NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 Review: Ultra Expensive, Ultra Rare, Ultra Fastby Ryan Smith on May 3, 2012 9:00 AM EST
Traditionally dual-GPU cards have been a mixed bag. More often than not they have to sacrifice a significant amount of single-GPU performance in order to put two GPUs on a single card, and in the rare occasions where that tradeoff doesn’t happen there’s some other tradeoff such as a loud cooler or immense power consumption. NVIDIA told us that they could break this tradition and put two full GTX 680s on a single card, and that they could do that while making it quieter and less power consuming than a dual video card SLI setup. After going through our benchmarking process we can safely say that NVIDIA has met their goals.
From a gaming performance perspective we haven’t seen a dual-GPU card reach the performance of a pair of high-end cards in SLI/CF since the Radeon HD 4870X2 in 2008, so it’s quite refreshing to see someone get so close again 4 years later. The GTX 690 doesn’t quite reach the performance of the GTX 680 SLI, but it’s very, very close. Based on our benchmarks we’re looking at 95% of the performance of the GTX 680 SLI at 5760x1200 and 96% of the performance at 2560x1600. These are measurable differences, but only just. For all practical purposes the GTX 690 is a single card GTX 680 SLI – a single card GTX 680 SLI that consumes noticeably less power under load and is at least marginally quieter too.
With that said, this would typically be the part of the review where we would inject a well-placed recap of the potential downsides of multi-GPU technology; but in this case there’s really no need. Unlike the GTX 590 and unlike the GTX 295 NVIDIA is not making a performance tradeoff here compared to their single-GPU flagship card. When SLI works the GTX 690 is the fastest card out there, and when SLI doesn’t work the GTX 690 is still the fastest card out there. For the first time in a long time using a dual-GPU card doesn’t mean sacrificing single-GPU performance, and that’s a game changer.
At this point in time NVIDIA offers two different but compelling solutions for ultra-enthusiast performance; the GTX 690 and GTX 680 SLI, and they complement each other well. For most situations the GTX 690 is going to be the way to go thanks to its lower power consumption and lower noise levels, but for cases that need fully exhausting video cards the GTX 680 SLI can offer the same gaming performance at the same price. Unfortunately we’re going to have to put AMD out of the running here; as we’ve seen in games like Crysis and Metro the 7970 in Crossfire has a great deal of potential, but as it stands Crossfire is simply too broken overall to recommend.
The only real question I suppose is simply this: is the GTX 690 worthy of its $999 price tag? I don’t believe there’s any argument to be had with respect to whether the GTX 690 is worth getting over the GTX 680 SLI, as we’ve clearly answered that above. As a $999 card it doesn’t double the performance of the $499 GTX 680, but SLI has never offered quite that much of a performance boost. However at the same time SLI has almost always been good enough to justify the cost of another GPU if you must have performance better than what the fastest single GPU can provide, and this is one of those times.
Is $999 expensive? Absolutely. Is it worth it? If you’re gaming at 2560x1600 or 5760x1200, the GTX 690 is at least worth the consideration. You can certainly get by on less, but if you want 60fps or better and you want it with the same kind of ultra high quality single GPU cards can already deliver at 1920x1080, then you can’t do any better than the GTX 690.
Wrapping things up, there is one question left I feel like we still don’t have a good answer to: how much RAM a $999 card should have. NVIDIA went with a true equal for the GTX 680 SLI, right down to the 2GB of VRAM per GPU. Looking back at what happened to the Radeon HD 5970 and its 1GB of VRAM per GPU – we can’t even run our 5760x1200 benchmarks on it, let alone a couple of 2560x1600 benchmarks – I’m left uneasy. None of our benchmarks today seem to require more than 2GB of VRAM, but that much VRAM has been common in high-end cards since late 2010; the day will come when 2GB isn’t enough, and I'm left to wonder when. A GTX 690 with 4GB of VRAM per GPU would be practically future-proof, but with 2GB of VRAM NVIDIA is going to be cutting it close.