Good and Better: GeForce GTX 770 Graphics Cards Roundup

Following the three GeForce GRX 780 graphics cards, we are ready to introduce to you the GTX 770 based products from EVGA, Inno3D and MSI.

by Sergey Lepilov
09/29/2013 | 01:51 AM

 Nvidia announced its GeForce GTX 770 at the end of May. In the middle of the summer we tested original versions of that graphics card from Palit and Zotac. And now we have a chance to check out three more – from EVGA, Inno3D and MSI. We will describe the highs and lows of these successors to the famous GeForce GTX 680 in this review and will also compare all the six GTX 770s with each other. 

Testing Participants

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

 

The technical spcifications of the graphics cards reviewed today are listed in the following table side by side with those of the reference GeForce GTX 770 from Nvidia:

EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX 2GB (02G-P4-2774-KR)

In our recent review of original GeForce GTX 780s we were surprised at the extensive model range of such cards offered by EVGA Corporation. We are now even more surprised to find that EVGA produces as many as 13 models of GeForce GTX 770. Our model isn’t new, yet interesting. It is called EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX 2GB (02G-P4-2774-KR).

The cardboard box is designed in the same style as the box of EVGA’s GeForce GTX 780. The information on the packaging is different, of course.

 

There is a window in its back through which you can check out the card’s model name, serial number and barcode.

The graphics card is additionally protected by a plastic wrap:

The EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX comes with the same accessories as its senior cousin, including the stickers and poster.

The EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX is manufactured in China and comes with a 2-year warranty. It costs $410, which is much cheaper than the price of its GTX 780 cousin. It doesn’t look much different, though. An inexperienced user might easily confuse the two models.

The model name on the gold-colored inserts you can see on the cooler’s casing differentiates this card from the EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Superclocked ACX. So, this cheaper model has the same exclusive decoration elements as EVGA's top-end product.

 

It is a real pleasure just to hold this graphics card in your hands.

The EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX is no different from the reference sample in terms of its video, MIO and power connectors.

 

It must be noted that the reference GTX 770 has lower power requirements than the GTX 780: 230 watts at peak load. It is recommended to be used with a 600-watt power supply. EVGA says that the GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX consumes up to 250 watts but can be used with a 600W PSU, too.

We've got the reference PCB design here:

The power system follows the 5+1+1 formula with 5 power phases for the GPU, 1 phase for the graphics memory and 1 phase for PLL.

The GPU voltage regulator is based on an ON Semiconductor NCP 4206 controller.

The GPU was manufactured in Taiwan on the 19th week of 2013 (early May). It is revision A2:

As opposed to the standard GeForce GTX 770 which clocks its GPU at 1046/1085 MHz in 3D applications, the EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX has its GPU running at 1111/1163 MHz (+6.2%). So, we’ve got some factory overclocking here. Moreover, according to our monitoring data, the GPU clock rate would peak up to 1215 MHz after we had set the Power Target at its maximum. The GPU die of our sample of the EVGA card has a very high ASIC quality of 85.5%.

It is the highest quality among all GeForce GTX 770s we've tested so far.

The graphics card is equipped with two gigabytes of GDDR5 memory in eight chips located on the face side of the PCB. These are Samsung Semiconductor's K4G20325FD-FC28 chips:

Their clock rate in 3D mode is 7000 MHz. The memory bus is 256-bit. In 2D mode the clock rate is dropped to 648 MHz. So, the EVGA is not pre-overclocked in terms of graphics memory.

We discussed EVGA’s Active Cooling Xtreme system in our review of the EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Superclocked ACX. The cooler is absolutely the same here.

 

It consists of a nickel-plated heatsink with four 8mm and one 6mm heat pipe, two fans, a plastic casing, and a heat-spreading plate on the memory chips and power components.

The outermost plates are perforated:

So, the cooler is identical to the one we saw on the top-end EVGA card. It has the same fans working at the same speed.

