Nvidia has finally taken the wraps off its dual-GPU graphics card, the GeForce GTX 590 - but does it have what it takes to beat rival AMD's recently launched Radeon HD 6990?
The latest card from the green camp, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 is a beast - and one that will set you back a not inconsiderable amount of money should you choose to invest in one. Featuring a pair of specially selected GPUs, the card offers eight graphics processing clusters, 32 streaming multiprocessors, 1024 CUDA cores, 128 texture units, and 96 ROP units - each evenly split between the two GPUs. The two GPUs are tied together via an SLI system thanks to an integrated PCI Express bridge chip - which could spell trouble for any games that struggle with SLI performance.
Stock speeds are set at 607MHz graphics clock, 1215MHz processor clock, and 3414MHz effective memory clock - with the 384-bit memory interface offering an impressive 327.7GB/s overall bandwidth to the 3GB of overall video memory. While that's 1GB less than the Radeon HD 6990 offers, it doesn't appear to have impacted performance all that much. We're also seeing some factory overclocked cards from vendors including Asus, although the boost doesn't seem that impressive at first glance.
Built around a 40nm process, the card includes over three billion transitors powering its three dual-link DVI outputs and single mini DisplayPort connector - and, Nvidia is keen to point out, has the power to play games on three monitors without breaking sweat.
Sadly, that power comes at a cost: like the Radeon HD 6990, those two GPUs draw a heck of a lot of power. The official thermal design power for the card is an impressive 365W, with Nvidia recommending a 700W power supply as a minimum. While two eight-pin PCI Express power connectors provide the juice, that translates into heat that has to go somewhere.
The single-fan design, which features a 90mm extruded fan located at the centre of the card and a pair of vapour chambers, is designed to cool things down while keeping the noise at a minimum. According to Nvidia's official figures, the fan runs at around 48dbA under load - which compares favourably with the Radeon HD 6900's still surprisingly quiet 59dbA.
Interestingly, Nvidia has designed the card such that the shroud is removable - making it easy to clean dust and grime from the heatsinks and fan. If you have a cramped case, however, this will involve taking the card out to perform your ablutions.
Cooling and design is one thing, but it's the performance that matters. According to Nvidia's own testing, the stock GTX 590 reference design outperforms AMD's Radeon HD 6990 in the majority of games, with only racing game Dirt 2 and post-apocalyptic FPS STALKER failing to show an improvement.
Sadly, a deeper delve into the testing results does show one drawback: while the GTX 590 beats the competition at lower resolutions, the lack of RAM hinders it when the settings are pushed higher. In Metro 2033, a test at 1680x1050 shows the GeForce beating the Radeon's performance by seven percent, but upping the resolution to 1920x1200 allows the Radeon to push ahead by a scant two per cent.
It's not true of all titles - with some, including racing sim F1 showing a massive lead for Nvidia's card at all resolutions - but it's something which could potentially have been avoided by including 4GB, rather than 3GB, of GDDR5 graphics memory.
Whether Nvidia's dual-GPU beast - which, the company is keen to point out, scales brilliantly in quad-SLI for those who can afford to drop what is likely to be close to £1,000 on a pair of the cards - can tempt buyers away from AMD's Radeon HD 6990 is something only time will tell - but it's looking like an impressive effort from the company thus far.