NVIDIA has done a great job with Kepler, no doubts about that. The fact that a relatively small chip which doesn’t require a lot of energy contains blazing performance was about as good as it gets, as basis for a dual-GPU solution. Furthermore, this American company has a bit of a hard time in the segment under GTX 670 and GTX 680, so it was quite expected of them to present a graphics card with two GK104 chips and fill the gap while waiting for derivatives to appear. According to gossip, the problems are mostly related to the low yield of graphics chips made in the 28 nm production process. Unfortunately for NVIDIA, lithography problems have caused additional problems in the lacking mid-range and entry-level gamma, a market segment traditionally troublesome for the company. Either way, although things have been rough for NVIDIA lately, they still know they have an ace up the sleeve, and they’re doing their best to properly use it for attracting media and consumer attention.


Nvidia GTX_690_s

We received GeForce GTX 690 directly from NVIDIA as an exclusive journalist sample, which means that no bundle was included, only the card in an antistatic plastic bag. Still, we were hardly bothered by that, as NVIDIA has managed to create a proper masterpiece in the form of a graphics card. It’s hard, even with photos, to conjure just how high the production quality is, with all the little details. This is definitely the most impressive referent graphics card that’s ever graced our office, perhaps the most impressive card in general. The cooler covers the entire surface of the PCB, and the shield is metal for a good part, with only the central piece being made of plastic. Beneath the shield are aluminium fins that can be seen through the transparent Plexiglas. Everything is tightened by metal screws, which contribute to the industrial design. The top edge contains the GeForce GTX 690 logo, rubber-coated and backlit by green LEDs when the card is powered. The fan has a large diameter and a metal central section, which keeps it very quiet. In fact, this is the quietest “two-headed” graphics card ever, and by good measure. The cooler conceals the two GK104 chips, based on Kepler architecture and the 28 nm production process. Their specs, surprisingly enough, have been left untouched compared to the GPUs used for GTX 680 models. As a reminder, this means: 1536 stream processors, 128 texture and 32 ROP units per chip. Naturally, this means that all these values are effectively doubled, while usability will depend on SLI optimisation in NVIDIA’s kitchen. Memory buffers have also been doubled, with GDDR5 memory chips with a total capacity of 4 GB (2 x 2). Of course, this also means that two separate memory busses are mapped on the PCB, each with a width of 256 bits. All in all, GeForce GTX 690 truly is two GeForce GTX 680 cards rolled into one using SLI. In order to make this happen, the tried-and-true PLX PEX8747 chips was used, supporting the PCI Express 3.0 bus. For the more experienced readers expecting us to start naming the compromises, it just isn’t the case, owing entirely to the energy efficiency of the Kepler architecture. Unlike the tepid GTX 590, which turned out to be a very problematic card over time, GeForce GTX 690 has all the necessary measures in place to stop this from happening again. Firstly, the power unit isn’t under as much load anymore, and it’s been improved over the past generation anyway. In accordance with that, NVIDIA wasn’t forced to decrease clocks – at least not significantly. What does that mean? Well, in order to keep the TDP within limits, NVIDIA merely decreased the default clock by 90 MHz from 1006 MHz, which doesn’t impact performance that much. How come? Simply enough, Kepler architecture has the dynamic overclock mechanism, with the card raising its own frequencies if TDP allows, which essentially means that all latest-gen NVIDIA cards work at clocks higher than default ones most of the time anyway. Furthermore, the memory clocks have been remained intact, running at 1502 MHz, which gives an effective total of just over 6 GHz. All in all, this card is a brilliant step ahead in every way and, as the tests will show, the absolute emperor of the dual-GPU universe.

Nvidia GTX_690_Fan_s


Speaking of performance, it’s clear that these are two GeForce GTX 680 models rolled into one (PCB). Scaling is exceptionally well, although it’s hard to expect maximum usability on a single monitor. Gains vary between 50% and 90%, which is definitely good. Furthermore, this is the first graphics card that enables 3D gaming at maximum details in full HD resolution. Finally, we believe that the usability percentage can only increase over time, with newer profiles and drivers versions constantly surfacing. A good example thereof would be F1 2010, a game that had almost no benefit from the second GPU, with the GPU activity slider rarely going over 50%.