Hereinafter, to check out the cards temperatures we used five runs of the pretty resource-hungry Aliens vs. Predator (2010) benchmark at the highest visual quality settings, at a resolution of 2560x1440 pixels. We used 16x anisotropic filtering but no MSAA 4x. We used MSI Afterburner 3.0.0 beta 14 and GPU-Z version 0.7.2 for monitoring of temperatures inside the closed system case, which configuration is discussed in detail in the corresponding chapter of the roundup. All tests were performed at 24-25°C room temperature.

It was highly efficient on EVGA’s version of GeForce GTX 780. Now let’s see how it copes with the GTX 770 when its fans are regulated automatically or work at their maximum speed.


Automatic fan mode

Maximum fan speed

The ACX cooler does better on the colder GTX 770 than on the GTX 780, as might be expected. When regulated automatically, the fans work at 1950 RPM and the GPU is no hotter than 70°C. At the maximum speed of 3330 RPM, the GPU is only 59°C hot. The cooler is highly efficient without any doubt.

It would be wrong not to overclock a graphics card with such a high-performance cooler, so we managed to increase the GPU frequency by 90 MHz and the memory frequency by 980 MHz. The GPU voltage was left at its default level.

The resulting frequencies of our EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX were 1201/1253/7992 MHz.

In 3D mode the GPU frequency would peak up to 1293 MHz, but the cooler didn’t have any problems.

The temperature of 72°C at a fan speed of 2040 RPM is an excellent result for such a fast graphics card. We can only add that increasing the GPU voltage by the permissible maximum of 120 mV helped us raise the frequency by a mere 20 MHz. That’s why we didn’t test the card at the increased voltage.

Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 770 HerculeZ X3 Ultra 2GB

Inno3D offers as many as seven GeForce GTX 770s, one of which follows the reference design. And we've got the fastest air-cooled GTX 770 from Inno3D: iChill GeForce GTX 770 HerculeZ X3 Ultra.

The product box is large. The card's model name and series are indicated on its front together with the bundled extras. On the back of the box you can find a general description of Inno3D products in nine languages.

 

The graphics card is shipped with typical Inno3D accessories but the traditional mouse pad was not included for some reason.

The card is manufactured in China and costs $450. Its warranty is 3 years long.

Like with the EVGA cards, the Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 770 HerculeZ X3 Ultra is hardly different from the Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 780 HerculeZ X3 Ultra externally. While the EVGA products could be identified by the model name indicated on the cooler, Inno3D’s card has no indication as to its model name. You can only learn it from its box.

The graphics card measures 302x112x58 mm, just like its senior cousin.

The Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 770 HerculeZ X3 Ultra has the same video interfaces as the reference GeForce GTX 770.

 

The card’s power requirements are quite specific. Its peak power draw is 244 watts, which is 14 watts higher than the reference card’s, but it is recommended to be used with a 550-watt rather than 600-watt PSU.

The PCB is based on the reference design:

We can’t find any single difference from the reference power system:

There’s nothing special about the GPU die. It was manufactured on the same week as the EVGA’s GPU.

Its frequency formula is more interesting: 1150/1200 MHz peaking to 1254 MHz according to our monitoring tools. The GPU clock rate is dropped to 135 MHz in 2D mode and the voltage goes down from 1.20 to 0.85 volts. The ASIC quality of the chip is 84.5%.

Although the Inno3D has the same memory chips as the reference card from Nvidia or the card from EVGA, it is pre-overclocked by 2.7% to 7200 MHz.

The default clock rates of 1150/1202/7200 MHz make the Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 770 HerculeZ X3 Ultra the fastest card in this review.

Being identical to the Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 780 Ultra externally, the iChill GeForce GTX 770 Ultra is, of course, equipped with the same cooler called HerculeZ X3.

 

We covered it in our previous review, so we’ll just try to find something interesting about it we may have missed earlier.

