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NVIDIA GTX 680 Reviewed: A New Hope




SiSoft Sandra 2012
In SiSoft Sandra 2012, we will be testing the GPU’s various compute capabilities, GPGPU, as well as its rendering and CUDA peformance.

First off, we’ve got GPGPU Processing running straight off of the compute shader. In SiSoft Sandra, everything is measured in Mpix/s which is how they benchmark compute capability. Here we’ll be comparing the GTX 680 vs the HD 7970. As you can see, in float shader (single precision) the GTX 680 delivers 3,380 MPix/s while the HD 7970 delivers 3,200 MPix/s so in this case the GTX 680 out performs the HD 7970 by a small margin. In Double Shader (double precision), though, the tables are turned significantly and the GTX 680 only reports 114.79 MPix/s while the HD 7970 delivers 662.32 MPix/s.

Moving onto OpenCL processing capability we once again see a similar trend. Except, in this benchmark, the AMD HD 7970 out performs the NVIDIA GTX 680 in both float shader and double shader performance tests by a pretty significant margin in both tests. In the Float test, the GTX 680 scores 3,006 MPix/s while the HD 7970 delivers.

In Compute Shader Cryptography, the gap widens further with the GTX 680 only scoring 6.548 GB/s in Encryption/Decryption Bandwidth, while the HD 7970 scores 29.869 GB/s. This trend continues in the Hashing Bandwidth benchmark with the GTX 680 delivering 9.93 GB/s while the HD 7970 delivers 23.729 GB/s. Looking at these results, the GTX 680 does not appear to be as useful of a compute GPU as we might have thought, which may have to do with NVIDIA’s future plans.

In OpenCL Cryptography, though, NVIDIA does once again show its single precision advantage by quite a bit by returning the favor to AMD. AMD beat NVIDIA by about 5X in Compute Shader Encryption/Decryption Bandwidth, and NVIDIA beats AMD by about 5X in OpenCL Encryption/Decryption Bandwidth. The GTX 680 delivers 10.889 GB/s in Encryption/Decryption Bandwidth while the HD 7970 offers 2.363 GB/s. The tables, though, do get flipped in OpenCL Hashing Bandwidth where the GTX 680 offers only 4.62 GB/s of Hashing Bandwidth, while the HD 7970 delivers 18.966 GB/s.

In Video Rendering, we see the GTX 680 deliver 1,069 MPix/s in Float Shaders while the HD 7970 beats it with 1,456 MPix/s. In the Double Shaders benchmark, we see a continuation of this trend, with the GTX 680 delivering 114.79 MPix/s and the HD 7970 quadrupling it with 471.35 MPix/s. Needless to say, the 7970 handily wins this benchmark.

Last but not least, we have CUDA processing capability where we compare the GTX 680 against the GTX 590. In this benchmark we see that the Float Shader test yields the GTX 680 with 2,702 MPix/s slightly edging out the dual Fermi GPU GTX 590 with 2,610 MPix’s indicating a huge performance increase over the Fermi generation of GPUs in terms of single precision performance. When it comes to the Double Shaders test, though, the GTX 590 beats the GTX 680 by putting up 471.35 MPix/s to the GTX 680’s 204 MPix/s.

Looking at our GPGPU performance and results against the HD 7970, the GTX 680 struggles significantly in double precision tests. The only benchmarks where the GTX 680 doesn’t get handily beaten in are in the tests where its single precision capabilities outpace those of the 7970.

Futuremark 3DMark 11

In Futuremark’s 3DMark 11, we tested all three different levels of the benchmark’s performance against all of the cards we had in our arsenal to see which cards performed the best. We will also be using 3DMark 11 to measure our overclock performance and scaling as well.

