Why graphics card lust is the cruelest obsession: Relentless upgrades take no prisoners

Learn from the story of Nvidia's GeForce Titan X vs. its own cousin, the 980 Ti--a classic tale of tech triumph turned into tragedy.


They say it takes a little masochism to be “into PCs.” I’d say they’re wrong—because sometimes it takes a lot of masochism.

Remember when you bought your new Pentium II the day before the Pentium III came out? And for what you spent on that 120GB SSD, you could get a 1TB drive today. And, yes, your collection of DDR2 RAM you’ve been hoarding? It’s all worthless.

Technology triumph turns into technology tragedy with the twist of an announcement. GeForce Titan X owners, you know what I’m talking about, amirite?

gefoce gtx titanx front

The GeForce Titan X is technically the top dog but with the 980 Ti here, you may feel more like a dog buying one today.

Titan X: from titan to tiny

Nvidia introduced its Titan X to much fanfare on March 17. With 12GB of RAM, 3,072 shader cores and the first single-GPU card capable of playing modern games at 4K resolution (although I think you need a G-Sync monitor to pull this off adequately), the Titan X was a monster of a gaming GPU at a monster of a price: $1,000.

For those who had to have it all , the Titan X (reviewed here) was the card. Until May 31, that is. Yup, just 1,800 hours after the Titan X was released, Nvidia pushed out the nearly-as-powerful GeForce GTX 980 Ti (reviewed here). The three main differences between them: The 980 Ti  has half the RAM, slightly fewer shader cores, and this big one—it costs $650 instead of $1,000.

While Titan X users will look at 980 Ti users and sniff at the plebeian 6GB of RAM, the actual performance impact on any practical gaming tasks will be difficult to justify. In actual performance, the 980 Ti is maybe 90 to 95 percent the equivalent of the Titan X.

That’s technology for you, though. On May 30, people lusted over it. The next day, you were a sucker if you owned one. 


Yes, I did a ctrl-c and ctrl-v from the Titan X to the 980 Ti to make this spreadsheet. Did I get anything wrong? Probably not.

Don’t feel bad

Titan X owners, don’t feel bad. Consider yourself the latest consumer to get thrown under the wheels of the red double-decker technology bus as it roars down the highway. Although in the Titan X’s case, the surprise is just how fast it happened, and that Nvidia so willing committed fratricide.

If you’re wondering why Nvidia would roll a grenade into the Titan X’s tent, the answer is simple: AMD.

geforce2 Gordon Mah Ung

The GeForce GTX 980 Ti is the perfect example of the technology treadmill at work. That is, you’re being flung off the treadmill at high speed.

AMD Fury X?

By the time you read this, it’s expected that AMD will have unveiled its long-awaited, much anticipated new GPU at its E3 press conference Tuesday morning. Rumored to be called the Fury X, numerous leaked stories indicate  AMD’s Fiji XT GPU will come in air-cooled and liquid-cooled variants.

We already know the card will use next-generation stacked HBM memory. The latest view of the card comes from PCPerspective.com, which leaked this shot of the presumably final card showing two 8-pin power connectors and integrated closed-loop liquid cooler. The surprise is the radiator, which is rather thick.

Previous rumor stories had called the new card the 390X, but that nomenclature instead appears to be a rebrand of existing AMD GPUs (if the rumors are correct). 

If you revisit at the chart above, you’ll see AMD’s last top-end GPU launch was the Radeon R9 290X in October of 2013, not counting the Radeon R9 295 X2 that combined two 290X cards. That’s more than 19 months since the company’s last big launch. In that same time span, Nvidia has launched the 980, Titan X and now the 980 Ti in the high-end.

To say there’s high expectations of AMD’s so-called Fury is an understatement. If the 3-series cards are indeed rebrands of elderly cards, the only excitement the company will garner from gamers who always want moar will be with the Fury.

The problem for AMD is Nvidia’s GeForce 980 Ti. With near-Titan X performance and camped out at $650, there isn’t much maneuvering room for the Fury series of cards if the performance doesn’t knock it out of the ball park.

So Titan X owners, your time in the limelight may have been short, but at least your sacrifice was for the greater good of Nvidia’s product lineup. And honestly, that’s always been the way with all technology introductions.

This story, "Why graphics card lust is the cruelest obsession: Relentless upgrades take no prisoners" was originally published by PCWorld.