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GeForce GTX 680: The Hunter Scores A Kill

GeForce GTX 680 2 GB Review: Kepler Sends Tahiti On Vacation
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Sometimes, when a new graphics card launches, we really have to put some effort into figuring out whether the performance and features justify the price. It’s not a science, and the right answer isn’t always crystal clear.

This is not one of those times.

GeForce GTX 680 is now the fastest single-GPU graphics card, and not by a margin that leaves room to hem or haw. Making matters worse for AMD, the GTX 680 is priced right between its Radeon HD 7970 and 7950. Providing that Nvidia’s launch price sticks, both Radeon HD 7900s need to be significantly less expensive in order to compete. I'd expect to see the 7970 drop $100. The 7950 would have to slide $50 to leave some room between the 7870 and 7970.

Every indication points to the GeForce GTX 680 beginning its life as a GK104-based embryo, destined to do its duty as Nvidia’s hunter-class card. With pointed strengths in gaming, compute performance was something it had to sacrifice, just like GeForce GTX 460. But fate dealt this chip a different hand when it proved competitive against AMD’s flagship in games. GK104 would not be following in GF104’s footsteps. Instead, it'd take the reigns from the GF110-derived tank, GeForce GTX 580. In principle, that's like Rosie taking over for Oprah. But rather than falling on its face, GK104 turns out to be a great follow-up.

Make no mistake—AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 serves up better frame rates than Nvidia’s outgoing flagship at lower power. That’s a recipe for superior performance per watt, and our index demonstrates AMD’s success versus GeForce GTX 580. But then GeForce GTX 680 steps up with enough speed to outpace every other single-GPU card out there. And it only requires a pair of six-pin auxiliary power connectors. We can’t quite corroborate Nvidia’s claim that it improved on Fermi’s performance per watt by 2x. But real data does suggest it gets 72% 44% of the way there, which is still pretty crazy.

Given our benchmark data, power results, a distinguished list of features, and a competitive price tag, the GeForce GTX 680 is easily a better gaming card than Radeon HD 7970. And because Nvidia finally supports more than two display outputs, I can consider Kepler for my own workstation.

That is, of course, if I’m able to part ways with $500. Budget-constrained gamers should remember that the Radeon HD 7870, which AMD previewed earlier this month, just recently showed up on shopping sites. Sitting right around $360, I consider it a smarter value than both of the 7900s. It trades blows with GeForce GTX 580 in the benchmarks, and it sips power. Don’t let today’s GeForce GTX 680 news completely overshadow availability of what we consider to be a far more accessible piece of hardware. Kepler is cool, but it’s definitely pricey.

But hey, at least on the bright side, it should be available on launch day, and it should sell for close to Nvidia's estimated street price. Prior to the embargo lifting, Newegg had a bit of a slip and its GeForce GTX 680s were made available for a brief time. Tom's Hardware reader Doug Mytty sent us the above screen shot showing a number of brands selling cards around $500. A couple of others go quite a bit higher, but that's par for the course, really.

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