This industry, like every other industry loves drama. As if we didn't create enough this week with our slew of Ivy Bridge content that saw us test the Intel Core i5 3570K and Intel Core i7 3770K . If that wasn't enough we checked out the latest G.Skill RAM and achieved some massive overclocking performance. To finally round it all off we then took the time to overclock both processors to see how that went.
Since NVIDIA sent us nothing on the GTX 680 codenamed "Kepler" - no press deck, no whitepaper, no conference call information, no sample, no NDA date - absolutely nothing - we're kind of winging it here. Something we don't really like to do. But when I woke up this morning again with no information from NVIDIA, I was just over it and decided to knock this review over straight away as clearly we weren't going to hear anything from them. How is that for professionalism? (Ed: Shocking!)
We've sent countless email and the fact this is going up before NDA time is going to annoy a lot of people. In our defense, we don't actually know the NDA time because NVIDIA Taiwan won't respond. Plus, I'm personally just past caring about it anymore. Our relationship with NVIDIA is so broken that it doesn't matter what we do, they have no interest in dealing with us on a professional level. Due to the region NVIDIA North America won't deal with us and NVIDIA Taiwan just don't like us and / or don't want to work with us at all.
Being based out of Taiwan now gives us so much more flexibility and access to the latest tech items whenever we like. I think that's become obvious from coverage earlier in the week. If I've discovered one thing since I've got here, it's that so much business gets done over the phone where it just can't be traced. We love that.
Anyway, we're back in this situation where we're just posting NVIDIA video cards again as soon as we can. I can openly say that this isn't going to change while NVIDIA choose to treat us the way they do. We work closely with so many companies, that they're willing to help us in a way that it doesn't come back to them. That's obvious with the sample we've got here today. We're happy to play by the rules NVIDIA set, but they've decided to stop setting them for us. If NVIDIA North America wants to blame anyone, though, for the early release, blame your Taiwan office - we aren't going to single out anyone, but you know the culprit. We'll happily forward the emails we sent them that were blatantly ignored. You'll see we tried to play nice from our end.
There's not much else that really can be said. I can't get into the technical side of things too much today because NVIDIA again haven't sent us anything. So we're simply going to look at the card, check out the information under GPU-Z and then just get into the benchmarking side of things to see what the new model can do.
As always, though, NVIDIA, you know how to contact us. We're happy to talk, we made that obvious by the large amounts of emails we sent out. But the ball is now firmly in your court. Maybe we'll get lucky and we won't have to deal with the local office that shows a complete lack of respect for us or maybe we'll just be releasing NVIDIA card reviews early for the next six months. Who knows! That's enough of that though, you, our lovely readers, just want to find out about performance and we're about to give it to you, ahead of the NVIDIA NDA!
Editor Note - I couldn't agree with Shane more. The good thing for you, our readers, is that you are going to get early information on all things NVIDIA. If NVIDIA do decide to support us like any other media, we will play by the rules. Until then, it's gloves off.
The Card and Specifications
Looking at the cooler design there's nothing too out of the ordinary when it comes to the overall look of it. We've got that fairly standard setup with the fan on the far right that helps pull in cool air, drag it across the GPU and extract it straight out the back of the case. Noise levels and temperature are always going to be interesting on these new cards, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.
One of the biggest surprises from the new GTX 680 comes in form of the power setup. As you can see above we've got a dual 6-pin setup. When it comes to these high-end single GPU cards we expect an 8-pin + 6-pin setup. The fact that NVIDIA is able to get away with a dual 6-pin setup is surprising. It will be interesting to see the power draw on the new model, an area that NVIDIA has tended to sit a little higher in.
Moving across the top and closer to the front of the card you can see we've got a pair of SLI connectors. This will give us the ability to run up to four NVIDIA GTX 680s in a system that supports it.
Finally we finish up with the I/O side of things and it's nice to see that NVIDIA are throwing DisplayPort into the mix which is seen on the far left. Next to that we've got HDMI along with two DVI connectors - one Dual-Link and one Single Link.
When it comes to specifications we can unfortunately only really tell you what we're seeing here in GPU-Z today. That's telling us that we're dealing 1536 CUDA cores and 32 ROPs. As for the core clock you can see that comes in at 1006MHz and the new "Boost" or "Dynamic OC" goes to 1059MHz which can be seen on the furthest most panel - hardly much of an improvement in clocks at all.
As for the memory side of things we've got the model that comes with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. That is on a 256-bit memory bus and carries a clock speed of 6008MHz QDR.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup
When it comes to the comparison side of things we'll be checking out the new GTX 680 against all the main cards you'd expect to see it against. That includes the last generation GTX 570 and GTX 580 on the NVIDIA side of things.
