Putting two GPUs onto a single circuit board is a fairly recent trend for the highest models in a particular graphics card series. Although it had been tested before with varying success it was the GTX295 and ATI HD4870X2 that really proved it was both possible and beneficial to go for SLI/Crossfire but on a single card.
Of course the primary benefit is that you can buy two, and go for a Quad-GPU setup, but there are also energy savings over having two single cards.
Heat however is the largest hurdle to overcome. This has been dealt with either by reducing the performance of the GPUs used, or resorting to something that sounds like a 747 taking off.
Today we're looking at the latest attempt from nVidia, the GTX590. It comes at the perfect time as we've only just reviewed the AMD HD6990 and so we can really get to grips with which of the two is the King of single card performance.
Without further ado let's get to it.
GeForce® GTX 590
Dual NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 500 series
Engine Clock speed
1024 (512 per GPU)
Memory Clock speed
3072MB DDR5 (1536MB per GPU)
768-bit (384-bit per GPU)
Triple DL-DVI-I, mini-DP
Active (with fan) (dual-slot)
DirectX® 11 with Shader Model 5.0
Other hardware features
8-channel Digital Surround Sound, HDMI 1.4a compatible, HD Audio bitstream capable, hardware accelerated Blu-ray 3D ready, Quad NVIDIA® SLI™ ready, NVIDIA 3D Vision™ Surround ready
nView® Multi-Display, Hardware Video Decode Acceleration Technology, NVIDIA® CUDA™ technology, OpenGL® 4.1,
Windows 7 capability
Windows® 7 with DirectCompute support
The GTX590 comes in the standard ASUS box with the same fantasy rider we've seen plenty of times before. Whilst it's a small thing it would be nice to at least see a different fantasy image for various models to differentiate them. Especially when you're into the £500+ bracket of products you would expect a bit more bespoke packaging for your money.
Internally everything is as expected with the brilliant, sturdy as hell, Asus black box that we love so much.
The card itself is nice to look at with a large centrally mounted fan flanked by two slightly raised shoulders. It's an exercise in minimalism.
The reverse is solder city as we'd expect for any twin GPU offering, and has additional reinforcement below each of the GPUs themselves.
It's no surprise at all to see the GTX590 requiring two 8-pin PCI-e power connectors to fill it with the power necessary to run the two beefy GF110 GPUs.
Whereas AMD have gone down the DisplayPort route, nVidia are using the more commonplace DVI outputs to run your monitors.
When we reviewed the GTX560 we saw how there was a small concave part around the fan to aid cooling in SLI setups. This has been taken even further with a significant 'hollow' around the fan so if you decide that you want two of these then the you have the best possible chance of keeping the primary card cool.
Intel Core i7-950 @ 4GHz
ASUS Rampage III Extreme
Muskin Joule 1200w
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
One quick reformat and we're running the identical setup that we just tested the HD6990 on. It couldn't be a more accurate battle of the two challengers for the throne.
Overclocking and Temperatures
Obviously with a twin GPU there are many extra considerations on top of the normal ones we have to think about when overclocking. We are not only playing the silicon lottery, but we also are limited by the lower maximum clock of the two. Furthermore there are limits to the amount of power that you can draw from the PCI-e socket and heat that the heatsink/fan combo are capable of expelling.
Even with these limitations the GTX590 managed to be pushed from its default 613MHz to 660MHz which should be enough to give us some boosts in testing.
Showing that nVidia and Asus are being conservative, under load the overclock only gives us a 2°C maximum increase over the stock card. A decent non-reference cooler and this could go into the 700s.
3D Mark Vantage
Straight out of the gate the GTX590 leaps to the top of our single card charts and isn't a long way behind the GTX580 SLI setup. The main contender of course is the HD6990 and it's leaps and bounds beyond that. However, don't get the bunting out just yet, Vantage is notoriously generous to PhysX cards.
3D Mark 11
Sure enough once we move onto the more shader based 3D Mark 11 the GTX590 drops behind the HD6990, even when it's overclocked.
Even though we know the HD6 series of cards is designed to do well in Unigine, it's still a shock to see the GTX590 lose out so heavily in maximum frame-rate. It just about keeps up at average rates. Is it as good with the image quality ramped up?
Surprisingly with the Image Quality ramped up to 8xAA the GTX590 drops even further behind the HD6990. Normally anti-aliasing is a strength of nVidia and it just shows how good the HD6990 is. The GTX590 fits nicely between the GTX580 single and GTX580 SLI.
Alien vs Predator
Onto the DirectX 11 heavy Alien vs Predator. The GTX590 again fits just between a single card GTX and SLI. Although we're well above the 60 FPS mark on all our setups we'd expect to be for this price. At stock the GTX590 is behind even two HD6870s, which we're certain will be much cheaper. Not the stunning performance we're expecting so far.
Crysis Warhead is a game that normally glistens when run by a nVidia card and yet here it's really kept in the shade. The positioning of its performance between the GTX580 and GTX580 SLI is where we'd expect for the pricing, but there is no denying how far behind its AMD rival it is.
Far Cry 2
The Dunia engined Far Cry 2 is a great test of pure GPU horsepower and the GTX590 finally puts up a decent showing. It's neck and neck with the HD6990.
Finally Metro 2033 responds well to dual GPUs and the GTX590 is once again on a par with its AMD rival and right between the single and dual-card setups of its big brother.
We've waited a long time for the successor to the GTX295 and we have to confess we're left feeling a little flat by the experience.
All three of the top single cards from nVidia, the GTX560, GTX570 and GTX580 are stunning pieces of hardware that deliver immense performance at good pricing.
The GTX590 certainly wont supply the good pricing part of the equation. The HD6990 is priced at £599 and we can see no reason why this GTX590 will arrive at retailers at much beneath this. So it really needs to deliver big on performance.
Does it? That's debatable. It's all a little too synthetic. The GTX580 is about £400 and gives us, for example, 90 FPS average in Far Cry 2 . An SLI setup is £800 and gives us 150 FPS in Far Cry 2. The spot right between those numbers is £600 which we expect the GTX590 to be, and an average of 120 FPS in Far Cry 2, which is exactly what it gets.
It's very difficult not to look through the graphs as we go and, the odd result aside, not end up with the conclusion that nVidia benchmarked the single and SLI setups and then tuned the GTX590 to fit right between the two, therefore not taking any sales at all away from its flagship model.
Ignoring the GTX580 for comparison and looking at it solely in a "I need a dual-GPU card and have 600 notes to splash out" way, there is no way you'd plump for this over the HD6990 in pure performance terms. One or two tests edge towards the nVidia offering but the AMD card rules the roost by a big margin in certain tests.
If you aren't all about pure performance, although for this much money, why not, then the GTX590 is much easier to live with as a day-to-day card. It's FAR quieter than the HD6990 and so if you want a card that will not deafen you when you're just browsing the net, but can still spank the bejeebus out of a game then this might be the better bet.
For us, it's probably too expensive and not quite fast enough to displace what we'd really spend our money on if we wanted mega power, silence and enough left over for a few brews. That still belongs to a GTX570 SLI setup.
So it's not quite as fast as the HD6990, not as fast as two single cards, very expensive, but reasonably cool and quiet. Another card it's probably best to look harder at once the third-party variants are on the shelf.
To be clear though if it was our money and we had to buy a 6990 or a 590 we would choose the Nvidia card every time, if for no other reason than because you can use it intensively for hours on end with out it trying turning into a desktop leaf blower. The slight loss of FPS and 3DMark points is bearable considering how much quieter this card is compared to the ATI offering.
Thanks to Asus for sending the GTX590 for review. Discuss in our forums.