With the venerable GeForce GTX 980 having celebrated its second birthday already, in the world of GPUs that puts it squarely over the hill. To further confirm that notion, its successor, the GeForce GTX 1080 offers 60% more performance for a small premium.

This feature is a follow up to the 'Then and Now' article we published two and a half years ago shortly after the GTX 980's release. Then we compared 5 generations of flagship GeForce GPUs to give you a perspective of graphics cards performance spanning several years. Whether you are looking to upgrade from an older GPU or simply appreciate the statistical significance of the data presented, last time we were able to gather that in 5 years we had seen close to a 3x bump in graphics horsepower.

Since that article, Nvidia has launched three major products: the GTX Titan X and GTX 980 Ti arrived in 2015, both based on the Maxwell architecture. From a gaming perspective the Titan X became irrelevant rather quickly as the 980 Ti landed mere weeks later. The GTX 980 Ti was a notable upgrade over the regular 980, offering a third more CUDA cores for a reasonable 18% bump in pricing.

Now with the release of the Pascal-based GTX 1080 the time has come to revisit history and see how six generations of Nvidia GeForce graphics cards compare.

The table below shows the eight GPUs that comprise our test. The list includes four major Nvidia architectures released between March 2010 and June 2016: Fermi (GTX 480 and GTX 580), Kepler (GTX 680 and GTX 780), Maxwell (GTX 980 and 980 Ti) and Pascal (GTX 1080).

GeForceGTX 480GTX 580GTX 680GTX 780GTX 780 TiGTX 980GTX 980 TiGTX 1080
CodenameGF100GF100GK104GK110GK110GM204GM200GP104
Fab (nm)4040282828282816
Transistors (Billion)333.547.087.085.28.07.2
Die size (mm2)529520294561561398601314
CUDA Cores480512153623042880204828162560
TAU6064128192240128176160
ROP4848324848649664
Memory (MB)15361536204830723072409661448192
Bus width (bit)384384256384384256384256
Bandwidth (GB/s)177.4192.3192.2288.4336.4224336320
Release dateMar-10Nov-10Mar-12May-13Nov-13Oct-14Jun-15Jun-16
Price at release$500$500$500$650$700$550$650$600

Note: This feature was originally published on 06/20/2016. We have revised it and bumped it because it's as relevant today as it was before. Part of our #ThrowbackThursday initiative.

The GTX 480, GTX 580 and GTX 680 were clearly the single-GPU flagships for their series, while the GTX 780 was truly an extension of the GTX 600 range and when it landed it was second only to the GTX Titan -- this card is excluded from this write-up because at $1,000, it was in 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 700 series GPU, the GTX 780 Ti. This was followed almost a year later by the GTX 980, and again this major release was eventually accompanied by the faster 980 Ti variant along with the flagship Titan X.

It is worth pointing out that the GTX 1080 is only the beginning for the Pascal architecture, so a faster, more polished variant in the form of a GTX 1080 Ti or similar is expected next year.

To streamline testing we'll be sticking to DirectX 11 titles supported by all GeForce series, old and new, so we can accurately compare them.

Without further ado, let the benchmarks begin...

Test System Specs

  • Intel Core i7-6700K @ 4.50 GHz (Skylake)
  • Asrock Z170 Z170 Extreme7+
  • G.Skill TridentZ 8GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000
  • Samsung SSD 850 Pro 2TB
  • Silverstone Strider Series ST1000-G Evolution
  • Nvidia GeForce Game Ready Driver 368.39
  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
 

Benchmarks: Crysis 3, BioShock, Tomb Raider

First up we have Crysis 3 and like most of the games featured in this article this title is getting on a bit now at 3 years old. Even so, at 2560x1600 it still presents a challenge and with anti-aliasing disabled the GeForce GTX 1080 averaged just 68fps, though that made it 42% faster than the 980 Ti.

It is crazy to look back and see GPUs such as the GTX 480 averaging just 16fps at the same resolution, making the 1080 over four times faster. What’s more, the GTX 480 averaged 42fps at the lowly 1366x768 resolution. Do note the GTX 480 was released 3 years before Crysis 3, but the results are nonetheless surprising.

BioShock Infinite isn’t nearly as demanding as Crysis 3 and for that reason the GTX 1080 is able to average well over 100fps at 2560x1600, as did the 980 Ti. This time the GTX 1080 was only 23% faster than the GTX 980 Ti and 57% faster than the GTX 980. The GTX 1080 also remained over 4x faster than the old GTX 480.

When testing with the popular Tomb Raider reboot the GTX 1080 averaged 122fps at 2560x1600, making it quite a bit faster than the GTX 980 Ti. Just as interesting is the fact that at this resolution the GTX 1080 was 6x faster than the GTX 480 and almost 5x faster at 1366x768.

Benchmarks: Battlefield 4, Metro Redux, Sleeping Dogs

Battlefield 4 will also be 3 years old later this year, however it is a game we still rely on for benchmarking due to its popularity and impressive graphics. At 2560x1600 the GTX 1080 was 30% faster than the GTX 980 Ti which averaged 77fps opposed to 100fps.

