NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: May 2, 2012
Product Name: GTX 690
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NVIDIA’s goal for the GTX 690 was to make the fastest graphics card of all time and they’ve succeeded beyond most people’s expectations. After the experience with Fermi and G80 before it, many predicted this round of GeForce products would be more of the same: hot running, power hungry cards sporting huge, inefficient cores. What we got instead was Kepler; an architecture which marks a huge turn around for the company’s direction and exemplifies how the missteps of one generation can be rectified in its successor. The result is a product that follows in the GTX 590’s footsteps by moving the dual GPU market further away from the noisy, lackluster cards of previous generations.

The GTX 690’s list of accomplishments is impressive to say the least but none of these milestones can measure up to the performance numbers it achieves. By leveraging the Kepler architecture’s inherent efficiency, NVIDIA was able to combine two fully enabled GK104 cores onto a single PCB and has set bar so high, AMD will have a hard time regaining the performance lead. To hit optimal power consumption numbers, the Base Clock of both cores was reduced but due to Boost clocks and the PLX chip's low latency interface, the real world difference between the GTX 690 and a pair of GTX 680s in SLI is nonexistent. Indeed, the GTX 690 represents a quantum leap over the last generation of dual GPU cards and is so powerful that it would be a complete waste to buy for resolution at or above 2560 x 1440.

When looking over the charts, it is hard not to mention the HD 7970 Crossfire solution. It scaled remarkably well in most situations and does have several merits, mostly due to a lower overall price, but latent driver problems prevent it from becoming a viable alternative. While the GTX 690 had a small misstep in Shogun 2 (as have all NVIDIA cards since the latest patch), the dual AMD cards presented scaling issues in Skyrim, black screens in The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition, poor minimum framerates and an odd periphery flickering in Metro 2033. While the two HD 7970’s performance may look good on paper, we just can’t recommend investing $920 in them until AMD’s driver team makes some serious upgrades. With that being said, the HD 7970’s wider memory interface does tend to make a difference in some scenarios, particularly when gaming at multi monitor resolutions.

NVIDIA made huge strides in the power consumption and acoustical departments, two areas that high level gamers don’t typically care about, but we’ll take them nonetheless. It truly is amazing to see such a tame personality out of a card that runs right alongside two GTX 680s.

Putting money and features aside for a moment, some will question whether a card like the GTX 690 even has a place in today’s market. We think it does, particularly from a marketing standpoint. But questions have to be raised about a dual GK104 card launching at a time when retailers are still struggling to deliver GTX 680 cards. This is a true halo product that will elevate NVIDIA’s standing in the eyes of gamers but many of their customers are still waiting on GTX 680 backorder lists.

The GTX 690 may be the fastest graphics card around but it is also completely unaffordable for anyone without very deep pockets or a nice trust fund. Yet for those that can afford it, the GTX 690 is the pinnacle of uncompromising graphics card design. It delivers unheard of performance and stretches our expectations of what’s possible in the GPU market.

Note: Due to the quick nature of this review, we decided to skip overclocking results and instead concentrate upon an expanded testing suite. Stay tuned for OC performance!

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