On the AMD side of things we've got the brand new HD 7950 and HD 7970s as they're the new generation cards while we've also got the HD 6990 which is still widely recognized as the fastest card on the market.
Let's get started!
The FPS Numbers Explained
When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.
30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.
60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.
120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.
Benchmarks - 3DMark 11
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/
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.
Honestly I don't know how else you can start. Straight away under 3DMark 11 we can just see some massive performance coming out of the GTX 680 which sees gains of 50% over the previous generation GTX 580 and strong gains against the brand new HD 7970.
The new GTX 680 falls only behind the dual GPU HD 6990, and it's really not by much.
Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5
Developer Homepage: http://www.unigine.com
Product Homepage: http://unigine.com/press-releases/091022-heaven_benchmark//
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.
The heavy emphasis on tessellation under Unigine Heaven means that NVIDIA has always been strong here as they've always just been one step ahead of AMD when it comes to overall tessellation performance.
Looking above you can see NVIDIA do really continue to dominate in this area. We've pretty much got performance equal to the dual GPU HD 6990. Considering that model continues to be stronger than the HD 7970, it's not a good thing for AMD.
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
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/UK/default.aspx
Product Homepage: http://www.hawxgame.com/
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.
H.A.W.X. 2 has always favored NVIDIA cards, but we saw the new HD 7000 series really begin to do well under it. Again, though, we see NVIDIA perform extremely strong here and you can see like Heaven we've got numbers which put it around the same level as the HD 6990.
Benchmarks - Mafia II
Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.2kczech.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.mafia2game.com/
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.
Moving into Mafia II we continue to see very strong performance out of the new GTX 680 from NVIDIA. At 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200 you can see that the new model has absolutely no issue beating out all the other cards here. It's only at 2560 x 1600 it finally falls behind the HD 6990. The new GTX 680 manages to get an FPS up on the HD 7970.
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
Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.lostplanet2game.com/
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."
Lost Planet 2 performance again for the GTX 680 is again very strong and you can see at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200 there's just nothing between the GTX 680 and the HD 6990. That means that compared to the new HD 7970 from AMD performance on the new NVIDIA card is very strong.
It's not until we move to 2560 x 1600 that we see the card fall behind the HD 6990 by a larger margin. You can still see we've got no issue getting that 60 FPS we aim for and we've got a nice lead over the HD 7970.
Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator
Aliens vs. Predator
Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/
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.
Looking at Aliens vs. Predator we've got performance that is just behind the HD 7970 in this case. This is the first time we've really seen the HD 7970 pull out a win and you can see everything but the HD 6990 struggles to hit the 60 FPS mark at the highest resolution. Moving to 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050, though, we can see there's no problem.
Benchmarks - Just Cause 2
Just Cause 2
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower
Developer Homepage: http://www.eidos.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.justcause.com/
Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.
Checking out Just Cause 2 performance we can again see the new NVIDIA offering is really strong and we're able to sneak out ahead of the HD 7970 at all resolutions. So often like we see, though, the GTX 680 gap becomes smallest at the highest resolution, an area that AMD consistently do quite strong in.
Benchmarks - Metro 2033
Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.4a-games.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.thqnordic.com/
Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360. In March 2006, 4A Games announced a partnership with Glukhovsky to collaborate on the game. The game was announced at the 2009 Games Convention in Leipzig; a first trailer came along with the announcement. A sequel was announced, currently titled Metro: Last Light.
Under Metro 2033 we can see that performance between the GTX 680 and the HD 7970 is near identical with only a little bit separating the two cards. More importantly at the highest resolution we can see that both cards struggle to hit that 60 FPS number that we aim for.
Benchmarks - Dirt 3
Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.dirt3game.com/
DiRT 3 boasts more cars, more locations, more routes and more events than any other game in the series, including over 50 rally cars representing the very best from five decades of the sport. With more than double the track content of 2009's hit, DiRT 3 will see players start at the top as a professional driver, with a top-flight career in competitive off-road racing complimented by the opportunity to express themselves in Gymkhana-style showpiece driving events.
Looking at Dirt3 performance we can see just huge performance again across the board and you can see at 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050 we've just got no issue dealing with the HD 6990. It's only at the highest resolution where the HD 6990 manages to pull out the win and even then the dual GPU offering from AMD based on the last generation core comes in at only 3 FPS more.
Benchmarks - Far Cry 2
Far Cry 2
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/
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.
