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ASUS GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (DX9)

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (DX9)


Being one of the most popular and best looking RPG games released in the last few years, Skyrim needed to be included in our reviews, regardless of the fact that it uses an older DX9 rendering engine. For our test sequence we used a typical runthrough interspersed with some combat. A modded .ini file along with the official high resolution texture pack was used in order to ensure image quality was up to expectations.

1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Wargame: European Escalation (DX11)

Wargame: European Escalation (DX11)


This may not be the most popular game on the market but through its DX11 rendering path it can display some amazing visuals. For our benchmark we used a combination of wide angle zooming, close quarters combat and camera pans in order to simulate as many in-game scenarios as possible.

1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
The Witcher 2 (DX9)

The Witcher 2 (DX9)


The Witcher 2 may be a DX9 based game but its graphics quality is beyond reproach. In this benchmark we take an area out of The Kayran mission and include one of the toughest effects the graphics engine has in store for the GPU: rain. Throughout this sequence, rain plays a large part but explosions, combat and even some sun shafts are included as well.

1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Taking Image Quality to the Next Level

Taking Image Quality to the Next Level


In this section we take a number of games we have tested previously in this review and bring things to the next level by pushing the in-game settings to the highest possible level. All other methodologies remain the same.


Batman: Arkham City

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Crysis 2

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Dirt 3

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Metro 2033

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Taking Image Quality to the Next Level (pg.2)

Taking Image Quality to the Next Level (pg.2)


In this section we take a number of games we have tested previously in this review and bring things to the next level by pushing the in-game settings to the highest possible level. All other methodologies remain the same.

Shogun 2: Total War

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The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

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Wargame: European Escalation

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The Witcher 2

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Surround / Eyefinity Multi Monitor Performance

Surround / Eyefinity Multi Monitor Performance


Both NVIDIA and AMD now have single GPU multi monitor output options for some truly immersive gaming. However, spanning a game across three or more monitors demands a serious amount of resources which makes this a perfect test for ultra high-end solutions.

While all solutions have the ability to implement bezel correction, we leave this feature disabled in order to ensure compatibility. The benchmarks run remain the same as in normal testing scenarios.



Batman: Arkham City

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Battlefield 3

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Crysis 2

GTX-680-TOP-46.jpg


Dirt 3

GTX-680-TOP-58.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Surround / Eyefinity Multi Monitor Performance (pg.2)

Surround / Eyefinity Multi Monitor Performance (pg.2)


Both NVIDIA and AMD now have single GPU multi monitor output options for some truly immersive gaming. However, spanning a game across three or more monitors demands a serious amount of resources which makes this a perfect test for ultra high-end solutions.

While all solutions have the ability to implement bezel correction, we leave this feature disabled in order to ensure compatibility. The benchmarks run remain the same as in normal testing scenarios.



Metro 2033

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Shogun 2: Total War

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The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

GTX-680-TOP-74.jpg


Wargame: European Escalation

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Temperatures & Acoustics / Power Consumption

Temperature Analysis


For all temperature testing, the cards were placed on an open test bench with a single 120mm 1200RPM fan placed ~8” away from the heatsink. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped. For this test we use the 3DMark Batch Size test at its highest triangle count with 4xAA and 16xAF enabled and looped it for one hour to determine the peak load temperature as measured by GPU-Z.

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Windows 7 desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.


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We had some high expectations for ASUS’ DirectCu II heatsink and it didn’t disappoint. It may be massive in stature and take up a trio of expansion slots but the performance is second to none. Due to a non-exhaust style design, some may be worried about excess heat raising the temperature of adjacent components but most modern enclosure designs should have no issue quickly dissipating any additional heat produced by this card.


Acoustical Testing


What you see below are the baseline idle dB(A) results attained for a relatively quiet open-case system (specs are in the Methodology section) sans GPU along with the attained results for each individual card in idle and load scenarios. The meter we use has been calibrated and is placed at seated ear-level exactly 12” away from the GPU’s fan. For the load scenarios, a loop of Unigine Heave 2.5 is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 20 minutes.

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With a pair of 100mm fans cooling off a large internal heatsink, rotational speed can stay to a minimum. The result is one of the quietest cards we have tested.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we once again use the Batch Render test in 3DMark06 and let it run for 30 minutes to determine the peak power consumption while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 30 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption. We have also included several other tests as well.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.

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Considering the high amount of Boost overhead the DirectCu II TOP exhibits, power consumption is actually lower than where we expected it to be. Remember, when the core registers additional TDP overhead, it automatically boosts up to higher clock speeds. This should nearly wipe out any perceived efficiency benefits through enhanced cooling from one custom card to the next.

