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Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 3 GB Review: Firing Back With 1024 CUDA Cores

Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 3 GB Review: Firing Back With 1024 CUDA Cores
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AMD shot for—and successfully achieved—the coveted “fastest graphics card in the world” title with its Radeon HD 6990. Now, Nvidia is gunning for that freshly-claimed honor with a dual-GF110-powered board that speaks softly and carries a big stick.

In this corner...In this corner...

Today, the worst-kept secret in technology officially gets the spotlight. Hot on the heels of AMD’s Radeon HD 6990 4 GB introduction three weeks ago, Nvidia is following up with its GeForce GTX 590 3 GB. According to Nvidia, it could have introduced this card more than a month ago. However, we know it continued revising its plans for a new flagship well into March. The result is a board deliberately intended to emphasize elegance, immediately after the Radeon HD 6990 bludgeoned us over the head with abrasive acoustics.

Pursuing quietness might sound ironic, given that GPUs based on Nvidia’s Fermi architecture are notoriously hot and power-hungry. To think the company could put two on a single PCB and not out-scream AMD’s dual-Cayman-based card is almost ludicrous. And yet, that’s what Nvidia says it did.

It admits that getting there wasn’t an easy task, though. Compromises were made. For example, Nvidia uses the same mid-mounted fan design for which we chided AMD. It dropped the clocks on its GPUs to help keep thermals under control. And the card still uses more power than any graphics product we’ve ever tested.

And in the other corner...And in the other corner...

But it’s quiet. Crazy-freaking quiet. The quietest dual-GPU board I’ve tested since ATI’s Rage Fury Maxx (how’s that for back-in-the-day?). Mission accomplished on that front. The question remains, though: was Nvidia forced to give up the farm just to show AMD that hot cards don't have to make lots of noise?

Under The Hood: Dual GF110s, Both Uncut

In my discussions with Nvidia, the company made it clear that it wanted to use two GF110 processors, and it didn’t want to hack them up. Uncut GF110s, as you probably already know from reading GeForce GTX 580 And GF110: The Way Nvidia Meant It To Be Played, employ four Graphics Processing Clusters, each with four Streaming Multiprocessors. You’ll find 32 CUDA cores in each SM, totaling 512 cores per GPU. Each SM also offers four texturing units, yielding 64 across the entire chip. Of course, there’s one Polymorph engine per SM as well, though as we’ve seen in the past, Nvidia’s approach to parallelizing geometry doesn’t necessarily scale very well.

As in our GTX 580 review, GF110 doesn't get cut-back hereAs in our GTX 580 review, GF110 doesn't get cut-back here

The GPU’s back-end features six ROP partitions, each capable of outputting eight 32-bit integer pixels at a time, adding up to 48 pixels per clock. An aggregate 384-bit memory bus is divisible into a sextet of 64-bit interfaces, and you’ll find 256 MB of GDDR5 memory at all six stops. That adds up to 1.5 GB of memory per GPU, which is how you arrive at the GeForce GTX 590’s 3 GB.

Nvidia ties GTX 590’s GF110 processors together using its own NF200 bridge, which takes a single 16-lane PCI Express 2.0 interface and multiplexes it out to two 16-lane paths—one for each GPU.


GeForce GTX 590
GeForce GTX 580Radeon HD 6990
Radeon HD 6970
Radeon HD 6950
Manufacturing Process
40 nm TSMC40 nm TSMC40 nm TSMC40 nm TSMC
40 nm TSMC
Die Size
2 x 520 mm²520 mm²2 x 389 mm²389 mm²389 mm²
Transistors
2 x 3 billion3 billion2 x 2.64 billion2.64 billion
2.64 billion
Engine Clock
607 MHz
772 MHz830 MHz880 MHz
800 MHz
Stream Processors / CUDA Cores
1024
5123072
1536
1408
Compute Performance
2.49 TFLOPS
1.58 TFLOPS5.1 TFLOPS
2.7 TFLOPS
2.25 TFLOPS
Texture Units
128
64192
96
88
Texture Fillrate
77.7 Gtex/s
49.4 Gtex/s159.4 Gtex/s
84.5 Gtex/s
70.4 Gtex/s
ROPs
96
4864
32
32
Pixel Fillrate
58.3 Gpix/s
37.1 Gpix/s53.1 Gpix/s
28.2 Gpix/s
25.6 Gpix/s
Frame Buffer
2 x 1.5 GB GDDR5
1.5 GB GDDR52 x 2 GB GDDR5
2 GB GDDR5
2 GB GDDR5
Memory Clock
853 MHz
1002 MHz1250 MHz
1375 MHz
1250 MHz
Memory Bandwidth
2 x 163.9 GB/s
(384-bit)
192 GB/s (384-bit)2 x 160 GB/s (256-bit)176 GB/s (256-bit)
160 GB/s (256-bit)
Maximum Board Power
365 W
244 W375 W
250 W
200 W


What changed from the ill-received GF100-based GeForce GTX 480 to GF110? From my GeForce GTX 580 review:

The GPU itself is largely the same. This isn’t a GF100 to GF104 sort of change, where Shader Multiprocessors get reoriented to improve performance at mainstream price points (read: more texturing horsepower). The emphasis here remains compute muscle. Really, there are only two feature changes: full-speed FP16 filtering and improved Z-cull efficiency.

GF110 can perform FP16 texture filtering in one clock cycle (similar to GF104), while GF100 required two cycles. In texturing-limited applications, this speed-up may translate into performance gains. The culling improvements give GF110 an advantage in titles that suffer lots of overdraw, helping maximize available memory bandwidth. On a clock-for-clock basis, Nvidia claims these enhancements have up to a 14% impact (or so).”

That's a 12-layer PCB with 10-phase power, and NF200 in the middleThat's a 12-layer PCB with 10-phase power, and NF200 in the middle

Other than that, we’re still talking about two pieces of silicon manufactured on TSMC’s 40 nm node and composed of roughly 3 billion transistors each. At 520 square millimeters, GF110 is substantially larger than AMD’s Cayman processor, which measures 389 mm² and is made up of 2.64 billion transistors.

Now, it’s great to get all of those resources (times two) on GeForce GTX 590. However, while the GeForce GTX 580 employs a 772 MHz graphics clock and 1002 MHz memory clock, the GPUs on GTX 590 slow things down to 607 MHz and 853 MHz, respectively.

As a result, this card’s performance isn’t anywhere near what you’d expect from two of Nvidia’s fastest single-GPU flagships. That might be alright, though. After all, AMD launched Radeon HD 6970 as a GeForce GTX 570-contender; the 580 sat in a league of its own. So, although AMD’s Radeon HD 6990 comes very close to doubling the performance of the company’s quickest single-GPU cards, GeForce GTX 590 doesn’t have to do the same thing in order to be competitive at the $700 price point AMD already established and Nvidia plans to match.

We already know what AMD had to do in order to deliver “the fastest graphics card in the world.” Now, how does Nvidia counter?

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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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