Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 4 GB

Our score: 4/5
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Published: May 16, 2012 3:40 PM
By Régis Jehl
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
Nvidia has pipped AMD to the post by getting in there first with its new-generation twin-GPU graphics card. The GeForce GTX 690 has the kind of tech specs that get computer geeks (like us) drooling, including two GK104 chips—as used in the GTX 680—a high-end finish with exclusive new materials and the promise of monster performances.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 690: Tech Specs

The GeForce GTX 690 uses two Kepler GK104 GPUs as previously seen in the GeForce GTX 680. Each GPU therefore has 1536 CUDA cores, a 256-bit bus and 2 GB of GDDR5 memory at 1502 MHz. However, the clock speed of the GPUs has been reduced slightly, from 1006 MHz to 915 MHz. The Thermal Design Power (TDP) is 300 watts.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 review
The GeForce GTX 690 stripped—you can see the two GK104 GPUs.

Size & Noise4/5



Graphics cards with two GPUs have always been big, power-hungry and very noisy. And while Nvidia hasn't managed to avoid all these pitfalls, the component-maker has managed to improve things considerably.

At 28 cm, this card is 2.5 cm longer than the GTX 680 and is exactly the same size as its predecessor, the GTX 590. However, we were a little surprised at the cooling system, which consists of two aluminium radiators (one on each chip) and a central fan. The problem with this kind of set-up is that some of the hot air gets pushed into the casing. That said, it proved particularly effective in the GTX 690.

With the card idle, we measured 41.7 dB(A) of noise from our test computer, which is barely more than the GTX 680 or the AMD Radeon HD 7970. This relatively noise output makes the Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 a pretty discreet component.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 review
Given that there are two GPUs to contend with, the cooling system is actually quite quiet.

We were expecting this card to fire up its fans helicopter-style when working hard with 3D graphics, but that simply wasn't the case. With 53.5 dB(A) of noise in our test computer, the GeForce GTX 690 isn't much louder than the GeForce GTX 680. Obviously, it's not the quietest card on the block either, but it's still less noisy than the single-GPU Radeon HD 7970, for example! In these conditions, the chips didn't heat up past 83°C, which is more than acceptable.

Power Use2/5



It's no surprise to see that this card still uses quite a bit of power. With the card idle, our test PC was using 101 watts, compared with 89 watts with a GTX 680 and 133 watts with a GTX 590. This means that both GPUs are being powered, even in basic office computing tasks. It's a bit of a shame that there's no function like AMD's ZeroCore Power to cut off one of the GPU chips and save a few watts. When gaming, our test computer was drawing 496 watts, which is 100 or so watts more than with a GeForce GTX 680.

GPU Boost: Adaptable Clock Speed

Like other Nvidia 600-series graphics cards, the GTX 690 has a GPU Boost function. We outlined this feature in detail in our review of the GeForce GTX 680 so there's little point in repeating ourselves here. To sum up, this function automatically adjusts the clock speed of the GPUs to varying degrees in relation to the card's power use in video games. Nvidia therefore lists a base frequency and a GPU Boost frequency for its cards, the latter being the minimum clock speed the card can reach. No maximum clock speed is given.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 review - gpu boost
GPU Boost: dynamically increases GPU clock speeds to improve performance within the TDP.

The clock speed is upped by 13 MHz at a time (clock bins) but the highest clock bin will vary from one particular card to another (depending on things like the quality of the power stage, power leaks, efficiency, etc.). In practice, that means the actual performance levels can vary from one GTX 690 to another by a few percent (4% maximum), as the various cards on sale won't offer the same range of clock bins.

In our GeForce GTX 690, the GPU clock speeds varied between 993 MHz and 1071 MHz depending on workload. Most of the time it hovered around 1058 MHz. Our test card can therefore up its clock speed by a maximum of 12 x 13 MHz compared with a maximum of 8 x 13 MHz for the GTX 680 (1110 MHz).

Performance in Games5/5



With no real competitor from AMD yet, the GeForce GTX 690 is easily the highest-performance graphics card on the market at the moment. Compared with a GeForce GTX 680, you can expect a gain in performance (over SLI) of 25% to 80% (depending on the game) in 1920 x 1200 pixels with graphics detail set high.
Tt gtx 680
Average general performances
Click on the graph to see all our test results
and compare models in the Face-Off
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A closer look at our test results shows that with this level of performances, the CPU in our test computer sometimes wasn't powerful enough to allow the GTX 690 to work to its full potential. Plus, the card didn't prove particularly advantageous for gaming on a basic Full HD monitor—it'll actually be much more suitable for users gaming in very high resolutions like 2560 x 1600 pixels, or over several monitors, or in stereoscopic 3D. In light of this, we'll be looking into ways of updating our test procedure for these new-generation cards.

All in all, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 is a pretty exceptional graphics card. Performance levels are very high and are perfectly suitable for gaming over several monitors and/or 3D gaming. Build quality (see sidebar) is everything you'd expect from a high-end graphics card and noise levels are kept well under control.

However, while the GeForce GTX 690 is sure to get gamers' juices going, the £1,000 price tag makes it an exclusive buy! Only a limited number of users will be ready to splash out as much on a graphics card as you'd pay for a whole computer (and a high-end one at that!).

See Performance Index Table

4/5 Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 4 GB DigitalVersus 2012-05-16 16:40:00

Pros

  • Performances
  • Noise is kept under control
  • High-quality materials and build

Cons

  • Price
  • Power use when idle (both GPUs are powered)

Conclusion

This is an exceptional graphics card, boasting ultra-high performances, excellent build quality, a top-end finish and ... an eye-watering price tag! It's clearly not the kind of graphics card that's within everyone's reach, but for a handful of lucky users it'll be a real boon for multi-display or 3D gaming.

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