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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 3GB Review

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SKYMTL

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Ever since NVIDIA announced the Fermi architecture, there were rumors of a possible dual GPU card somewhere on the horizon but these were quickly squashed amid concerns over power consumption and heat production. Those early Fermi GPUs weren’t exactly prime candidates for use on a card that mirrored the GTX 295's initial dual PCB design and a single PCB setup also brought a number of challenges to the table. While NVIDIA pondered their situation, AMD was able to forge ahead with Hemlock; a card that became known as the HD 5970. Ever since the HD 5970 was introduced, AMD has stubbornly held onto the fastest graphics card in the world crown. That may be about to change though.

NVIDIA has been hard at work refining their Fermi architecture. The result has been a series of products that offer higher performance per watt and almost none of the rampant thermal issues that characterized their predecessors. Through the use of some careful design evolution, the GF100 core has morphed into the successful GF110 and it’s this “new” core that was picked for use in NVIDIA’s reentry into the dual GPU market: the GTX 590

Internally code named Gemini, the GTX 590 blends a pair of fully enabled GF110 cores (each with 512 CUDA cores) with 3GB of GDDR5 to produce what’s billed as the fastest DX11 card on the market. Naturally some sacrifices had to be made in terms of clock speeds – we’ll get into those later - but it makes up for any possible shortcomings with a long list of features. This is NVIDIA’s first official product that supports Surround multi-monitor setups from a single card. Also, the dual GPUs can be set up in such a way that one can process CUDA (PhysX, [email protected], transcoding and the like) while the other goes about rendering in-game scenes. In our eyes, the potential here is almost limitless.

Alongside all of the usual marketing points like PhysX and 3D Vision, the GTX 590’s true goal is to compete with AMD’s own Radeon HD 6990. In NVIDIA’s eyes they are doing this on several fronts and not only from a performance perspective either. One of their main intents was to offer a better overall gaming experience by decreasing the acoustical profile and slimming down dimensions. In addition, the decision has been made to offer the GTX 590 at the same price as the HD 6990: $699. If this sounds like a tall order for a dual GPU design, that’s because it is.

The GTX 590 3GB is a card which has been theorized about for the more than a year now so it will be interesting to see whether it lives up to expectations.

 

SKYMTL

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The GTX 590 in NVIDIA’s Current Lineup

The GTX 590 in NVIDIA’s Current Lineup



Naturally, the GTX 590 will initially take over the flagship position in NVIDIA’s lineup and will go toe-to-toe against AMD’s HD 6990. Since NVIDIA hasn’t had a dual GPU card since the GTX 295 was discontinued, there is very little to compare it to but the price alone can almost guarantee its place among some of the most expensive cards ever released.

Speaking of the price, things really are starting to look interesting. Dual GPU cards usually come with a hefty price premium over two cards purchased individually, but at $699 this new flagship model is very comparable to a pair of GTX 570s, which can be found for a little under $680. On the flip side of the coin, a single GTX 590 consumes significantly less power and takes up less space than two GTX 570 cards.


Specifications for the GTX 590 are about what we would have expected in several areas, but many will likely be surprised NVIDIA’s chose to use fully enabled GF110 cores. Both GPUs on this card come with 512 CUDA cores and their associated 64 TMUs and 48 ROPs in addition to 384-bit memory controllers and 1.5GB of GDDR5. Unfortunately, these high-end stats come hand-in-hand with increased power consumption and heat production when compared to the cores used in GTX 570 cards. As a result, some sacrifices had to be made in terms of clock speeds, which have been whittled down to a point that nearly identical to those found on the previous generation GTX 470.

When compared to the GTX 580, the processor clock has been reduced over 200Mhz which will likely have a profound impact upon in-game performance at lower resolutions, while the lower GDDR5 speeds could have an effect upon ultra-high resolution framerates. We can also assume that most voltages have been reduced as well, which will of course limit overclocking, while NVIDIA has also implemented their power capping technology in order to keep consumption in check.

Since the GF110 doesn’t support the mixed memory configuration built into NVIDIA’s GF116, there was no way to increase the allotment past 3GB unless consumers would be willing to stomach the cost associated with 6GB of GDDR5. However, in a market where AMD’s flagship card comes equipped with 4GB of ultra fast memory, NVIDIA may have gone a bit too far in trimming down this card’s specifications.

