I recently bought an Alienware Aurora i7 980 Xtreme from eBay. Alienware are the sports cars of the computer gaming world: only an idiot would buy them new, but they are very reasonable second hand (and actually cheaper than a self-build, more durable and look better). As is usual with eBay though, the seller was selling for a good reason: this was a very fast CPU but limited by a pair of ATI 6770s in crossfire. I certainly needed a faster graphics card to match the '980X.
I took a look at Passmark to see what was what, and that listed the GTX 770 as the third fastest graphics card in the 'high end video cards' table (as of 18 July 2013), with a score of 6327. Only two cards are faster, the GTX780 (7922) and the GTX titan (8269). Looking at the cost of the other two cards, I decided the 770 was the best price-performance ratio, especially when I can stick another one in for SLI later when the prices drop a little. This was incidentally why I also picked a mainstream make such as ASUS - they are likely to be in production in 10 months time when I might want to go SLI. Further, the ASUS has a metal backplate on it, so the airflow when I get two in SLI will not be compromised (without the backplate, you can find dust getting snagged on the pins on the back of the first card as air blows over it from the second card). The backplate also makes the card more ridged: important because the heatsink is quite heavy.
Once I'd put the CPU on overclock (4GHz), I was ready to start benchmarking. With GPU Tweak, I got a decent stable overclock on the 770 straight away by increasing CPU boost to max (1260) from the default of 1110, and setting power target to 110% (from 100%) and GPU target to 90C (from 79) The memory I left alone for now, as it looked to be pretty high to start off with: 7GHz(!).
The memory is overclockable to up to 7.8GHz (at 7GHz it is already the fastest memory on a card to date: even faster than on the Titan, and it can easily overheat on overclock, so I'd strongly advise leaving memory at 7GHz)). If you want to do multi monitor SLI gaming at crazy quality, you might also consider getting one of the 4GB versions of the '770 as opposed to the 2GB on this card. I chose not to do that as I feel 4GB is overkill for now, there's only a handful of games that need it (from online discussions I've looked at, only Crysis comes close), and more memory usually equates to slower clocks.
Although you can go higher by increasing the GPU voltage, I decided against this: turning up the voltage is usually a good way of frying the electronics, and you're only getting marginal gains for bragging rights (and why would you even bother: when playing Crysis2 on DirectX11 and everything on ULTRA @1920x1200, the GPU loading graph shows usage at 60-80%, and never even close to 100%, with the i7 980X never getting warm as it sits around 30% @3.7GHz... looks like current-gen hardware performance is finally leading gaming software requirements by quite a margin!). The only 'current gen' game that seriously stretches this card is Rome Total War 2. I get 40fps average with everything set to the highest settings @1920x1200. Not a high score for an fps, but still very playable for a strategy game (they typically look fine and play well down to 30fps).
That gave me a 3DMark 11 score of 11037 (for comparison, stock speeds on the 770 gives me 10065, so overclock gives me a decent +10% real gaming performance). 3Dmark results noted this score as 'better than 87% of all results', so we're already almost in the top 10% of all computers. For comparison, the 3Dmark 11 website states that a high end gaming PC (i7-4770K and GTX Titan) gets 11894. That's so close to my current result that you won't notice the difference, although your wallet will - the Titan costs over twice as much as the 770! (NB - 3Dmark underutilises the 980X, so I don't think it will get me a higher score than the 4770K - only apps such as Softimage, Vue or Premiere seem to be able to hit 100% CPU usage as the 980X seems to be aimed at authoring rather than gaming... but I don't think any high end i7 will be a gaming bottleneck for some time!).
All tests I've thrown at the 770 are smooth, no glitches, and good frame-rates at 1080p. I can't comment on 1440p gaming yet, although I will update this review when I upgrade to that resolution (which I will do once my wallet has recovered from my buying the Alienware, the GTX770, and a Samsung 840 pro SSD!). What I can say is that the ASUS GTX770 does not feel noisy on high loads (although this may be down to the heavy Aurora case), and is practically silent at no load.