So that happened here? While we have no way of conclusively proving this, it seems like ASUS’ high end power distribution design is paying dividends. Nearly every element in their PWM / VRM layout is engineered to disperse power in the most efficient manner possible. This leads to lower power consumption and enhanced circuit performance.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
ASUS GPU Tweak / Overclocking Results

ASUS GPU Tweak


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Like many other graphics card manufacturers, ASUS has their own overclocking software suite. Dubbed GPU Tweak, it may not be as well known as the EVGA Precisions and MSI Afterburners of this world but it is just as functional and actually works quite well. By eschewing the unnecessary frills and oddities of some other tweaking software like Gigabyte’s ill-fated SoC Tuner, GPU Tweak puts every one of the necessary functions within reach. The only exception to this is the Voltage and Power offsets on GTX 600-series cards which have to be manually enabled through a secondary Settings screen.

ASUS has also used a variation on GPU-Z which shows all of the pertinent information about your card, its software and clock speeds. The left hand side shows GPU monitoring information and is remarkably well fleshed out with a nearly endless list of items that can be enabled or disabled.

Like many other monitoring / tweaking programs GPU Tweak is built upon the same kernels as the old Rivatuner software so it acts very much the same as the older Precision and MSI’s Afterburner. The only real differentiating factor is the “skin” attached to each of these programs along with a few vendor-specific options. Nonetheless, ASUS has nailed it with their implementation but if we had one bit of critique it would have to be the lack of information when you place your cursor over an icon. We would have appreciated a dialog box explaining each icon’s function before clicking on it since there are a few which can have unintended consequences if they’re haphazardly clicked.


Overclocking Results


Now onto the part you’ve all been waiting for. As one might expect, the GPU Tweak software and a heavily upgraded graphics card worked as well together as a glass of fine wine and a brick of impeccable cheese. Unfortunately, while the memory speeds could be increased to stratospheric levels and the Power Offset allowed for an eye-opening 159%, ASUS placed somewhat tight constrains upon the Boost Offset. And additional 350MHz and the associated voltage increase necessary to hit GPU Tweak’s self imposed 1551MHz limit may be more than air cooling can handle, enthusiasts looking for even higher clock speeds will be forced to use competing software.

Speaking of air cooling, with a voltage bump of 100mV we were able to hit a 1388MHz Boost Speed which actually led to between 1425Hz and 1472MHz in-game. Memory was also raring to go and we eventually hit 6488MHz before the GDDR5’s error correction came into effect. Naturally, the associated performance increase with these clock speeds was nothing short of amazing.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


The ASUS GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP Edition may not have been widely available since the GTX 680’s launch but we just can’t ignore its place in the current GPU market. Rather, its mere presence on retailers’ backorder listings has caused some to take a wait and see approach instead of purchasing a competitor’s product. And with good reason since this is currently one of the best graphics cards money can –or rather, can’t- buy.

From a framerate standpoint the DirectCU II TOP places itself among elite company by bridging the gap between NVIDIA’s GTX 680 and the ultra high end GTX 690. Granted, the real world performance between a reference design and ASUS’ overclocked version isn’t extreme but the difference was enough to be noticeable in quite a few instances. This was mostly due to the DirectCU II heatsink granting the additional overhead necessary for the core to Boost well beyond its on-paper specifications.

Speaking of the heatsink, we really can’t fault ASUS’ focus in this area even though the end result of countless engineering hours is laughably oversized. NVIDIA’s GK104 core runs cool and as a result the DirectCU II obviously has thermal mass to spare which leads to the acoustical footprint being kept to a minimum. Not only is it quiet but even with a default fan speed profile, overclocking was a breeze, particularly with ASUS’ excellent GPU Tweak utility.

Before criticizing its size, one has to remember the primary market for cards of this caliber. They cater to people who are more than willing to make sacrifices financially and in other areas in order to get the best of the best. Plus, $540 really isn’t all that bad considering EVGA’s mostly reference GTX 680 SC+ goes for $530 and grants similar performance but without any of the cooling and overclocker-centric advantages of the DirectCU II TOP.

Ironically, other than dimensions that may impede future expansion plans and a distinct lack of availability, we don’t really have any glaring criticisms for this card. Sure, there may be some confusion between it and the reference clocked, non-TOP Direct CU II edition since they’re identical to one another. But pay special attention to the product number we have listed at the top of every page and you’ll be fine.

From nearly every standpoint, the ASUS GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP represents the pinnacle of current single GPU graphics card design. It is fast, cool running, quiet, well designed and has more than enough features to make even the most jaded enthusiast happy. We really couldn’t have asked for more.

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