In short, it seems like NVIDIA has been backed into a corner by the limitations of their Fermi architecture but have made sensible cuts in order to meet certain goals. They could have been a bit more aggressive in terms of clock speeds, but the 512 cores and 384-bit memory bus will definitely help to balance things out.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the NVIDIA GTX 590

A Closer Look at the NVIDIA GTX 590



After such a long time waiting for this card, we’re sure many people will be more than a bit surprised by its appearance. Instead of going with their usual dual PCB design, NVIDIA has taken a page out of AMD’s book and has used a single PCB setup with a centrally mounted fan. However, when taken in from afar, this doesn’t look like the dual GPU totting monster many thought it would be.


The real beauty of this design lies within its heatsink. Somehow NVIDIA has designed the GTX 590 in such a way that its 80mm fan is able to adequately cool off the two cores without resorting to an overly tall internal heatsink or an annoyingly high acoustical profile. You can see hints of the internal heatsinks peaking out here and there which show that the fan pushes air in both directions in order to offer equal cooling to both cores.


Flipping the card over reveals two black anodized aluminum heatsinks which cover and disperse heat from the GDDR5 memory modules. In addition they act as backplates for the two individual GPU heatsinks on the flip side of the GTX 590. Between these covers are two banks of secondary voltage regulation modules which are left open to the elements since they don’t generate much heat.


Since the GTX 590 has a TDP of 365W, a pair of 8-pin power connectors is needed, which means a suitably high end power supply will be essential for potential owners. We’ll get a bit further into the PSU requirements a bit later in this review, but NVIDIA states that an 800W unit is recommended. Below the power connectors is a GeForce logo that is backlit with an LED. The effect is pretty cool and should spice up any windowed case.

Meanwhile, a single SLI connector has been installed in order to pair this card up with another GTX 590. Unlike AMD, NVIDIA doesn’t allow for mixed card solutions so don’t expect to be using a GTX 580 alongside a GTX 590.


The GTX 590’s rear connector layout is interesting to say the least. Since there are two GPUs, this is NVIDIA’s first card that natively supports a Surround multi monitor setup through a trio of DVI connectors. Alongside these is a lone DisplayPort output that can be used for an additional accessory display if needed.


With a length of 11”, the GTX 590 is slightly longer than the GTX 580 but the real story here is how NVIDIA somehow designed the main fan shroud and the heatsinks it contains to be so slim. If it wasn’t for the backplate’s connectors, this card could have been kept under the height of a typical dual slot GPU.


When put up against the massive HD 6990, NVIDIA’s flagship product feels positively delicate by comparison. Not only is the GTX 590 a full inch shorter than Antilles but its slim appearance gives it a bit of a more refined look as well. In addition, the 11” length means it will be compatible with nearly every modern case on the market while the HD 6990 needs a much larger chassis design.
 

SKYMTL

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A Look Under the Hood

A Look Under the Hood



Popping the top off of the GTX 590 shows us what looks to be a standard dual heatsink design with a centrally mounted 80mm intake fan. However, there is much more than what first meets the eye since NVIDIA has designed a complex system in order to curb the heat produced by a pair of GF110 cores and 3GB of GDDR5.

In an effort to ensure easy cleaning of the fan and internal heatsinks, the plastic shroud is easily taken off by removing a few screws located around the perimeter and moving a latch above the two power connectors.


The main stars of this show are the two vapor chamber-equipped heatsinks which come with a pure copper contact plate and a dense fin array. In order to better fit with the design of this card, these heatsinks are slightly different shapes but still offer comparable cooling performance to one another.

Many high-end cards have been using vapor chambers in order to ensure efficient cooling of hot running transistors and we have discussed the benefits of this approach quite a few times already. Basically, a vapor chamber allows for quick heat transfer to the aluminum fins which in turn allows for lower temperatures and increased transistor efficiency. Naturally, this is hugely important on a card where lower power consumption is an absolute must.


Between and around the two vapor chambers is a full length anodized aluminum secondary heatsink that has small “posts” which increase its overall surface area to allow for higher thermal dissipation. This secondary heatsink runs the length of the GTX 590 and allows for cooling of VRMs and other hot running components.


