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ASUS GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
To many, the GTX 680’s birth has been a troubled one from its first day on the market. Even though it was able to thoroughly trounce the competition in nearly every category from power consumption to price to performance, widespread availability seemed to be a bridge too far. Some claimed popularity was the root cause of NVIDIA’s misfortunes while others shouted the words “manufacturing issues!” from atop their cardboard boxes. Regardless of the underlying reasons, the end result remained the same: until recently, GTX 680 backorder lists were long and getting your hands on one of these cards required patience rather than cold hard cash.

In some respects, the GTX 680’s situation has improved and some reference version cars are now readily available but this is mostly due to the GTX 670 taking a good amount of heat off its bigger brother. This acts as a double edged sword since some GTX 670s can run even with a GTX 680 while retailing for about $100 less so one shouldn’t wonder why the higher end Kepler GPUs are now regularly in-stock items. Unfortunately, high demand, custom cards have been announced and seem to be trickling into retailers’ warehouses but they’re rare at best and paper launches at worst.

This long lead-up brings us to the situation we find ourselves in with the ASUS GTX 680 2GB DirectCU II TOP. Since it was first announced this has been one of the most highly anticipated and sought after GTX 680 cards on the market but it is nearly impossible to find. So you may wonder why it is actually being reviewed here. Well, we’re eternal optimists here at Hardware Canucks so we’re willing to bet the DirectCU II TOP should eventually be available in larger quantities. Hopefully.


Looking at the paper specifications, it isn’t hard to see why this particular GTX 680 is so highly regarded among enthusiasts. ASUS has increased the Base Clock by just over 130MHz while the Boost Clock should hit at least 1202MHz. Ours tended to Boost itself up to 1300MHz in most games (well above the 1110MHz we saw with the reference version), likely because of the DirectCU’s incredible thermal dissipation. We just wish the TOP Edition would have received a memory speed increase but from our understanding ASUS skipped over this in order to ensure broad spectrum compatibility and longevity.

Another reason for the DirectCU II TOP’s popularity boils down to price. Bleeding edge performance normally dictates an ultra high cost and although $539 is a hefty amount to pay, it certainly isn’t outrageous either.


ASUS hasn’t held anything back from the DirectCU II TOP’s design but the pitfalls normally associated with ASUS’ high end DirectCU II cooler are back with a vengeance. The engineering that went into this heatsink is significant but in order to expand its thermal mass while still retaining ATX standards necessitated that the DirectCU II expanded upwards rather than outwards. The result is one massive card which dwarfs literally everything else on the market and takes up three whole expansion slots. Those of you with limited space within your enclosure may want to steer clear of this card and it can even block additional expansion slots on some motherboards. Nonetheless, as we will see in the temperature testing section, the benefits from such an expansive heatsink may be well worth some sacrifices.


When seeing this card for the first time, it can seem over the top and somewhat ridiculous but in the past, it’s been nearly impossible to criticize ASUS’ design fundamentals due to the DirectCU’s ability to drastically reduce core temperatures. Under the black plastic shroud, there are five copper heatpipes that make direct contact with the core alongside a multi stage aluminum fin design that optimizes heat transfer away from the card’s hottest running areas. This is all capped off by a pair of directional 100mm fans which feature dust proof bearings for a claimed 25% increase in lifespan. 20% cooler and up to 14 decibels quieter than the reference design which is one hell of an accomplishment considering a standard GTX 680’s normally subdued demeanor.

ASUS has also upgraded the components on this card by using an 8+2 phase Digi+ digital PWM, part of which is covered by a secondary heat spreader. This PWM falls under the purview of ASUS’ Super Alloy Power initiative and allows for higher overclocking headroom, additional stability and better current delivery. The Digi + VRM design also translates into additional power efficiency over the reference design.


The DirectCU II’s underside features a large integrated backplate to further help with heat dissipation and provide an additional method of PCB reinforcement. There’s also a strategically placed branding message which will be easily viewable through a case’s side window.


The backplate also has a number of cut-outs for LEDs, ventilation and other secondary functions, one of which is the VGA Hotwire terminal. VGA Hotwire allows an overclocker to hardwire the core, memory and PLL voltage points on the card to a supporting ASUS RoG Extreme series motherboard. Once this is done, hardware-level voltage changes can be applied alongside fine grain monitoring. The idea is certainly a novel one but there are only a few high end motherboards that support it and we doubt most users will take advantage of this feature.

Moving to the back end of the card, we see the DirectCU II’s heatsink and shroud overhang the PCB by a good inch. The additional length results in card that's nearly 12” long, making ASUS’ highest end GTX 680 one of the longest NVIDIA cards currently on the market.