No surprise that Far Cry 2 performance just across the board is huge. You can see that it manages to come out ahead of the HD 7970 with no issue and is bouncing around the HD 6990 at the lower resolution. As we climb the resolution table we can see that performance moves further away from the HD 6990, though and closer to the HD 7970.
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.
Turning on AA and AF we've got some awesome performance again from the new card. You can see under Mafia II that performance for the GTX 680 is ahead of the HD 7970 by a couple of FPS and just offering us really playable numbers across the board.
Moving into Aliens vs. Predator we can see that we fall behind the HD 7970 in this instance which is consistent with our non AA and AF tests under Aliens vs. Predator. More importantly we can see that performance is below that 60 FPS mark.
Finally we finish up with Far Cry 2 and you can see we've got no issue with playable FPS which again sees the GTX 680 come out ahead of the HD 7970.
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.
When it comes to the temperature side of things we can see that the idle temp is strong, but when it comes to load the card is quite warm running. It comes in just a little lower than the GTX 580.
Considering the performance gains we've got over the GTX 580, the number looks impressive. We wouldn't want it to get much warmer, though, and it will be interesting to see what partners do with coolers in the coming weeks and months.
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).
One of the main reasons that the card is probably running a bit warmer, though, is because the fan profile seems to be aimed at noise levels more than temperature. You can see looking above that overall the card runs pretty quiet under load with little difference being seen between the idle and load numbers.
Power Consumption Test
Using our 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.
When it comes to the power draw side of things we can see that overall it's pretty good and load numbers sit around 50 - 60 watts higher than some of our reference clocked cards from AMD. While that might sound like a lot, overall we're still dealing with power draw that sits around the 450 watt mark.
On the idle side of things, though, you can see we're not as aggressive as the HD 7970 which can sit at around the 130 watt mark while the GTX 680 sits closer to the 200 watt mark.
From our introduction it's obvious our personal feelings towards NVIDIA. With that said, though, it wouldn't take away from us looking at a product objectively and the GTX 680 is just an awesome video card. The performance really is quite amazing and you can see that at times it has no issues competing with the dual GPU Radeon HD 6990 video card from AMD. While that might be a card based on the last generation core from AMD, it's still considered the fastest on the market.
Outside of the performance, though, one of the biggest issues for AMD is going to be the price of the card. So often we've seen AMD just behind NVIDIA for performance, but come in at a more aggressive price point. It's always been this kind of argument where if you want to save some money, but still get excellent performance you buy the AMD offering. If you just want the fastest, you buy the NVIDIA offering.
Again due to the fact that NVIDIA sent us nothing we don't know officially the price the card will launch at. Saying that partners have told us around the $549 mark and a leak from Newegg sees closer to the $500 mark depending on the brand. Considering the performance here today, this is a bad thing for AMD's Radeon HD 7970 at $549.
The other big problem for AMD is that it's not a matter of them just simply dropping down the price on the HD 7970. It becomes this massive snowball effect where they have to then drop the HD 7950, HD 7870, HD 7850, HD 7770 and HD 7750. AMD also haven't got this huge six month gain of selling cards where they've built up a nice stock pile of profit.
The biggest plus for AMD at the moment is they have this $449 price point and lower covered extremely well and we know this is where cards are sold and money is made. It's still going to be a few months before we see NVIDIA offer us a full 600 series line up. If what we're seeing today is anything to go by, though, then we'd be a bit worried at over AMD. They're going to have to sort something out.
AMD does have the HD 7990 around the corner and we're not too sure when NVIDIA are going to be able to offer any kind of dual GPU offering. Over the coming months AMD are going to continue to be the company that has the fastest video card. NVIDIA seem to have a really strong base for a dual GPU offering this time around.
There's room to move with heat as we see the fan profile sit more on the quiet side of things then noisy. Power draw is also strong, which means that a dual GPU card should be able to come in carrying similar clocks to what we see the single GPU offering sit at. Along with all that, NVIDIA have hit at an aggressive price point it seems and a dual GPU card shouldn't bust open the bank account like you'd normally think it would.
Outside of not sending us anything, NVIDIA has done a really good job here. We wish that we were more involved in the pre-marketing side of things, so our knowledge on a whole was just better, but we can only use what we've given, and in this case it was nothing...
None the less, our personal feelings aside, the GTX 680 is just a fantastic video card. We look forward to seeing a card that sports a bit more GDDR5 memory and of course custom cooling and pre-overclocked models. Then I think we'll see the model perform stronger at 2560 x 1600, an area that we do see it fall back in at times.
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