With the GeForce GTX 980 celebrating its second birthday soon, in the world of GPUs that puts it squarely over the hill. To further confirm that notion, we have its successor: the new GeForce GTX 1080 offers 60% more performance at what should eventually be a $50 price premium.

This feature is a follow up to the 'Then and Now' article we published two years ago, shortly after the GTX 980's release, when we looked at 5 generations of flagship GeForce GPUs. The idea is to give you a performance perspective of multiple graphics card generations 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 five years we had seen close to a 3x bump in graphics horsepower.

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

Now with the release of Pascal 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 the company's most recent GPU architecture, Pascal (GTX 1080).

GeForce GTX 480 GTX 580 GTX 680 GTX 780 GTX 780 Ti GTX 980 GTX 980 Ti GTX 1080
Codename GF100 GF100 GK104 GK110 GK110 GM204 GM200 GP104
Fab (nm) 40 40 28 28 28 28 28 16
Transistors (Billion) 3 3 3.54 7.08 7.08 5.2 8.0 7.2
Die size (mm2) 529 520 294 561 561 398 601 314
CUDA Cores 480 512 1536 2304 2880 2048 2816 2560
TAU 60 64 128 192 240 128 176 160
ROP 48 48 32 48 48 64 96 64
Memory (MB) 1536 1536 2048 3072 3072 4096 6144 8192
Bus width (bit) 384 384 256 384 384 256 384 256
Bandwidth (GB/s) 177.4 192.3 192.2 288.4 336.4 224 336 320
Release date Mar-10 Nov-10 Mar-12 May-13 Nov-13 Oct-14 Jun-15 Jun-16
Price at release $500 $500 $500 $650 $700 $550 $650 $600

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 which are 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.