ASUS GeForce GTX 590 3GB Video Card Review

NVIDIA today releases its new dual GPU card - the GTX 590. We look at the ASUS version to kick things off. Hot or not?

Manufacturer: ASUS
20 minutes & 19 seconds read time

Introduction and Package


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It's been ages since we've seen NVIDIA come out with a dual GPU card, and we know the main reason for that was because the GTX 400 series, as good as the mid-range models were, the initial launch pieces ran too hot and drew too much power, making a dual GPU card not an option.

The GTX 500 series fixed all the issues that the GTX 400 series had and then added more power into the mix. So that means today we get the dual GPU NVIDIA card we've wanted for ages, and it's known as the GTX 590.

We've got our hands on the ASUS one today and we'll be following the standard review lay out by looking at the package and then the card. Once we've done that we'll check out the specifications and of course because we're dealing with a new model, we'll be going into a bit more detail than usual on the specs front. Once we've done all the boring stuff, though, we get into the fun stuff and check out the performance of the new GTX 590.


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The package is pretty small and overall box design is very ASUS, as you would expect. Inside, though, there's really not much going on at all with a couple of DVI convertors, power convertor and some paperwork and driver CD.

Card and Specifications

The Card

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The first thing that has to be said about the GTX 590 is the length which is slightly shorter than the HD 6990 at 28cm long. It's good that the card comes in shorter, but I think the people who are buying this card won't really care.

As for the overall design, we've got a fan that sits in the middle much like the HD 6990. It seems to be a popular design for these dual GPU cards where we have a vapor chamber over each core and then a fan in the middle that blows cool air across each.

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Turned over, we've got some plates that cover parts of the card, but not all of it. You can see we've got the GPUs covered of course.

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One of my favorite little features of the card is the fact you can see the heatsink at the back of the card. It looks so mean and it helps extract the heat. Sure, it's not the most ideal situation where half the heat goes out the case and the other half goes in, but that's the cost of having the fan in the middle and the same is seen with the HD 6990.

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Moving across the top, we've got two 6-Pin PCI-E power connectors to power the card and closer to the front we've got a single SLI connector which of course gives us the ability to run up to two cards which in turn gives us a total of four GPUs.

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Connectivity is good and something that I was really looking forward to seeing. We've got three Dual-Link DVI connectors and a single Mini-DisplayPort and this is what we've wanted for a long time from NVIDIA. The GTX 590 IS able to run Surround Vision off a single card.

This is really a great ability and when you're talking about these powerful dual GPU cards, it's nice not to need to have two of them to make use of a big multi monitor setup. Of course, what makes it more attractive to a lot of people is the fact that you're able to run DVI monitors and instead don't need to have any form of DisplayPort ones. At the same time, though, it's great to see NVIDIA start to implement the DP connectivity on a reference designed card.


As for the specifications, the card is pretty much a pair of GTX 580s as far as the core specifications go. This is an important factor as AMD of course use what is essentially their two highest end GPUs on a single card.

So what this means is we've got 512 CUDA Cores, 64 Texture Units and 48 ROPs. Of course, in the specs they're all doubled because we're dealing with two cores, but these are the numbers per each core. The card carries with it two lots of 1.5GB memory like the GTX 580 and also like it we have a 384-bit memory bus.

Really, the card pretty much looks like a pair of GTX 580s on a single PCB which is exactly what you want to see from a high end card like this. That is until we look at the clocks which are surprisingly low; so low that I really needed to double check they were correct.

The GTX 580 carries a 772MHz core; that means the Shader clock is 1544MHz and the memory comes in at 4008MHz QDR. The GTX 590 comes with a core speed of 607MHz which means the Shader clock is 1215MHz. Also lower is the memory clock which comes in at only 3414MHz QDR

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It will be very interesting to see how performance is. Before we get into that, though, we want to make sure that we've of course got the card up and running properly and down the bottom you can indeed see that we've got 2 GPUs enabled in the SLI section.

Test System Setup and 3DMark 11

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Noctua and Corsair.

