Maxwell’s Feature Set: Kepler Refined

To start our look at the Maxwell architecture, we’ll start with a look at the feature set, as this will be the shorter and easier subject to begin with.

In short, Maxwell only offers a handful of new features compared to Kepler. Kepler itself was a natural evolution of Fermi, further building on NVIDIA’s SM design and Direct3D 11 functionality. Maxwell in turn is a smaller evolution yet.

From a graphics/gaming perspective there will not be any changes. Maxwell remains a Direct3D 11.0 compliant design, supporting the base 11.0 functionality along with many (but not all) of the features required for Direct3D 11.1 and 11.2. NVIDIA as a whole has not professed much of an interest in being 11.1/11.2 compliant – they weren’t in a rush on 10.1 either – so this didn’t come as a great surprise to us. Nevertheless it is unfortunate, as NVIDIA carries enough market share that their support (or lack thereof) for a feature is often the deciding factor whether it’s used. Developers can still use cap bits to access the individual features of D3D 11.1/11.2 that Maxwell does support, but we will not be seeing 11.1 or 11.2 becoming a baseline for PC gaming hardware this year.

On the other hand this means that for the purposes of the GeForce family the GTX 750 series will fit in nicely into the current stack, despite the architectural differences. As a consumer perspective is still analogous to a graphics perspective, Maxwell does not have any features that will explicitly set it apart from Kepler. All 700 series parts will support the same features, even NVIDIA ecosystem features such as GameWorks, NVENC, and G-Sync, so Maxwell is fully aligned with Kepler in that respect.

At a lower level the feature set has only changed to a slightly greater degree. I/O functionality is identical to Kepler, with 4 display controllers backing NVIDIA’s capabilities. HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2 functionality join the usual DVI support, with Maxwell being a bit early to support any next generation display connectivity standards.

Video Encode & Decode

Meanwhile turning our gaze towards video encoding and decoding, we find one of the few areas that has received a feature upgrade on Maxwell. NVENC, NVIDIA’s video encoder, has received an explicit performance boost. NVIDIA tells us that Maxwell’s NVENC should be 1.5x-2x faster than Kepler’s NVENC, or in absolute terms capable of encoding speeds 6x-8x faster than real time.

For the purposes of the GTX 750 series, the impact of this upgrade will heavy depend on how NVENC is being leveraged. For real time applications such as ShadowPlay and GameStream, which by the very definition can’t operate faster than real time, the benefit will primarily be a reduction in encoding latency by upwards of several milliseconds. For offline video transcoding using utilities such as Cyberlink’s MediaEspresso, the greater throughput should directly translate into faster transcoding.

The bigger impact of this will be felt in mobile and server applications, when GM107 makes its introduction in those product lines. In the case of mobile usage the greater performance of Maxwell’s NVENC block directly corresponds with lower power usage, which will reduce the energy costs of using it when operating off of a battery. Meanwhile in server applications the greater performance will allow a sliding scale of latency reductions and an increase in the number of client sessions being streamed off of a single GPU, which for NVIDIA’s purposes means they will get to increase the client density of their GRID products.

Speaking of video, decoding is also receiving a bit of a lift. Maxwell’s VP video decode block won’t feature full H.265 (HEVC) support, but NVIDIA is telling us that they will offer partial hardware acceleration, relying on a mix of software and hardware to decode H.265. We had been hoping for full hardware support on Maxwell, but it looks like it’s a bit premature for that in a discrete GPU. The downside to this is that the long upgrade cycle for video cards – many users are averaging 4 years these days – means there’s a good chance that GTX 750 owners will still be on their GTX 750 cards when H.265 content starts arriving in force, so it will be interesting to see just how much of the process NVIDIA can offload onto their hardware as it stands.

H.265 aside, video decoding overall is getting faster and lower power. NVIDIA tells us that decoding is getting a 8x-10x performance boost due to the implementation of a local decoder cache and an increase in memory efficiency for video decoding. As for power consumption, combined with the aforementioned performance gains, NVIDIA has implemented a new power state called “GC5” specifically for low usage tasks such as video playback. Unfortunately NVIDIA isn’t telling us much about how GC5 works, but as we’ll see in our benchmarks there is a small but distinct improvement in power consumption in the video decode process.

