How six generations of Nvidia GeForce graphics cards compare

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).

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.