In an unusual move, NVIDIA took the opportunity earlier this week to announce a new 600 series video card before they would be shipping it. Based on a pair of Kepler GK104 GPUs, the GeForce GTX 690 would be NVIDIA’s new flagship dual-GPU video card. And by all metrics it would be a doozy.

Packing a pair of high clocked, fully enabled GK104 GPUs, NVIDIA was targeting GTX 680 SLI performance in a single card, the kind of dual-GPU card we haven’t seen in quite some time. GTX 690 would be a no compromise card – quieter and less power hungry than GTX 680 SLI, as fast as GTX 680 in single-GPU performance, and as fast as GTX 680 SLI in multi-GPU performance. And at $999 it would be the most expensive GeForce card yet.

After the announcement and based on the specs it was clear that GTX 690 had the potential, but could NVIDIA really pull this off? They could, and they did. Now let’s see how they did it.

  GTX 690 GTX 680 GTX 590 GTX 580
Stream Processors 2 x 1536 1536 2 x 512 512
Texture Units 2 x 128 128 2 x 64 64
ROPs 2 x 32 32 2 x 48 48
Core Clock 915MHz 1006MHz 607MHz 772MHz
Shader Clock N/A N/A 1214MHz 1544MHz
Boost Clock 1019MHz 1058MHz N/A N/A
Memory Clock 6.008GHz GDDR5 6.008GHz GDDR5 3.414GHz GDDR5 4.008GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 2 x 256-bit 256-bit 2 x 384-bit 384-bit
VRAM 2 x 2GB 2GB 2 x 1.5GB 1.5GB
FP64 1/24 FP32 1/24 FP32 1/8 FP32 1/8 FP32
TDP 300W 195W 375W 244W
Transistor Count 2 x 3.5B 3.5B 2 x 3B 3B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Launch Price $999 $499 $699 $499

As we mentioned earlier this week during the unveiling of the GTX 690, NVIDIA is outright targeting GTX 680 SLI performance here with the GTX 690, unlike what they did with the GTX 590 which was notably slower. As GK104 is a much smaller and less power hungry GPU than GF110 from the get-go, NVIDIA doesn’t have to do nearly as much binning in order to get suitable chips to keep their power consumption in check. The consequence of course is that much like GTX 680, GTX 690 will be a smaller step up than what NVIDIA has done in previous years  (e.g. GTX 295 to GTX 590), as GK104’s smaller size means it isn’t the same kind of massive monster that GF110 was.

In any case, for GTX 690 we’re looking at a base clock of 915MHz, a boost clock of 1019MHz, and a memory clock of 6.006GHz. Compared to the GTX 680 this is 91% of the base clock, 96% of the boost clock, and the same memory bandwidth; this is the closest a dual-GPU NVIDIA card has ever been to its single-GPU counterpart, particularly when it comes to memory bandwidth. Furthermore GTX 690 uses fully enabled GPUs – every last CUDA core and every last ROP is active – so the difference between GTX 690 and GTX 680 is outright the clockspeed difference and nothing more.

Of course this does mean that NVIDIA had to make a clockspeed tradeoff here to get GTX 690 off the ground, but their ace in the hole is going to be GPU Boost, which significantly eats into the clockspeed difference. As we’ll see when we get to our look at performance, in spite of NVIDIA’s conservative base clock the performance difference is frequently closer to the smaller boost clock difference.

As another consequence of using the more petite GK104, NVIDIA’s power consumption has also come down for this product range. Whereas GTX 590 was a 365W TDP product and definitely used most of that power, GTX 690 in its stock configuration takes a step back to 300W. And even that is a worst case scenario, as NVIDIA’s power target for GPU boost of 263W means that power consumption under a number of games (basically anything that has boost headroom) is well below 300W. For the adventurous however the card is overbuilt to the same 365W specification as the GTX 590, which opens up some interesting overclocking opportunities that we’ll get into in a bit.

For these reasons the GTX 690 should (and does) reach performance nearly at parity with the GTX 680 SLI. For that reason NVIDIA has no reason to be shy about pricing and has shot for the moon. The GTX 680 is $499, a pair of GTX 680s in SLI would be $999, and since the GTX 690 is supposed to be a pair of GTX 680s, it too is $999. This makes the GTX 690 the single most expensive consumer video card in the modern era, surpassing even 2008’s GeForce 8800 Ultra. It’s incredibly expensive and that price is going to raise some considerable ire, but as we’ll see when we get to our look at performance NVIDIA has reasonable justification for it – at least if you consider $499 for the GTX 680 reasonable.

Because of its $999 price tag, the GTX 690 has little competition. Besides the GTX 680 in SLI, its only other practical competition is AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 in Crossfire, which at MSRP would be $40 cheaper at $959. We’ve already seen that GTX 680 has clear lead on the 7970, but thanks to differences in Crossfire/SLI scaling that logic will have a wrench thrown in it. But more on that later.

Finally, there’s the elephant in the room: availability. As it stands NVIDIA cannot keep the GTX 680 in stock in North America, and while the GTX 690 may be a very low volume part due to its price, it requires 2 binned GPUs, which are going to be even harder to get. NVIDIA has not disclosed the specific number of cards that will be available for the launch, but after factoring the fact that OEMs will be sharing in this stockpile it’s clear that the retail allocations are certainly going to be small. The best bet for potential buyers is to keep a very close eye on Newegg and other e-tailers, as like the GTX 680 it’s unlikely these cards will stay in stock for long.