The GeForce GTX 1080 was 29% faster than the GTX 980 Ti at 2560x1600 with an average of 75fps in Metro Redux. This had the GTX 1080 performing some 63% faster than the GTX 980, 97% faster than the GTX 780 Ti and 121% faster than the GTX 780.

Again it was over 4x faster than the now 6-year-old GTX 480 which averaged just 17fps.

Sleeping Dogs is a game we used quite a bit for benchmarking as it was extremely demanding on the GPU. The GTX 480 and GTX 580 with their limited 1.5GB memory buffer get completely decimated at 2560x1600. The GTX 680 faired considerably better, though with an average of just 26fps it didn’t exactly provide playable performance. The GTX 680 picked up the pace at 1920x1080 and was very fast at 1366x768.

Looking at the top of the pack we find the GTX 1080 leading the GTX 980 Ti by a healthy 38% margin, the GTX 1080 was also 90% faster (!) than the 980. At 2560x1600 the GTX 1080 was almost 9x faster than the GTX 480 and over 4x faster at 1366x768.

Benchmarks: Thief, Watch Dogs, Dragon Age

Thief was another big title of 2014 and we had to wait till the GTX 980 Ti was released before it could be enjoyed at over 60fps at 2560x1600. The GTX 1080 takes things to the next level, with a 41% performance boost averaging 90fps, while we run into a system bottleneck at 1366x768.

Watch Dogs is still a visually impressive title, though when using the GTX 1080 it does start to show its age as frame rates hovered above 100fps at 2560x1600. The GTX 1080 was 26% faster than the GTX 980 Ti and 69% faster than the GTX 980.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the newest games tested so far as it was released in late 2014. Clearly the title even today is still very demanding, as the GTX 1080 averaged just 77fps at 2560x1600 making it 31% faster than the GTX 980 Ti which averaged 59fps. We have come a long way since 2012’s GTX 680 which rendered just 27fps on average.

Benchmarks: Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Witcher 3

Now let’s take a look at how these graphics cards compare in the latest Tomb Raider title released late last year. At 2560x1600 the GTX 1080 was 31% faster than the GTX 980 Ti and 68% faster than the GTX 980. Meanwhile it is 7x faster than the GTX 480 and almost 4x faster than the GTX 680.

Another relatively new yet extremely popular title is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. At 2560x1600 the GTX 1080 was again 31% faster than the GTX 980 Ti with average frame rates coming out exactly the same as they were in Rise of the Tomb Raider, what are the chances?

The older GPUs did fair slightly better in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with HairWorks disabled when compared to Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Power Consumption

Above we see that when it comes to power consumption the GTX 980 raised the bar back in 2014 for efficiency as it was faster than all other previously tested GPUs while consuming less power.

Well that bar has been raised once again with the GTX 1080, which delivers around 60% more performance while consuming on average ~10% more power in a typical high-end gaming system.

I thought it would be of interest to see how power consumption has changed over the past 6 years. Back in 2010 we find the GTX 480, a very power hungry GPU that pushed our test system up to 319 watts. Nvidia refined the 480 design slightly with the 580 to save a little power while delivering more performance.

Nvidia made huge inroads with their Kepler architecture in 2012 reducing power consumption considerably with the GTX 680 while still improving performance.

Efficiency was mostly put on hold for the next few years while Nvidia squeezed what they could out of Kepler with the more complex and naturally power hungry GTX 780 and GTX 780 Ti. Then in 2014 the GTX 980 arrived and Nvidia’s new radically improved Maxwell architecture saw power consumption drop back down to GTX 680 levels while delivering around 70% more performance.

However, by squeezing in 38% more CUDA cores with the GTX 980 Ti power consumption did climb back up to GTX 780 Ti levels. Now with the GTX 1080 we are almost back down to GTX 980 and GTX 680 levels of power consumption.

Charted: 6 Years of GeForce Graphics

For the most part we've seen steady and consistent improvement in GPU performance. Some of the biggest gains were seen between 2010 and 2013 when moving from the 40nm GTX 580 to the 28nm GTX 680. The 780 also offered decent gains as Nvidia squeezed what they could out of the 28nm process and the Kepler architecture.

After that it wasn’t until the hugely complex 980 Ti came along that we saw some sizable gains, at least when looking at 1600p performance. The line graph below plots Nvidia’s progress over the past 6 years.

Now with the arrival of the GeForce GTX 1080 we see another big step forward, partly thanks to a much needed die shrink that has allowed Nvidia to take their already efficient Maxwell architecture and supercharge it. Despite 9% fewer CUDA cores, the minor tweaks made to the Pascal architecture along with the enhanced core clock speed meant the GTX 1080 was on average 31% faster at 2560x1600 than its 980 Ti predecessor.

Looking at two popular and modern titles such as The Witcher 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider we still find similar margins for the most part. The GTX 1080 was 31% faster than the GTX 980 Ti here. Even if you do consider the maximum overclocking performance of the GTX 980 Ti and GTX 1080, the Pascal graphics card still comes out on top at around 20% faster while consuming considerably less power.

No doubt the future holds more complex and larger Pascal GPUs with 4K gaming and VR pushing for more performance in the coming years. As usual, it's been interesting to look back and see how far things have come in the world of computer graphics. If you found this interesting, we ran a similar feature last year looking at 10 years of Intel CPUs.