The heatsink consists of two sections and five nickel-plated copper heat pipes, 6 mm in diameter.

The photo of the back side of the logo panel shows three fan connectors and a jumper that can be used to control the speed of the fans.

We also took the impeller off the motor:

That was easy. So we could clean it and also examine the fan’s motor.

There are slits in the fan frames to let the air in, which is important when there’s another SLI-connected graphics card nearby.

The HerculeZ X3 copes perfectly with its job. In the automatic regulation mode the fans accelerated to 1260 RPM and the GPU was only 57°C hot.


Automatic fan mode

Maximum fan speed

And if you set the fans at their maximum speed (which is not really necessary), the GPU will be as cold as 48°C. Inno3D's cooler seems to be head above its opponents in performance, but we are yet to carry out comparative tests.

Notwithstanding the efficient cooler and lower temperatures, the Inno3D card couldn't be overclocked better than the EVGA. We only managed to increase its GPU and memory frequencies by 70 and 780 MHz, respectively.

The resulting clock rates were 1220/1272/7980 MHz.

The overclocked Inno3D was 2°C hotter than at its default settings. The speed of the fans didn’t change.

Increasing the GPU voltage didn’t help us reach higher clock rates.

MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning 2GB

MSI offers seven GeForce GTX 770 models, two of which copy the reference design with standard coolers but have different amounts of onboard memory. Another pair also differ in the amount of onboard memory and come with MSI’s exclusive Twin Frozr IV cooler. The third pair differ from the previous one in increased clock rates. And the seventh model is the most special one. It is called MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning and we’re going to take a look at it right now.

The product is packed into a large box with a picture of a warplane on its front. Product specs and descriptions of Nvidia technologies can be found on the back of the packaging.

 

The top of the box can be flipped back, revealing detailed descriptions of all product components. You can also see the graphics card itself through a plastic window.

Included with the card are two 6->8-pin power adapters, a DVI->VGA adapter, a SLI connecting bridge, a drivers CD, three cables with connectors for a multimeter, an installation guide, a promo booklet, and a quality certificate MSI Military Class III:

The graphics card is manufactured in China and comes with a 3-year warranty. Its retail price is $430, which isn’t much higher compared to other GeForce GTX 770s. By the way, one year ago the MSI N680GTX Lightning would have cost you $599.

Designed in the traditional style of the Lightning series, it features a thick metal cooler casing with a yellow stripe.

The card is 280x129x49 mm large, so its length is quite normal for a top-end product but its thickness may prevent you from installing two such cards into adjacent PCIe slots. The 129mm height shouldn’t be a problem.

According to MSI, the card’s video connectors are gold-plated to ensure higher-quality signal.

The SLI connector is standard. As for the power connectors, the MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning has two 8-pin ones instead of the reference card’s 6- and 8-pin connectors.

 

The peak power draw is not specified for it, so we do not know whether the MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning has higher power requirements.

Despite its large dimensions, the cooling system is only secured with four screws around the GPU. After taking it off, we can see the face side of the card being covered by a heat-spreading plate.

We unfastened it and revealed the PCB with MSI’s exclusive Lightning Power Layer technology in its full glory:

The gold-plated solid state chokes make this graphics card different. It looks like an elite product indeed.

As is typical of the Lightning series, we can see CopperMOS transistors, Dark Solid and tantalum-core Hi-c capacitors. The card’s components comply with the US military standard MIL-STD-810G and guarantee stable and long operation at high loads.

The 12-phase power system is managed by a PWM controller CHiL CHL8318.

The MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning has all the extra features of MSI's Lightning series such as connectors for measuring PLL, memory and GPU voltages. It has dual BIOS with the overclocker-friendly LN2 mode without any power-related limitations.

 

There’s a GPU Reactor module on the reverse side of the PCB under a highlighted plastic cap.

The module is a small card with tantalum capacitors for doubling the power supplied to the GPU.

