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Frame Rating: High End GPUs Benchmarked at 4K Resolutions

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: Various

How the Current Cards Stack Up in 4K

Our experiment with early testing of high end graphics cards on a 4K display has definitely been interesting.  After using $3000 graphics card configurations on a 50-in 3840x2160 monitor it is going to be a struggle to go back to smaller display and single lowly graphics card.  But alas, that is part of the job!

 

Single GPU Performance

In our testing we looked at four different single GPU options including the GeForce GTX 680, the GTX Titan and AMD's Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition.  While the GTX 680 and the HD 7970 both cost around $450, the GTX Titan is more than twice that with a $999 price tag, realistically putting it in a different category all together.  That being said, the GeForce GTX Titan is the single best GPU for gaming at 4K resolutions.  It was faster than all of the other single GPU variants by a significant margin and was able to do so without introducing any kind of frame latency issues you might see with dual-GPU options. 

The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition was the second best card and considering you can find it for less than half the price, it makes a compelling case at beating out the GTX Titan for 4K bragging rights.  It performed better than the GTX 680 2GB and GTX 680 4GB in our testing which follows the results we have seen at 2560x1440 previously.

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The GK110 GPU was seemingly built for 4K resolutions

Problems creep up for the Radeon HD 7970 if you consider going to the route of SLI or CrossFire.  While the GTX Titan and GTX 680 scale very well in most of our titles at 3840x2160, the Radeon HD 7970s in CrossFire suffer from runt frames and high frame time variance that result in either much lower than expected animation smoothness and/or stutter.  The GTX cards in SLI do not have this behavior resulting in a much better multi-card scaling proposition.  Yes, the prototype driver would help the HD 7970s out quite a bit, but that option is still weeks or months away.

 

Single Card Performance

If we limit our options to single cards, whether they be single GPU or dual-GPU, the battle is even more interesting.  Because AMD's new Radeon HD 7990 depends on CrossFire technology to perform, the 13.5 beta driver that still has the runt frame and frame time variance problems places it in a very bad light compared to NVIDIA options like the GeForce GTX Titan and the GeForce GTX 690. 

The GTX 690 is comprised of two NVIDIA GK104 GPUs that run in SLI, but NVIDIA's multi-GPU options do not demonstrate the same performance issues that CrossFire does thanks to hardware frame metering technology.  As it stands today, the GTX 690 is clearly the best card for 4K gaming under $1000.  Even better than the GK110 based Titan, the GTX 690 only suffers in a couple of cases with the 2GB frame buffer per GPU despite the 6GB that reside on Titan.  Most of the time the frame metering on the GTX 690 produces nearly as smooth animation with better frame rates.

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The GTX 690 sits as the best single card for 4K gaming today

If we take into account the prototype driver for the Radeon HD 7990, it makes a good case to take that spot away from the GTX 690.  With much more even frame distribution, the dual-Tahiti card looks like a better option in several games even though there is still much work to be had for the driver team to produce frame times as evenly as NVIDIA SLI does.  Long story short, even if the prototype driver were available today to consumers in its current form, I still think the GTX 690 would have the advantage.  But AMD is on the right track and with some more development they could make their card the better choice.

 

Final Thoughts

A single frame of a game at 1920x1080 produces 2.0 million pixels.  A single frame at 3840x2160 produces 8.3 million pixels.  The jump from a 1080p panel to something like the SEIKI 50-in 4K TV we got in last week greatly increases the computing power required for gaming.  Users that bought a single GTX 680 or single HD 7970 will find that newer games like Crysis 3 won't breach the 25 FPS level even with image quality settings dropped off the maximum levels a bit.  Even GTX Titan buyers will find that their card has a bit of a struggle to keep playable frame rates at this resolution.  Gamers that want the ultimate experience on a 4K display or TV will want to own a GTX 690 or better yet, a pair of GTX Titan cards running in SLI.  I guess if you are willing to invest in a 4K TV, you should be willing to invest in high performance graphics hardware as well.

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4K puppies!

