To set the stage for this conclusion, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. Back in 2008 AMD introduced the HD 4870, a card that not only outperformed NVIDIA’s recently released GTX 260 but it came in at a significantly lower price point. That one product brought NVIDIA crashing back down to earth and the resulting fallout marked a turning point where high end Radeon cards became performance per watt leaders while the GeForce lineup gradually shifted towards powerful, yet inefficient designs. Well, the design mantra of yesteryear is a thing of the past and the good folks at AMD now have their own nightmare situation to deal with.
After years of releasing inefficient, large and expensive GPUs, NVIDIA's GK104 core - and by association the GTX 680 - is not only smaller and less power hungry than Tahiti but it also outperforms the best AMD can offer by a substantial amount. A price that doesn’t break the $500 mark and undercuts the HD 7970 by some fifty bucks is just the icing on the cake. In our opinion, it is a true game-changer for the GeForce lineup since it bucks past trends and allows NVIDIA to essentially offer more for less. This card couldn’t have been released at a better time since AMD was not been able to ramp up HD 7970 production fast enough to meet demand, leaving many potential customers without cards and ready to embrace what NVIDIA is offering. In addition, the GTX 680 will force AMD's hand into lowering the prices of their high end lineup, making a whole generation of cards that much more affordable.
From a lower image quality standpoint against the immediate competition, the GTX 680 2GB doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table. But let’s be honest here: enthusiasts don’t play games without anti aliasing and other forms of IQ wizardry enabled. NVIDIA’s new architecture is able to stretch its legs in these instances, sometimes doubling the GTX 680’s performance lead over the HD 7970 when MSAA is turned on. Across nearly every test in our benchmark suite, the GTX 680 surpassed every other single GPU card. That’s no small feat considering the significant gap AMD managed to open up between their current generation cards and GF110-based designs.
Speaking of the GTX 580, it will currently anchor the sub-$450 market for NVIDIA as its remaining stocks are gradually depleted but it has been thoroughly manhandled by the Kepler architecture. A 36% performance increase from generation to generation is a step in the right direction especially when you consider that Kepler uses so many of Fermi’s basic architectural elements.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, the GTX 680’s 2GB of memory really didn’t seem to hold it back in many of our tests, even when pushing maximum in game image quality settings. There will always be some fringe cases like Metro 2033 where the 1GB difference between the two cards will play out in AMD’s favor but when setting details so high, more often than not the GPU core will become a limiting factor rather than the memory. One exception to this rule was multi-monitor testing where the HD 7970 was able to make up a ton of lost ground and drew even with or beat the GTX 680 in several cases.
The EVGA GTX 680 HydroCopper….Coming Soon
The real genre-defining improvements lie underneath the GTX 680’s skin, unseen to most gamers but they’re just as important as high framerates. By refining the basic design principles of Fermi and moving to the 28nm manufacturing process, NVIDIA has made performance improvements where it counts while minimizing die size (which leads to lower costs for end-users) and optimizing efficiency. While AMD is still very much alive in the graphics game, Kepler makes the Tahiti architecture look half a generation out-of-date and about nine months too late.
Other than what can be considered the best graphics card released in the last year, there are several other technologies bundled into this launch, all of which help make the GTX 680 a cut above the competition. GPU Boost is an innovative and non-restrictive way to modulate performance based upon an application’s actual needs. Most importantly to end-users who may have been worried about sample to sample variance, Boost doesn’t seem to be all that affected by standard temperature fluctuations and adds a new dimension to overclocking. Adaptive Vsync needs to be experienced to be understood since the in-game fluidity it offers will be priceless for many gamers. The advances to NVIDIA Surround will be appreciated by multi-monitor aficionados even though we still feel that AMD is a step ahead on the user interface front. Perhaps the biggest selling point here is that none of the aforementioned features had a half baked feel; every one of them was well developed, relatively bug free and some like Adaptive VSync even had a meaningful impact upon our gameplay experience.
We could prattle on and on extolling the GTX 680’s virtues but here’s what really matters: NVIDIA’s newest flagship card is superior to the HD 7970 in almost every way. Whether it is performance, power consumption, noise, features, price or launch day availability, it currently owns the road and won’t be looking over its shoulder for some time to come.
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