I really shouldn't curse so... FRACK, what a beast of a graphics card the GeForce GTX 690 really is -- admittedly, the price is rather beastly as well -- without doubt beyond anything we expected and with each year that passes the price seems to rise. US $999 / Euro 829 EX VAT / UK £839 INC VAT is what you are looking at. The GeForce GTX 690 is a limited volume product though, and as such NVIDIA could have priced these cards at 2000 USD and would have still sold the inventory. That said and out of the way I am not going deeply into pricing, we all know it, we all dislike it... but it is what it is really.
What I do want to talk to you about is the actual hardware and the sheer amount of performance you gain from it with, let's be honest here, very acceptable power consumption and heat levels. The previously released GeForce GTX 590 was a card that was a little fragile in terms of its VRM design, I still am using one though as it is/was a sound card. The GeForce GTX 690 however is an improvement over that GeForce GTX 590 on many levels.
First off, the full implementation and usage of the Kepler GK104 GPUs really brings in a truckload of performance. The 28nm fabrication node GPU wise certainly serves NVIDIA well as the GTX 680 has already shown, we're quite certain that the actual wafer yields could be a hint better though as availability of the now little brother GTX 680 is scarce.
The outcome of the two GK104 GPUs however brings a whopping 3072 shader cores to this product -- that's over 7 billion (!) transistors of raw unadulterated performance thrown at you. And while the core baseclock is slightly lower than the GTX 680 the boost clock makes up for a lot. See, if the power envelope allows it the two GPUs can turbo towards 1019 MHz, and really that's not far off from the GTX 680 at all -- if anything, our benchmark results have shown just that. In fact if it sticks nicely within the power envelope the GPUs might even reach 1100 MHz from what we have seen.
The numbers prove it and back that up, the overall gaming performance is breathtaking -- shocking -- jawbreaking.
Crysis 2 with the High Res Textures pack at 4x AA is pumping out a serious framerate of 66 FPS (on average) at a whopping monitor resolution of 2560x1600 -- astonishing. Anno 2070 at that same resolution is above 100 FPS and Battlefield 3 at 4x AA @ 2560x1600 pushes roughly 70 FPS. If I quickly recalculate that in my head then all these games would run 40~50+ FPS at 5760x1080 if you game on three monitors. Meaning that one card is very sufficient. So yeah, these are some serious game performance numbers and as such the raw performance will make a lot of end-users happy -- especially the ones that game at uber high-resolutions, multiple-monitors or 3D Stereo admirers.
Important to know is that raw performance does not necessarily equal massive power consumption. While playing games, on average the power consumption of the card hovers at 260 Watts (if you game seriously with hefty settings). That's roughly similar to a single last generation GeForce GTX 580. So we are not disputing that 260W is low power consumption, the performance per watt simply went up massively. In relation to that we also have to mention heat. Here again we are not seeing anything disconcerting. Expect the hottest GPU to remain under 80 degrees C while you are gaming heavily. Our generic advice of course applies, make sure you have plenty of ventilation inside your PC, airflow is very important. Cold air needs to be able to get into the system, and hot air exhausted outwards.
The hotter the cards get, the harder the product's ventilation has to work, the cooling of the GeForce GTX 690 in relation to noise levels is pretty much also a non-concern (if you leave the card clocked at defaults). Now you will be able to hear the product when you game heavily, but it remains at acceptable noise levels. In fact it is quite surprising to observe as for a card of this caliber you expect things to be much worse.
While touching on the topic of cooling, we have to state that the cooler itself is the shiznit... it's a proper cooler that keeps the card not only cool enough and at acceptable noise levels, it just looks intensely cool from a design perspective as well. The cast aluminum, the injection molded magnesium alloy, the see through plexi-glass... and then LED activated logo. You can definitely see that extra money was spent on it alright, we like that very much. We did notice that a good chunk of the heat is ventilated into the PC at the backside of the card, that is a bit of a bummer, though with two GPUs, four display connectors and a dual-slot design... what can one do really. Get that well ventilated chassis alright?
Please do keep in mind that a card needs an appropriate PC. Processor wise we'd recommend something like the Core i5 2500 for starters, the Ivy Bridge 3570/3770 would be great and come with PCIe Gen 3.0 compatibility. For benchmarking but best suited would be Sandy Bridge-E -- a X79 platform with a six-core Core i7 3960X or something close.
Driver compatibility -- in terms of multi-GPU support we did not have problems whatsoever. All tested titles worked perfectly fine and overall scaling was pretty impressive as well. NVIDIA has been very strong on multi-GPU support and once big titles launch, they often release a new driver alongside with it. It would not hurt NVIDIA to release drivers on a far more regular basis though.
Well, let me round it up -- all variables are right -- performance -- quality -- heat levels -- power consumption -- noise levels. The one disconcerting factor really is the very steep price level for the GeForce GTX 690. But this is the uber-enthusiast segment versus a limited volume product. The cards would sell even if NVIDIA priced them at 2000 USD -- much like extreme sport-cars people will spend the extra dough for it.
Graphics cards like shown today are for the cream of the crop gamers and hardware gurus out there -- the enthusiasts. Remember, you'll need a fairly powerful PC, a monitor resolution that starts at 1920x1200, preferably 2560x1600 or heck even three monitors. Also remember that one GeForce GTX 690 supports Surround Vision with up-to three monitors as well. If you can afford it all, you'll have a smile on your face like the Joker in Batman. So I'll end this review with nervous Joker like laughter, and head back to gaming. Now bring on Sniper Elite, Diablo III and Max Payne 3 okay? May and June are looking good. Yummie :)
As a popular 80s band once sang... sweet dreams are made of these.
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