In 3DMark 11 we got some interesting results. The GTX 680 outperformed the GTX 590 (and every subsequent GPU) in the Entry level benchmarks with a score of E14517 while the GTX 590 scored E14512 and the HD 7970 E12185. In the Performance benchmark, though, the GTX 590 outperformed the GTX 680 by scoring P9851 while the GTX 680 scored P9738, a difference of about 1-2 percent. Once you take into consideration that you’re basically comparing two Fermi GPUs in SLI against a single Kepler GPU, you realize that this is actually extremely impressive that the GTX 680 and GTX 590 are trading punches in a synthetic benchmark. The HD 7970 comes in 3rd at P8083 in the Performance test. In our Extreme test, the most intensive of all the 3DMark 11 benchmarks, the GTX 590 edges out the GTX 680 once again by a few percentage points with the GTX 680 scoring X3177 and the GTX 590 X3307. Once again, the HD 7970 came up in 3rd place with X2756.

Looking at these results, we can definitely see the GTX 680 shining above all other competition with it effectively performing at the same levels as a GTX 590. Since the GTX 590 is a dual Fermi part, it is pretty nice to see NVIDIA’s single GPU part beating and keeping even with NVIDIA’s previous generation dual GPU part. This doesn’t even take into account that the GTX 680 consumes about 20% less power than the GTX 590 and HD7970.

Unigine Heaven 3.0

In Unigine Heaven, we decided to go all out and not run the benchmark at the same settings that everyone else runs their as at. Instead, we opted to run the benchmark at its absolutely full capacity. That means that we went and turned up every possible setting we could to its maximum setting. We ran the DX11 benchmark at 1920×1080 (not the standard 1600×900) and we turned Tessellation to Extreme, Shaders to High, Anisotropy to 16X, Stereo 3D Disabled and Anti-Aliasing to 8X all while running full screen.

During our benchmarks, we noticed that the GTX 590 actually delivered the best overall performance above both the GTX 680 as well as the HD 7970, but we noticed significant jitteriness in the frames as well as jitters in the shadow movement. Even though both the GTX 680 and HD 7970 performed lower than the GTX 590, the GTX 680 really had the smoothest experience. Looking at the graph above, we can see that the HD 7970 had a minimum FPS of 23.6 while the GTX 680 came in at 25.9 and the GTX 590 at 26.5. The average frame rates were 46.9 for the GTX 680and 51.3 for the GTX 590, with the HD 7970 coming in even at 43. Max FPS were 103.3 for the HD 7970 as well as 120.1 for the GTX 680 and 121.7 for the GTX 590.

Cyberlink MediaEspresso

The reason why we tested with Cyberlink MediaEspresso is because it features GPU accelerated encoding. This program uses NVIDIA’s new NVENC codec which enables us to most accurately test NVIDIA’s new video processing architecture. This program has both hardware and software acceleration, so what we’ve done is enable it and disable it for each GPU when paired with our Intel Core i7 3960X. This was by taking a 1080P video file and converting it to 720P with a very high bit-rate.

Looking at our benchmarks, you can see that the GTX 680 actually performs the best above all GPUs and even against an Intel Core i7 3690X. The GTX 680 did the conversion in 19 seconds while the CPU did it alone in 23. The GTX 590 did it in 36 seconds and the HD 7970 did it in 34 seconds. Interestingly, though, is that the non-hardware accelerated performance was faster with the 7970 than it was with the GTX 680 or GTX590. So, with this application at least, you either want to use the GTX 680 or just the CPU itself.

Gaming Benchmarks
In our game testing for this review we decided that since we were playing with the three fastest cards in the world that we would have to run all of the games at their absolute maximum settings and see how each card fared individually. Based upon our findings here, we would see which card was really the king of the high-end market. All of our benchmarks listed below were run at 1080P resolution and with the game’s settings set to the absolute maximum settings that made it comparable to other cards.

Battlefield 3
In Battlefield 3, our favorite game, we wanted to see how the GTX 680 faired against the HD 7970 and the GTX 590. Looking at our results, we can see that the GTX 680 not only wins in the average frame rate category, but also in the minimum frame rate category. To us, minimum and average frame rates are the most importance as they have the biggest influence on game performance.

