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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 - Looking For The Knockout
By James Lu - 3 May 2012

Looking For The Knockout

Looking For The Knockout

NVIDIA is looking strong right now in the battle for graphics card dominance with its 28nm Kepler architecture seeming to have gotten the best of AMD’s 28nm GCN architecture. Leading the charge is NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 680, which has put AMD’s flagship Radeon HD 7970 on the ropes. Now, NVIDIA is hoping to land a knockout blow with the dual-GPU GeForce GTX 690, a card NVIDIA is calling the "most powerful and striking video card ever built, with the performance of two GTX 680s running in SLI configuration."

NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 690: The most powerful single card to date?

Featuring two Kepler GPU cores running at a base clock speed of 915MHz, with 6008MHz DDR memory, 3072 CUDA cores, and backed up by a massive 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM, the GTX 690 certainly looks impressive on paper.

NVIDIA claims that the GTX 690 will be able to produce scores similar to two GTX 680s running in SLI configuration. We were somewhat skeptical to this claim, as our experience with NVIDIA’s previous generation dual-core GPU, the GTX 590, showed it to be more in line with two GTX 570 cards in SLI rather than dual GTX 580 cards. However, NVIDIA claims that power draw on a single board was the largest gating factor with their previous dual-GPU cards, which resulted in clock speeds on the GTX 590 being dramatically lowered to compensate - something they claim they have since fixed. Kepler’s superior power efficiency does seem to support this claim, although, in comparing the GTX 690 with the GTX 680, we did notice that the GTX 680 does have a slightly higher core clock speed of 1006MHz vs. 915MHz on the GTX 690. At least apart from a small difference in clock speeds, the GPUs used are the same as those on the GTX 680, thus delivering the full firepower of the architecture.

In further attempts to minimize power use on the GTX 690, NVIDIA is employing a 10-phase power supply with a 10-layer copper circuit board to ensure efficiency. The card is powered by two 8-pin Molex connectors. The GTX 690 has a rated TDP of 300W, which would necessitate a 650 or 700W PSU at the very least.

The 690 laid bare. You can see the SLI bridge chip between the two GPU cores that keeps them working in tandem.

NVIDIA hasn’t just built the GTX 690 for performance, they’ve also worked on the overall build with extra concern for the heat and noise aspects of the card. The card takes up two slots and is just under 300mm in length (just about 11 inches). It's built with a rugged, industrial-looking, cast aluminum shroud, with trivalent chromium plating for extra protection.

Like the GTX 590, the GTX 690 features a centrally located fan sitting between two GPUs, each with their own array of nickel-plated cooling fins. Cool air is sucked in through the fans and onto the fins, while hot air is vented out at backplate, sides and even the rear of the card. Heat output and management could be a problem, but more on that during our temperature testing section.

With the cover removed, we can see the GeForce GTX 690's impressive array of cooling fins. And on the base plate, you'll notice airflow guides embedded as part of its design to help channel the fast moving air more effectively.

The fan housing itself is manufactured from magnesium alloy using a thixomolding process in which liquid magnesium alloy is injected into a mold. NVIDIA uses the same aluminum used by Lockheed Martin on the F-22 Raptor fighter jet for its light weight, good heat dissipation and acoustic dampening properties.

NVIDIA has gone for a three dual-link DVI setup, similar to the GTX 590. Surprisingly, they've opted for a Mini-DisplayPort as the fourth port, omitting the mini-HDMI port this time round. The GTX 690 is of course capable of driving up to four monitors simultaneously, three in 3D Vision Surround, and a fourth without 3D. The limitation is purely a software constraint as put forth by NVIDIA as they find that gamers don't really need to go beyond triple screens for immersive gameplay, nor is it practical.

Three dual-link DVI ports similar to the GTX 590, but with a Mini-DisplayPort replacing the Mini-HDMI port.

Bonus style points awarded for the green LED lighting on the top plate of the graphics card. It will surely look fancy in an windowed casing.

At an astronomical launch price of USD$999, the GTX 690 will be desired by only the most hardcore of enthusiasts. Given the price of a single GTX 680, the asking price of the GTX 690 with its capabilities and configuration doesn't really sound anything amiss. You either buy two separate cards or you get a single GTX 690. The choice is pretty clear. For those who really can splurge, you can even choose to purchase dual GTX 690 cards for the ultimate SLI setup. However take note that availability will be in very limited quantities, with a rumored 1000 units produced worldwide. Expect local supply to be even more limited, with the possibility of as few as 20 units reaching our shores.

So let's get on with how it really performs, starting with a specs comparison listing to quickly capture the vital stats of all the competitive graphics cards:-

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 and competitive SKUs compared
Model NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 AMD Radeon HD 7970 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 AMD Radeon HD 6990
Core Code  Dual GK104 GK104  Tahiti XT GF110 Antilles
Transistor Count 7080 million  3540 million  4300 million 6000 million 5280 million
Manufacturing Process 28nm 28nm 28nm 40nm 40nm
Core Clock 915MHz 1006MHz 925MHz 607MHz 830 / 880MHz
Stream Processors 3072 Stream processing units 1536 Stream processing units  2048 Stream processing units 1024 Stream processing units 3072 Stream processing units
Stream Processor Clock 915MHz 1006MHz  925MHz 607MHz 830 / 880MHz
Texture Mapping Units (TMU) or Texture Filtering (TF) units 256  128 112 128 192
Raster Operator units (ROP) 64 32  32 96 64
Memory Clock 6008MHz GDDR5 6008MHz GDDR5  5500MHz GDDR5 3414MHz GDDR5 5000MHz GDDR5
DDR Memory Bus 256-bit x 2 256-bit  384-bit 384-bit x 2 512-bit
Memory Bandwidth 384.4 GB/s 192.3GB/s  264GB/s 327.7GB/s 320GB/s
PCI Express Interface PCIe ver 3.0 x16  PCIe ver 3.0 x16 PCIe ver 3.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16
Molex Power Connectors 2 x 8-pin 2 x 6-pin  1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin 2 x 8-pin 2 x 8-pin
Multi GPU Technology SLI SLI  CrossFireX SLI CrossFireX
DVI Output Support 3 x Dual-Link  2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 3 x Dual-Link 1 x Dual-Link
HDMI 0 1 1  1 (mini-HDMI) 0
DisplayPort 1 Mini-DisplayPort 2
(version 1.2 HBR2)
(version 1.2 HBR2)
None 4 Mini-DisplayPort
HDCP Output Support Yes  Yes Yes Yes Yes
Launch Price US$999 US$499  US$549 US$699 US$700
  • Performance 9
  • Features 8.5
  • Value 8
The Good
Competitive with GeForce GTX 680 2-way SLI
Overclockable to outgun GTX 680 2-way SLI
Solid build quality
Power efficient
The Bad
High temperature
Cooler vents hot air back to casing
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