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Benchmark Results: Overclocking

GeForce GTX 680, Part 2: SLI, 5760x1080, And Overclocking
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Over and over, I saw it argued in the comments that the only fair way to compare a GeForce GTX 680 to a Radeon HD 7970 is with both cards overclocked. Because the 680 employs GPU Boost, it purportedly already demonstrates performance close to its limit, whereas Tahiti-based GPUs are known to offer quite a bit of headroom.

And so we went back to tweak our boards more purposefully.

We started with the Radeon HD 7970—a retail board purchased from Newegg—and Catalyst 12.2. It wasn’t difficult at all to max out Overdrive, hitting a 1125 MHz core and 1575 MHz memory frequencies. Attempts to hack CCC and the latest version of MSI’s Afterburner software using well-known registry and config file adjustments proved unsuccessful. Besides, we weren’t looking to disable any of the board’s functionality in order to hit higher clocks anyway. So we stuck to the highest settings enabled by AMD.

The GeForce card actually managed to achieve fairly similar increases. EVGA’s GTX 680 proved stable with its power target at 132% and a 150 MHz core clock offset. The memory clock was far less flexible. We managed a +25 MHz offset, but performance dropped. So, testing was completed at the stock 1502 MHz setting.

The Radeon HD 7970 picks up a ton of speed in 3DMark 11. Although we give the GeForce GTX 680 a higher power target and substantial frequency offset, it doesn’t derive any benefit in this synthetic metric.

Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680 again fails to realize much of a gain in the face of our offset-based overclock. Meanwhile, AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 enjoys a sizable boost. As a result, our placing for these two products flips, as AMD comes out on top.

Crysis 2, one of Nvidia's TWIMTBP games, is a bastion for the company in the face of poorer showings in 3DMark and Battlefield 3. Although the Radeon HD 7970 sees a roughly 6 FPS average speed-up when we max out Overdrive, that’s not enough to overcome AMD’s deficit to Nvidia playing under DirectX 11.

A 200 MHz overclock propels the Radeon HD 7970 a full 10 FPS faster in DiRT 3. That isn’t enough to catch the GeForce GTX 680, though, which only gains 4 FPS, but started with a larger lead.

Although it again benefits more from overclocking than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680, AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 just isn’t as fast in the 64-bit World of Warcraft client.

The Radeon HD 7970 was already faster than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680 with 4x MSAA applied to Metro 2033. That lead is maintained when both cards get overclocked.

Overall, it’s pretty easy to see that AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 has more to gain from an aggressive overclock than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680. It’s a little disappointing, then, that the Catalyst Control Center driver tops out at 1125/1575 MHz. We started down the road of disabling Ultra-Low Power States and registry hacks to get at more speed, but quickly decided that circumventing beneficial aspects of the hardware was a step too far. Perhaps the company will consider enabling additional scalability in its driver moving forward.

The other conclusion to fairly easily draw is that Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680 sees much of its headroom exposed by GPU Boost already, leaving less on the table for overclocking. That’ll make it all the more interesting to see what vendors like EVGA do with their modified boards. Using more aggressive air cooling or an integrated water block is almost certainly the key to a more harmonious relationship between GPU Boost and higher clock offsets.

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Top Comments
  • 29 Hide
    cangelini , March 24, 2012 3:07 AM
    weatherdudeYou know, I'm starting to wonder what the Tom's Hardware labs are like. I hope it has something to keep the staff sane as they run tests over and over again.Anyways, looks like the competition in the GPU world is going strong right now. To me both the GTX 680 and Radeon 7970 are fine pieces of work. The general compute performance of Tahiti is really really good though so will AMD really reduce the prices significantly below the GTX 680?Great review as usual. All your hard work is appreciated.

    If ever you're in Bakersfield, CA, you're welcome to drop by and check the lab out. It's like a gamer candy store, literally stacked with graphics cards higher than I can reach!
  • 25 Hide
    weatherdude , March 24, 2012 2:56 AM
    You know, I'm starting to wonder what the Tom's Hardware labs are like. I hope it has something to keep the staff sane as they run tests over and over again.

    Anyways, looks like the competition in the GPU world is going strong right now. To me both the GTX 680 and Radeon 7970 are fine pieces of work. The general compute performance of Tahiti is really really good though so will AMD really reduce the prices significantly below the GTX 680?

    Great review as usual. All your hard work is appreciated.
  • 20 Hide
    bystander , March 24, 2012 2:15 AM
    tacoslaveamds driver team needs to get off its ass i mean look at those crossfire results thats downright pitiful .

    What is wrong with their crossfire performance?

    You do have to look at the high resolution benchmarks to see actual crossfire results, as 1080p benchmarks are being bottlenecked by the CPU.
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    bystander , March 24, 2012 2:15 AM
    tacoslaveamds driver team needs to get off its ass i mean look at those crossfire results thats downright pitiful .

    What is wrong with their crossfire performance?

    You do have to look at the high resolution benchmarks to see actual crossfire results, as 1080p benchmarks are being bottlenecked by the CPU.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , March 24, 2012 2:28 AM
    Would like to see CUDA compute instead of openCL stuff. Something like Blender/Cycles benchmark.
  • 18 Hide
    cangelini , March 24, 2012 2:30 AM
    I am a PCIt is quite clear that the Radeons are more powerful but that once again the Nvidia favoring benchmark suite once again favors Nvidia.