Introducing Maxwell Maxwell: Designed For Energy Efficiency
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  • TheJian - Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - link

    You are only able to say AMD is winning with 265 because of magical pricing that probably won't exist, just like 290x/290 are not $550/400, which we now know are really $709/550 (amazon's lowest pricing, which is below newegg on 290, about even on 290x - amazon has 290x in stock). At least most are out of stock now, so maybe they're selling better or it really is just a shortage of chips like PNY says. I'm guessing the shortage of chips that can run 1ghz is causing problems and higher pricing on 290/290x, not selling like crazy. If they were selling like crazy to miners etc AMD would have had a quarter like NV had where GPU revenues rose 14% on the backs of HIGH-END gpu sales in a 11% down PC market. The 290/290x are AMD's high end, yet selling out means zero profits? So High-End isn't selling much and is just a shortage of 1ghz chips then right? 10mil console chips were all of AMD's gpu profits (10mil x $12 each=120mil pretty much exactly AMD's profits).

    I don't see how Anandtech etc can say crypto mining is insane, when AMD's quarterly report shows miners must not be buying them much at all after the first rush at launch. Otherwise they would have made more than just console money. AMD said they get low double digits on consoles now (so not mid which would be 15%, if closer to 15% profits would be like 150mil), which is 8.2mil units already purchased in retail consoles, and another ~2mil in transit or already in MS/Sony being boxed up for more retail boxes. AMD gets their money long before we see it on the shelf in a console (hence the ~2mil in transition). MS/Sony don't pay AMD AFTER the console sales, they pay them BEFORE it gets anywhere near a box on a shelf. So AMD has already sold more than the shelf sales show.

    On the flipside, NV has a quarter with ~$145mil in profits and basically ALL of that is from GPU's. So again, if AMD is selling out (in any volume that is) how come they didn't have $240mil in profits or something like this? Why no profits from GPU's showing up? There must be a real shortage that isn't due to them selling out like crazy, but instead due to manufacturing chips that can do 1ghz without throttling. This is the ONLY assumption that fits the financial data. Miners are NOT buying these in massive quantities. AMD just can't make enough to satisfy anyone, thus the price goes through the roof and companies like PNY say they can't get chips. In turn this causes AMD's MSRP to basically be magical fairy dust pricing which may not be REALITY for many months to come :( Your price perf story doesn't fit. AMD is winning nothing.

    Let me know when you can buy a 290 or 290x for $400 or $550. Let me know when you can buy a 265 for $149. This may turn out to be real for 265 but it isn't now and Anandtech shouldn't be comparing cards that don't even exist yet and pricing is unknown. I mean the reviews of 290/290x said "these are awesome buys", blah blah, but at $709 for 290x isn't it a terrible deal with 780TI OC models going for the same exact price but winning by 20%?
    OC 290x vs. OC 780ti.
    "The current street price of the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II OC is $699.99 at several etailers (if you can find it in stock), representing a significant bump from its MSRP of $569.99. If you were to compare the two cards at MSRP, then the 20% performance difference between these could easily be accounted for with the 20% difference in price. However, at the current street pricing, the MSI GeForce GTX 780 Ti GAMING 3G simply slaps the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II OC around with a large rainbow trout."

    Slaps AMD around like a rainbow trout? OK, OC & price contest settled then. Custom cooling won't magically trump 780TI and MSRP for 290x of $550 and reality for a card that can actually do AMD's magical ref speeds and up is a $150 difference. I don't know why anyone would buy a 265 for compute (or any card in this category, stupid to benchmark this for these low end models), so maybe AMD will actually get to $150 on them. But giving reviews based on pricing we now know may not happen on cards that aren't even available yet vs. a HARD LAUNCH with OC models already out far above what is tested here by anandtech is a bit of a pipe dream at best.
    "In short, you'll have to pardon our skepticism that Radeon R7 265 will show up on time and at the price point AMD is claiming. We've seen fingers pointed at gun-shy add-in board partners, performance-thirsty cryptocurrency miners, price-gouging retailers, and foundries unable to keep up with supply. But at the end of the day, we're left wondering why AMD is setting prices if it can't control what you pay for its hardware? After piling praise onto the Radeon R9 280X at $300 and 290X at $550, it's our credibility on the line now, and we've been burnt too many times to give you guidance on a card you can't buy yet."

