Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

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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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

We are using the full downloaded game of Skyrim from Steam. We have the latest 1.4 version patch applied as well. To learn about the graphics options in this DX9 game please read our Skyrim Gameplay Performance Review which also details our testing procedure. You can also check out our Skyrim AMD CrossFireX Performance and IQ Review. To further your Skyrim pleasure, we also have a Tweaking Skyrim Image Quality article.

For this evaluation, we are using the built in default Skyrim settings, no modifications other than to disable VSYNC. No arrows were taken to the knee during the testing of this game. Note that we have patch version 1.4 applied and we have the high resolution texture pack installed as well.

*Note, patch 1.5 for Skyrim was just released, however all of our testing in this game was already done by the time it came out, so the patch version used in our testing is 1.4.27.


Highest Playable Settings - Single Display

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Skyrim is an interesting game to test because it performs so well, yet we can use control panel options from NVIDIA and AMD to push the graphics higher than many other games. We are talking about the options for Transparency Supersampling in addition to Multisampling AA and FXAA.

In the NVIDIA Control Panel we can enable NVIDIA's Transparency Supersampling and choose 2X TR SSAA, or 4X TR SSAA or 8X TR SSAA in combination with the regular 2X, 4X and 8X AA options in the game. Transparency Supersampling will help smooth aliasing on all the trees and vegetation in the game.

Similarly, AMD has an option in its control panel to enable Adaptive Supersampling. Adaptive Supersampling uses the same MSAA setting you are using to set the SSAA level. For example, if you are running the game at 4X MSAA, then with Adaptive SSAA turned on you will get the same sample number for SSAA. If 8X AA is used in-game, then you'll get that same sample number for SSAA. AMD's and NVIDIA's methods work differently, but deliver similar results with similar sample numbers.

All of these AA options can be used in combination with FXAA in the game as well. The result is not a single spec of aliasing visible when using all methods combined. Luckily this game runs so fast we can use all of these methods. In our gameplay performance evaluation, we have found that NVIDIA's Transparency Supersampling is much faster than AMD's Adaptive Supersampling. We have some apples-to-apples graphs at the bottom to show this.

First things, let's look at where the AMD Radeon HD 7970 was playable in this game. We were able to play at 2560x1600 with 8X MSAA plus FXAA turned on in the game. This is the highest possible in-game settings. When we tried to turn on AMD's Adaptive Supersampling, performance became far too slow. In fact, it was extremely choppy and unplayable.

The new GeForce GTX 680 is able to also play at 8X MSAA plus FXAA at 2560x1600. However, it is able to go one step further. We were able to turn on NVIDIA's 4X Transparency Supersampling and still experience an average framerate above 60 FPS, even outperforming the HD 7970 which isn't using SSAA at all.

The previous generation GeForce GTX 580 was playable at 2560x1600 with 8X MSAA and FXAA of course, but even it could also run with 2X TR SSAA. Granted, it was slower, but performance was still in the right zone for good playability. The GTX 680 improves upon the GTX 580 by allowing a higher TR SSAA setting and giving us much faster performance.

When it comes to the gameplay experience, nothing matched the visual quality of the GTX 680 with 8X AA+FXAA+4X TR SSAA enabled.


1920x1200 Apples-to-Apples Performance

The first thing we wanted to look at is to get a baseline for performance with just FXAA enabled, and no MSAA or Transparency AA enabled. The graph below is run at 1920x1200 with FXAA and the highest in-game settings.

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Right off the bat, without any burden of traditional MSAA, the GeForce GTX 680 is remarkably faster than the Radeon HD 7970 at 1920x1200. We are looking at a performance difference of 33% in favor of the GTX 680. In fact, even the GTX 580 is faster than the Radeon HD 7970. NVIDIA recently improved performance in this game in recent drivers, and it is certainly showing here.

Now we can look at what happens when we turn on MSAA+Transparency AA below.

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In this graph we have 4X MSAA turned on in the game, and then we turned on 4X TR SSAA from the NVIDIA control panel and Adaptive SSAA from the AMD control panel. This is as close to the same Transparency Supersampling AA samples we can get to compare.

The GeForce GTX 680 just blows the Radeon HD 7970 away in Transparency AA performance. The GTX 680 is 94% faster than the Radeon HD 7970, and both are producing similar visual quality at these settings! This is amazing, and not what we expected.

Now let's turn on 8X MSAA + 8X TR SSAA and Adaptive SSAA.

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In this graph we have 8X MSAA turned on in the game plus NVIDIA's 8X TR SSAA and AMD's Adaptive SSAA. This graph just blows our minds, something is severely bottlenecking the Radeon HD 7970 and we don't know what. The Radeon HD 7970 has 3GB of RAM and a very high memory bandwidth compared to the GTX 680. Yet, the GTX 680 is 208% faster!

Whatever the cause is, its clear the GTX 680 allows a better experience right now by allowing 8X MSAA + 8X TR SSAA to be enabled in this game and deliver above 60 FPS average performance with phenomenal image quality.