AUSTIN, TEXAS — It’s been nearly 18 months since Nvidia unveiled its last-generation Maxwell architecture, and the PC enthusiast community has been chomping at the bit to see what benefits 14/16nm technology would deliver. Both Nvidia and AMD are planning new launches for the 14nm node, but Nvidia is launching first with both a new GPU and new technologies wrapped around it — some of which have been backported to previous cards.
Nvidia isn’t revealing exact performance details yet, but the GTX 1080 and 1070 are billed as being far more power efficient and capable than the 28nm Maxwell GPUs that predated them. The GTX 1080 is built on Micron’s GDDR5X with a 256-bit memory bus with a 10Gbps transfer rate (GDDR5 tops out at roughly 7.0Gbps, though some 8.0Gbps memory did ship in 2015). Nvidia is promising significant performance improvements due to a combination of improved power efficiency, overclocking headroom, and architectural enhancements. The GTX 1080 packs 2560 cores, but its performance gains are significantly higher than that increase implies.
Most performance data is still under wraps, but there are two slides worth paying attention to. The first, shown above, is Nvidia’s own estimate for how much the 1080 will improve in general game performance over and above the GTX 9xx family. The GTX 1080 appears to be roughly 1.65 to 1.75x faster than the GTX 980, depending on how you eyeball the graph.
The GTX 1080’s VR performance, on the other hand, is in another category altogether. Nvidia talked at length about new specific technologies baked into Pascal’s hardware. Unlike Maxwell, Pascal can offer 2x the VR performance of its predecessor by processing geometry for the left and right eyes simultaneously in a single pass. It’s simultaneous multi-projection technology also solves one of the largest problems with multi-monitor gaming and corrects for distortions in VR.
When Nvidia’s original Titan debuted, we wrote an article on the pros and cons of multi-display gaming. One of the problems with using multiple monitors is that it often makes the left and right monitors warp oddly compared with the center screen.
In the past, this was a difficult problem to solve. Research I did at the time suggested that one of the few options was for game developers to explicitly create multiple view frustums. Most game engines don’t do this, since it’s difficult and time consuming. What Nvidia has done is create a technology that can perform this task, called simultaneous multi-projection.
Simultaneous multi-projection allows Pascal to “warp” an image to align it properly rather than attempting to stretch one frustrum across three displays. It corrects for the type of distortion you see above. While we haven’t seen the impact of SMP on VR yet, the improvement to multi-monitor gaming is substantial. Nvidia is projecting that its total VR performance will be up to 2-3x higher than current cards, which would make a single GTX 1080 faster than two Titan X’s in SLI.
The GTX 1080 and 1070 will both debut in a standard configuration as well as a Founder’s Edition sold by Nvidia. The differences between the two aren’t entirely clear yet, but the Founders models will feature Nvidia’s own cooler design as well as a higher price tag. Standard price for the GTX 1080 and 1070 is $599 and $379 respectively; Founder editions will retail for $699 and $449.
The big-picture takeaway is this: If you bought a GTX 980 or 970 back in 2014, Pascal is going to offer some enormous overclocking range, vastly improved VR performance, and all the benefits enthusiasts have been hoping 16nm FinFET would deliver. The GTX 1070 in particular should hit the sweet spot of the upper-midrange / lower-high-end, just as the GTX 970 did in 2014.
We’ll have more to say about the GeForce 1080 and 1070 in the next few days, including more information on GPU Boost 3.0 and Nvidia’s new Ansel screenshot technology, so watch this space.