For the hardware community, this is great news.  For years now we have lamented about the lack of expansion in the world of monitors; that we were seemingly stuck at 1080p as the game resolution going forward.  The advent of the Korean-made 27-in 2560x1440 monitors was one step in the right direction and 4K TVs breaking the $1500 level is yet another.  Despite the rivalry between them, both AMD and NVIDIA want these 3840x2160 displays to be cheaper and more widespread as it will push demand for higher performing graphics cards. 

I know many users will want my opinion on buying this specific TV for gaming at 4K, but I am hesitant to offer up a full recommendation.  I have definitely liked my time with it and found gaming on it be a solid experience, despite the 30 Hz refresh level of the panel itself.  You'll more than likely want to play games with Vsync on to avoid the doubled-up instances of visual tearing and if you do that, I think the quad-HD resolution of 4K is a sight to behold.

 

May 1, 2013 | 12:47 AM - Posted by Tom-Seiki (not verified)

Without using the pixel clock patcher, I made a custom resolution for 3840x2160 @ 31Hz and it worked. When I tried 32 Hz, TV either showed a blue screen with message "Not support" or it would skip every other column when drawing pixels, causing the resulting image to be blurry.

May 1, 2013 | 02:02 AM - Posted by Chris Green (not verified)

I'd love to see a photo of this experiment:

Set the desktop to the native 3840x2160 resolution of that TV.

Go into photoshop and draw a checkerboard pattern, and display it zoomed to the "actual pixels" setting.

Get as close to the screen as your digital camera will focus and take a full-res picture of the checkerboard pattern.

That image should both verify that you're getting the full native resolution without scaling, and provide an evaluation of how sharp it would be for normal desktop use.

May 1, 2013 | 03:07 AM - Posted by 63jax

i see no point of such a high res if the PPI i actually low, give me 27-30 inch panel with this res and i'll be happy, it's all about PPI, not the size.

May 1, 2013 | 05:37 AM - Posted by DeadOfKnight

My thoughts exactly. It seems that 1440p would be a better experience.

May 1, 2013 | 11:26 AM - Posted by Randomoneh

Huh?

May 1, 2013 | 11:13 AM - Posted by Randomoneh

It's all about the angle between pixel centers. Further you go, angle is lower (which is good).

If you want such a high [angular] resolution, you can always sit further away, can't you? But if you have a small display with the same resolution, you'd have to sit closer, and you can't keep coming closer forever.

May 1, 2013 | 03:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why did they leave out GTX 690 in SLI?

May 1, 2013 | 07:33 AM - Posted by Mac (not verified)

Does the prototype driver work on Xfire 7970s or is it just for the 7990? Anyone?

May 1, 2013 | 11:41 AM - Posted by Sulu (not verified)

Skyrim at 4k. Mmm. Ryan you are such a tease. What with me not being able to afford it for another few years.
Nice article. Can't wait for you to run it again with the new crop of amd cards coming down the pike this fall.

May 1, 2013 | 12:33 PM - Posted by SirHammerlock (not verified)

Well I tried to download the MP4 but I get a ridiculous message from MEGA.co.nz saying that "your browser is not modern enough to download a file this large" and I can't download it.
Really?!? I can't download a file <700MB in the latest version of Safari for Snow Leopard? How much is Google paying them for that lame (and completely false) advertisement? FYI, Chrome is using the same underpinnings as my browser, WebKit.
I guess all those 1.5GB Combo Updaters and Service Packs etc that I downloaded never really happened, since I can't download files as large as 684MB according to Mega.
I don't trust anybody that withholds information and lies about why they are holding it back from you.

May 1, 2013 | 12:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"3840x2160 is exactly four times the resolution of current 1080p" ??

Please do your maths first...

May 1, 2013 | 12:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"3840x2160 is exactly four times the resolution of current 1080p" ??

Please do your maths first...

May 1, 2013 | 12:46 PM - Posted by Mac (not verified)

Well you can fit 4 1080p screens in a 3840x2160 space

May 1, 2013 | 04:08 PM - Posted by Randomoneh

When we're dealing with human perspective, resolution is not a pure number of pixels. Pure number of pixels is called "pixel count".

