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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 Review - Dual GK104 Kepler Greatness

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA

GTX 690 Specifications

On Thursday May the 3rd at 10am PDT / 1pm EDT, stop by the PC Perspective Live page for an NVIDIA and PC Perspective hosted event surrounding the GeForce GTX 690 graphics card. Ryan Shrout and Tom Petersen will be on hand to talk about the technology, the performance characteristics as well as answer questions from the community from the chat room, twitter, etc. Be sure to catch it all at http://pcper.com/live

Okay, so it's not a surprise to you at all, or if it is, you haven't been paying attention.  Today is the first on-sale date and review release for the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 4GB dual-GPU Kepler graphics card that we first announced in late April.  This is the dream card any PC gamer out there combining a pair of GTX 680 GK104 GPUs on a single PCB and running them in a single slot SLI configuration and is easily the fastest single card we have ever tested.  It also the most expensive reference card we have ever seen with a hefty $999 price tag. 

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So how does it perform?  How about efficiency and power consumption - does the GTX 690 suffer the same problems the GTX 590 did?  Can AMD hope to compete with a dual-GPU HD 7990 card in the future?  All that and more in our review!

Kepler Architecture Overview

For those of you that may have missed the boat on the GTX 680 launch, the first card to use NVIDIA's new Kepler GPU architecture, you should definitely head over and read my review and analysis of that before heading into the deep-dive on the GTX 690 here today.  

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Kepler is a 3.54 billion transistor GPU with 1536 CUDA cores / stream processors contained within and even in a single GPU configuration is able produce some impressive PC gaming performance results.  The new SMX-based design has some modest differences from Fermi the most dramatic of which is the removal of the "hot clock" - the factor that ran the shaders and twice the clock speed of the rest of the GPU.  Now, the entire chip runs at one speed, higher than 1 GHz on the GTX 680.  

Each SMX on Kepler now includes 192 CUDA cores as opposed to the 32 cores found in each SM on Fermi - a change that has increased efficiency and performance per watt quite dramatically.  

As I said above, there are lot more details on the changes in our GeForce GTX 680 review.

The GeForce GTX 690 Specifications

Many of the details surrounding the GTX 690 have already been revealed by NVIDIA's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang during a GeForce LAN event in China last week.  The card is going to be fast, expensive and is built out of components and materials we haven't seen any graphics card utilize before.

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Depsite the high performance level of the card, the GTX 690 isn't much heavier and isn't much longer than the reference GTX 680 card.  We'll go over the details surrounding the materials, cooler and output configuration on the next page, but let's take some time just to look and debate the performance specifications.

Continue reading our review of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 dual-Kepler graphics card!!

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NVIDIA markets the GTX 690 as having 3072 CUDA cores and 16 SMX units.  This is correct but we have to keep in mind that we are looking at two separate GPUs, each with 1536 cores and 8 SMX units to get to that total.  Each GPU also sports 128 texture units and 32 ROPs.  That is a LOT of processing power on a single graphics card but I have always stated that having multi-GPUs of performance is never as ideal as having the same performance on a single GPU for some pretty obvious reasons.  Obviously you can't get a single GPU with this much horsepower so the debate is somewhat altered but don't expect to see 2x the performance of a single GTX 680 with this card - standard SLI rules apply.

The base clock speed is 915 MHz, a drop of 91 MHz (10%) compared to the base clock on the single GPU GTX 680.  Back when the GTX 590 was launched with a clock speed of 607 MHz, that was a drop of 27% compared to the clock speed of 772 MHz on the GTX 580 so the result will be performance is likely much closer to "two 680s" than we reached towards "two 580s". 

Better still, the Boost Clock of the GTX 690 is 1019 MHz, only 39 MHz (4%) lower than that of the GTX 680.  So, in a typical game in a typical scenario, we expect the GTX 690 to run within 4% of the performance of a pair of standard GTX 680 cards running in SLI.  NVIDIA was able to accomplish this by binning the GK104 GPUs to find those that offered the best performance efficiency and had the least leakage, able to clock higher while using less power.  

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Each of the GK104 GPUs will have access to its own 2GB frame buffer running at the amazing 1500 MHz / 6 Gbps data rate, so again we don't expect to see any performancce drop because of this new implementation. 

The output configurations are noted here as well and include a set of three dual-link DVI connections and a single mini-DP port.  If you are running a Surround configuration you can actually just use all three dual-link DVI connections but if you are only interested in multiple monitor mode, one of the DVI's is disabled - more on that later. 