The GTX 680 had an average of 94 FPS while the GTX 590 had an average FPS of 79 and the HD 7970 had 65 FPS. For minimum FPS, the GTX 590 actually did very poorly with 16FPS with the HD 7970 at 37 FPS which is still very playable. The GTX 680 is ridiculously higher than both of those cards with a minimum FPS of 87 FPS which is amazingly high considering the settings that we had been running it at. If you look at the graph itself, you’ll notice that the GTX 680’s Max, Min and Average FPS were all relatively close to each other, unlike the GTX 590. We also noticed some artifacting and various graphical glitches on the GTX 590 that we did not experience on the other cards.

Batman Arkham City
In Batman Arkham City, we tested this extremely heavy hitting game (no pun intended) with our top three cards, but we also decided to throw the GTX 680 at 32XCSAA which is an NVIDIA only setting for their graphics cards on the GTX 680.

Looking at our results, the GTX 590 performed the best in terms of average and minimum frame rate and the game played pretty smoothly. The GTX 680 performed at a minimum FPS of 29 while the GTX 590 played at 31 FPS and the HD 7970 played at 26 FPS. In our eyes, anything under 30 FPS will have noticeable lag, but when playing this game we didn’t really notice any on any of the cards even though the frame rates did dip below 30 or hover around 30. The average frame rates for the cards were 53 for the GTX 590 and 45 for the GTX 680 as well as 42 for the HD 7970, essentially saying that the 7970 and GTX 680 had a similar level of performance in this game. Admittedly, this is an NVIDIA favored title, so that should be factored into the equation as well.

We also tested the GTX at 32X CSAA and took a slight hit to FPS with the minimum FPS going down to 25 FPS and the average actually remaining flat at 45 FPS. This simply means that even at a higher level of AA, the GTX 680 handles Batman Arkham City pretty well for being a single GPU. But we are still a bit disappointed in the sub 30 frame rates. Hopefully with future driver updates we can see some performance improvements to improve the minimum frame rate of the GTX 680.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Since Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the latest iteration of Steam’s Source engine, we figured it would be the best way to test all of these high-end graphics cards even though we know that the source engine is not that graphically intensive.

In CS:GO the GTX 590 actually won the benchmarks for minimum and average frame rates. The GTX 590 pulled in an average of 258 FPS while the HD 7970 ran at 245 FPS and the GTX 680 ran at 170 FPS, significantly lower. We could chalk this up to drivers, but we shall see. As it stands right now, all three cards had at least 100 FPS and if you ask anyone that’s enough to play smoothly. Also, all three cards hit the steam engine max FPS of 300 as well.

DiRT 3
With DiRT 3 we figured that we would pick an AMD promoted title which also shares the same engine as the Formula 1 games which are also Codemaster’s games. As such, we knew what kind of frame rates we could expect, so we of course turned up all the settings to their absolute maximums once again.

When it came to average frame rates, the GTX 590 slightly edged out the GTX 680 with an average of 96 FPS while the GTX 680 ran at 92, a relatively negligible amount. The HD 7970 came trailing in 3rd place at 80 FPS, which we found extremely odd considering that this is an AMD promoted title and DiRT has consistently been a launch title for all of AMD’s GPU lines. So, when we found these frames we were very confused until we realized that for some reason, as AMD has been updating their drivers the performance of DiRT 3 has been dropping by a few frames per update until you realize that the difference can be over 10 frames… The minimum frame rates were very close to their average frame rates with the GTX 680 and GTX 590 actually being tied at 85 FPS and the HD 7970 coming in at 74.

Metro 2033
Traditionally, we have considered Metro 2033 to be the test that brings all videocards to their knees, especially at absolute maximum settings. With Metro 2033, we were confident that we would put quite a bit of stress on the GTX 680 as well as the GTX 590 and HD 7970. We once again, like in all of our other previous tests, set the game to absolute maximum settings and attempted to play the same level.

In our testing of Metro 2033, we found something extremely interesting. The HD 7970 actually had the best average frame rate as well as the highest minimum frame rate, which we found extremely interesting since Metro 2033 is a TWIMTBP title. Admittedly, the difference between the three cards was so narrow that the margin of error should be taken into account since the HD 7970 had an average frame rate of 55 FPS while the GTX 680 had 54 and the GTX 590 had an average frame rate of 53. So, a delta of 2 frames really doesn’t mean that there’s really any winner. We would’ve expected the GTX 680 to have performed faster than the HD 7970, but we could chalk that up to the fact that these are the first drivers for the GTX 680 and there could be significant performance improvements in the future.

