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GeForce GTX 680 2 GB Review: Kepler Sends Tahiti On Vacation

GeForce GTX 680 2 GB Review: Kepler Sends Tahiti On Vacation
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Enthusiasts want to know about Nvidia's next-generation architecture so badly that they broke into our content management system and took the data to be used for today's launch. Now we can really answer how Kepler fares against AMD's GCN architecture.

Nvidia is fond of drawing parallels. With its prior-generation graphics cards, the company likened each model to a different role on a virtual battlefield. GeForce GTX 480 was the tank—big performance and, to a fault, a big price, big power, and big heat, as well. GeForce GTX 460 came to be referred to as the hunter, incorporating a better balance of speed, efficiency, and cost more apropos to gamers. Finally, GeForce GTS 450 was dubbed the sniper for its focus on enabling playable frame rates at 1680x1050, according to Nvidia.

As silly as that trio of categories seemed, they make it easier for us to put a finger on the pulse of GeForce GTX 680. Though its name (and price) suggests a successor to Nvidia’s current single-GPU flagship, this is decidedly the hunter—a gamer-oriented card that almost completely de-emphasizes the once-emphatic message of improving general-purpose compute performance. But hey, it does that whole gamer thing really well, just like the GeForce GTX 460.

Fitting In Isn’t Always Easy

Regardless of the role it was designed to fill, competition is the biggest influencer of positioning. AMD may have higher-end cards on its roadmap that we haven’t seen or heard about yet. However, in the context of AMD’s six Radeon HD 7000-series boards that are already available, Nvidia knows exactly what it’s up against.

Had Radeon HD 7970 been 30 or 40 percent faster than it is, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be looking at a GeForce GTX 680 today. Maybe it would have been called GTX 660 or 670. But because of where AMD’s flagship sits, Nvidia sees justification in crowning its new hunter as a successor to its old tank—all the while making it pretty clear that another piece of heavy armor is in the works.  

What we have on our hands, then, is a £450 card based on Nvidia’s GK104 graphics processor, designed specifically for gamers (if you’re interested in compute potential, you’ll have to keep waiting). GeForce GTX 680 addresses some of last generation’s most glaring competitive disadvantages, and it adds a handful of interesting features, too. 

Meet GeForce GTX 680

At 10” long, the GeForce GTX 680’s PCB is half an inch longer than AMD’s Radeon HD 7800 boards and half an inch shorter than the Radeon HD 7900s.

Looking at the card head-on, we see that it employs a centrifugal fan, which pushes hot air out of the card’s rear bracket. There’s only about half of one slot available for passing exhaust back there. But as we’ll see in our thermal and acoustic tests, the GTX 680 does not have a problem contending with heat.

The rest of the dual-slot bracket plays host to four display outputs: two dual-link DVI connectors, one full-sized HDMI port, and a DisplayPort output. All of them are useable concurrently, addressing one of our sharpest critiques of all prior-gen Fermi-based boards. At long last, we can consider multi-monitor gaming tests to replace 2560x1600 in our single-card reviews (and indeed, multi-monitor benchmarks will follow in a story on which we're already working)! Like AMD, Nvidia claims that this card support HDMI 1.4a, monitors with 4K horizontal resolutions, and multi-stream audio.

Up top, GeForce GTX 680 features twin SLI connectors, enabling two-, three-, and four-way SLI configurations. In comparison, AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 and 7950 similarly support up to four-way arrays.

We also get our first piece of physical evidence that Nvidia’s GK104 processor was designed to be a viable option in more mainstream environments: GeForce GTX 680 employs two six-pin auxiliary power connectors. Those two inputs, plus a PCI Express slot, facilitate up to 225 W of power delivery. Nvidia rates this card for up to 195 W. However, it also says typical power use is closer to 170 W. Keep those numbers in mind—the available headroom between 170 W and the 225 W specification ceiling come into play shortly.