ASUS has retained many of the reference GTX 680’s input and output features but the custom PCB does incorporate an 8+6 pin power connector layout for increased current should it be required. Otherwise the two SLI pin-outs for triple or four-way SLI are present (although they are surrounded by a large metal PCB retention bracket) as are the dual DVI connectors, single HDMI 1.4a and lone DisplayPort output. Like all other GTX 680 card on the market, this layout makes the DirectCU II compatible with 3+1 monitor NVIDIA Surround and 3D Vision Surround.


The size difference between the ASUS DirectCU II and a reference GTX 680 is extreme in both length and height. You may want to take this into account before assuming this monster will fit into your enclosure.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup / Benchmark Sequences

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P8Z68-V PRO Gen3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 304.48 Beta
AMD 12.7 Beta

Application Benchmark Information:
Note: In all instances, in-game sequences were used. The videos of the benchmark sequences have been uploaded below.


Batman: Arkham City

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Battlefield 3

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Crysis 2

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Deus Ex Human Revolution

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/GixMX3nK9l8?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/GixMX3nK9l8?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Dirt 3

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/g5FaVwmLzUw?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/g5FaVwmLzUw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Metro 2033

<object width="480" height="360"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/8aZA5f8l-9E?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/8aZA5f8l-9E?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Shogun 2: Total War

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Skyrim

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/HQGfH5sjDEk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/HQGfH5sjDEk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Wargame: European Escalation

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/ztXmjZnWdmk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/ztXmjZnWdmk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Witcher 2 v2.0

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
3DMark 11 (DX11)

3DMark 11 (DX11)


3DMark 11 is the latest in a long line of synthetic benchmarking programs from the Futuremark Corporation. This is their first foray into the DX11 rendering field and the result is a program that incorporates all of the latest techniques into a stunning display of imagery. Tessellation, depth of field, HDR, OpenCL physics and many others are on display here. In the benchmarks below we have included the results (at default settings) for both the Performance and Extreme presets.


Performance Preset



Extreme Preset

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Batman: Arkham City (DX11)

Batman: Arkham City (DX11)


Batman: Arkham City is a great looking game when all of its detail levels are maxed out but it also takes a fearsome toll on your system. In this benchmark we use a simple walkthrough that displays several in game elements. The built-in benchmark was avoided like the plague simply because the results it generates do not accurately reflect in-game performance.

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2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Battlefield 3 (DX11)

Battlefield 3 (DX11)


For this benchmark, we used a sequence from the Rock and Hard Place mission. The results may seem lower than normal and this is due to the fact that after playing through the game multiple times, this one are was found to be the most demanding on the GPU. As with all of the tests, we try to find a worst case scenario in order to ensure a given card can properly play through the whole game instead of just a “typical” section.

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2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Crysis 2 (DX11)

Crysis 2 (DX11)


Crysis 2 with the DX11 and Texture Package installed not only looks great but it is a strain on any GPU. For this benchmark, we used a classic runthrough which includes far views, explosions, combat and close-in knifing; basically every hallmark of gameplay.

1920 x 1200



2560 x 1600

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX11)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX11)


Deus Ex: Human Revolution may not be the hardest game for today’s high end gaming rigs to render. While the game mostly takes place indoors, it is the few outdoor areas that put additional strain on graphics cards. So for this test, we use one of the more involved outdoor sections: the Sharif Manufacturing Loading Docks.

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2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Dirt 3 (DX11)

Dirt 3 (DX11)


Dirt 3 isn’t all that much different from its predecessor but the developers have added a few more visual touches but boost image quality. In this case, we used the Michigan Rally track since it features some of the hardest to render features of the game: expansive vistas, water, dirt effects, trees and many other items.

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2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Metro 2033 (DX11)

Metro 2033 (DX11)


For this test we use a walkthrough and combat scene from The Bridge level which starts at the beginning of the level and lasts for about 3 minutes of walking, running and combat. Famerates are measured with FRAPS and Advanced PhysX is turned off.

1920 x 1200



2560 x 1600

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Shogun 2: Total War (DX11)

Shogun 2: Total War (DX11)


Due to its very nature, Shogun 2 is a tough game to benchmark since the in-game tool doesn’t accurately convey an in-game experience. So we took a pre-recorded battle which pits three large armies against one another and includes camera zooms, fog, gun smoke and other items. Using a pre-recorded sequence also effectively removes the CPU from the equation since it doesn’t have to process AI.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

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