In terms of cooling, I've had no issues assuming proper case cooling: the card gets up to the mid to high 70s for most high end gaming (I've tried Crysis2, BF3). There are options for better cooling such as the Gigabyte windforce (Gigabyte Nvidia GTX 770 OC 2GB Fan PCI-E Graphics Card
), but it feels like temperature is not an issue for overclocked gaming unless you are over-volting, and using a 3 fan solution will probably get you on noise. I'm happy to lose the ~2% gain of an extra fan and stay quieter. As an aside, my rig initially had slow but silent fans (a Noctua 92mm at half speed and a pair of 'Enermax silent' 950rpm 120mm fans). My cpu, chipset and '770 GPU were all running far too hot on load: mid 70s for the CPU, mid 80s for the GPU, and mid 90s(!) for the chipset. Making the GPU fans go faster had no effect whatsoever. Simply changing the Enermaxs for some decent fast-but-quiet replacements (Scythe 'Gentle Typhoons'), and setting the Noctua up for full speed fixed all my heating issues in one go (temps now are low 60s for the CPU, mid 70s for the GPU, and low 60s for the chipset). Moral of the story: case airflow is *much* more important than extra GPU fans.
Physically, the card looks well manufactured. The quality seems very high, and there is no plastic on the casing outside the fan itself - its all metal. Note that there is a protective clear film on the backplate, so be sure to take it off as its easy to miss. If you smell something plasticky and melting once you start serious gaming and benchmarking, you've probably missed it :)
I'll be using my PC for gaming, but mostly as a video editing machine (Premiere, After Effects, so the 770 will be used for its CUDA during realtime video editing) and image work (Photoshop, so again, a bit of CUDA). So far, I'm very pleased with my purchase - the third fastest graphics card, and for a very reasonable price, giving me a relatively cheap video editing workstation with a good gaming score thrown in. Its also expandable - if I need GTX Titan level performance later, I can always SLI.
** Conclusion **
I've always been a little put off by high end NVidia cards, as they tend to have very high price tags on them (as evidenced by the GTX 780 and Titan). The 770 is actually very reasonable, and is my first NVidia card since the GeForce 256 (which came out in 1999!). The price to performance is that good on the 770 that I switched from AMD/ATI.
In terms of performance this card is the third fastest card on passmark. That's very good, as it beats even the current dual GPU AMD cards and with SLI will probably match the Titan. So you have some level of expandibility if you step up to 1440p or multi monitor.
Another thing that has always put me off with high end cards has been the noise. The ASUS 770 is actually surpisingly quiet on the out-of-box clocks, and still pretty quiet on my overclock. NB - as the Aurora case is pretty thick (the sides are double skinned), I took the side off to re-check this, and it was still quiet, and whisper quiet with the case closed.
In terms of overclock, I'm looking at 13% for the GPU, and a possible 11% for the memory (but I leave it at 7GHz as its very susceptible to overheat unless you have all your fans on 100%). With GPU at +13% and memory at 7GHz, I get around a 10% gaming performance increase over stock, and that takes me within sight of the 3DMark top end i7-4770/GTX Titan equipped gaming rig (it gets me to 92% of its performance). Pretty good!
A totally new NVidia CPU architecture is not expected until next year ('Maxwell'), but the fact that the 770 is just an enhancement on last year's architecture ('Kepler') is probably the thing driving the surprisingly low price. If you wait for Maxwell, my guess is that you will be paying a lot more as NVidia will be pricing higher to recoup development costs.
The biggest unknown issue for me is whether or not SLI will microglitch on this family of cards. I just don't know, and hopefully another reviewer can chip in.
Another issue to consider is that DirectX11 has been out for a while, and DirectX12 may be on the horizon. You may want to wait a little until 12 appears, but I feel that it won't be worth the wait: there's few games that use 11 to its full abilities as it is, and I expect the take-up of DirectX12 to be very slow, and probably only immediate for the usual 2 or 3 headline games... and Windows 8 doesn't even use Aero anymore, so you can probably tell the way this is all going (IMO DirectX 12 will be about energy efficiency and tablets, just like Intel Haswell is).
My full PC specs, as used for this review:
Alienware Aurora with swapped motherboard: i7-980X (Xtreme) overclocked to 4GHz, water cooled, ASUS Rampage III Gene motherboard, 24GB (6x4GB) DDR3 at 2000MHz, single ASUS GTX770, Windows 8 Pro 64bit, GeForce 320.49 drivers, Samsung 840 pro 256GB SSD as OS boot drive, WD VelociRaptor for scratch file (page file and app caches) 2x1TB WD Black HDDs for data. Note that this computer was primarily built for video editing (but its also a very good gamer!).