Keeping GeForce GTX 680 Cool

Nvidia claims it put a significant effort into three aspects of its dual-slot cooler’s design, contributing to an impressive acoustic footprint, even under load. We can peel back the GTX 680’s shroud for a closer look…

First, the company cites a trio of horseshoe-shaped heat pipes embedded in the GPU heat sink, which quickly draw heat away from GK104. Thermal energy is transferred from those pipes into a dual-slot aluminum sink. 

Optimizations to the sink itself also rank on Nvidia’s list of improvements. For instance, the fin stack is angled where air exits, creating more space, internally, between the cooler and exhaust grate. Apparently, in prior designs, heat was getting trapped between the bracket and fins, affecting cooling performance. This new approach is said to yield lower temperatures than the older implementation.

Finally, Nvidia says it added acoustic dampening material to the fan motor—a step it also took with the GeForce GTX 580, which contributed to getting that card’s noise level down compared to its maligned predecessor.

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  • 2 Hide
    graemevermeulen , 22 March 2012 21:07
    Wow. Knew it would be a beast, and for such a good price too. Well done Nvidia!
  • 3 Hide
    LLL , 22 March 2012 21:41
    well done NV! cant wait NV's 660 serie.
  • 1 Hide
    jemm , 23 March 2012 03:41
    It is a monster!
  • -2 Hide
    silicondoc_85 , 23 March 2012 03:44
    I love it, the GTX 680 wins and in page after page our red c angel tells us it's not meaningful as all cards can do.
    He even calls the GTX590 single card king defunct !
    The bias is so bad, and stinks to high heaven, but the review is blind as a bat to his red fanboy bloviating he would have us believe.
    I'm sure he will 100% excuse himself as he has before claiming rabid red fans complain so he's doing a good job.
    The bias is beyond disgusting anyway.
    As we will see the soon Crysis 1 and Metro 2033 will be the favorite games of all. All the rest will be described as " capable of being run on any card offering from either competitor so a dead match washout".
    This is the very definition of the red raging fanboy. When they lose in every fashion and form, suddenly everything is a tie and all cards are good, as they are all capable.
    You will never see the reverse done for Nvidia, it does not happen here, nor almost anywhere else.
    The real truth is more than apparent.
    The 680 is about 20% faster across the board, costs less, lower thermals and wattage, smaller core, with an immensely larger feature set that now the raging reds will have extreme trouble lying about over and over again as they have for years claiming "they don't care about any of it and it all sucks".
    Worse yet for them the 7970 loses in triple monitor gaming as well, the big fat ram lie is kicked to the curb as it should have been YEARS AGO.
    The GTX590 still has the single card crown these low life liars still cannot admit as we see it in so many of these reviews - but for the little lying amd fan, "it was not sufficiently dethroned" and for this reviewer as it shows up on top or under the 680 over and over again, it is "defunkct" - THAT'S RIGHT CHRIS IT IS ACCORDING TO YOU DEFUNKCT EVEN AS YOU INCLUDE IT IN YOUR BENCHMARKS.
    ---
    thanks for the thuosands of endless lies in red fanboy favor. thanks so much !
    I'm sure you all have nvidia cards in your own personal systems a well ! I know you do that proves you aren't a lying sack.
    way to go...
  • -4 Hide
    silicondoc_85 , 23 March 2012 03:54
    I can't even read this CRAP without getting furious.

    " The GeForce GTX 680 takes second place in Skyrim at 1680x1050 and 1920x1080. But across-the-board performance is so good that the victory isn’t entirely meaningful.

    (second means the top card GTX dual 590 wins, while the 680 smokes the lame 7970)

    Frame rates slow down just enough at 2560x1600 that the Radeon HD 6990 sneaks past Nvidia’s new card.

    ( but here cannot bring himself to state that once again the GTX590 BEATS THE 6990 AND TAKES FIRST PLACE - ALWAYS WORDED IN A GIANT BIAS FOR THE RED CARDS FAVOR - ALWAYS WITHOUT EXCEPTION)

    Again, though, neither the 6990 nor the GTX 590 are even for sale anymore, so their significance is largely symbolic. Frankly, I’m glad to see them go."

