Our 4K Testing Methods

We test a handful of AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards at 3840×2160 to see which are ready for next generation displays!

You may have recently seen a story and video on PC Perspective about a new TV that made its way into the office.  Of particular interest is the fact that the SEIKI SE50UY04 50-in TV is a 4K television; it has a native resolution of 3840×2160.  For those that are unfamiliar with the new upcoming TV and display standards, 3840×2160 is exactly four times the resolution of current 1080p TVs and displays.  Oh, and this TV only cost us $1300.

In that short preview we validated that both NVIDIA and AMD current generation graphics cards support output to this TV at 3840×2160 using an HDMI cable.  You might be surprised to find that HDMI 1.4 can support 4K resolutions, but it can do so only at 30 Hz (60 Hz 4K TVs won't be available until 2014 most likely), half the refresh rate of most TVs and monitors at 60 Hz.  That doesn't mean we are limited to 30 FPS of performance though, far from it.  As you'll see in our testing on the coming pages we were able to push out much higher frame rates using some very high end graphics solutions.

I should point out that I am not a TV reviewer and I don't claim to be one, so I'll leave the technical merits of the monitor itself to others.  Instead I will only report on my experiences with it while using Windows and playing games – it's pretty freaking awesome.  The only downside I have found in my time with the TV as a gaming monitor thus far is with the 30 Hz refresh rate and Vsync disabled situations.  Because you are seeing fewer screen refreshes over the same amount of time than you would with a 60 Hz panel, all else being equal, you are getting twice as many "frames" of the game being pushed to the monitor each refresh cycle.  This means that the horizontal tearing associated with Vsync will likely be more apparent than it would otherwise. 

Image from Digital Trends

I would likely recommend enabling Vsync for a tear-free experience on this TV once you are happy with performance levels, but obviously for our testing we wanted to keep it off to gauge performance of these graphics cards.


Throughout the story I'll have videos of our 4K footage on YouTube and to download natively.  The videos include our Frame Rating overlay on them but otherwise are simple H.264 nearly 100 mbps 3840×2160 videos.

If you just want some screenshots, I have put together a ZIP file of them that you can download right here. 

Download 4K Game Screenshots


Also worth noting is our continued use of our Frame Rating capture-based performance testing.  As far as I know, no other outlet or company (including AMD or NVIDIA) has figured out how to capture video reliably at 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz.  The current maximum that was supported by the FCAT-ready reviewers was 2560×1440 @ 60 Hz.  Here is a comparison:

  • 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz – 124.4 Mpix/s
  • 2560×1440 @ 60 Hz – 221.1 Mpix/s
  • 2560×1600 @ 60 Hz – 245.7 Mpix/s
  • 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz – 248.8 Mpix/s

So for the time being at least, we think we are the only ones providing you with accurate, capture-based performance testing results for high end graphics cards at 4K resolutions.  I hope you find the results informative!

Test System Setup
CPU Intel Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E
Motherboard ASUS P9X79 Deluxe
Memory Corsair Dominator DDR3-1600 16GB
Hard Drive OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card AMD Radeon HD 7990 6GB
AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition 3GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 4GB
EVGA GeForce GTX 680 4GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB
Graphics Drivers AMD: 13.5 beta
AMD: Frame Pacing Prototype 2 (HD 7990)
NVIDIA: 320.00
Power Supply Corsair AX1200i
Operating System Windows 8 Pro x64

What you should be watching for

  1. HD 7970 vs GTX 680 vs GTX Titan – We have combined the top end single GPU solutions in a single graph to see how they stack up and included the Titan even though it is twice the price of the HD 7970 and GTX 680.
  2. GTX 680 2GB vs GTX 680 4GB – Our friends at EVGA were kind enough to send us some 4GB versions of the GTX 680 so we could test how much the additional frame buffer affects performance and potentially stutter in SLI configurations.
  3. HD 7970 CrossFire vs GTX 680 SLI vs GTX Titan SLI – In reality, we should only be comparing the HD 7970 in CF and GTX 680s in SLI but we tossed in the Titan as well just to mix things up.
  4. HD 7990 vs GTX 690 vs GTX Titan – For this test we are calling the "$999 Level" I wanted to see how all the currently available thousand dollar graphics cards held up against one another, regardless of their single or dual-GPU status.
  5. HD 7990 13.5 beta vs HD 7990 Prototype 2 – Even though we know the frame pacing problems with the HD 7990 will continue at 4K resolutions, I have included results using the very early prototype driver from AMD with the HD 7990 as well as the currently available 13.5 beta driver.


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