NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 Dual GPU Video Card Review

Is the GeForce GTX 690 the best dual-GPU video card ever built? We'll compare performance to GeForce GTX 680 SLI and Radeon HD 7970 CFX to see where the new beast from NVIDIA stands. We overclock the dual GPUs and push these as far as we can. Surely this is the best performance ever experienced from a single video card.

Introduction

On Saturday April 28th, many hardware enthusiasts and gamers had reason to be excited excited as NVIDIA introduced its GeForce GTX 690 to the world. In our GTX 690 sneak peek we discussed NVIDIA's goals, pricing, and a few specifications along with pictures. NVIDIA went to great lengths to seal the deal on this being the most robust, and well engineered dual GPU video card ever. Kyle called the GTX 690 "Perfection Inside and Out," and he may just well be correct as the GTX 690 was built with design and engineering priorities rather than budget restraints.

One of the unique aspects is that there are no flimsy plastic parts. NVIDIA describes it best:

When designing the GeForce GTX 690, our engineers and industrial designers set out to create an extremely high quality graphics card with raw, uncompromising power. The look and feel of the GeForce GTX 690 board is meant to reflect the extraordinary graphics horsepower that lies within.

The frame of the cover is made of cast aluminum, and is protected with trivalent chromium plating. Trivalent chromium gives the GTX 690 a sleek, yet powerful look and is highly durable. The fan housing of the GeForce GTX 690 is made from injection molded magnesium alloy. Magnesium alloys are used throughout the automotive and aerospace industry (including the engines of the Bugatti Veyron and F-22 Raptor) for their light weight, heat dissipation, and acoustic dampening properties - which are the same reasons we use it in the GTX 690.

To create the intricate geometries required for the fan housing, we used a form of injection molding called thixomolding, in which liquid magnesium alloy is injected into a mold. This allows us to create fine geometries and a tight, perfectly coupled fit.

Each Kepler GPU has its own distinct cooling unit. Clear polycarbonate windows allow you to see each of these coolers that play such a critical role in cooling the GPUs.

Finally, the GeForce GTX logo on the edge of the board is LED backlit. The lettering is laser-etched, ensuring precise design and the finest craftsmanship possible.

With attention to detail like that, NVIDIA is well on its way to making "the best" dual-GPU video card to date. The price? $999 Yes, $999 which is double the price of aGTX 680 video card at $499.

Specifications

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The GeForce GTX 690 is comprised of two GeForce GTX 680 "Kepler" GPUs on a single printed-circuit board. These are exactly the same GPUs used on GTX 680 video cards. Each GPU has 1536 Cuda Cores enabled, there are no shader cut-backs with this video card, all shaders are enabled just like GTX 680 video cards. There is 2GB of GDDR5 RAM per GPU on a 256-bit memory bus at 6GHz. This is the exact same memory specification found on GTX 680 video cards, so no cut-backs here either.

The core clock speed on each GPU has a base clock set at 925MHz and a GPU Boost clock of 1019MHz. Therefore, there is one cut-back, and that is the clock speed of both GPUs compared to standard GTX 680 video cards. The base clock on a stock GTX 680 video card is 1006MHz with a 1058MHz GPU Boost typical. So while the base clock has 91MHz between them, the GPU Boost clock only has 39MHz. More info on this later in the review.

The video card itself requires two 8-pin power connectors. However, while that is required, the TDP of the video card is 300W. So with two 8-pin connectors, plus the PCI-Express bus, that would mean the video card can theoretically be supplied 375W of power. That leaves a lot of headroom for overclocking this video card. NVIDIA has floated the number of 1300MHz on each GPU around, but our real-world overclocking results tell a slightly different tale as you will find out.

SLI is performed on the video card via the means of a PLX bridge chip that provides independent PCI Express 3.0 x16 access to both GPUs.

Every other feature you are familiar with in regards to GTX 680 is found in the GTX 690. GPU Boost, Adaptive VSYNC, FXAA, TXAA, it is all part of this video card.

Unique on the GTX 690 are three dual-link DVI ports and one mini-DisplayPort connector. This means you can easily setup NV Surround or 3D Surround from one video card on a triple-display, with a fourth sidecar display.

GTX 690 in All Its Glory

The total video card length is 11", this is quite a feat considering there are two high-end GPUs on board. NVIDIA has this to say about the PCB construction:

A 10-phase power supply with a 10-layer 2oz copper PCB provides high-efficiency power delivery with less resistance, lower power and less heat generation. Lower power and less heat also enhances the board’s longevity, while the added PCB layers provide maximum signal integrity.

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The cooling on the GTX 690 is achieved by each GPU having its own dedicated vapor chamber dual-slot heatsink. There is an aluminum baseplate that provides additional cooling for the components. On this baseplate are ducted grooves which actually direct airflow across the heatsinks. There is one center mounted fan that has been calibrated to provide the smoothness and quietness airflow. The hardware monitoring on board is able to change the fan speed as needed. We ramped the fan up to maximum speed to see about noise, and even at 95% fan speed it has a certain dampened quietness to it. It doesn't sound like other fans running at maximum speed, it is much quieter. NVIDIA claims the dBA of this video card is quieter than two GTX 680 video cards in SLI and from our experience this is certainly true. NVIDIA tells us the sound profile of the GeForce GTX 690 will be 36db at idle and a mere 46db under full gaming load which is quieter than two GTX 680 cards in SLI.


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