NVIDIA Kepler GPU GeForce GTX 680 Video Card Review

The silicon we have all been waiting for is here. NVIDIA is launching its next generation GeForce GTX 680 video card, poised with the new flagship GPU from NVIDIA. Can it compete with AMD's Radeon HD 7970? We were somewhat amazed at how this NVIDIA GPU does when it comes to gaming, pricing, efficiency, and features.

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Batman: Arkham City

We are using the full downloaded version of Batman: Arkham City from Steam with the latest patch update. To learn what this game has to offer in terms of graphics options and testing procedure please read our Batman: Arkham City Performance Review and our Batman: Arkham City DirectX 11 Performance Review. We will be running Batman with DX11 enabled along with MVSS and HBAO and we will use Tessellation levels that are playable. In all the tests below, all of the features are enabled, and we adjusted resolution, AA, and Tessellation as needed to find the highest playable settings.

*Note, a patch was just recently released for this game, and we are using this patch in this evaluation.


Highest Playable Settings - Single Display

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Batman: Arkham City is more graphically intense than Mass Effect 3 and gives us more unique options to play with. With Batman we can utilize NVIDIA's PhysX on the GeForce GTX 680 and GeForce GTX 580. On all three video cards we are able to turn on tessellation to a high level, along with MVSS shadows and HBAO. All of these features add up to requiring a lot of shader horsepower to run on a single-GPU.

First let's look at where we were with the GeForce GTX 580 of the last generation. The GeForce GTX 580 was not able to run this game at 2560x1600 with high tessellation enabled, and certainly not with PhysX at the same time. We had to play at 1920x1200 in order to turn on high tessellation and PhysX to normal.

The new GeForce GTX 680 improves upon the GTX 580 by allowing us to play at 2560x1600 with high tessellation and normal PhysX. This means the GTX 680 is running at a higher resolution, and still providing us the highest possible in-game quality settings, along with PhysX all running at the same time.

The AMD Radeon HD 7970 is also able to play at 2560x1600 with high tessellation enabled. If you look at the graph between 196 seconds and 361 seconds you will see that although it is playable, performance during this highly tessellated part of our run-through drops between 20-30 FPS. The GeForce GTX 680 is able to maintain performance in this tessellated area to a much greater degree than the Radeon HD 7970. Simply put, the GTX 680 is a lot faster at tessellation in this game.

The Radeon HD 7970 is not capable of running PhysX, so that gameplay element is disabled. What is impressive is that even with adding PhysX, the performance of the GTX 680 is higher than the AMD Radeon HD 7970, which is doing less work. While both video cards are able to do 2560x1600 with high tessellation, the GTX 680 seems to provide enough performance to also push PhysX.

In terms of gameplay experience, the GTX 680 provides a better experience in this particular game even at 2560x1600 by being able to run PhysX with overall higher performance.


1920x1200 Apples-to-Apples Performance

At 1920x1200 there are several scenarios of performance we want to look at.

Tessellation

Because we found out that the GTX 680 is much faster at tessellation, we wanted to disable tessellation completely and see how these perform first at 1920x1200. The below graph was run at 1920x1200 with FXAA and no tessellation.

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Even without tessellation, the GeForce GTX 680 is still faster than the Radeon HD 7970 at 1920x1200. The difference is about 8% in favor of the GTX 680.

Now let's see what happens when we turn on tessellation at 1920x1200, same settings.

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This is rather shocking, and amazing, the GeForce GTX 680 gains a larger lead over the Radeon HD 7970 when tessellation is turned on. You can see that during the heavily tessellated part of the graph at 196 seconds to 361 seconds the GTX 680 is much faster than the Radeon HD 7970. The performance difference has now increased to 20% difference between the video cards, in favor of the GTX 680.

4X and 8X MSAA with Tessellation

Now we want to turn off FXAA and turn on traditional MSAA at 4X and 8X MSAA in combination with tessellation at 1920x1200 and see what happens.

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With 4X MSAA enabled the Radeon HD 7970 falls further behind the GeForce GTX 680. The GTX 680 is now 27% faster than the Radeon HD 7970.

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Now we have turned on 8X MSAA and the performance difference is entirely not expected. With the higher capacity framebuffer, and gobs of memory bandwidth available on the Radeon HD 7970 we did not expect it to fall behind to GTX 580 performance levels! The GeForce GTX 680 is now 40% faster than the Radeon HD 7970! This is a comparison we expected the HD 7970 to succeed at, and the GTX 680 to choke, yet we experienced the exact opposite!

It is worth stating here that this game was heavily developed with NVIDIA as a technology partner and could that cooperation could possibly be influencing our results in NVIDIA's favor. Let's see what happens moving forward though.