Of course, being a dual GPU card, we've got a bunch of high end cards in our graphs today. For NVIDIA we've got the single GTX 580 and in SLI we've got the GTX 560 Ti and GTX 580. We don't have the GTX 570 as we never had two GTX 570s that were the same.

For AMD we've got the single GPU HD 6970; above that we've got the HD 6950 in CrossFire, as well as the HD 6990 4GB in both its out of the box setup and in AUSUM mode which pushes the core up to 880MHz. Above that we've of course got the HD 6970 2GB in CrossFire.

Let's get started!

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
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3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Under 3DMark 11 we can see that performance sits just above the pre overclocked GTX 560 Ti cards from Palit. Compared to the AMD offerings, we can see that performance in the P preset is just above the HD 6950 CF setup and in X is almost identical to the HD 6950 CF setup.

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
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3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

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Under Vantage, thanks to PhysX support we see the GTX 590 3GB perform very strong against the AMD offerings. Compared to the NVIDIA ones we can see the cards a bit faster than the SLI GTX 560 Ti Sonic setup.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2
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New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Getting into Heaven, we can see the performance is similar to the SLI GTX 560 Ti Sonic setup. Compared to the single GTX 580, we've got a really nice performance boost.

Benchmarks - Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5

Version and / or Patch Used: Demo Benchmark
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Resident Evil 5 is a survival horror video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on September 18. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

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Getting into some games, we see some very strong performance from the GTX 590 that puts it ahead of most AMD setups. The only time it falls a little behind is at 2560 x 1600, but even then it's still a little faster than the HD 6990.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
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Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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H.A.W.X 2 really performs very well on the NVIDIA offerings and you can see that the GTX 590 performs ahead of all the AMD offerings including the HD 6990s which is the fastest AMD setup here.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
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Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Under Mafia II we can see that the AMD offerings clearly hit this wall around the 110 FPS mark. Sure, that's a lot of FPS, but with 120Hz monitors coming into the mix now and 120 FPS being an average people will aim for, it's becoming more important to see that kind of average and you can see the GTX 590 3GB has no issue here.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1
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Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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Lost Planet 2 is very tessellation heavy and we see that NVIDIA models are very strong here again. The GTX 590 performs stronger than the GTX 560 Ti Sonic SLI setup and a lot stronger than the AMD offerings which all seem to hit a wall at the same point.

Compared to the GTX 580, we've got very strong performance and more importantly we've got playable FPS at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
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Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Aliens vs. Predator performance is very strong for the GTX 590 again and we can see we're over the 60 FPS average at all resolutions which is very important. Compared to the AMD offerings the GTX 590 does lag a little behind the HD 6990; overall its performance is very similar to the HD 6950 CF setup.

Benchmarks - Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
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While Street Fighter IV features models and backgrounds rendered in 3D, the gameplay remains on a traditional 2D plane, with the camera having freedom to move in 3D at certain times during fights, for dramatic effect. Producer Yoshinori Ono has stated that he wanted to keep the game closer to Street Fighter II. A new system called "Focus Attacks" ("Saving Attack" for the Japanese version) has been introduced, as well as Ultra moves. The traditional six-button control scheme returns, with new features and special moves integrated into the input system, mixing classic gameplay with additional innovations.

All the characters and environments in Street Fighter IV are rendered as 3D models with polygons, similar to the Street Fighter EX sub-series Capcom produced with Arika. However, there are a couple of key differences. Art director and character designer Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, opted for non-photorealistic rendering to give them a hand-drawn look, with visual effects accented in calligraphic strokes, ink smudges and ink sprays during the fights.

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Big FPS across the board here and no real surprise from the NVIDIA models which do seem to perform stronger than the AMD ones.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
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The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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Far Cry 2 performance just across the board is very strong, as you would expect. At 1920 x 1200 and lower its performance is very similar to the AMD offerings, but does fall back a little at the highest 2560 x 1600 resolution.

Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham Asylum

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
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Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum - Gotham's psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City's most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.

Using a wide range of Batman's gadgets and abilities, players will become the invisible predator and attempt to foil The Joker's demented scheme.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini, whose credits include Lost season one and Batman: The Animated Series.

