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Building A Dual-GPU Beast...And Keeping It Classy?

Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 3 GB Review: Firing Back With 1024 CUDA Cores
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The Radeon HD 6990 4 GB is a card that makes no apologies. It’s big. It’s fast. It’s hot. It’s expensive. It’s loud. Some of the comments on my review of that board tried to draw parallels between the 6990 and Bugatti’s Veyron supercar. That’s way too complimentary. It’s really more of a Viper. The Viper is still sexy, but it’s nowhere near as masterfully crafted as a Bugatti, and AMD’s flagship doesn’t hesitate to get up in your face as it delivers its performance. Nvidia claims it was going more for Porsche-like nimbleness. Again, that’s hardly seems plausible given what we know sits under the GeForce GTX 590’s hood. But I didn’t jump to conclusions about AMD’s card until I had the data, and I won’t do that here, either.

Long, Strong, Something About Friction…

Nvidia’s card is big as well. Whereas the GeForce GTX 580 measures 10.5” long, the 590 is 11” long. But that’s a full inch shorter than AMD’s 12” Radeon HD 6990 (and indeed the 5970, which was also a 12” board).

Similar to the 6990, Nvidia employs a mid-mounted fan design. The company says this was necessary—the blower-style fan responsible for cooling the GeForce GTX 580 would have generated far too much noise as it tried to dissipate the board’s rated 365 W. Be that as it may, I didn’t like the challenges of pumping gratuitous heat into my chassis with AMD’s design, and it doesn’t get any more attractive coming from Nvidia. The difference is that, while AMD employed a mid-mounted fan and failed to strike a balance on the acoustic side, Nvidia gives us a more useable experience.

Mid-mounted fan, between vapor chamber-based sinksMid-mounted fan, between vapor chamber-based sinks

Perhaps surprisingly, the company doesn’t deviate too far from the game plan AMD executed. Its GF110 GPUs sit on either side of the center-mounted fan. Vapor chamber-based heatsinks cover each graphics processor, and an array of aluminum fins on each of them directs air out the front and back. But AMD uses a centrifugal fan. Nvidia employs an axial fan. And that distinction apparently makes the difference in noise output. Nvidia also claims that its vapor chamber design is superior, but without any way to quantify those claims or the benefit of AMD’s phase-change thermal interface material that supposedly helps improve thermal performance by 8%, we’ll stop short with the fan analysis.

As far as exhaust goes, Nvidia is actually at a disadvantage. AMD’s elegant use of DisplayPort allows the Radeon HD 6990 to offer five independent outputs, while still leaving an entire expansion slot for pushing heat out of the card’s shroud. Nvidia exposes three dual-link DVI outputs and one mini-DisplayPort connector—arguably a more klugey way to enable fewer outputs, but justifiable when you consider each GF110 is limited to two outputs anyway. Between those four ports, the 590 is left with little more than half of one slot for exhaust.

It’s also worth noting that Nvidia’s fan speed ramp is more granular than AMD’s. During testing, I found that the Radeon HD 6990 spins at 2180, 2880, or 3600 RPM. Stepping between those speeds is very obvious. The 590 adjusts more dynamically, and you really don’t notice when it accelerates. At the risk of giving too much away on page two, the result is one decibel more than the already-quiet GeForce GTX 580 under maximum load.

A nice touch: the GeForce logo on the card's edge lights up when powered onA nice touch: the GeForce logo on the card's edge lights up when powered on

More Power Means More Heat

Nvidia’s exceptional acoustic performance is all the more spectacular when you consider its power requirements. According to the company, the GeForce GTX 590 has a 365 W thermal limit. That would seemingly compare favorably to AMD’s Radeon HD 6990, rated at 375 W at its stock 830 MHz and 450 W overclocked (and overvolted) using the built-in firmware selector. The thing is, on average, the GeForce GTX 590 uses more power than the 6990 at that overclocked setting. I mean, the two setups are close (separated by 5 W), but the 590 is still the highest-power offering, despite Nvidia’s rating.

Driving such a power-hungry card naturally means using two eight-pin PCI Express power connectors, and Nvidia recommends at least a 700 W PSU to get the job done.

Display all 243 comments.
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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