The one bit of good news is that while cards will be rare, you won’t need to hunt across many vendors. As with the GTX 590 launch NVIDIA is only using a small number of partners to distribute cards here. For North America this will be EVGA and Asus, and that’s it. So at least unlike the GTX 680 you will only need to watch over two products instead of a dozen. On a broader basis, long term I have no reason to doubt that NVIDIA can produce these cards in sufficient volume when they have plenty of GPUs, but until TSMC’s capacity improves NVIDIA has no chance of meeting the demand for GK104 GPUs or any of the products based off of it.

Spring 2012 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
  $999 GeForce GTX 690
  $499 GeForce GTX 680
Radeon HD 7970 $479  
Radeon HD 7950 $399 GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 7870 $349  
  $299 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 7850 $249  
  $199 GeForce GTX 560 Ti
  $169 GeForce GTX 560
Radeon HD 7770 $139  

 

Meet The GeForce GTX 690
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  • CeriseCogburn - Thursday, May 10, 2012 - link

    The GTX680 by EVGA in a single sku outsells the combined total sales of the 7870 and 7850 at newegg.
    nVidia "vaporware" sells more units than the proclaimed "best deal" 7000 series amd cards.
    ROFL
    Thanks for not noticing.
    Reply
  • Invincible10001 - Sunday, May 13, 2012 - link

    Maybe a noob question, but can we expect a mobile version of the 690 on laptops anytime soon? Reply
  • trumpetlicks - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    Compute performance in this case may have to do with 2 things:
    - Amount of memory available for the threaded computational algorithm being run, and
    - the memory IO throughput capability.

    From the rumor-mill, the next NVidia chip may contain 4 GB per chip and a 512 bit bus (which is 2x larger than the GK104).

    If you can't feed the beast as fast as it can eat it, then adding more cores won't increase your overall performance.
    Reply
  • Joseph Gubbels - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    I am a new reader and equally new to the subject matter, so sorry if this is a dumb question. The second page mentioned that NVIDIA will be limiting its partners' branding of the cards, and that the first generation of GTX 690 cards are reference boards. Does NVIDIA just make a reference design that other companies use to make their own graphics cards? If not, then why would anyone but NVIDIA have any branding on the cards? Reply
  • Dark0tricks - Saturday, June 02, 2012 - link

    anyone who sides with AMD or NVIDIA are retards - side with yourself as a consumer - buy the best card at the time that is available AND right for your NEEDs.

    fact is the the 690 is trash regardless of whether you are comparing it to a NVIDIA card to a AMD card - if im buying a card like a 690 why the FUCK would i want anything below 1200 P
    even if it is uncommon its a mfing trash of a $1000 card considering:

    $999 GeForce GTX 690
    $499 GeForce GTX 680
    $479 Radeon HD 7970

    and that SLI and CF both beat(or equal) the 690 at higher res's and cost less(by 1$ for NVIDIA but still like srsly wtf NVIDIA !? and 40$ for AMD) ... WHAT !?

    furthermore you guys fighting over bias when the WHOLE mfing GFX community (companies, software developers is built on bias) is utterly ridiculous, GFX vendoers (AMD and NVIDA) have skewed results for games for the last decade + , and software vendors two - there needs to laws against specfically building a software for a particular graphics card in addition to making the software work worse on the other (this applies to both companies)

    hell workstation graphics cards are a very good example of how the industry likes to screw over consumers ( if u ever bios modded - not just soft modded a normal consumer card to a work station card , you would know all that extra charge(up-to 70% extra for the same processor) of a workstation card is BS and if the government cleaned up their shitty policies we the consumer would be better for it)
    Reply
  • nyran125 - Monday, June 04, 2012 - link

    yep........

    Ultra expensive and Ultra pointless.
    Reply
  • kitty4427 - Monday, August 20, 2012 - link

    I can't seem to find anything suggesting that the beta has started... Reply
  • trameaa - Friday, March 01, 2013 - link

    I know this is a really old review, and everyone has long since stopped the discussion - but I just couldn't resist posting something after reading through all the comments. Understand, I mean no disrespect to anyone at all by saying this, but it really does seem like a lot of people haven't actually used these cards first hand.

    I see all this discussion of nVidia surround type setups with massive resolutions and it makes me laugh a little. The 690 is obviously an amazing graphics card. I don't have one, but I do use 2x680 in SLI and have for some time now.

    As a general rule, these cards have nowhere near the processing power necessary to run those gigantic screen resolutions with all the settings cranked up to maximum detail, 8xAA, 16xAF, tessellation, etc....

    In fact, my 680 SLI setup can easily be running as low as 35 fps in a game like Metro 2033 with every setting turned up to max - and that is at 1920x1080.

    So, for all those people that think buying a $1000 graphics card means you'll be playing every game out there with every setting turned up to max across three 1920x1200 displays - I promise you, you will not - at least not at a playable frame rate.

    To do that, you'll be realistically looking at 2x$1000 graphics cards, a ridiculous power supply, and by the way you better make sure you have the processing power to push those cards. Your run of the mill i5 gaming rig isn't gonna cut it.
    Reply
  • Utomo - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    More than 1 year since it is announced. I hope new products will be better. My suggestion: 1 Add HDMI, it is standard. 2. consider to allow us to add memory / SSD for better/ faster performance, especially for rendering 3D animation, and other Reply

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