|NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 Graphics Performance|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 22 March 2012|
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GeForce GTX 680 Conclusion
IMPORTANT: Although the rating and final score mentioned in this conclusion are made to be as objective as possible, please be advised that every author perceives these factors differently at various points in time. While we each do our best to ensure that all aspects of the product are considered, there are often times unforeseen market conditions and manufacturer changes which occur after publication that could render our rating obsolete. Please do not base any purchase solely on our conclusion as it represents our product rating specifically for the product tested, which may differ from future versions of the same product. Benchmark Reviews begins our conclusion with a short summary for each of the areas that we rate.
NVIDIA have designed their latest GPU with several goals: operate faster, offer more features, deliver more functionality, use less energy, and generate less heat. These days, consumers generally react favorably to any product that can deliver impressive performance gains over competing alternatives, so it seems that NVIDIA's rather large shopping list of goals could serve them very well in the marketplace... especially since they delivered beyond most expectations. There will still be multi-GPU graphics cards to contend with, but as far as single-GPU solutions go the GeForce GTX 680 captures star status as the best graphics card available on the market.
Fan boys often argue one brand against another based on personal attachment, but as an industry critic it's difficult to avoid agreement when our tests prove NVIDIA video cards offer a better total graphics solution than the closest competition. As of this launch, that competition comes in the shape of AMD's Radeon HD 7970, a video card that costs $50 more, consumes more electricity, produces more heat, and trails in frame rate performance. After running benchmarks on each video card through fifteen different tests, the FPS results almost always favored NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680. Let's look at the break-down:
In the DirectX 10 game Crysis Warhead, the GeForce GTX 680 and Radeon HD 7970 appear even at 1680x1050 resolution, but once the strain of 1920x1080p is added the GTX 680 pulls ahead 7 FPS. DirectX 11 tests followed the trend, resulting in the GeForce GTX 680 to lead significantly in most tests. In one of the few exceptions, Aliens vs Predator gave a noteworthy lead to AMD Radeon products over their NVIDIA counterparts. The demanding DX11 graphics of Batman: Arkham Asylum made use of Kepler's optimized architecture, delivering a staggering lead to the GeForce GTX 680 over every other graphics card tested. Battlefield 3 continued the run, pushing the stock GTX 680 more than 10 FPS beyond the Radeon HD 7970. Lost Planet 2 played well on all graphics cards when set to high quality with 4x AA, yet the GeForce GTX 680 still surpassed Radeon HD 7970 performance by 12 FPS before an overclock that sent it another 10 FPS higher. Metro 2033 is another demanding game that requires high-end graphics to enjoy quality settings, but like AvP this game really took to the Radeon HD 7970 and helped push it 4-6 FPS ahead of the GTX 680.
Synthetic benchmark tools offered a similar read on these products, mirroring some of the results seen from our video game tests. Futuremark's 3DMark11 benchmark suite strained our high-end graphics cards with only mid-level settings displayed at 720p, forcing the less-powerful Radeon HD 7970 to trail the GeForce GTX 680 by nearly 10 FPS. Then there was the Gugila GroundWiz RTS Demo, which uses the Alpine scene to cripple graphics cards... and cripple it did: this benchmark is so demanding that we had to run tests at 1280x720p just to get somewhat decent frame rate results. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680 did extremely well, but it's no contest when the only card that fails the test is your competitions flagship model. Unfortunately AMD did not consider this issue to be worthy of response, even though I reported nearly a week prior to publication. Finally, the Unigine Heaven 3.0 benchmark confirmed what we've seen in most other tests: NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680 leading the AMD Radeon HD 7970 in stock form, and then leaping way past it once overclocked to maximum GPU Boost.
Appearance is a much more subjective matter, especially since this particular rating doesn't have any quantitative benchmark scores to fall back on. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX series has traditionally used a recognizable design over the past two years, and with the exception to more angular corners, the GTX 680 looks very similar to their GTX 580 and 570 models. Some add-in card partners may offer their own unique cooling solution design, but this might not happen with the GeForce GTX 680 since it operates so efficiently and allows nearly all of the heated air to exhaust outside of the computer case. Expect most partners to dress up the original reference design by placing exciting graphics over the fan shroud or using colored plastic components. While looks might mean a lot to some consumers, keep in mind that this product outperforms the competition while generating much less heat and producing very little noise.
Construction is the one area NVIDIA continually shines, and thanks in part to extremely quiet operation paired with more efficient cores that consume less energy and emit less heat, I'm confident that GeForce GTX 680 will continue this tradition. Reducing the flagship model to use two 6-pin PCI-E power connections is a step in the right direction, while tweaking heatsink and fan placement to optimize cooling performance proves there are still ways to improve on a commonplace technology. Even better yet, now consumers have a single-GPU solution capable of driving three monitors in 3D Vision Surround with the inclusion of two DL-DVI ports with supplementary HDMI and DisplayPort output.
Defining value at the premium-priced high-end segment isn't easy, because hardware enthusiasts know that they're going to pay top dollar to own the top product. Even still, rating value is like chasing a fast moving target, so please believe me when I say that prices change by the minute in this industry. The premium-priced GeForce GTX 680 "Kepler" graphics card demonstrates NVIDIA's ability to innovate the graphics segment while maintaining a firm lead in their market, but it comes at a cost. As of launch day 22 March 2012, the GeForce GTX 680 has been assigned a $499 MSRP. For those with an impeccable memory, back to November 2010 the GeForce GTX 580 also launched with the exact same $499 MSRP (which is still available at Newegg for around $400). So with regard to value, the GeForce GTX 680 delivers more features and better performance than the less-powerful AMD Radeon HD 7970 that currently sells for $550, but matches frame rate performance while costing slightly more than the older less efficient GTX 590. To compare one cards value to another based solely on video frame rate is a fools game, because features and functionality run off the chart with GTX 680. Furthermore, only video card can offer multi-display 3D gaming, PhysX technology, GPU Boost, FXAA, and now TXAA.
GeForce GTX 680 is the ultimate enthusiast graphics card intended for affluent top-end gamers, but I see this product becoming so popular that it draws more interest than previous flagship models. Our test sample took the standard 1006 /1058 MHz GPU clock and easily reached a 1187/1240 MHz overclock without any additional voltage. Add this to the record-setting 6.0 GHz GDDR5 memory clock (which we also overclocked to 6.4 GHz) and vSync on everything becomes a possibility... especially with NVIDIA Adaptive VSync now available to smooth the frame rate gaps. Using just one GeForce GTX 680 video card is enough to display millions of pixels at the speed of light, so imagine the graphics quality settings possible with two combined into a SLI set.
Overall I'm quite impressed with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680, but it's the 28nm GK104 'Kepler' GPU that really has my attention. This article has covered many of the new product features and added functionality possible through Kepler, but imagine beyond the GTX 680. By reducing the TDP footprint to an easily manageable 175W operating range, it won't take much effort to combine two of these GPUs into the yet-to-be-announced GeForce GTX 690. I can picture it now: 4GB of GDDR5 video frame buffer memory pushed to 6.0 GHz, combined with two Kepler GPUs operating at 880 MHz before GPU Boost... and it would still run cold and quiet with a combined 300W TDP. Give a few months, and we'll see how accurate my prediction was. EDITOR'S NOTE: As it turns out, I was extremely close: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 Video Card Features
So what do you think of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 Kepler graphics card, and do you plan to buy one?