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NVIDIA GTX 690 Review

ccokeman    -   May 3, 2012
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Conclusion:

To say that I was impressed with what the GTX 690 has to offer would be an understatement. In the past NVIDIA has delivered excellent gaming performance when they dropped a dual GPU card on the market such as the 9800GX2, GTX 295, and the GTX 590. Each offered significant gains in the all important FPS arena but suffered from the same challenges of running two GPUs on one card with increased power consumption and compromises made to cooling the card down that resulted in lower clock speeds than single GPU cards. The GTX 690 for the most part is almost immune to these challenges with a robust 10 phase power circuit and 10 layer, 2oz copper PCB to manage the power needed to maximize performance and stay within the 300 watt TDP of the card; in most games running near a quoted 276 watts. Ironically this is the consumption delta between the idle and load results I saw in my testing at stock speeds.

For cooling NVIDIA does not use a design that uses air passed from one heat sink into the other like earlier dual GPU cards such as the original GTX 295. By using a split system with an axial mounted fan, each independent vapor chamber based heat sink is able to deliver temperature parity for increased overclocking potential by keeping the load temperatures within a degree or two at most. The base plate and fan design help channel all that airflow through the fin arrays helping deliver the cool temperatures and reduce the noise signature. Surprisingly the GTX 690 is incredibly quiet for a card of this type. NVIDIA went and optimized the fan profile to increase airflow without an increase in noise, which is significant with the reduced venting on the mounting bracket. What is not noticed is that it has also changed the fan speed algorithms from noticeable steps to a linear profile that gradually increases fan speed, of course staying quiet in the process. So much so that I had to pull the side off to make sure the fan was running during the testing. Manually setting the fan to its maximum level results in an barely audible (outside the chassis) whirring from the fan and a rushing from the airflow out of the mounting bracket. Anything below 73% was not audible in this scenario. Both wins all the way around. The only concern with the cooling solution is that some of the GPU's discarded thermal load is recycled into the chassis from the vent on the tail end of the GTX 690. Anything behind this vent will get hot. I measured a constant 55+C temperature during my load testing from the rear vent of the card. The better the airflow in the chassis the less of a concern this is.

You have got to give it to NVIDIA for delivering a stunning looking card that has all the right bling factors from a pair of polycarbonate windows over the fin arrays to the laser cut GEFORCE GTX logo on the spine of the card that glows green when powered on to the use of exotic metals and coatings for a truly badass industrial-looking video card that anyone would be proud to own. Being able to enjoy the entire spectrum of NVIDIA technologies on a single card from 3D Vision and Surround technologies to enabling PhysX in game delivers a truly engaging experience. You can turn it all on. If you need more, Quad SLI is supported using two GTX 690s in a motherboard that supports it. Adaptive Vsync can be used to deliver FPS improvements while reducing the texture tearing seen when it is not enabled at high FPS. TXAA and FXAA can be used over MSAA for the same or better visual quality without the hardware overhead; In the end delivering higher FPS and improved visual quality.

Overclocking, another way to improve performance, is fairly simple to accomplish when you get the hang of it and is as simple and straight forward as in the past. You have new tools and techniques, but in a nutshell bump the power target up, bump the clocks up and test with a final tweak to the voltage to get you all the way to the top. This sample overclocked to a maximum of 1200MHz on the GK104 cores and 1620Mhz on the memory; both fairly decent bumps that delivered impressive performance scaling. Impressive as the stock numbers are overclocking improves on these marks delivering almost an almost 20,000 score using the Entry preset in 3DMark 11.

With a card of this nature you know it is going to carry a steep price tag. There is no way around it as we have seen in the past with dual GPU cards costing nearly as much or more as the $999 entry point for the GTX 690. It's not cheap or even close but the performance delivered speaks for itself. In the end it all comes together with NVIDIA hitting a home run as it did with the GTX 680, delivering the ultimate gaming gear for the gamer that has to have the best card on the market to run the highest resolutions and detail levels while enjoying all the NVIDIA ecosystem has to offer. It's got great performance to go with the great looks. What more is there to say.

We will have an article SLI vs. Crossfire coming up in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned for that. With driver issues from AMD we couldn't get its cards tested in time for this review.

 

Pros:

  • Massive performance
  • Overclocking
  • Cooling
  • Power Efficient
  • Noise
  • 3D Surround
  • New technologies
  • Quad SLI
  • Great looks

 

Cons:

  • Pricing


 

Editors' Choice



  1. Introduction & Closer look
  2. Closer Look: The Video Card
  3. Specifications & Features
  4. Testing: Setup & Overclocking
  5. Testing: Metro 2033
  6. Testing: Batman: Arkham City
  7. Testing: Battlefield 3
  8. Testing: Unigine Heaven Benchmark 3.0
  9. Testing: Sid Meier's Civilization V
  10. Testing: DiRT 3
  11. Testing: Mafia II
  12. Testing: 3DMark 11
  13. Testing: Temperatures
  14. Testing: Power Consumption
  15. Conclusion
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