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Performance: Quad-SLI Versus Quad-CrossFire

Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 3 GB Review: Firing Back With 1024 CUDA Cores
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Just prior to the launch, Maingear sent over its gorgeous Shift, all decked out with an overclocked Core i7-2600K running at 4.5 GHz. It included two GeForce GTX 590s and one Radeon HD 6990 (we already had one here in the lab to add to the system), allowing us to run benchmarks in an actual case and compare quad-GPU configurations from both AMD and Nvidia.

Maingear helped assuage one of my biggest concerns with its machine: mainly, the need for ventilation would force enthusiasts to adopt ugly, airy enclosures just to let the cards inside breathe. The Shift demonstrates that it's still possible to get a classy, monolithic PC (vertically-oriented, even) and still support GeForce GTX 590s and Radeon HD 6990 cards in quad-GPU configurations. The system does radiate a lot of heat under load, particularly toward the bottom, where these cards push a lot of air, but it handles the challenging thermals without a hiccup.

Most impressive is the fact that both configurations work without generating a ton of noise. Do not compare the following numbers to the results on page 17. Instead of measuring from 28" behind each card's exhaust port, we buttoned up the Maingear machine, stuck it under a desk three feet away, and noted the acoustic levels two feet off of the ground.

Noise At Idle And Load (Extech 407768)

GeForce GTX 590 3 GB (Quad-SLI)
Radeon HD 6990 4 GB (Quad-CrossFire)
Idle
43.9 dB(A)
43.5 dB(A)
Load
48.2 dB(A)
53.2 dB(A)


The AMD cards are still louder than Nvidia's in a closed system versus an open test bench. However, we're pleased to see Maingear's beefed-up cooling subsystem keeping air moving briskly enough to avoid the 3600 RPM fan setting.

Now we can start comparing the performance of two Radeon HD 6990s to a pair of GeForce GTX 590s. Just as we saw in the single-card results, Nvidia's flagship part dominates, so long as you don't exceed the capabilities of its onboard memory. With 4x MSAA applied, AMD's Radeon HD 6990 in one- and two-card configurations is the faster solution. And you really need two of those cards (four Cayman GPUs total) to make Metro 2033 playable at 2560x1600 using our demanding settings.

Although AMD gets the upper-hand in the most taxing environments, we get the sense that its drivers aren't yet as ready for quad-GPU operation, despite the almost three-week head start its team has on Nvidia's launch. Two 6990s in CrossFire aren't even able to start the Lost Planet 2 benchmark before crashing to the Windows desktop.

AMD's problems continue in Aliens vs. Predator, where even its newest Catalyst 11.4 preview driver doesn't seem to serve up scaling between two cards. As a result, where we see one Radeon HD 6990 outperform the GeForce GTX 590, two 590s take a commanding  lead.

In single-card mode, AMD's Radeon HD 6990 is only slightly faster than the GeForce GTX 590. But adding a second card shows that four Cayman GPUs scale better than a quartet of GF110s in Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

One Radeon HD 6990 is faster than one GeForce GTX 590 in Just Cause 2. Adding a second card allows AMD to maintain that lead without AA/AF. However, the GeForce GTX 590s in SLI manage to pass AMD's solution once anti-aliasing is applied. The performance is close, just as we'd expect given identical price tags.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    Scoregie , March 24, 2011 12:40 PM
    MMMM... HD 6990.... OR GTX 590... HMMM I'll go with a HD 5770 CF setup because im cheap.
  • 13 Hide
    nforce4max , March 24, 2011 12:18 PM
    Nvidia like ATI should have gone full copper for their coolers instead of using aluminum for the fins. :/ 
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    nforce4max , March 24, 2011 12:18 PM
    Nvidia like ATI should have gone full copper for their coolers instead of using aluminum for the fins. :/ 
  • 5 Hide
    The_King , March 24, 2011 12:20 PM
    The clock speeds are a bit of a disappointment as well the high power draw and the performance is not that better than a 6990. Bleh !
  • 5 Hide
    stryk55 , March 24, 2011 12:21 PM
    Very comprehensive article! Nice job!
  • 6 Hide
    LegendaryFrog , March 24, 2011 12:23 PM
    I'm impressed, good to see Nvida has started to care about the "livable experience" of their high end products.
  • 2 Hide
    plznote , March 24, 2011 12:24 PM
    Great card. But low clocks.
    GREAT for overclocking!
  • 1 Hide
    darkchazz , March 24, 2011 12:27 PM
    Wow @ low noise
  • 7 Hide
    rolli59 , March 24, 2011 12:27 PM
    Draw! Win some loose some. What is the fastest card? Some will say GTX590 others HD6990 and they are both right.
  • 15 Hide
    Scoregie , March 24, 2011 12:40 PM
    MMMM... HD 6990.... OR GTX 590... HMMM I'll go with a HD 5770 CF setup because im cheap.
  • 3 Hide
    Sabiancym , March 24, 2011 12:42 PM
    You can't say Nvidia wins based on the sound level of the cards. That's just flat out favoritism.