Let's take a closer look at the GTX 690 reference card!!

May 3, 2012 | 06:45 AM - Posted by Asmodyus (not verified)

I am I the only one out there that thinks this card is to expensive? This is what not making since to me the GTX580 599 when it came out. GTX590 699-799 when it came out. GTX680 499. GTX690 1000.

I am sorry but that cost is way to high for a single video card regardless if it's 2 chips. I hope nvidia falls flat on there face. But has they say there is a lot of stupid people who will buy this card at that price.

May 3, 2012 | 07:44 AM - Posted by Bro (not verified)

Blame AMD for it. They are late with HD 7990.

May 3, 2012 | 05:18 PM - Posted by Pellervo (not verified)

The reason the price is so high is because IT IS what they say it is: fastest card on the planet. Let me put it simply: 680= $500K Ferrari. 690= million dollar F1. 690 is for those enthusiasts with the wallet.

May 7, 2012 | 09:42 PM - Posted by Mr King

I think with the 580 and 590, the 590's performance didn't match that of two 580s in SLI while the 690 does match two 680s in SLI. I think from that perspective the price makes some sense. I'm not happy to see the return of the thousand dollar video card, but there are other options too.

Although the Mars 2 was considerably more card than two 580s yet it wasn't twice the price. Then there is the whole issue of it being impossible to buy a Mars card.

May 8, 2012 | 10:35 PM - Posted by Branthog

I don't see what's wrong with a dual GPU card being $1,000 if it's okay for the single GPU card to be $500. Does that mean you think two single GPU cards for $500 each is okay, but stuffing a single $1,000 card is just "too much"?

Yeah, it's over-priced, but exactly what kind of price point would you plan on hitting with the different offerings they have right now, without severely undercutting the competition, unnecessarily?

Besides, chances are they'll be lower in a few months.

June 24, 2012 | 09:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No, your the only one out their that is publicly complaining about the price tag of this card and how broke you are! Lol...calling people idiots that can afford to burn their $$ on this card? Really? I have this card and it smashes all games I load on it with all the setting set to ultra and well my eyes can only pickup 30 fps but believe you me the game play is excellent. Crysis, all settings are set to maximum and I'm not getting any tears or stutter...very smooth game play and in my book well worth the buy. I'll be looking at buying a second card next month why? Because I run x3 monitors and I will be playing 3D surround but the other reason is because I can not because I'm an idiot.

December 21, 2012 | 08:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Very awesome.

But every time messages like these pop up my first thought is: 'you wasted a bucketload of cash'.

Ofcourse its entirely up to you, but the funny thing is that in the price segment of 500 and up, you are wasting tons of money on percentiles of performance gain.

Don't kid yourself.

May 3, 2012 | 07:49 AM - Posted by D1RTYD1Z619

After see this review I'd rather wait for the GTX680 prices to come down to SLI them. I have one already and am not having issues running any of my games at their highest setting on my current monitor's(1600*1200)resolution.

May 3, 2012 | 04:54 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

You should honestly get a new monitor- you arent taking advantage of the 680.

May 5, 2012 | 11:37 AM - Posted by D1RTYD1Z619

But keeping this resolution will extend the life of my card because it will have to push less pixels.

May 6, 2012 | 11:41 AM - Posted by Ewe (not verified)

If you wait any longer, you will likely never get a 690 GTX. I highly doubt they will make many of these cards. You can't get a 590 anymore, that's for sure.

May 20, 2013 | 06:42 PM - Posted by battlewuss (not verified)

I got my GTX 590 two weeks ago :p

August 22, 2013 | 12:41 PM - Posted by Hugh (not verified)

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May 17, 2012 | 04:33 PM - Posted by pat (not verified)

You all seem to be forgetting that the 690 also has twice the vram of a single 680. This will matter if you plan on playing with 3 screens. I have 3 gtx 570 2.5 gig and battlefield 3 is using just under 2 gig vram, and the game is not even maxed out. Fyi 2 680s with 2 gig vram does not add up to 4 gig vram in sli. The system can only utilize the vram on one card. So there you have it, the 690 in my opinion is actually worth more than 2 680, do to the 4 gigs of vram.