    Just one of 3-4 of their paragraphs outlining the pricing problems and AMD's magical prices :) You get a whole page dedicated to AMD's pricing issues at tomshardware...LOL. Tomshardware is worried about credibility claiming AMD's pricing is real.

    Even anandtech says it's probably magical pricing, so why compare the 265 to 750ti as if 265 will actually be $149?
    "but unless something changes to bring the other Pitcairn cards back down to their MSRPs, then $149 for 265 may be an unreasonable expectation"

    "The lack of selection has done no favors for the pricing, leading to 260 prices starting at $125. This is $15 above MSRP – a significant difference for this segment of the market – and just a stone’s throw away from the 260X at current prices."

    More comments about lack of 250's etc also. AMD can't seem to put a card out at MSRP. How do you come to the conclusion AMD wins at price perf, when no card is MSRP? Reality check please pal. If 260x is supposed to be $120 for new MSRP how is this possible given we already have regular 260 at $125? Again magical pricing is used for your statements not REALITY.

    Current pricing on 290x/780TI are the same, and 780TI smoke it slapping it around like a rainbow trout. :) Not sure how you get AMD is winning from all of these comments. Yeah if you include magical pricing that may ONE DAY exist, but not REALITY for right now. You keep living in your fantasy world, I'll just stay in reality thanks. I fail to see how AMD will be able to keep up with R&D NV is clearly investing in GPU's. I'm not sure why anandtech even bothered to benchmark the ref design, when they admit NOBODY will be shipping them.
    "NVIDIA’s partners will be launching with custom cards from day-one, and while NVIDIA has put together a reference board for testing and validation purposes, the partners will not be selling that reference board. Instead we’ll be seeing semi-custom and fully-custom designs; everyone has their own cooler, a lot of partners will be using the NVIDIA reference PCB, and others will be rolling out their own PCBs too."

    So why test them? That isn't reality as they clearly point out.
    I don't get it. Further showing their AMD love they left the Zotac out of most high end benchmarks and only used ref. What? After clearly stating REF won't even be sold why KEY on REF designs in your benchmarks? Oh right, they only have an AMD portal on anandtech...Never mind...LOL. I get it. :)
    For $5-10 more over a REAL MSRP on 750ti you get 1176/1255 or 1202/1281 which are both WAY over stock.

    If maxwell is designed for mobile gaming so "who cares" then AMD is designed for compute/mining crap that has just about NOTHING to do with gaming so "who cares" too right? I mean if you want to win synthetic crap buy AMD. If you want to win in gaming buy NV. It would seem NV has the right idea for their audience. Also I wasn't aware Intel has ever put anything out in GPU that is damned good. LOL. They can't even catch BROKE AMD's Kaveri.

    You're basing your price perf comment on pricing that is not REAL. Get back to us when AMD puts out something that sells at their MSRP. Until then their PRICE is FAKE, and price to performance crap is meaningless unless you talk in terms of REAL pricing. In which case NV looks great as hardocp shows.

    "On a pure price/performance basis, the GTX 750 series is not competitive. If you’re in the sub-$150 market and looking solely at performance, the Radeon R7 260 series will be the way to go."
    Fantasy pricing makes this comment moot.

    "With that said however, we will throw in an escape clause: NVIDIA has hard availability today, while AMD’s Radeon R7 265 cards are still not due for about another 2 weeks. Furthermore it’s not at all clear if retailers will hold to their $149 MSRP due to insane demand from cryptocoin miners; if that happens then NVIDIA’s competition is diminished or removed entirely, and NVIDIA wins on price/performance by default."

    That comment is REALITY. We know they won't be MSRP if recent history is any indication. They have been so wrong that tomshardware can't recommend anything on MSRP now. Anyone making comparisons on MSRP for AMD at this point is not credible. Hardocp, tomshardware etc all note it's currently FAKE pricing. Until that changes any site should be writing reviews with REAL pricing in the recommendations/conclusions and people like you should just avoid using phrases like "price performance" ;) AMD is losing everything on price performance when using REAL pricing. I don't know why anyone even quotes MSRP. It's merely a SUGGESTED price. You should just quote the lowest newegg or amazon price as that is the lowest you can get MSRP or not. IF it's NOT a hard launch so you can get that pricing, you shouldn't be reviewing something (since I can't REALLY buy it and have no idea of the REAL price). Get it?

