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Performance Perfected: Introducing the GeForce GTX 690

Performance Perfected: Introducing the GeForce GTX 690

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Channeling air through the heat sinks is a center-mounted axial fan. The smoother the airflow, the lower the noise output. Here, our engineers spent considerable effort optimizing the fin pitch and angle at which the air hits the fin stack. The area directly underneath the fan is carved with low-profile channels to encourage smooth airflow and all components under the fan are low-profile so they won’t cause turbulence or obstruct airflow. Our acoustic engineers also fine-tuned the fan’s control software so changes in fan speed occur gradually rather than in discrete steps.

The sum total of these efforts is not only in lower noise output, but also a less-perceptible noise. By eliminating board clutter, high-frequency sounds are removed. When you listen to the fan alone, it’s clean and smooth.

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A dual-GPU graphics card is similar to two-way SLI condensed into a single graphics card. Historically, though, the dual-GPU card has always lagged behind its SLI counterpart in terms of performance. When two GPUs are brought onto the same card, their combined heat output outstrips the capacity of even the most capable cooler. As a result, clock speeds must be lowered. For example, in the Fermi generation, the fastest single-GPU graphics card had a graphics clock speed of 722 MHz and a memory data rate of 4008MHz. On the dual-GPU card, the graphics clock was 607 MHz and the memory data rate was 3212 MHz.

This is where Kepler’s fanatical focus on power efficiency pays off most handsomely. The GPUs on the GeForce GTX 690 have a boost clock of 1019 MHz, just a hair (2.8%) shy of the GeForce GTX 680 at 1058 MHz. What’s more, all other specs are identical; the number of cores, memory speed, and memory bandwidth per GPU are the same on both cards.

What this means is that the GeForce GTX 690 performs more or less just like a pair of GeForce GTX 680s in SLI; almost nothing was compromised in bringing two Kepler GPUs to the same board.

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In gaming performance, the GeForce GTX 690 is truly amazing, playing almost all of today’s games at maximum settings with little effort. To really stretch its legs, you want to hook up three monitors and play your favorite games at 5760 x 1080, in NVIDIA Surround mode or, better still, in NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround.

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Quad SLI

Despite the stupendous performance of the GeForce GTX 690, some gamers are destined to clamor for more. That’s where Quad SLI comes in. When two GeForce GTX 690s are connected via an SLI motherboard, four GPUs work in unison in Quad SLI mode. Each GPU works on a distinct frame for a total of four frames in flight at a given time. The resulting performance is simply otherworldly.

In Battlefield 3, at 2560 x 1600 with all settings maxed out, the framerate exceeds 120 FPS. Crysis 2 runs just shy of 100 FPS. And in the most demanding game, Metro 2033, the performance scales almost linearly to reach 56 FPS.

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NVIDIA FXAA and Adaptive V-Sync, two technologies we introduced at the GeForce GTX 680 launch, become even more useful on the GeForce GTX 690.

Gaming at high resolutions, especially in Surround mode, consumes a large amount of memory. Traditional MSAA, which typically consumes 4x the memory, often becomes impractical to use. FXAA, on the other hand, consumes no additional memory and achieves comparable if not superior results, making it possible to game at oversized resolutions with antialiasing enabled.

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FXAA in Portal 2. Click here for a zoomed 4xMSAA vs. FXAA comparison.

Similarly, Adaptive V-Sync, which toggles V-Sync on and off depending on the frame rate, is a natural partner to the GeForce GTX 690. At very high frame rates, frames tear not just in two, but into multiple, discrete bands. With Adaptive V-Sync enabled, a solid 60 FPS can be maintained without tearing. And should the frame rate dip below 60, V-Sync is dynamically disabled to prevent stuttering.

Improved Frame rate Metering

Kepler introduces hardware based frame rate metering, a technology that helps to minimize stuttering. In SLI mode, two GPUs share the workload by operating on successive frames; one GPU works on the current frame while the other GPU works on the next frame. But because the workload of each frame is different, the two GPUs will complete their frames at different times. Sending the frames to the monitor at varying intervals can result in perceived stuttering.

The GeForce GTX 690 features a metering mechanism (similar to a traffic meter for a freeway entrance) to regulate the flow of frames. By monitoring and smoothing out any disparities in how frames are issued to the monitor, frame rates feel smoother and more consistent.

Conclusion

The work of integrating two full fledged-GPUs onto a single board is a tremendous engineering challenge. It is a perpetual tug of war between the constraints of performance, power, heat, and noise. The end product is almost always a compromise.

The GeForce GTX 690 may very well be the first dual-GPU graphics card that emerged in full form, free from compromise. It’s the world’s fastest graphics card by a wide margin. It’s quieter and consumes less power than its predecessor. It’s crammed with features that eliminate jaggies and sustains smooth framerates. And to top it off, it’s made of the finest materials, expertly constructed, and with a look that speaks directly of the power that is housed within.

At a MSRP of $999, it’s not a graphics card for everyone. But for enthusiasts who demand the very best and gamers who want a graphics card that will last for generations, the GeForce GTX 690 represents the ultimate in gaming from NVIDIA.

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