    I'll be buying a 6990 and water cooling it. Nothing will beat it.
  • 6 Hide
    Darkerson , March 24, 2011 12:44 PM
    rolli59Draw! Win some loose some. What is the fastest card? Some will say GTX590 others HD6990 and they are both right.

    Thats more or less how I feel. They both trade blows depending on the game.
  • 5 Hide
    shark195 , March 24, 2011 12:47 PM
    I think both cards are faster in their own niches, for example in acoustics 590 wins, but in power which is the main issue to tackle as days go by, your bill will certainly go high, but you don't pay anything for the noise, so in that case AMD STILL has the fastest single graphic card on the planet.
    AMD is still the winner, whichever you look at it though
  • 0 Hide
    trandoanhung1991 , March 24, 2011 12:53 PM
    SabiancymYou can't say Nvidia wins based on the sound level of the cards. That's just flat out favoritism. I'll be buying a 6990 and water cooling it. Nothing will beat it.

    I think 2 GTX 580 will beat it. And costs about the same too, if you look hard enough.

    shark195I think both cards are faster in their own niches, for example in acoustics 590 wins, but in power which is the main issue to tackle as days go by, your bill will certainly go high, but you don't pay anything for the noise, so in that case AMD STILL has the fastest single graphic card on the planet. AMD is still the winner, whichever you look at it though


    The 590 uses less than 10W more compared to 6990 in AUSUM. Compare that to 430W, and it's small change, really.
  • 1 Hide
    ledpellet , March 24, 2011 12:56 PM
    Well, at the moment 590s are not available to buy, so it does not exist beyond benchmarks and reviews...It is not a competition till we see real world pricing. Let the battle begin! btw 5870 price is hard to beat right now.
  • -1 Hide
    vaughn2k , March 24, 2011 12:57 PM
    "Nevertheless, in a comparison between GeForce GTX 590 versus Radeon HD 6990, Nvidia wins."
    "Not hearing it is a requisite"

    Done a survey? How many says it's a requisite?

    Also at performance preset, the GTX590 leads, wondering why there's no benchmark for extreme preset?
  • 4 Hide
    Yuka , March 24, 2011 12:57 PM
    This is no nVidia victory, I'm sure of it, but it's such a small margin it sucks. That 1.5GB per GPU hurts the card where you'll be using it most: high res. It's like a tech KO by AMD, not a flat out punch-KO though.

    Cheers!
  • 5 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 24, 2011 12:58 PM
    The card blew up during testing at tech power up.Power limiting system does not work reliably :o  :pfff: 
  • -1 Hide
    nukemaster , March 24, 2011 12:58 PM
    i wonder how long until AMD board partners use a fan instead of blower(blowers win on air flow, but they can be louder), i have seen several such coolers on other amd and nvidia cards.

    Either way, the lower noise is impressive.
  • 4 Hide
    pelov , March 24, 2011 1:00 PM
    Does anyone else think that the 1680 benchmarks shouldn't be used in cards like this?

    Paying >$600 for a GPU almost certainly means you have multiple monitor setups and/or high res monitor(s). Otherwise why not buy a better monitor and a lower costing card to use its full potential?
  • 6 Hide
    Rosanjin , March 24, 2011 1:05 PM
    Thank you for posting the audio samples of both dual GPU cards. Getting to hear each one really made the difference telling. I'll be sticking with single gpu card arrangements, thank you very much. ^ ^ b
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 24, 2011 1:05 PM
    Very good article, one of the better ones to come from Toms in a long time, thanks was a great read.

    In terms of Nvidia releasing a chart topper, I think they created a equal here, tables a rebalanced at the top, Its been a long time since that was the case!

    With regards to saying Nvidia wins down to noise output, that is just your opinion! I believe the 480 was a damn fast card noise irrelevant, now refined in the 580!

    Personally, at 1920x1080 I still see no need in replacing my 5850 just yet, I spent my money on a 50"3d TV instead, and still 5850 runs on that great which is by far a better size to play on then 3x1920x1080 imo.
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