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Under Batman AA the performance on the GTX 590 was a little weird. We ran it multiple times and the numbers were very consistent. We've still got very strong performance, but it's a little lower than we would expect. This is a bit of a weird one.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

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Cranking up the detail, we've got some very strong performance. More importantly, though, we've got playable FPS in every test here and that's the most important piece of information to take out of these results. Even the super intensive Aliens vs. Predator doesn't have an issue.

Benchmarks - PhysX Tests

PhysX Tests

Here we're able to find out when PhysX is turned on in games that support it what kind of frame rates we're able to get. We always set PhysX to the highest possible in game settings while also keeping detail at its highest.

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Under PhysX we just left the card in performance mode instead of dedicating one of the cores to PhysX. I think if we did that our FPS would be stronger, but you can see we've got playable numbers under Batman AA, but the performance isn't as strong under Mafia II with the average being below 60 FPS at every resolution.

Temperature Test

Temperature Tests

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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At 85c on each core the GTX 590 is a little warmer than one core on the HD 6990, but cooler than the second core. I think people would prefer to have both cores at this temp than one at 83c and the other at 89c.

Sound Test

Sound Tests

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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This is where the GTX 590 3GB really shines; it's actually a very quiet card which is very surprising. This is probably the biggest benefit to the lower clock speeds; the fact you don't need the fan to spin at some insane speed.

Power Consumption Tests

Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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Power draw on the card is pretty much identical to that of the HD 6990 4GB when it's in AUSUM mode. You're not going to need a 1200 Watt power supply to run just one of these cards, and that's good to know. More interestingly, though, is probably the fact it's almost 100 Watt lower than the GTX 560 Ti Sonic SLI setup while being constantly faster.

Total Performance Rating (TPR)

Total Performance Rating

The TPR graph is a combination of all our benchmarks in which NVIDIA and AMD are on an even playing field.

The TPR number is a combination of:

3DMark 11, Heaven Benchmark V2, Resident Evil 5, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2, Mafia 2 (PhysX Off), Lost Planet 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV, Far Cry 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum (PhysX Off) and our four High Quality tests which include Mafia 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV and Far Cry 2.

All of the benchmark results achieved are then combined into a single number. As this graph will grow over time and cards won't be re-tested, next to each model you'll find the driver version that was used when the card was benchmarked.

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Overall we're finding performance in our TPR graph is similar to the GTX 560 Ti Sonic SLI and HD 6850 CF setups. This is probably more so due to the lower Vantage score, though.

If you start to break down the numbers a bit more, though, you'll probably find that in games the GTX 590 is probably a little faster and that seems to be because AMD hit this constant FPS wall before NVIDIA.

Total Value Rating (TVR)

Total Value Rating

The TVR graph is the TPR score divided by the price of the video card. The price of the video card is based on the list price of the model on In the event the card isn't listed, it will be based on the U.S. $ MSRP given to us by the manufacturer.

In the event we can't source a price from either, the product will not receive a TVR rating. As with our TPR graph, the amount of video cards on the list will grow over time and the price of the model won't change from what it was when first reviewed. For this reason the U.S. $ price that the card is based off will be included next to the name of the model.

In the event you want to find the TVR rating yourself based on the current price, all you have to do is simply divide the TPR number by the list price.

TVR numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number; 100.3 will be 100; 100.8 will be 101 and 100.5 will be rounded down to 100.

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At the same price as the HD 6990 4GB, but overall lower performance, we're seeing that its value isn't quite as strong. AMD do indeed have that ability to flick a switch and gain a 50MHz overclock on the card to help push value up another notch.

Final Thoughts

After a few days of using the ASUS GTX 590 3GB, I still find myself wondering why NVIDIA opted for such a low reference clock speed. Considering that ASUS themselves promote up to a 50% performance increase with voltage control, we have to think that there's some serious headroom and in talking to some people, it seems that 800 - 850MHz isn't out of the question.