    If you were to hand-pick a suite to favor AMD, what would it include? :)  You did notice the Radeons doing really well in Battlefield and Metro, right?
  • 7 Hide
    cangelini , March 24, 2012 2:31 AM
    AgonothetaWould like to see CUDA compute instead of openCL stuff. Something like Blender/Cycles benchmark.

    Our Blender test is being working on right now--currently we're only utilizing the Tiles/Cycles engines for CPU reviews.
  • 8 Hide
    Anonymous , March 24, 2012 2:52 AM
    My MSI 7870 came with Catalyst 12.3, so why use 12.2 if 12.3 is out there?
  • 25 Hide
    weatherdude , March 24, 2012 2:56 AM
    You know, I'm starting to wonder what the Tom's Hardware labs are like. I hope it has something to keep the staff sane as they run tests over and over again.

    Anyways, looks like the competition in the GPU world is going strong right now. To me both the GTX 680 and Radeon 7970 are fine pieces of work. The general compute performance of Tahiti is really really good though so will AMD really reduce the prices significantly below the GTX 680?

    Great review as usual. All your hard work is appreciated.
  • 14 Hide
    cangelini , March 24, 2012 3:05 AM
    sniper13xMy MSI 7870 came with Catalyst 12.3, so why use 12.2 if 12.3 is out there?

    Because it's not?
  • 29 Hide
    cangelini , March 24, 2012 3:07 AM
    weatherdudeYou know, I'm starting to wonder what the Tom's Hardware labs are like. I hope it has something to keep the staff sane as they run tests over and over again.Anyways, looks like the competition in the GPU world is going strong right now. To me both the GTX 680 and Radeon 7970 are fine pieces of work. The general compute performance of Tahiti is really really good though so will AMD really reduce the prices significantly below the GTX 680?Great review as usual. All your hard work is appreciated.

    If ever you're in Bakersfield, CA, you're welcome to drop by and check the lab out. It's like a gamer candy store, literally stacked with graphics cards higher than I can reach!
  • 12 Hide
    noobalert , March 24, 2012 3:10 AM
    Thanks for the Review, its been good reading! I can't wait for my new z77 ivy Bridge build. Now trying to hold off on getting cards is going to be tough.

    Next I want to see how the Dual GPU's from nVIDIA, & AMD fair, And see how long the Non-reference cards take to come out.

    Would love to see a 3D - 5760x1080 shootout with 2/3/4 7970's, and GTX 680's setups in the meantime.
  • 4 Hide
    master9716 , March 24, 2012 3:11 AM
    You made My day , 2 Reviews in 1 DAY!! WOW! I was waiting for this , I will probably go with Nvidia now since I was hopping they would release a card that can do 4k resolution on a single display for when I buy my SHARP 70" 4k tv. unless Amd comes out with a driver for 4k and lowers their price.
  • 2 Hide
    masterofevil22 , March 24, 2012 3:21 AM
    Nvidia MAX'd their new card out of the gate and AMD left theirs woefully underclocked...wtf are these two companies doing? Trying to create confusion?? OC'd 7970 ftw..
  • 19 Hide
    Energy96 , March 24, 2012 3:28 AM
    Would have been nice to see how 580's in SLI compare to 680's in SLI. Afterall most people who would buy 2 680's likely already have 2 580's and would like to know if the upgrade is worth it or not.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , March 24, 2012 3:34 AM
    I just want, the price of this come down
  • 11 Hide
    baracubra , March 24, 2012 3:43 AM
    Again I really enjoyed this read over yesterday's review. It would have been nice to see percent performance scaling charts for SLI, but I guess if anyone desperately wanted them they could calculate themselves..

    Other than that great job, now just waiting for IB to drop. By then availability should be well sorted out..
  • 1 Hide
    sohei , March 24, 2012 3:51 AM
    so at clock per clock is a draw?
    so guys buy what you want both cards are great, nvidia is a bit faster 7% average in gaming
    my conclusion is this. at gaming both cards are great
    at compute amd is better
    at power consumption Nvidia

    personaly i like 7970 is far better build with quality components
    in my country gtx 680 is more expensive so reality is different in prices...on paper nvidia is cheaper but ....
  • 7 Hide
    EzioAs , March 24, 2012 4:11 AM
    I'd say both cards are in the same tier, unlike the difference between the 580 and 6970. The 7970 benefits more from overclocking and if crossfire scales well, 2 7970s performs equal to 2 680, although AMD really needs to work on the driver more as we see only a few games where it scales rally well. Pricing on the 7970 will have to drop although I hope to see less than $475 recommended in the article.

    Power issue isn't really a concern either as we've never seen any cards in the past delivering a great performance while consuming really low power. It doesn't rally matter that much whether one of them is more power efficient than the other because both of them are really power efficient cards. I'd say once the price drops, the 7970 and 680 will both be recommended cards, it all comes down to the buyer's choice and budget.

    Great article to answer all reader's feedback. Good job!
  • 6 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 24, 2012 4:29 AM
    thanks for the reviews Chris ! :) 

    just like to add that in the mediaespresso test, i would have like to see a SB 2500K/2600K for a reference. just to compare how the NVenc compares to the QuickSync engine.
  • 2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 24, 2012 4:30 AM
    its a shame that AMD has not yet got its drivers working right, with VEC and the other stuff still not ready for use...

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