Maxwell vs. Kepler and Fermi CUDA benchmark

A couple of quick benchmarks to see how NVIDIA’s first Maxwell chip stacks up against earlier architectures.

Note that I’m comparing apples and oranges – high-end and mid-range Fermi and Kepler, 1st and 2nd generation and a budget Maxwell card.

Chip name GF100 GF110 GK106 GK110 GM107
Product name GeForce GTX 480 GeForce GTX 570 GeForce GTX 660 GeForce GTX 780 Ti GeForce GTX 750 Ti
Architecture Fermi 1st gen Fermi 2nd gen Kepler 1st gen Kepler 2nd gen Maxwell 1st gen
ALU clock 1,401 GHz 1.500 GHz 1.058 GHz 0.876 GHz 1.150 GHz
Max FP32 1345 GF 1405 GF 1882 GF 5046 GF 1306 GF
TDP 250W 219W 140W 250W 60W
Transistors 3.20B 3.00B 2.54B 7.08B 1.87B
Lithography 40nm 40nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
Die size 529mm2 520mm2 221mm2 561mm2 148mm2
Mem bus width 384 320 192 384 128
Mem bandwidth 177 GB/s 152 GB/s 144 GB/s 336 GB/s 86 GB/s
Launch price $499 $349 $229 $699 $149
Released 2010-03 2010-12 2012-09 2013-11 2014-04
GF: GigaFLOPS (Billion Floating Point Operations Per Second).


This test uses a purely compute bound algorithm, a Mandelbrot escape time calculation. The algorithm consists of a loop with 14 floating point operations, a branch and an integer subtraction and test for zero. The loop was run 10,000 times in each of approximately 24,000,000 threads. There is almost no I/O. Input is 2 floating point values, output is one integer value.

GF110 GM107
FP64 137GF 37GF
FP32 528GF 479GF
FP32: Single Precision Floating Point
FP64: Double Precision Floating Point


  • The budget Maxwell chip almost matches the high end Fermi chip on FP32 performance while using only slightly more than a quarter of the power (based on TDP, not measured).
  • Given that an algorithm such as this is so far from the advertised maximums, one must wonder if it’s possible to get close to the advertised values with real world codes.
  • FP64 performance is 26% of FP32 on GF110 and 8% on GM107.


Collatz is the algorithm I implemented in this project.

This is an unusual algorithm for a GPU. There are no floating point operations, only bitwise and integer operations. The algorithm consists of a loop that starts with a 128-bit texture lookup (4 ints), which are then processed in approximately 30 PTX instructions. The texture is approximately 6MB in size. There is a lot of divergence, as each thread in the warp loops a different number of times.

GF100 GF110 GK106 GK110 GM107
Delay checks 9,4 B N/s 8,6 B N/s 6,2 B N/s 13,0 B N/s 6,3 B N/s
B N/s: Billion 128-bit values checked for new Delay Records in a range starting at 15 trillion, per second.


  • In the Mandelbrot benchmark, the $149 Maxwell almost matches the $499 Fermi in FP32 performance. That’s impressive, but a pure FP32 benchmark plays to Maxwell’s strengths. That is because, with Kepler, NVIDIA reduced performance on bitwise, integer and FP64 operations in favor of FP32 and Maxwell generally continues that trend (the exception is a new barrel shifter, important for cryptography and cryptocoin mining). Given that this algorithm has a 128-bit texture lookup for every 30 PTX instructions, and only uses bitwise and integer operations, I expected the Maxwell to struggle both due to its low memory bandwidth and its design focus on FP32. So I was impressed to see that the chip keeps up so well, running the algorithm at 2/3 the speed of the Fermi. Remember $499/529mm2/250W vs. $149/148mm2/60W (released almost exactly 4 years appart).
  • Back in 2010, I had to build a new computer around the 1st gen Fermi, with a large PSU and a case with extra cooling. The thing was loud and heated up the room. Now, I’m running the Maxwell card in my work computer. A Dell not designed in any way for a large graphics card. The Maxwell card has a 2-fan cooler that is oversized for the 60W TDP. I think the manufacturers put them on the Maxwell cards because that’s what customers expect to see. The fans are not audible even when the card is working hard.
  • The Maxwell card doesn’t even need a PCIe power connector (though NVIDIA’s partner cards do have them – probably to avoid stressing marginally designed motherboards).
  • This all seems promising for future Maxwell cards that are designed for compute. With its 128-bit memory bus, this card is designed for mid-level graphics. That is compared to the 384-bit bus on the Fermi. My guess is that the new large cache in Maxwell makes up for the difference in bus width.
  • The Kepler card has more than double the TDP of the Maxwell card, yet runs the algorithm slightly slower. So, at least in this case, NVIDIA’s claim of 2x performance/Watt is true.
  • Multiplying GM107 by 4, we get a chip with 7.48 B transistors, 5224 GF FP32, 344 GB/s bandwidth and 240W TDP. That’s around the same FP32 and bandwidth as a GeForce GTX 780 Ti. Surprisingly, it’s about the same TDP as well – not half, as one might expect since the GTX 780 Ti is a Kepler.

PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA1 and Blowfish

This test uses a combination of two algorithms I implemented in CUDA, PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA1 and Blowfish. SHA-1 is a secure hash and Blowfish is an encryption algorithm. PBKDF2 calculates a large number of SHA-1 hashes on short messages. Both SHA-1 and Blowfish use a large number of bitwise operations, mainly barrel rotations and exclusive or (EOR). There are also some integer operations. There are no floating point operations. Block size was tuned for best performance on each card.

GF110 GK106 GK110 GM107
Operations 2.4 M/s 1.7 M/s 4.3 M/s 2.0 M/s
M/s: Million operations per second, where each operation is a 1024 round PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA1 + 1024 byte Blowfish decryption.


  • The small $149/1.87B/60W GTX 750 Ti (Maxwell) performs this task at almost half the speed of the large $699/7.08B/250W GTX 780 Ti (Kepler). This is in part because a single instruction barrel shifter was added on Maxwell, while two instructions are needed on Kepler.
  • GTX 570 holds its own, beating the GTX 660 and the GTX 750 Ti but using many more transistors and much more power doing it.
  • Comparing performance vs. number of transistors between mid-range and high-end Kepler (GTX 780 Ti and GTX 660) shows a linear relationship. Not surprising, since they’re in the same generation.
  • Comparing performance vs. number of transistors between Kepler and Maxwell (GTX 780 Ti and GTX 750 Ti) shows that, while GTX 780 Ti has 3.7x more transistors, it has only 2.2x more performance, which indicates that Maxwell is using its transistors much more efficiently (though there’s also a difference in clock)
  • It looks like the only reason to hold on to GTX Fermi cards would be if you have workloads that use double precision floating point, as gaming cards of the Kepler and Maxwell generations are very weak in those areas.