ASUS GeForce GTX 590 Video Card Review

Today NVIDIA is launching the GeForce GTX 590 with dual-GPUs on a single video card. We are going to take this beast and compare it to not only Radeon HD 6990 but also GeForce GTX 580 SLI and GeForce GTX 570 SLI. This video card is pleasant to the ears, but does it have the muscle to make it a competitive buy?

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Performance Summary

In terms of performance, "GeForce GTX 580 SLI on a single card" the GTX 590 is not. We think this is what many of you were expecting. With two 512 CUDA core GPUs on board we too thought this might give us close-to-GTX 580 SLI performance before we started gaming with it. However, our evaluation has clearly revealed that the GTX 590 is very much equal to "GeForce GTX 570 SLI on a single card." At least it is priced somewhat accordingly, at $699, but even still, there were some cases where the GeForce GTX 570 SLI was few percent faster. And there are cases where GeForce GTX 570 SLI is less expensive by a good margin.

In Civilization V the ASUS GeForce GTX 590 was actually the second worst performing video card in our comparison. We weren't able to run at the native resolution of 5760x1200 and at 5040x1050 we had to use the minimum level of AA. GeForce GTX 570 SLI actually provided a better gameplay experience by allowing 4X AA. The Radeon HD 6990 was the worst performer and GTX 580 SLI was the best experience by a great margin.

The ASUS GeForce GTX 590 continued to take a back seat in F1 2010 where it matched gameplay with the GeForce GTX 570 SLI. In this game, the AMD Radeon HD 6990 allowed a better gameplay experience than the GTX 590. We saw some obvious gameplay differences in Metro 2033 where once again the AMD Radeon HD 6990 offered a better gameplay experience. We were able to run at 5760x1200 with "Very High" in-game settings. On the GTX 590 we had to use "High" settings once again matching the GTX 570 SLI.

Bad Company 2 was the most positive outcome out of all the games for the GTX 590. We were able to play at 5760x1200 with 4X AA, matching gameplay with the HD 6990 and GTX 570 SLI. Of course, GTX 580 SLI allowed the best gameplay experience and performance. Crysis: Warhead also showed a gameplay experience advantage with the AMD Radeon HD 6990 by allowing us to run with 2X AA at the same shader settings as the GTX 590. In our apples-to-apples test though there was a clear advantage across the board in performance with the AMD Radeon HD 6990.

Where did the Performance Go?

The big question is, where did the performance go with the GeForce GTX 590? If both GPUs are 512 CUDA core GPUs, matching all inherent technical specifications with a GeForce GTX 580 GPU, then why is the GTX 590 not performing like it? The answer is simple, both GPUs and the memory are severely under-clocked. In all of our games, we have found out that overclocking core/shader and memory frequencies have improved performance. In our recent follow-up testing of the Radeon HD 6990 we found these games to be sensitive to overclocking at these massive resolutions. Clock and shader and memory frequency matter.

The GeForce GTX 590 GPUs are clocked at 607MHz core frequency, which is 165MHz slower core clock speed compared to GeForce GTX 580. Compared to GeForce GTX 570 this is 125MHz slower as well. The shader frequency runs at 1215MHz which is 329MHz slower than GTX 580 and 249MHz slower than GTX 570. The memory is clocked at 3.4GHz which is 600MHz slower than the GTX 580 and 400MHz slower than the GTX 570.

So what you see there is that the clock speeds all around are even slower than a GeForce GTX 570 GPU. However, there are 512 CUDA cores versus 480 CUDA cores on a GTX 570. Therefore, what is happening is those extra 32 cores per GPU are making up for some of the performance loss of the clock speed loss on the GTX 580 GPU on the GTX 590. However, it is only enough to bring it up to GTX 570 level performance, per GPU. Basically, those extra cores are saving the GPUs from making this card a performance disaster. Simply put, at these frequencies, this video card is severely being held back in performance.

Why?

Well the answer to this one is easy; NVIDIA cares about video card acoustics in a big way with this video card. In our recent briefing with NVIDIA the point was made clear that the goal with this video card was to engineer a quiet dual-GPU video card that offered a very user friendly gaming experience. That means, no wild amounts of noise and irritation while you are gaming. NVIDIA believes that a dual-GPU solution should have the same user experience as a single-GPU video card. The GeForce GTX 590 was designed as a friendly video card that won't scare children when you boot up your computer.