    ( Finally after blowing it, putting down the 680 as second place, then noting only the 6990 in name "beating the 680" and never mentioning the gtx590 beating the 6990, chris the biased perp dismisses the 6990 loss and the 590 win and proclaims he's glad to "see them go" - since of course his purposes for biased fanboyism have been served)

    I mean you HAVE TO BE BLIND NOT TO SEE IT ON PAGE AFTER PAGE, AND CHRIS ANGELI IS DEFINITELY BLIND.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , 23 March 2012 03:55
    @silicondoc_85
    Might be my fault cause of a fever, but after reading your post twice I still don't get what's your point.

    Apart from that, this card gives some nice insight into what Kepler has to offer.
    I'm still waiting to see other models before making any decisions.
  • 3 Hide
    Marsas , 23 March 2012 04:39
    Wow, I was just waiting for Nvidia cards to show up so AMD would lower the price of their high end cards (7950 and 7970) and I could buy one, but after this, I don't know how much the price should drop to make up for performance difference against this card.
  • -3 Hide
    silicondoc_85 , 23 March 2012 04:55
    More sick red bias of unbelievable proportion on power efficiency.

    " We set the GTX 580 as 100%, and the rest of the results speak for themselves. "

    (He tries to get away with saying nothing here, given the 172% GTX680 massive, massive win, but can't do it, so spinning is absolutely required below)

    The Radeon HD 7970 and 7950 both do deliver more performance per watt of power used compared to GeForce GTX 580—and by a significant amount.

    ( First he must brag up his favored brand, slamming down on the Nvidia card)

    But GeForce GTX 680 is like, way up there.

    ( Finally he brings himself to say it - it was very difficult, but the Nvidia win here is so enormous, he had to first try to say nothing, then brag up amd cards against nvidia, then finally in a tiny sentence, quickly mention the 680 being up there. Immediately afterwards, as usual the red fan has to discount and deny this massive accomplishment as this site and red fans and he has been pushing amd power efficiency wins down everyone's throat for the last two years solid. Now you shall see, it won't matter...)

    As a gamer, do you care about this?

    ( As a red fanboy, this is now "unimportant" when Nvidia scores the massive win, so Chris tells you you really shouldn't care, for the 1st time EVER when it comes to power efficency - when RED LOSES BAd and NVIDIA wins )

    Not nearly as much as absolute performance, we imagine.

    ( THE BIAS reeks again, the Nvidia card the the best absolute performance too, but since AMD can't claim a win on power, we switch up... and omit the dual Nvidia win neing mentioned directly - we go on further pretending that didn't happen, so that we can completely dismiss power/performance this time around, with Chris Angelini's massive red fan bias)

    And I personally doubt I’d ever pay more for a card specifically because it gave me better performance/watt.

    ( Here Chris declares the years of power/perf pushing what they should have been for the last two years here, not a paid for feature - but it was pushed as the reason why AMD cards must be chosen - worse yet Chris pretends you have to pay for it here, WHEN THE WINNING CARD THE NVIDIA GTX680 COSTS LESS AND IS MOST EFFICIENT... as Chris' fanboy minds twists against Nvidia, his analysis twists sideways as well, clearly completely losing tracks of the facts he just discovered in testing, that Nvidia is faster, CHEAPER, AND MORE POWER EFFICIENT ...)

    But with AMD and Nvidia both talking about their efficiency this generation, thanks to 28 nm manufacturing and new architectural decisions, the exercise is still interesting.

    ( LMAO - the last sentence "declars the tie! " after Nvidia's smashing win - the conclusion - they both talk about it, and "it's interesting"... ANOTHER GIGANTIC BIAS IN THE LOSER AMD'S FAVOR )
    ----
    I don't mind a slip here or there, but when entire sections are mindlessly biased in favor of AMD, over and over and over again... IT REALLY PISSES ME OFF !

    How about the truth next time Chris ? How about forcing yourself to remove your gigantic amd bias in your thoughts and typing... ? Here I WILL FIX IT
    --------------------------

    The GeForce GTX 680 won the power efficiency test by an enormous margin,as you see above. Nvidia’s and AMD’s respective new architectures diverge greatly here as Nvidia is faster and more power efficient, everything we've been promoting about AMD's card for years.
    The tables have more than completey turned.