Also, when looking at the minimum frame rates, we noticed that both the GTX 590 and the GTX 680 reported a minimum frame rate of 24 FPS while the HD 7970 reported a minimum of 28, admittedly all three cards are under our target of 30 FPS, but the HD 7970 and GTX 680 did not have any noticeable lag. The GTX 590, on the other hand, lagged like crazy and was, at parts, almost unplayable which we found extremely interesting especially after we looked at the data and noticed relatively close all three cards were to each other in terms of performance.
Frankly, we’d call Metro 2033 to be a tie, but nevertheless, a very weird result and we really expected more out of the GTX 680 in such an NVIDIA promoted title. Perhaps they put the majority of their driver optimization for this round into Battlefield 3 and other games and not something as old as Metro 2033? We just hope they improve the frame rates a bit, even though we really didn’t notice any lag.

If you’ve read our previous benchmarks, then you know what to expect from us in this benchmark. We once again ran Skyrim at 1920×1080 resolution with absolutely everything maxed out and made sure that we had a comparable setting across all three cards. We also tested FXAA on the GTX 680 just to see the performance hit.

In this test, the GTX 680 absolutely pulls away from the other two graphics cards by a quite noticeable margin. When it came to average frame rate, the GTX 680 came in at 84 FPS while the HD 7970 came in at 60 FPS and the GTX 590 at 59 FPS. Interestingly, when it came to minimum FPS, the cards were much closer with the GTX 680 running at 43 FPS and the HD 7970 at 43. Even though we don’t really consider maximum FPS a huge factor in gaming, the GTX 680 hit a max FPS of 155 while both the GTX 590 and HD 7970 ran at a max of 64. Mind you, we had to go into the game files and modify a text document in order to disable Active Sync in order to measure FPS beyond 60 since the game doesn’t actually come with an option to disable Active Sync.

We also tested Skyrim with FXAA on and the GTX 680 had a minimum frame rate of 39 (instead of 44) and an average frame rate of 76 (instead of 84). So, it does appear that FXAA when compared to standard 8x MSAA did put more of a toll on the card, but still played extremely well.

Overclocking and OC Software
For overclocking and temperature monitoring, NVIDIA supplied reviewers with EVGA’s latest version of their Precision overclocking utility. In this case, the newest version is called Precision X. Precision X is without a doubt, a huge departure from previous version of EVGA’s precision utility and it’s good to see that NVIDIA is recognizing EVGA’s awesome utility which has sparked many of their competitors to do the same thing, giving consumers added value for their purchase.

When it came to overclocking the GTX 680, we had a lot of fun figuring out how to properly overclock the GPU in a way that would actually result in better performance without killing the card. The good thing is that the GTX 680 has a lot of overclocking headroom, even on the reference cooler with the reference PCB design and VRM. Considering what we were able to do to this card with EVGA’s Precision X utility, there’s no doubt that some manufacturers with custom PCBs and proper VRMs could easily beat our overclocks.

In order to actually overclock the GPU, you have to increase the GPU clock offset, which increases the curve by which the base clock and boost clock operate. By doing this you are shifting the curve of the power target, base clock and boost clock. But of course, you can’t simply overclock the GPU frequency without increasing the power target, so we of course started to mess with that as well. After a lot of trial and error we were able to get a stable OC that was also benchable.

In our testing, we were able to get the card to run at 1,316 MHz and at that frequency we were able to benchmark 3DMark 11 in both Entry, Performance an Extreme levels. Considering the fact that the GTX 680’s stock clock is 1,006 MHz we were able to overclock the card by about 30% on a reference cooler and stock cooling. This is simply astonishing for a flagship card. We have a graph below that illustrates the overclocking increases and potential of this card.

