Dual GPU cards have always been a little hit and miss. The very nature of trying to fit two GPUs and the accompanying power phases and VRAM onto a single PCB whilst still being able to cool the card has led to some reductions in capabilities. For example, the GTX295 was really two GTX270s, and the GTX590 was two GTX570s. So although they cost the earth, there was always a trade-off in performance against a pair of higher specification single cards, and often against a pair of single GPU ones, due to the heat and power draw problems inherent in a single PCB solution.
ASUS have been the one company to regularly break through these limitations with their MARS range of nVidia cards and the Ares AMD cards.
Somewhat out of the blue the new MARS turned up a the OC3D offices brandishing two GK104 GPUs, found at the heart of the GTX760. With some staggering performance available from the regular GTX780 and the R9 290X, is a dual-GPU card still the way to go, or have single card behemoths rendered the complicated MARS obsolete?
As always we pay close attention to the specifications, as we have to. It's fun to see that we're the only people who do, otherwise the mistake of 6004MB of GDDR5, when it's actually 4GB, wouldn't have made it past the proof readers at ASUS. Perhaps when times are tight proof reading is the first thing to go.
6GHz of GDDR5 is a shade slower than the latest single-card titans, but still by no means a slouch, and the combined CUDA power of the two GK104's means that the 2304 CUDA Cores is identical to that of the GTX780. That instantly means that we're expecting GTX780 performance, despite there always being a slight performance drop with two GPUs on the same PCB. The high Boost clock certainly piques our interest.
Considering that this is a ROG branded item, the packaging is exceptionally nice. It's so easy to have plastered ridiculous shouty logos and artwork on the cover, and ASUS more than most have been guilty of this. We love the understated "here is what it is" aesthetic.
Remember the ROG magnetic strip we saw on the Rampage IV Black Edition? It's a big improvement upon the standard case badge so we like that the MARS comes complete with one.
The card itself is, from the front at least, not obviously anything special. It's just a DCUII cooler, roughly speaking. Of course this side isn't the one that most people see, and it's the other ends that ASUS have focussed upon.
The side, that we see most of all, has a big MARS logo which pulses red when the power is on. More of that later. The underside is seriously braced with a sturdy plate replete with the ROG logo and plenty of screws to keep the PCB flat and the cooler clamped tightly to the GPUs to keep them cool.
Despite having two GK104s the MARS only requires two 8pin PCIe power inputs. Curiously the outputs have moved away from the regular two DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort offering normally found on nVidia cards, and ASUS have gone with three DVIs and a mini DisplayPort. An odd choice to be sure.
ASUS GTX760 MARS
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.6GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Corsair Dominator Platinum
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
As we would expect from a ROG MARS, the card is already clocked to very nearly its limit out of the box. Overclocking with the ASUS GPU Tweak utility is easy, but you have to make sure that you sync the cores otherwise the new clock speed isn't applied.
Once you've done this we got 150MHz extra from the GPU cores and a surprisingly low 50MHz extra on the GDDR5. Maybe Sony have hoovered up all the good GDDR5 on the planet with the PS4.
Despite having two GPUs on the same PCB, the ASUS cooler keeps things well under control with a maximum of 78°. More importantly it's extremely quiet, bordering on silent.
3D Mark Vantage
Now we've been doing this far too long to get too excited from a single 3D Mark Vantage result, but there is no doubt that our expectations of something just below the GTX780 are looking cautious, as the MARS sits just ahead of a stock GTX780Ti!
3D Mark 11
The second of our 3D Mark tests, 11, continues the impressive start the ASUS GTX760 MARS has, sitting much closer to an overclocked GTX780Ti than we could have hoped to find. To put it in perspective it's out-performing the GTX690.
Finally the latest version of 3D Mark and the MARS slots neatly in the gap between a standard GTX780Ti and the overclocked one. The 290X is nowhere near. Although we do find that the overclock on the MARS has less of an effect as the detail level increases.
The first of our gaming tests and the GTX760 MARS is keeping up its initially impressive performance, handily beating an overclocked GTX780Ti and comfortably ahead of all but the most extreme setups.
It's no secret that we're enormous fans of BioShock Infinite here at OC3D. Indeed it sits closely with Far Cry 3 as one of our favourite games of recent times. The ASUS MARS makes it look gorgeous, and it's incredibly smooth even at maximum settings and 2560x1440. Equivalent to a GTX780Ti overclock for less money? Thanks very much.
We're starting to think that Crysis 3 is just poorly optimised. We've thrown some tremendously powerful hardware at it without ever really getting the performance back that one would expect. At 1080 the MARS is the only card other than an overclocked GTX780Ti that's capable of 60FPS, yet upping the resolution drops it down to 290X levels with a mere 30FPS.