June 11, 2012 | 10:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's the same deal on the 690. In the case of normal sli the textures need to be loaded into the memory for both cards and thus the memory is not added together. The same is true for the 690. It has 2gb per core and those same textures need to be loaded into both. And so the memory per core is exactly the same. In the case of these dual gpu cards you always half the memory that it says on the box to give you the accurate reading for the amount of memory that is going to be used.

May 3, 2012 | 08:36 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Would there be any difference between SLI 680's and a single 690? I would think that although the 680's will take more space, that the dedicated slot will improve bandwidth capability (or maybe not because of the sli adapter?).

May 3, 2012 | 08:47 AM - Posted by Tim K (not verified)

I am also very curious between the actual pro's and cons performance wise when comparing to this card to 2 680s in SLI. I am no savvy on mulit card setups but on the surface I see the benefits on only using a 2 slot form factor and less power with the 690, but worry a single point of failure with a very complex and hot running component. Would love to know if there are any performance advantages gained by having it on once PCB vs 2 cards in SLI.

May 3, 2012 | 10:38 AM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

I thought someone might ask that - http://www.pcper.com/news/Graphics-Cards/Why-would-you-want-buy-GTX690

May 3, 2012 | 10:21 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

The GTX 690 does make better sense than a 680 SLI setup if you are buying right now. If I were in the market though, I'd simply buy a 680, wait a year for the prices to come down, and then buy another. Yeah, I know, you're not getting the insane frame rates right now, but seriously, if you need something faster than a 680 at this time...let's just say I'd love to see the monitor setup!

May 8, 2012 | 10:36 PM - Posted by Branthog

Unfortunately, I have seen benchmarking that suggestions quad SLI (dual 690s) is actually worse performance than triple SLI or possibly even dual SLI.

The benching was not entirely conclusive as to whether this was a driver limitation, application (game) limitation, or a combination of the two.

December 21, 2012 | 08:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Tri and quad SLI are well-known to scale badly, so this is nothing new.

The best scaling is achieved with Dual SLI. Above that, consider upgrading your card a notch instead of adding a third or fourth.

Let alone the issues concerning heat dissipation and power supply. For these last two, the 690 offers a (partial) solution but for the primary argument, the 690 changes nothing about the scalability of quad SLI.

May 3, 2012 | 11:48 AM - Posted by flatland (not verified)

Bjorn3D did a comparison between two GTX 680s and the GTX 690.

May 5, 2012 | 09:52 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Well...so did we...?

May 3, 2012 | 03:46 PM - Posted by SirPauly (not verified)

Ryan,

In your 3d vision performance investigations with the GTX 690, well, how did you receive those high averages when V-sync is enabled with 3d vision?

May 3, 2012 | 10:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Always go with the single gpu option for anyone thinking of going SLI. I have sli 570's right now and it's beautiful when it works but a LOT of games don't properly support it and never will. Until the technology gets better, go for a better single gpu IMO. Maybe not one that costs 1k but still.

December 21, 2012 | 08:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have personally yet to discover the first game that would actually benefit from SLI, that doesn't support SLI setups.

Sure, your retro game collection isn't supported, but who needs an SLI setup for that?

Far Cry 3 was playable in SLI from day one, and I had zero issues with the 310.70/64 drivers. 80-110 fps steady with all possible candy on the screen. And this is with dual GTX 660 even.

In the case of my dual GTX 660 setup, I have a GTX 680 equivalent for 120 euro's less than the cost of a 680. Done deal.

May 4, 2012 | 08:39 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Resolution is the key for what you purchase for graphics cards. If you do not play at 2650 or higher then you are wasting your money on this card. As I play at 5760 x 1080 I am very interested as my current 2 x 580 classifieds actually draw enough power to kick my breaker if my wife turns on the bathroom lights. I DO wish they had more vram on the cards, but for now it works just fine.

May 4, 2012 | 08:46 AM - Posted by I'm Hit! (not verified)

compared to sli 680 2way. the two way beats the 690 by about 2-4%. But the 690 runs quieter, cooler and takes about 30-50watts less power.

You will not notice that minor percentage loss in games. Get one from a reputable end card partner and just RMA your 690 if one or both gpu's fail on the card.

I am going from a 580 Classified to the 690 for my 30inch monitor = 2560 x 1600 resolution

May 5, 2012 | 09:50 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

You are a graphics monster sir!

December 21, 2012 | 08:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would also reckon that the 690 has less noticeable framedrops or micro stutter than dual 680, no?

Even though currently that is hardly an issue it still doesn't look nice in bench :)

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