 

The GPU Reactor also helps make the GPU more stable at increased clock rates.

The GK104 chip itself is, of course, ordinary:

It is pre-overclocked to 1150/1202 MHz in 3D mode. According to our monitoring tools, its frequency would peak up to 1254 MHz at high loads. It is the same frequency as with the above-discussed Inno3D or the earlier-tested Palit Jetstream. The ASIC quality of the GPU die is 82.5%:

It looks like GK104 GPUs have a higher level of ASIC quality than the GK110 series we can see on GeForce GTX 780 and GTX Titan cards. The latter have an ASIC quality of 70 to 75% and even lower. Well, although we've tested a dozen graphics cards from these categories, we still do not see any clear correlation between a GPU's overclocking potential and ASIC quality.

Contrary to our expectations, the MSI card is not pre-overclocked in terms of memory, although it uses the same Samsung chips as all other GeForce GTX 770s.

Thus, the MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning is theoretically not the fastest graphics card in this review. It has the following specs:

As far as we remember, three generations of MSI’s Lightning series cards have been equipped with the exclusive Twin Frozr IV cooler. It is indeed a highly efficient cooler with unique features.

The slim fins of its aluminum heatsink are soldered to heat pipes.

  

There are five heat pipes in this cooler. The outermost ones are 8 mm in diameter whereas the remaining three are 6 mm.

The heat pipes are nickel-plated and soldered to the cooler’s base and heatsink. The Twin Frozr IV features the so-called Super Pipes with increased heat-transfer speed.

The heatsink is cooled by two 100mm fans from Power Logic:

The PLA10015B12H model supports PWM-based speed regulation and can rotate at 1000 to 3100 RPM. The originally shaped blades strengthen the air flow by 20% in comparison with classically shaped impellers. The Dust Removal technology means that the fans rotate in the opposite direction for 30 seconds when shutting down. It helps keep the fans cleaner.

The Twin Frozr IV did well in our earlier tests, so we expect it to be very efficient.


Auto fan mode

Maximum fan speed

In the automatic speed regulation mode the fans work at 1500 RPM and the GPU is no hotter than 68°C. At the maximum speed of 3090 RPM, the GPU is 60°C hot. And don’t forget that we’re dealing with a pre-overclocked GeForce GTX 770 here!

Without increasing the GPU and memory voltages, we managed to add 70 MHz and 840 MHz to the GPU and memory frequencies, respectively.

Thus, the overclocked MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning worked at 1220/1272/7852 MHz.

The GPU grew 2°C hotter and the fans accelerated by a mere 30 RPM in the automatic mode.

Then, we decided to overclock the card at higher voltages. We adjusted the GPU, memory and PLL voltages with MSI Afterburner 3.0.0 Beta 14 (SE for 680/770 Lightning editions).

 

Our volt-modding helped increase the clock rates to 1265/1317/8052 MHz.

Moreover, the GPU frequency would peak to 1359 MHz at high loads. The temperature and fan speed remained within acceptable limits at that:

So while the cards from EVGA and Inno3D didn't overclock much better at increased voltage, the MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning eagerly responded to our volt-modding and reached higher clock rates. Overclockers should appreciate this.

Noise Level

The noise level of each cooler was measured between 1:00 and 3:00 AM in a closed room about 20 m2 big using CENTER-321 electronic noise meter. The noise level for each cooler was tested outside the system case when the only noise sources in the lab were the cooler and its fan. The noise meter was installed on a tripod and was always at a 150 mm distance from the cooler fan rotor. The tested cooling systems were placed at the edge of the desk on a sheet of polyurethane foam. The lowest noise reading our noise meter device can register is 29.8 dBA and the subjectively comfortable noise level in these testing conditions was around 36 dBA (do not mix it up with low noise level). The fan(s) rotation speed was adjusted in the entire supported range using our precise in-house controller by changing the voltage with 0.5 V increment.