Nvidia GTX_690_PCB_s

A realistic product

When we say that we consider GeForce GTX 690 to be a realistic product, we aren’t referring to price and market availability. In fact, the overall market will feel little impact from another “paper dragon” which will appear in a relatively limited quantity, available only to those who are willing to dish out close to 1000€ for a graphics card. Yet what we do consider realistic is its acoustic performance and energy efficiency, even dimensions. If you remember our reviews for mega-demanding and noisy GeForce GTX 590 and Radeon HD 6990 cards, we recommended them with the caveat that they will drive anyone not entirely bent on performance crazy, with the large amount of noise they make and power consumption matching the bigger home appliances (not to mention the PSUs they required, or the spacious, sizeable enclosures required to provide sufficient airflow to keep the entire system marginally cool). None of this was a problem with GTX 690. Firstly, the 10-phase power unit is mostly under little load. A single GK104 chip required 4-phase voltage filtering in the referent design for GTX 680, while the previous generation (Fermi) took much more complex solutions. Temperatures never exceeded 80 degrees Centigrade under full load, which is in league with other referent Tahiti and Kepler models, with the fan bordering completely silent, despite this year’s very hot summer. To top it all off, there was no significant frequency cutting compared to the single-GPU version. Finally, the system’s overall power consumption was nowhere near the levels scored by previous dual-GPU generations.

Nvidia GTX_690_2_s

2 x GTX 680 = 2 x 500€

Although it has mind-boggling performance, characteristics and capabilities, price remains the number one problem for GeForce GTX 690 to truly reach the market. Unfortunately, NVIDIA has once again presented the world’s strongest graphics card just for the sake of the title, without the desire to push this product through to the remotest masses. As a testament to this, only few manufacturers are even offering GTX 690 in their gamma, and even they put the price tag nearing the ridiculous 1000€ mark, which is a lot for even the richest markets. All things considered, the new NVIDIA card is little more than a phenomenal technology demo, but that isn’t to say that we haven’t been left amazed with the advancements and the company’s ability to adapt and change direction when the need arises.


 Test results - direct comparison with GTX 680

 1920x1080 4xAA 16xAF ASUS GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690
Frequency (GPU / MEM) 1059MHz / 1500MHz (effective 6GHz) 915MHz / 1502MHz (effective 6GHz)
Futuremark 3DMark 11 (performance preset) GPU Score 3.962 5.424
Futuremark 3DMark 11 (extreme preset) GPU Score 3.308 6.367
3DMark Vantage (Extreme preset) GPU Score 22.219 33.799
3DMark Vantage (high preset) GPU Score 23.227 34.937
Unigine Heaven 3.0 (DX11, high, normal tesselation) [fps] 76,9 126,6
Unigine Heaven 3.0 (DX11, high, extreme tesselation) [fps] 62,2 103,3
Crysis Warhead (DX10, Enthusiast) [fps] 61,1 83,4
Crysis 2 (DX11, Ultra, HD Textures) [fps] 93,8 119,8
Metro 2033 (DX11, very high, tesselation) [fps] 47,8 74,3
AvP DX11 (DX11, max) [fps] 59,1 107.2
F1 2010 (DX11, max) [fps] 93 119
Dirt 3 (DX11, Ultra) [fps] 123,7 160.9
Lost Planet 2, Test B (DX11, high) [fps] 67,2 99,9
Power cons. [idle / load] 111 / 341 121 / 477
Test configuration: Intel Core i7 3960X, ASUS Rampage IV Extreme, Kingston 8GB DDR3 2133MHz, AMD Radeon HD7850 2GB, Windows 7 64bit


Gaming results - 3D tests 

1920x1080 4xAA 16xAF NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690
Unigine Heaven 3.0 (DX11, high, normal tesselation) [fps] 54,9
Unigine Heaven 3.0 (DX11, high, extreme tesselation) [fps] 59,3
Crysis Warhead (DX10, Enthusiast) [fps] 57,8
Crysis 2 (DX11, Ultra, HD Textures) [fps] 77,2
AvP DX11 (DX11, max) [fps] 45,5
F1 2010 (DX11, max) [fps] 71,3
Dirt 3 (DX11, Ultra) [fps] 89,6



NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690
GPU 2 x GK104
Manufacturing process [nm] 28
GPU Frequency [MHz] 915
Stream processors 2x 1536
ROP / Texture units 2x 32 / 2x 128
Memory type / Ammount / BUS GDDR5 / 2x 2GB / 2x 256
Mem. freq. / Efekcive [MHz] 1500 / 6000
Price [€] 1000
Contact www.nvidia.com