    NV needs to say Titan Black is MSRP of $550 I guess and start acting like AMD. Reviews would have to be written with MSRP conclusions for them then too right? Has anyone gotten a 290 for $400 or 290x for $550? Doubtful. Time for NV to join the lying game and soft launches with pricing that may not come for months?

    From anandtech's 265 article:
    "Finally, for the time being NVIDIA’s competition is going to be spread out, leaving a lack of direct competition for AMD’s latest arrivals. With the retirement of GTX 650 Ti Boost, NVIDIA doesn’t currently have a product directly opposite 265 at $149, with GTX 660 well above it and GTX 650 Ti well below it. On the other hand, NVIDIA’s closest competition for 260 as it stands is GTX 650 Ti, though this would shift if 260X cards quickly hit their new $119 MSRP."

    Totally false considering all AMD pricing is fake right? If 260x QUICKLY hits $119 new MSRP? ROFL. Until they HIT that pricing shut up please. NV doesn't have a direct competitor to $149 265? Yeah because it won't REALLY be $149...LOL. 270 shows it, 260 shows it, 290, 290x, 280, 280x...jeez. Does AMD have a card that really is MSRP? So anandtech is comparing the NV stack to a magically priced fairy dust AMD stack right? That seems a bit unfair considering all the data on AMD pricing currently and EVERY site commenting on it. They continue to heap praise on AMD in reviews based on fake pricing. You can't write a whole page on how bad AMD's pricing situation is then go ahead and write conclusions and recommendations on that fake pricing as if it is real or will be real at some point MAYBE. Misleading the public at best, which is why tomshardware/hardocp etc backed off now. NV wins by default, until AMD puts out a real MSRP card. Anandtech still gives AMD the benefit of the doubt giving NV an escape clause...It should be the other way around. AMD needs that clause as no card they've released recently is MSRP.
  • ninjaquick - Thursday, February 20, 2014 - link

    AMD's MSRP is very real, the issue is supply cannot meet demand. AMD only sees the money they make selling cards to vendors, if they had direct supply control (AMD badged products) they could be making money hands over fists with the inflation, but AMD isn't in the position to do that. They sell their chipsets at the stipulated pricepoint to their vendors, and the vendors then either pass on the savings, or squeeze supply and drive up prices for retailers. If they pass on the savings, then ultimately retailers are capitalizing on the consumer's willingness to pay more, but AMD, ultimately, will see no profits from this, and their sales will be hurt by lower flow due to high prices.

    Plenty of people bought 2XX series cards for their MSRP before LiteCoin made the prices skyrocket. To date, only the 290 series is still hyper inflated. And the MSRPs being determined there are from the vendors, not AMD.
  • chiechien - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    The 280x are still priced 50% to 100% over MSRP, too. They're supposed to be $300, but you can't find cheaper than $450, with $5-600 quite common. The R9 270x runs about $50-$100 over MSRP (25-50%).
  • Zetbo - Thursday, February 20, 2014 - link

    I just bought 4096MB Asus Radeon R9 290 DirectCU II OC Aktiv PCIe 3.0 x16 for 397,53eur. I think it's fair price.
  • vision33r - Sunday, March 9, 2014 - link

    That tiny fraction currently buys more GPUs than the avg consumer. Thus the demand for AMD's high end GPUs.
  • A5 - Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - link

    If you really need full FP64, get whoever is paying you to buy a Tesla card.
  • extide - Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - link

    Or go with a big-GCN card :)
  • A5 - Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - link

    Or that, assuming your code isn't locked in to CUDA.
  • ddriver - Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - link

    Thank god it is not. Running about 50 TFLOPS here, nice cheap radeons, no tesla overpriced junk thank you very much nvidia.
  • Morawka - Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - link

    where you buying your radeons? they are overpriced price gouged to hell, Steaming hot thermals but sure it does fp 64 great go get em tiger!!!

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