out on much, certainly not enough to lay down over a grand for a 980 + new motherboard, ram etc.

        Apple are seeing the same with iPads, the iPad 2 still does almost all tasks just fine.

        I can just see the executives in their strategy meeting thinking up a way of forcing planned obsolescence on us all (maybe fans with a self destruct program set to 3 years or something)

    What about an average load temperature comparison :P
    My 480 runs at about 85C at full load, whilst the 580 i was running was substantially cooler (at least until the fan failed when i was in the middle of a game. bad things happened)

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