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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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