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On SLI, Competition, Overclocking, And Availability

GeForce GTX 680, Part 2: SLI, 5760x1080, And Overclocking
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The last 24 hours involved a flurry of benchmarking, analyzing specific use cases, and troubleshooting strange behaviors. Let’s consider each addition to our launch coverage, one topic at a time.

First, SLI and CrossFire. A great many games stand to benefit from two GeForce GTX 680s or Radeon HD 7970s working cooperatively, particularly if you have a 30” screen or three 1920x1080 displays. In several instances, a second card means the difference between unplayable performance at 5760x1080 and a generally smooth experience. Aside from Metro 2033, Nvidia’s newest single-GPU flagships consistently top the charts. In light of a lower price tag and fewer driver-related oddities, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy two GeForce GTX 680s instead of the two Radeon HD 7970s I purchased (and for $100 less), given an opportunity to choose again.

Great! So, give me two then. Er, we’re sorry. GeForce GTX 680s are no longer available. Although there were plenty of entries for them at launch, they sold out within just a couple of hours. That probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given Nvidia’s competitive position against Radeon HD 7970. Nevertheless, we’re sticklers about availability, and the fact that you can’t buy a GTX 680 means that folks who simply cannot wait might want to consider a Radeon HD 7970 in the meantime. After all, there are plenty of them, and they generally seem to have quite a bit of built-in headroom.

Ah, overclocking. Don’t the Radeon HD 7970s retake significant ground in the hands of enthusiasts? They certainly can, yes. In some cases, a Radeon that would have trailed a GeForce, unmodified, may be able to outpace the Nvidia card after an overclock. When you take into account the fact that we hit Overdrive’s core ceiling of 1125 MHz and that folks have seen more than 1300 MHz from Tahiti, the potential performance gains are substantial. We’d really like to see AMD provide access to more aggressive settings. When its PowerTune technology is doing its job, settings that push higher than the board’s TDP should be dealt with elegantly anyway.

Once Nvidia addresses its current availability dearth, the pressure will be back on AMD. In my initial analysis, I concluded that the Radeon HD 7970 would need to drop $100. I’d be comfortable revising that to $75. Right now, at $550, the company is charging more for a lower-performing product, and that’s a bad combination. At $475, AMD could at least duck in under the GeForce GTX 680 and hook enthusiasts with solid gaming, superior compute, and perhaps more enthusiast-friendly Overdrive ceilings. Kepler may have sent Tahiti on a short vacation, but AMD has all of the tools it needs to get back to business. Let’s see if the company is willing to use them.

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  • 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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