    The Radeon HD 7970 and 7950 both do deliver more performance per watt of power used compared to AMD's prior generation, but they cannot come close to the GeForce GTX 680 which is so good we have to make the same recommendation on it we have for years for the AMD cards that were no where near this good.

    As gamers, we've cared about for years on this site, often placing it as the purchase decision above absolute performance.
    And I personally promoted amd cards specifically because they gave better performance/watt.

    With Nvidia now talking about this like AMD has for years, we can't just suddenly dismiss this as we'd like to and tell you it means nothing.

    (although they/Chris did of course in the real article)

  • 2 Hide
    jakjawagon , 23 March 2012 05:23
    Quote:
    anything below 60 Hz has to still be a multiple of 60


    This would be impossible and makes no sense. I think you meant 'factor'. /pedant
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , 23 March 2012 14:53
    Is there any reason why there are no eyeinfinity tests? You already said that nivida now supports 3ways + screens so lets see it. I want to see Battlefield 3 across 3 displays with ultra settings...

    Also gamers who can afford this level of hardware don't want to know about resolutions of 1680x1050...
  • 1 Hide
    santfu , 24 March 2012 08:39
    I'm not sure that silicondoc is feeling very well. The only fanboyism that i see is from silicondoc.

    I agree with Ashleyh for top end cards now 1680 x 1050 is a pointless test. For the cost of these cards you get some very nice 1920 x 1080 monitors or 3 not so nice ones.
  • -1 Hide
    dizzy_davidh , 24 March 2012 11:47
    silicondoc_85I love it, the GTX 680 wins and in page after page our red c angel tells us it's not meaningful as all cards can do.He even calls the GTX590 single card king defunct !The bias is so bad, and stinks to high heaven, but the review is blind as a bat to his red fanboy bloviating he would have us believe.I'm sure he will 100% excuse himself as he has before claiming rabid red fans complain so he's doing a good job.The bias is beyond disgusting anyway.As we will see the soon Crysis 1 and Metro 2033 will be the favorite games of all. All the rest will be described as " capable of being run on any card offering from either competitor so a dead match washout".This is the very definition of the red raging fanboy. When they lose in every fashion and form, suddenly everything is a tie and all cards are good, as they are all capable.You will never see the reverse done for Nvidia, it does not happen here, nor almost anywhere else.The real truth is more than apparent. The 680 is about 20% faster across the board, costs less, lower thermals and wattage, smaller core, with an immensely larger feature set that now the raging reds will have extreme trouble lying about over and over again as they have for years claiming "they don't care about any of it and it all sucks".Worse yet for them the 7970 loses in triple monitor gaming as well, the big fat ram lie is kicked to the curb as it should have been YEARS AGO.The GTX590 still has the single card crown these low life liars still cannot admit as we see it in so many of these reviews - but for the little lying amd fan, "it was not sufficiently dethroned" and for this reviewer as it shows up on top or under the 680 over and over again, it is "defunkct" - THAT'S RIGHT CHRIS IT IS ACCORDING TO YOU DEFUNKCT EVEN AS YOU INCLUDE IT IN YOUR BENCHMARKS.---thanks for the thuosands of endless lies in red fanboy favor. thanks so much !I'm sure you all have nvidia cards in your own personal systems a well ! I know you do that proves you aren't a lying sack.way to go...

    I have to agree. whenever there is an nVidia review at TomsHardware it's test results never come out as good as they should be, being either close to the manufacturers own or my personal results.

    As for the 590 being slower fps-wise in games like BF3 than the 680, nVidia themselves have results that show that a 590 will beat a 680 so again your results are crap!

    I can only think that your test setup is flawed in some way or you simply have no idea what you are talking about (I suspect the latter).
  • 0 Hide
    SSri , 23 April 2012 22:55
    GTX 680 comes out extremely poor in computing performance scoring almost just a third of GTX 580's! Is there any pun intended in that card? I can't believe that a top of the line card can be so poor in computation..It is pretty fishy...