PC gaming has created a constant give-and-take of high-performance hardware battling against an individual’s budget. The unfortunate truth is that most enthusiasts won’t be able to afford top-of-the-line hardware at every turn of their setup. Instead, you’re forced to decide where to put your money in order to get the biggest bang for your buck. Seeing a price of $399.99 is not unusual for a graphics card, but justifying it can be difficult if you’re deciding which to buy. The PNY GTX 770 does not skimp when it comes to performance though, even when plugged into a mid-level system. One powered by an AMD A8 6800K 3.6GHz quad-core APU, the machine used for testing, for instance. Some of today’s most popular games -- save one -- will run at ultra-high settings, 1080p resolution, and still maintain a high-50’s or steady 60 frames per second with ease.
Of course, it’s easy to simply tell you why the GPU is a worthwhile investment, it’s another to understand why. Let’s begin with the visual aesthetic of the hardware, perhaps the most unimportant part of the card, but nevertheless semi-important to some. It’s not uncommon to put a window on the side of your tower to show off your hardware or cable management skills. Most hardware manufacturers understand this and add a touch of “ooh la la” to their card designs, and the GTX 770 is no different. PNY took the GTX 770 reference design -- that is, the design released with the intention of allowing others to copy it -- and made it their own by taking the customary cooling power of the NVIDIA Titan and, rather than relying on one fan to keep, kicked it up Emeril style to include three fans. Not only does this make the card more impressive to look at, it keeps the device cooler and operating at its highest level. Quite surprisingly, the card doesn’t make a racket, even with the three fans in motion. The sound maxed out at a hushed 50.1db over three separate tests, each while attempting to overwork it.
It’s the performance you’re concerned with though, most notably how some of your favorite titles compare to each other. It’s worth mentioning that each game auto-detected settings at ‘High’, but that may be due to a slight bottleneck with some of the other components within the test PC. When manually adjusting the settings to 1900x1080 resolution (1080p), Ultra-high settings, and anti-aliasing, the GTX 770 performed admirably in nearly every study. By reviewing three separate titles, each in a different genre, the intent was to determine if there was any particular handcuff for the GTX 770.
em>The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (Role-playing, released November 2011) proved to be no match for the GPU, running at ultra-high settings with a steady 58-60 frames per second (FPS). With enemies so detailed you can see the exasperated surprise in their face moments before striking them down with your weapon of choice, it was clear to see why PC is the platform of choice when Skyrim is concerned.
em>DiRT 3 was next up (Racing, released May 2011) to test the effect that rain, snow, mud, and dirt has on the visual experience. To be pointed, the GTX 770 continued to run at 59-60 FPS with no issues. No stuttering, screen tearing, or pixelation occurred at any point, although some racers may continuously fall to the back of the pack as they stare in awe at the scenery, stunning at every turn.
In an attempt to push the GPU to its limits, the big guns were called out. Crysis 2 (First-person Shooter, released March 2011), notorious for its stress testing, was initiated with ultra-high settings and succeeded in triggering a reaction. From the onset, players will see the FPS drop to 30-52, depending on the situation and the total enemies on-screen. Crysis 2 has a reputation for this and it wasn’t unexpected. Thankfully, at a lowered setting of ‘High’, PNY’s card was operating at a steadier 50-55 FPS with very little slow-down.
For more recent titles, Splinter Cell Blacklist, Tropico 4, and Magic 2014 were tested and, unsurprisingly, maintained a steady 60FPS. This may be due to the 2GB GDDR5 RAM selection, an upgrade over GDDR3 seen in some later models. The bandwidth that GDDR5 handles over its little brother is significantly improved, and coupled with the 256-bit memory interface, allows for an impressive amount of data to be handled at once.
The PNY GTX 770 carries a not-so-unusual price of $399.99, so those building a budget gaming PC may cringe a bit at the cost. Fear not, with mid-level hardware littered throughout the system, the GTX 770 will earn every penny of the $399.99, particularly when you compare it to other GPU’s that may save you a buck. The NVIDIA GTX 660 Ti for instance, shaves a hefty portion of the cost off, as it retails around $284.99, but the quality improvement from one to the other is more impressive than $115.00 you’d save. Additionally, for those looking to make the ultimate sacrifice and rely on one of the AMD APU’s, do so with caution. It’s not that the APU’s cannot handle current-gen gaming -- they’re surprisingly resilient -- but the overall quality lost when relying on an APU versus PNY’s GTX 770 is like comparing a Ford Focus to Lamborghini Diablo. Sure, the Focus is reliable, but any enthusiast who spends even a moment in Diablo will never go back.
Buy the Lamborghini. Buy the PNY GTX 770.