So why did NVIDIA opt for a clock speed near 200MHz lower than that? - Well, I think one of the biggest gripes to the HD 6990s is indeed the heat the card is outputting and I think after the GTX 480, NVIDIA know that just because you're faster, if you're running too hot and drawing too much power, people aren't going to be interested.

It seems what they've done is just kind of go down a bit more of a safer path to offer a card that runs cooler than the HD 6990, but more importantly quieter. The issue is that out of the gate you compare the performance of the two dual GPU cards under 3DMark 11 and you'll find yourself disappointed with what NVIDIA is offering.

What's funny, though, is when you start to get into the games the GTX 590 begins to perform very strong against the HD 6990 and it seems to be due to the fact that they're able to achieve a higher maximum under games. AMD seem to hit a wall much earlier than NVIDIA. Mafia II for example sees no AMD setup get much over 110 FPS; NVIDIA sees performance that exceeds 150 FPS. It's not just Mafia II, though; we see it in other games as well.

It reminds me of a few years back when we saw ATI at the time release a driver that was able to make use of quad core CPUs. What it did was push the overall performance of its cards higher because a CPU limitation wasn't encountered as often. It seems, though, that NVIDIA are able to make better use of your CPU and in turn offer you overall a higher FPS, and this is something that's really important. When you're spending this kind of money on a video card, you want to make sure that your whole system is being used to the best of its ability.

Surround Vision off the one card is also very nice and sure we've had Eyefinity on single cards for ages now, but there's still a lot of people out there who don't want to make the jump to a DisplayPort monitor because they're happy with what their DVI ones offer, and to be honest that's fair enough. I also like the inclusion of the mini-DP connector, but it would've been nice to see ASUS include a convertor to standard DP.

Heat is similar to the HD 6990, but on average slightly lower because one core on the HD 6990 does run warmer. Noise is a huge pro for this card, though, and that's where the card really shines. To have this much power on tap, power that is greater than two heavy pre overclocked GTX 560 Ti cards in SLI, at this noise level and 100w lower power draw is fantastic. The shorter length is also good, but I don't think it's as important to people as if you're buying something like this then the chances are you'll already have quite a nice system.

This brings us on to the price, though. NVIDIA has set the price at $699 USD, the same price as the HD 6990 4GB. Based on the out of the box performance, I thought this was actually a little too high, but you're going to pay a premium for the NVIDIA card and the price of the GTX 580 means making it lower would be quite difficult without dropping the price on that card.

So, is the card too expensive? - Well, if it was the exact same card with an AMD label on it, we'd probably say yes. Because it's an NVIDIA one, though, we say that it's about what you would expect. Is it a better buy over the HD 6990 4GB at the same price? You know what? I couldn't really tell you, as it's going to come down to the person. If you want 3D Surround Vision then it's a better buy; if you want Surround Vision with all DVI monitors then it's a better buy. If you want something that's quieter than the HD 6990, it's a better buy. But there's also plenty of places where the HD 6990 is a better buy.

Of course, if you're in Australia there's a whole new problem. The HD 6990 4GB can be had for around $799 AUD which isn't too bad considering the $699 USD MSRP. The GTX 590 4GB, though, is being seen for around $1,100 AUD. Considering it's the same USD MSRP, there's something really wrong with that and we're not sure if that's going to translate into other countries.

Overclocking is going to be something else that has to be thrown into the mix here and we'll be looking at that soon. As we've mentioned, people have managed to achieve in excess of 800MHz already, so we're sure we'll be able to achieve a nice performance boost against the numbers we've already got.

We've managed to lay everything on the table here and talk about what exactly the ASUS GTX 590 is able to offer. For some they're not going to be interested; for others they're going to be glad with what NVIDIA are offering. It's going to really come down to what you want out of your high end video card. SLI single GPU solutions continue to be better value, but if you want a single solution dual GPU offering the decision is going to be tough.

I also think with so much potential headroom, we're going to see companies like ASUS get quite aggressive with the model sooner rather than later. There seems to be some serious breathing room and no doubt companies will make sure we can see it out of the box very soon.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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