Besides the three products covered in this review, we will include noise level data of a reference NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 and an Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 780 HerculeZ X3 Ultra. This will help us see the difference in noise level between the two identical coolers, especially as we had certain complaints about the noisiness of the top-end Inno3D at low fan speeds. We do not do the same comparison for the two EVGA cards we’ve tested since they are identical in noisiness.

The vertical dotted lines mark the top speed of the coolers' fans in the automatic regulation mode. The results are presented in the following diagram and table:

Comparing the two cards from Inno3D, we can see that the HerculeZ X3 Ultra is quieter on the GeForce GTX 770. So there is a difference in the quality of the fans, which isn’t good for the top-end products. In the automatic regulation mode the Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 770 HerculeZ X3 Ultra turns out to be the quietest in this review, being much better than its opponents. As for the other original GeForce GTX 770s, the MSI is slightly quieter than the EVGA. Still, the EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX is not as noisy as the reference GeForce GTX 770 from Nvidia which, in its turn, is regarded by many reviewers as acoustically comfortable.

Temperature and Noise Comparison of Six GeForce GTX 770s 

Considering the three GeForce GTX 770s covered in this review, we’ve tested as many as six different GTX 770 variants. And since we test them under the same conditions, we can easily compare their temperature and noise.

So, the following diagram shows the noise level of the cards in the automatic fan regulation mode and at the maximum speed of the fans and also shows the peak GPU temperature. The graphics cards are sorted in the order of ascending GPU temperature:

 

As in our GeForce GTX 780 tests, the product from Inno3D is superior to the others. This card has no rivals in temperature and noise. It is followed by the EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX and MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning whose coolers are comparable in performance and noisiness. The Palit and Zotac we tested earlier are inferior to the leaders, yet still better than the reference GeForce GTX 770.

The following table shows the frequencies of the tested cards at their default settings and in overclocked mode. The highest numbers are red. The lowest are blue.

The Inno3D and MSI have the highest GPU overclocking results whereas the EVGA is the best in terms of memory overclocking. The Zotac has the lowest overclocking potential.

The next diagram shows the GPU temperature of the overclocked GeForce GTX 770s and their noise level in the automatic fan regulation mode.

The standings haven’t changed. The Inno3D is in the lead, followed by the lightning-fast MSI and the aesthetically pleasing EVGA. Next go the ordinary but fast cards from Palit and Zotac. The reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 worked at 75% fan speed, which explains its results.

We didn’t benchmark the gaming performance of the GeForce GTX 770s since we had done that a number of times already, with single cards as well as SLI configurations.

Conclusion

Each of the three GeForce GTX 770s we’ve tested today is special in one way or another. Any of them is going to be a better choice than the reference card or the earlier-tested versions from Palit and Zotac. We’ll sum up their highs and lows below.

The EVGA GeForce GTX 770 Superclocked ACX features a beautiful cooler, which is efficient and quieter than on the EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Superclocked ACX. Still, we hope that the developer will work to reduce its noise even more. The card is also compact and comes with nice accessories. It is pre-overclocked, although not too much (EVGA has the Classified Hydro Copper version for high clock rates).

The Inno3D iChill GeForce GTX 770 HerculeZ X3 Ultra features the best cooler. Its cooler is superior to any other in terms of both performance and noisiness. Moreover, this card has the highest default clock rates among all the tested products. However, its cooler has a triple-slot design and its accessories aren’t numerous.

The MSI GeForce GTX 770 Lightning is perfect for any overclocking. It features high-quality components, a GPU Reactor module, dual BIOS, monitoring and volt-modding capabilities. None of the other five GeForce GTX 770s we’ve tested offers such extras. The Twin Frozr IV cooler with dust removal technology is very efficient. The product is more expensive than the others but it is clear what you are asked to pay for. We guess there is no better GeForce GTX 770 available if you are into overclocking.

Still, our tests are not finished as we hope to test some more GeForce GTX 770s in the near future.