The clock speeds were purposely lowered in order to keep the acoustics in check. This differs from AMD's explanation of down-clocking the core clock speed in the Radeon HD 6990 in order to keep power levels down within spec. AMD has focused majorly on power efficiency this generation, and NVIDIA is focusing on acoustics. To this, I will say that NVIDIA has succeeded. At idle and at full load while gaming, I simply could not hear this video card. This is a drastic difference from the AMD Radeon HD 6990. At full-load the Radeon HD 6990 can get quite loud with airflow noise; it isn't annoying, but there is no doubt that you can hear it. The GeForce GTX 590 is the exact opposite, even at full-load, this video card remains near-silent. Even when the fan spins up I was pressed to hear it do so. Certainly there is no way the GeForce GTX 590 is going to be bothersome when gaming.

NVIDIA has succeeded in making the GTX 590 an ear-friendly video card. I just wonder at what cost? Do high-end enthusiast gamers spending $700 on a video card care about the noise (to an extent obviously as the past has shown us) or care about the raw performance more? In my personal opinion, gamers spending that much money on hardware would prefer the raw performance over the noise, and adjust their builds to account for the noise. We have seen the Silverstone Raven cases quiet the noisy beasts that are the GTX 480 and GT X580. I don't know, I suppose it is a philosophy thing, which do you want more, an out-of-box silent video card or an out-of-box performance winner?

Of course the GeForce GTX 590 can be overclocked, and you'll have to if you want better than GTX 570 SLI performance and performance that can match the HD 6990. The issue is, this will indeed increase heat and noise of the video card. We will have to fully test overclocking with VoltageTweaking on the ASUS GeForce GTX 590 to find out. We will have a follow-up evaluation overclocking the ASUS GeForce GTX 590 to the edge and see how much faster it can get and how much heat and noise it really does throw out at these higher clock speeds. ASUS has shared the following with us.

Utilizing Voltage Tweak internally we have seen clock speeds in the range of 740 to 780 ( this is using a vcore setting of 1.035 to 1.065 ) varying on the GPU.

IT IS IMPORANT TO NOTE any overclocking with voltage exceeding 1.000 is strongly advised that the fan be manually set to ensure sufficient cooling performance.

It is not advised to generally exceed the 1.050 to 1.065 vcore range as this begins to meet the limits for the OCP/OVP mechanism on the card. Exceeding these values without disabling OCP/OVP or having superior cooling could affect the lifespan and functionality of the card/gpu.

This of course would put it in the range of a "true" GTX 580 SLI configuration. We will be showing our results soon.


The Bottom Line

The value of the GeForce GTX 590 is questionable. It costs within $10 of the Radeon HD 6990 at $710 (depending on street prices), but we have seen more than not the Radeon HD 6990 offers better performance at that price. The Radeon HD 6990 also has more RAM with 2GB available per GPU, already putting the GTX 590 at a disadvantage. You basically get less memory for the same price with the GTX 590. The GeForce GTX 590 matches GeForce GTX 570 SLI performance, so all you are really buying is a convenient form of GTX 570 SLI. If you want a all-in-one silent GTX 570 SLI package, then this is for you, it's an easy way to get into SLI, and there is always the option of going Quad-SLI with two of these. Still though, looking to Newegg this morning, Galaxy is running a $40 MIR on its GTX 570 cards, which is allowed on two cards per household, which brings GTX 570 SLI down to over $100 less. When comparing value, the Radeon HD 6990 is a "better" card than the GeForce GTX 590.

Another factor to consider is supply. We think there will not be a lot of GeForce GTX 590 video cards for sale. NVIDIA is only producing all the cards directly, so seeing large discounts and rebates due to competition may not happen with the GTX 590. As mentioned on the first page, NVIDIA has told us that thousands will be available worldwide. ASUS has told us that hundreds will be available in North America. We don't see the MSRP of the GTX 590 moving down due to tight supplies and the GTX 590 will be a short-lived SKU.

ASUS has put together a great package, and this video card does support VoltageTweak which may be the key to opening up the true potential of the GeForce GTX 590. That's the problem though, you will have to manually overclock it to get the best out of it, while the Radeon HD 6990 is kicking its butt out the door out-of-box stock. Competition is good, but it seems NVIDIA is holding back on us a bit with the GTX 590, playing it safe, and making a quiet video card so they don't get in trouble with complaints from people like us about noise, but at the same time, they've restrained this video cards performance and it shows. Nice try, the video card is pretty, but beyond that, it is not very exciting when you can get the same or better performance with lower power draw and more memory for the same price.

We truly thought the GTX 590 was going to make the Radeon 6990 look bad, but the fact of the matter is that NVIDIA made the 6990 look that much better. The GTX 590 is not the "World's Fastest Single Card Solution" as stated on our page 1 slides; the Radeon HD 6990 is very much retaining that title. Hail to the King, baby!

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