Looking at the scores, you can see that the GTX 680 without a doubt takes the performance crown from the GTX 590 and when compared to the stock clocks of the GTX 680, yields considerable performance improvements. The Extreme score of E3732 is an increase of 17 percent and the Performance score of P11133 resulting in a change of 14 percent while our Entry score of E15783 only netted 9 percent since the Entry test is much less GPU bound than the Extreme test.

Power Consumption and Heat
In terms of heat and power consumption, the GTX 680 was absolutely stellar. At idle the card ran at only 324 MHz and as a result generally consumed around 10% of TDP or 20 watts. The card would generally idle around 31C and was so cool that no warm air actually came out of the back of the card. This was the most astonishing thing about this card, normally, under idle you get some sort of heat coming out of the back of the card but the GTX 680 has NONE.

Under sustained full graphical load, the card consumed at a maximum, 186w but generally hovered more around 172w. Under these scenarios, the card got as hot as 76C and never hotter. The fan speed of the GPU also stayed extremely quiet even under heavy loads, although, we did notice that different programs loaded the GPU differently and that the temperature of the GPU did not always dictate the fan speed.

We did, against the best wishes of NVIDIA, run Furmark and were only able to get the card to peak at 80C meaning that this card is inherently very cool and for you to break 80C you’ve either got to be doing something crazy with terrible ambient temperatures or you’ve got a bad card.

Out of all the three cards we tested, the GTX 680 was by far the quietest and coolest. It was followed by the HD 7970 which was also a pretty quiet card until it got put under a heavy load, then it became both loud and hot and felt like a blowdryer. The fastest the fan on the GTX 680 ever got was 54% speed, which was handily abused by us when we set the card to 75% when we were overclocking. The card was designed to be extremely cool and quiet and NVIDIA did a great job with that. We’re not even going to talk about how insanely loud the GTX 590 got under full load or how loud its idle was compared to the other two cards.

So, what kind of value does the GTX 680 deliver? Well, considering that it is supposed to be NVIDIA’s flagship card (which is debatable based on our architecture analysis), it is priced pretty high at $499. Many expected the card to be selling for $550 which is the same price as the HD 7970 launched at. What should be interesting to see is how AMD will adjust their pricing to reflect the GTX 680’s pricing and performance that we have seen here.

Newegg Jumping the Gun Letting us Show You All the Prices

Considering the performance that we got out of this card as well as the overclocking potential that we were able to unlock merely by using EVGA’s Precision X there is no doubt that this card is a great value, even at $499. Also taking into consideration that it replaces what normally would require a much more expensive GPU or two slightly less expensive previous generation GPUs, there is no doubt that this card is quite a value.

The GTX 680 came to us with extremely high expectations, especially after what NVIDIA had said about the HD 7000 series. There is no doubt that the GTX 680 is definitely the best gaming graphics card on the market today, and considering the amount of performance it delivers at the power levels and heat levels that it operates on it is without a doubt the best.

The GTX 680 handily beats its predecessor the GTX 590, a dual Fermi GPU card, and also beats its competition in most benchmarks (admittedly, not all). Not only does the GTX 680 do these things faster, cooler and quieter than all of its competition, but it does it for a lower price and in a smaller package (shorter board).

Looking at some of our benchmarks, it does appear that the GTX 680 does need some work on the driver side of things just to improve some performance here or there. But from what we’ve seen in our benchmarks and our gaming experience, there were no poor gaming experiences with the GTX 680. We just hope that NVIDIA can continue to further improve performance in games where the GTX 680 is slower than the 7970, namely games like Metro 2033.

Taking all of the factors we’ve talked about, performance, overclocking, heat, power consumption and design, there is no doubt in our minds that the GTX 680 wins our Editor’s Choice Award as well as our Innovation award. Yes, we’re giving it two awards.

Original Author: Theo Valich

This news article is part of our extensive Archive on tech news that have been happening in the past 10 years. For up to date stuff we would recommend a visit to our IT News section on the frontpage. Additionally, we take great pride in our Home Office section, as well as our VPN Reviews, so be sure to check them out as well.

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