NVIDIA GTX 690 Reviewccokeman - May 3, 2012
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NVIDIA's GTX 690 is a thing of beauty and incorporates many unique features into the design of the card from the rugged industrial looks to the impressive performance characteristics. These prove not only to be for looks but are indeed functional elements of the card. Well some of it is purely for looks at least. The GTX 690 is built using two GK104 Kepler GPUs. Measuring 11 inches in length the GTX 690 is an inch longer than the GTX 680. The front frame of the card is made from durable trivalent chromium-plated cast aluminum with two clear polycarbonate windows over the nickel-plated fin arrays. The fan housing is made from injection molded magnesium alloys. NVIDIA sums up the reasons for using this exotic metal like this, "Magnesium alloys are used throughout the automotive and aerospace industry (including the engines of the Bugatti Veyron and F-22 Raptor) for their light weight, heat dissipation, and acoustic dampening properties - which are the same reasons we use it in the GTX 690." A process called thixomolding is used to form the housings. The axial mounted fan used was as thoroughly thought out as the rest of the design with a new fin pitch and configuration to make this card quieter than two GTX 680's in SLI.
A 10 layer, 2oz copper-based PCB is used to help with heat dissipation and electrical signal strength all while running cooler for enhanced longevity. The back side of the PCB shows that all of the available real estate on the 10 inch PCB has been utilized. One last trick to make this slick looking card draw more attention is the green back lit laser cut GEFORCE GTX logo on the top of the card that can be seen through the side window of the chassis. The GTX 690 is DirectX 11.1 and PCIe 3.0 compliant and is designed to be run in a PCIe 16X slot on the motherboard and is backwards compatible with PCIe 2.0.
Connectivity on the GTX 690 allows the end user the ability to run up to four monitors at one time in a Surround 3 +1 setup using three Dual Link DVI and a single Displayport 1.2 port. By connecting three 120Hz 3D Vision-ready monitors such as the three ASUS VG236 used in this testing and a 3D Vision kit you can enjoy 3D Surround gaming. As anyone who has seen it first hand it is absolutely worth it if you want to enjoy that added dimension. It adds another element to DiRT 3 for me. Above the DP and DL-DVI port is the exhaust vent for the front GPU heat sink. The rear heat sink vents the thermal load out the back of the card and into the chassis. A larger flow path for the airflow helps drop the noise level of the GTX 690. The back end of the card is vented allowing airflow out the back of the card so that each heatsink has a distinct airflow path resulting in temperature parity on the GK104 cores. By venting the rear GPU's thermal load into the chassis you will want to make sure there is nothing directly behind the card and improve the airflow through your chassis or you could see an increase in the thermal load on all of the components in the case. I measured the airflow stream out the back of the housing at 56.7C while under load using my Kestral 4100. The polycarbonate windows, another design element, allow the nickel-plated fin arrays on the dual vapor chamber heat sink to be shown off at least before installation.
The GTX 690 supports Quad SLI configurations using another GTX 690 in motherboards that support this graphics configuration. A single bridge connection points to this as the only opportunity for more than two GPUs in SLI. Two 8-pin PCIe power connections are used to supply up to 375 watts to the GTX 690 when power from the 16x PCIe slot is taken into account. NVIDIA says that typical power loads run in the 276 watt range for this card in typical gaming scenarios. Ironically that is the load I saw duing the power testing for this card in the OCC test system. Power supply recommendations are in the 650 watt range but of course that's running on the edge.
The cooling solution employed by NVIDIA for the GTX 690 is a very robust piece with two independent copper Vapor Chambers attached to two nickel-plated fin arrays. By using separate solutions for each GPU there is temperature parity with both GPUs getting an equal share of the cool intake charge from the axial mounted fan. An aluminum baseplate is used to cool the rest of the components on the PCB and features channels to direct airflow through to the fin stack. The fan assembly uses an optimized blade to push air through the heat sink assembly as quietly and as efficiently as possible for the best cooling and noise performance possible.
NVIDIA's GTX 690 is built using a pair of 28nm GK104 Kepler-based cores on a single 10 layer, 2oz copper PCB. By using such a robust PCB component, temperatures are reduced and power efficiency is increased with improved signal integrity. A 10 phase power delivery system is used to supply power to the cores and GDDR5 memory. A PLX bridge chip is used to deliver a full 16 PCIe lanes to each core for maximum throughput. The dual GPUs used on the GTX 690 feature a total of 8 GPC (Graphics Processing clusters), 16 SMX(Streaming Multiprocessors), 3072 CUDA cores, 256 Texture units, 64ROPs and 7.08 billion transistors all clocked at 915MHz with a turbo boost of at least 1019MHz. The memory architecture has been reworked with a quartet of memory controllers for each core resulting in a 2 x 256-bit memory bus controlling the 4GB of GDDR5 clocked at 1500MHz (6000MHz effective). As you can see fitting all of the hardware on board the 11 inch PCB means that every bit of space is utilized.
Just the specifications and hardware list on their own point to a card that is going to be an all-out monster capable of delivering performance with the eye candy on and the ability to use the entire NVIDIA ecosystem with just a single card. All while running cooler, quieter and consuming less power than previous generation cards. Let's see if it lives up to the hype.