Technology

Analysis – is NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 680 a game changer?

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680. Credit: NVIDIA
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For years NVIDIA has held the crown for the world’s fastest GPU but such power came with a few costs, the high levels of power consumption and the sheer heat generated – not to mention the price. That changed with the release of the GTX 680.

NVIDIA’s latest card is still immensely powerful; the company claims it’s the “fastest GPU” they’ve ever built while also being the most efficient.  And these are only two of the bold claims the company is making (more on those below).

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680. Credit: NVIDIA

NVIDIA has long been charging a premium for their flagship products, which made AMD’s offerings quite appealing to many customers that were willing to lose 10-15% of performance for a cheaper product.  But, perhaps more surprising than their claims about the GPU’s performance, is the fact that the card actually undercuts AMD’s 7970 by $50 at current prices.

This isn’t the only thing AMD have to worry about; The GTX 680 is not only the performance leader on its release but is significantly smaller than AMD’s 7970 (as well as the NVIDIA’s own GTX 580), and more efficient than AMD’s current Tahiti XT card.

“The Geforce GTX 680 is the fasterst and most efficient GPU we’ve ever built.”

Features

Then again, there’s much more to graphics cards than simple performance and price. Features play a large role as to why someone would pick an offering from NVIDIA over AMD or vise versa. So let’s look under the hood.  The first thing you’ll notice looking at NVIDIA and AMD’s high-end offerings is that the GTX 680 features 2GB of RAM, significantly less than the 3GB found on the AMD 7970.

Normally this will be the deciding factor for users looking around for a new card – the received wisdom is that more is always better (specifically better levels of antialiasing and tessellation).  But not so, claims NVIDIA. The company says that its advanced antialiasing engine, TXAA, provides the same performance as other models but with fewer resources.

Throw in Adaptive VSync, which NVIDIA says can help eliminate screen tearing (Which, getting a bit technical, occurs when the graphics card tries to push more frame rates than the monitor’s refresh rate can handle) and you have a very inviting product.

The typical scenario is this; as you play your system’s performance will drop thus lowering your monitor’s refresh rate.  With other systems if your monitor dipped from 60fps to 45fps your monitor will reduce its refresh rate to 30 Hz taking your fps down to 30 too.  This might sound confusing but what it means for you is your game starts stuttering.

Adaptive VSync attempts to remedy this by only having VSync on when your frame rates exceed the refresh rate of your monitor. This means that it disables Vsync when your frame rates drop thereby and reducing visible stuttering.

See more, do more

For the hardcore NVIDIA are also providing NVIDIA Surround with the GeForce GTX 680, which allows you run up to three monitors for gaming with a fourth for web/desktop usage. Previously you would have needed two to easily achieve this.

AMD however have been offering their Eyefinity since the launch of their 5800 series cards back in 2009. Eyefinty allows the use of up to 6 monitors for gaming or work off a single card.

This brings us back to the RAM issue of the cards – 2GB on the GTX 680 vs. 3GB on the HD 7970.

Since the combined amount of monitors usually increases the resolution, the amount of RAM used also increases in performance situations such as games. Meaning that you can take a performance hit if your card is running out of RAM.

And this is where the GTX 680 falls down as for all its efficiencies it lacks one significant feature offered by AMD – ZeroCore Power.

ZeroCore Power from AMD essentially puts the card into a sleep-mode when it’s not currently rendering anything on your monitor. Thereby powering down non-essential components of the graphics card, and significantly reducing the amount of power consumed by your system.

But apart from this “nice to have” feature the GTX 680 is a powerful and affordable (considering the overall price of graphics card) offering.

We wait eagerly for AMD’s rebuttal.

The GeForce GTX 680 is currently available from $500-550. Although prices can change slightly depending on manufacturer and availability of stock.

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Albertus Valentyn
Al Valentyn is The Sociable's resident gaming and PC expert. From retro consoles to high-end games cards Al takes gaming very seriously.