Now, we tend to perceive things this way: 4x4 image is twice as clear / sharp as the same 2x2 image. Therefore, you need to quadruple the pixel count to double "The Resolution". Just like "Retina" iPad looks [up to] twice as sharp as the old one.

May 7, 2013 | 12:54 AM - Posted by w_km (not verified)

Well...

1920 x 1080 x 4 = 8294400

3840 x 2160 = 8294400

Hmm...I guess they're pretty close.

May 7, 2013 | 12:55 AM - Posted by w_km (not verified)

Well...

1920 x 1080 x 4 = 8294400

3840 x 2160 = 8294400

Hmm...I guess they're pretty close.

May 1, 2013 | 01:35 PM - Posted by Fence Man (not verified)

How does the GTX 690 with 2gb ram win the day? When I play sleeping dogs maxed out with high red textures I use over 3gb at 2560x1600, how can 2gb be enough for 4K?

Are you banning people for disagreeing with you??

May 1, 2013 | 01:37 PM - Posted by Mark Rejhon (not verified)

This HDTV supports 120Hz at 1920x1080.

It's been confirmed -- see this post:
http://www.blurbusters.com/4k-tv-for-only-1500-supports-1080p-120hz-and-...

May 1, 2013 | 05:13 PM - Posted by nickbaldwin86 (not verified)

Can I play @ 2560x1600 @ 120hz if I bought this monitor and say a 690 or a Titan or two :P

I just wondering if this monitor/TV is able to run that res and refresh rate?

May 1, 2013 | 05:23 PM - Posted by Mark Rejhon (not verified)

Some tester said this HDTV managed to overclock -- it was able to accept 192Hz at 1280x720 (but that frameskipped). There is no answer about how 2560x1600 120Hz would behave -- someone will need to test that out.

May 1, 2013 | 06:13 PM - Posted by nickbaldwin86 (not verified)

Please do... that would be great! thanks

May 2, 2013 | 02:21 AM - Posted by Mark Rejhon (not verified)

I read a report of 32Hz operation at 4K. I wonder if it can overclock to 48Hz during 4K.

May 1, 2013 | 08:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

>>> HDMI 1.4 can support 4K resolutions, but it can do so only at 30 Hz That doesn't mean we are limited to 30 FPS of performance though, far from it.

Uhh of course it does. just becuase your card is rendering 100 frames a second doesnt mean you will actually get to see any more than 30 per second if thats all your screen supports.

May 2, 2013 | 02:22 AM - Posted by Mark Rejhon (not verified)

It does reduce input lag, if we can render 100fps, and send only the most freshly-generated frames to the display.

May 2, 2013 | 02:22 AM - Posted by Mark Rejhon (not verified)

It does reduce input lag, if we can render 100fps, and send only the most freshly-generated frames to the display.

May 1, 2013 | 11:26 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have a GTX 690 with two dual DVI and one DisplayPort connectors. Will a 4k signal transmit with a DVI to HDMI adapter?

PS Great review. I almost pulled the trigger on a Sony 55" 4k and then a Sharp PN-K321 just this past weekend. Now I may get the Seiki just to settle my 4k lust until the market catches up.

May 5, 2013 | 05:30 PM - Posted by Skye (not verified)

I have the same card X2 running in Quad SLI ..
Ordered 2 of the Tvs ...
Can't get it to run any Higher than 1080p and it looks like Crap ... 8(
Using the factory Adapters DVI < HDMI that came with the cards from ASUS.
No Joy ...
Even tried a Mini DP to Hdmi cable that I had on my other Rig ... No joy .. dosnt work.

Can anyone shed some light on how they did this Review ?

May 3, 2013 | 02:57 PM - Posted by P.Jack Kringle (not verified)

Why do some of your screenshots only show 1920 x 1200 resolution, yet you claim 2160p resolution across all tests?

May 3, 2013 | 03:59 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

Sooooooo....If you got 3 of these TVs could you do 11520x2160 Eyefinity or Surround?

May 4, 2013 | 02:20 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Any possibility of uploading one of the captured video files? Maybe not one of these 4K ones, but some of the ones from the other reviews? I'd like to see the video with the color bars on it, and maybe mess around with running the data extraction myself.

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