Far Cry 3
Speaking of Far Cry 3, the ASUS GTX760 MARS handles it with aplomb, whether at extreme resolution or 'just' 1920x1080. There is a point at which the architecture becomes the limiting factor, as seen by the comparative GTX780 results and the similar performance between the stock and overclocked MARS.
Hitman : Absolution
If any game runs smoothly on AMD hardware it's definitely Hitman Absolution. Even the R9 290, which isn't as good as the R9 290X, is capable of matching the performance of the MARS. It's no slouch, but nothing comes close to the HD7970CF result.
We've long known that Metro prefers a couple of GPUs over a single one, no matter how powerful that single GPU might be. If anything our results with the ASUS MARS only emphasise how ridiculously powerful the GTX780Ti is when overclocked, as the MARS doesn't really trouble it. It's very close to a stock one though, and a shade ahead of the 290X.
Resident Evil 6
You could probably guess what we're going to say before we write it by now. The ASUS GTX760 MARS is extremely close to a GTX780Ti in performance which, considering we were only expecting plain GTX780 figures, says a lot about how quick this card is.
Our final gaming benchmark is probably the first one that shows a clear benefit to overclocking, as Lara looks as smooth as she has ever done on the ASUS MARS. Odd considering how much trumpeting AMD do about this particular title. 60FPS average even in 2560x1440 is extremely impressive.
The MARS has been so close to the GTX780Ti so far that it's almost a shock to see the GTX780Ti outperform it so handily in every single test that CatZilla has to offer. Against a regular GTX780 though the twin GK104s prove that their is life in the older architecture yet with some impressive scores, and a long way ahead of the 290X.
Despite the intensity of the Unigine Valley benchmark, one of the prettiest things you can watch if you haven't already downloaded it, the MARS makes short work of it and, even out of the box, pushes an overclocked GTX780Ti close.
Finally Unigine Heaven unquestionably prefers the single GPU behemoth that is the GTX780Ti over the SLI of the ASUS GTX760 MARS, even though the MARS makes an excellent stab at it with some high average frame rates, even in the 8xMSAA 2560x1440 test.
It's not often that a card arrives in our offices without much of a fanfare or with much expectations attached to it. We have done a lot of single card testing recently and haven't yet tried out a pair of GTX760s in SLI, so we weren't too sure how much performance there would be. When you add to that our knowledge that two GPUs on a single PCB is never quite as good as two separate cards, but balance that with the knowledge that ASUS ROG products, and the MARS range especially, are rarely bad, then we were left entirely unsure of how it would perform.
A glance at the specifications gave us a rough idea though. 2304 CUDA Cores is the same as the GTX780, and the 1.1GHz Boost Clock certainly hints at performance around the mark of the regular GTX780. So you can imagine our surprise when rather than being a match for a stock GTX780 it, more often than not, was better than a stock GTX780Ti. A card that has us lusting after it more than almost any other item of hardware on the market.
It's not only the performance in certain tests that had us frothing at the mouth. Usually with these "two GPUs one PCB" affairs there is a point at which the necessary reduction in architecture starts to limit the performance, but the GTX760 MARS ate everything we could throw at it, whether it was the simplicity of a 3D Mark Vantage Performance test, or the extremity of a BioShock Infinite 2560x1440 gameplay session.
In terms of raw power it's unquestionably an incredible card.
There are, as there so often are with these things, a couple of flies in the ointment.
Firstly the logo on the side has been a mine of frustration for us since its introduction. On older cards we want it to just be a single colour at all times, rather than the pointless changing colour they end up being. With the MARS it's thankfully a single colour all the time, but ASUS have seen fit to make the logo a breathing one, with no way to turn it off. It's extremely distracting, even through a smoked case window. Just have it on all the time.
Secondly there is the extremely complicated issue of the price. £520 is the MSRP. Now we accept that the MARS is a custom PCB, and not a card for the mass market. There is a level of kudos in ownership that a standard card doesn't give you. The performance is equivalent to the £30 more expensive GTX780Ti. So it's certainly not stunningly over-priced in performance terms. However, two GTX760s, even ones with ASUS' DirectCU II cooler, are around £440 and will give you the same performance as we've seen here, yet if one of them dies you still have a display. Not likely these days, but something to take into account. So relative to the hardware involved it's quite expensive. Also two cards always looks better than a single one. There is just something about a pair of cards that's more visceral than a single one. Finally, whilst it might run the GTX780Ti close, when the Ti does beat the MARS it does so handily, and we're not sure that £30 saving is worth it. Some games, Company of Heroes 2 for example, don't even take a second GPU into account, so you'll have a £520 GTX760.
In short this is for a very niche audience. If you just want pure power the GTX780Ti is similarly priced and better. If you just want the most power for the least outlay you could buy two GTX760s and run them in SLI for about £100 less. But if you want something a little special, something different from the norm, then the ASUS GTX760 MARS might be just the ticket and for that reason we award it our OC3D Performance award.
Thanks to ASUS for supplying the GTX760 MARS for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.