AMD has held the fastest video card in the world crown for quite some time now, with the ageing Radeon HD 5970 still more than capable of beating off competition from the fastest NVIDIA cards. The first Fermi-architecture release from NVIDA, the GTX 480, was far too hot to spawn a dual-GPU variant, but after a slew of tweaks and revisions, we finally have a card from the Green Team that can compete.
The GTX 590 combines two GPUs identical in architecture to the well-received GTX 580, shoehorning them onto a single PCB. AMD has not sat on its laurels, however, and beat NVIDIA to the punch by releasing a dual-Cayman GPU card a few weeks ago – the HD6990. The question is which of these two leviathans of PC graphics will come out on top?
The Asus GTX 590
The GTX 590 from Asus sports the same cooler as AMD’s reference design: a dual-slot blower that expels heat from both the front and back of the card. It’s a shorter card than the HD6990, measuring 11 inches in length. This should guarantee compatibility with the majority of modern PC cases – a stark contrast to AMD’s card, which requires an E-ATX case to accommodate its 12in span. The bundle that goes with it is minimal: you get the ubiquitous adaptors and driver software, but no games or other goodies.
The GTX 590 is the only single card solution that supports NVIDIA’s 3D Vision Surround technology, enabling a stereoscopic 3D image to be spanned across three monitors. This is still three screens fewer than are supported by the HD6990, but the 3D goodness is strictly NVIDIA-only. It works with most PC games right out of the box and provides some truly breath-taking effects.
Efficiency vs. performance
NVIDIA will be quick to point out that the GTX 590 is a more power-efficient design than the HD6990, consuming only 365W under full load. The cost of this improved efficiency is raw performance. Whereas the HD 6990 keeps its clock speeds pretty close to the single GPU flagship, NVIDIA has played it much safer with frequencies of 607MHz for each core and 3,414MHz for the memory. This does allow the card to operate more quietly than the Radeon, but it certainly can’t be classified as a low-noise card.
How it performed
We compared the two flagship cards using a total of ten benchmark tests: Crysis Warhead, Crysis 2, F1 2010, Hawx 2, FarCry 2, Metro 2033, 3DMark 2011, Stalker Call of Pripyat, Civilisation V and Mass Effect 2.
In each case, we ran our comparisons at a 2560×1600 resolution – the only setting that really pushes this class of card to the limit. Across the spectrum of our tests, the two cards jostled for first place, with the GTX 590 taking leads in some titles and the HD6990 excelling in others. When taking a mean average of the results, however, the HD6990 stood out as the overall victor, besting its nemesis by around 3%.
These results are close enough that you are unlikely to notice a real-world difference between the two cards if you play a lot of games, but it should be noted that the HD 6990 tended to take its victories in games that were more intensive – perhaps virtue of its larger allocation of 2GB RAM per GPU.
Whichever way you slice it, £600 is a lot of money to be spending on a video card – but then if you have enough cash for a £1,000 30in display, it’s unlikely to be a purchase that weighs heavily on your mind.
These dual-GPU video cards are niche products designed for a tiny segment of the market. They won’t be produced in large numbers, and are manufactured more as a marketing exercise to sell mainstream products.
With this in mind, we can’t help but be slightly disappointed with the GTX 590. We expected the world-beating GTX 580-derived GPUs to translate into a similarly chart-topping showing in the flagship sector – but this simply hasn’t happened. With HD 6990 prices on average around £100 cheaper, we have to recommend the AMD card as a better buy.
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- Cooler and more efficient than AMD's design; amazing performance; 3D Vision Surround.
- Very expensive, but no faster than the cheaper HD6990; still hot and loud.
The GTX 590 is an awesome piece of technology, but its failure to capture the fastest video card crown despite a price tage of £600 is a disappointment.