Image provided by NVIDIA

Under these heatsinks lives the heart and soul of the GTX 590. There is a pair of GF110 cores along with six 128MB GDDR5 memory modules per GPU (the other twelve are on the other side of the PCB) which sit on a 12-layer PCB. Each core has its power fed through an advanced 5-phase digital PWM design which can hopefully cut down on the banshee-like squeal we experienced with the HD 6990 and provides the option for over voltage. Meanwhile, the each GPU’s GDDR5 has twin phase controllers.

The bridge chip used here is the usual NF200 unit we are used to seeing on higher-end motherboards. While the official specifications are thin at best, we do know that this chip splits the 16 Gen2 PCI-E lanes available from the PCI-E bus into a pair of x16 connections, each of which serves a single GPU on this card. The NF200 is manufactured on an 80nm process and consumes about 12W.
 

SKYMTL

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Partner Cards from EVGA & ASUS

Partner Cards from EVGA & ASUS


In North America there will be a total of two board partners who will be initially selling the GTX 590: EVGA and ASUS. From our understanding, the choice to use a limited number of launch partners was to better focus resources and ensure the channel was well supplied from day one. Below are some details about the products these companies will be bringing to the table.


ASUS





The ASUS card will be sticking to the reference design and MSRP of $699 but its core and memory speeds have been edged up by a hair to 612Mhz and 3420Mhz respectively. In addition, the ASUS GTX 590 will carry their Voltage Tweak software which supposedly has the ability to allow the core to increase its speed to the 900Mhz mark if sufficient cooling is applied.


EVGA








This time around, EVGA is taking a bit of a unique approach by foregoing the reference specifications and implementing their own GTX 590 under the Classified brand. Their GTX 590 comes with slightly higher clock speeds (630Mhz / 3456) a custom backplate and what EVGA calls their Ultimate Utility Bundle. This bundle includes a specialized “collector’s box”, a Classified branded mouse pad and a t-shirt. The price for the card and all these goodies will be $719.

EVGA will also be releasing a watercooled version of the GTX 590 which we have pictured above. Naturally, pricing is much higher at $879.
 
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SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller (Off for Power Consumption tests)
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD / / 3x Acer GD235HZ 23.5" 1080P LCDs
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Testing Platform:

Processor: Intel Core i5 750(ES)
Memory: OCZ Platinum 2x2GB PC3-12800
Motherboard: Intel DP55WG (Warrensburg)
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE w/Noctua NF-P12
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200



Graphics Cards:

NVIDIA GTX 590 3GB (Ref.)
NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti 1GB SLI (Ref)
NVIDIA GTX 570 SLI (Ref)
NVIDIA GTX 580 Single & SLI (Ref)

AMD HD 6990 4GB
AMD HD 5970 2GB
AMD HD 6970 2GB Single + Crossfire (Ref)
AMD HD 6950 2GB Crossfire (Ref)


Drivers:

NVIDIA 267.71 Beta
NVIDIA 267.31 Beta
ATI 11.4 Preview + CAP 11.2 R4

Note: Even though AMD claims the “AMD Optimized Tessellation” feature in the 11.1a drivers has not yet been implemented, we have changed the setting to “Off” in order to ensure additional, untested optimizations are not enabled.

Applications Used:

3DMark 11
Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
F1 2010
Just Cause 2
Lost Planet
Metro 2033
Unigine: Heaven


*Notes:

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR BENCHMARKING PROCESS PLEASE SEE THIS ARTICLE

- 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 game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 

SKYMTL

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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

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Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)

Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)


When benchmarking Aliens Versus Predator, we played through the whole game in order to find a section which represents a “worst case” scenario. We finally decided to include “The Refinery” level which includes a large open space and several visual features that really tax a GPU. For this run-through, we start from within the first tunnel, make our way over the bridge on the right (blowing up several propane tanks in the process), head back over the bridge and finally climb the tower until the first run-in with an Alien. In total, the time spent is about four minutes per run. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

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BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)


To benchmark BF: BC2 we used a five minute stretch of gameplay starting from the second checkpoint (after the helicopter takes off) of the second single player mission up until your battle with the tank commences. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,421
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DiRT 2 (DX11)

DiRT 2 (DX11)


Being one of the newest games on the market, DiRT 2 cuts an imposing figure in terms of image quality and effects fidelity. We find that to benchmark this game the in-game tool is by far the best option. However, due to small variances from one race to another, three benchmark runs are done instead of the normal two. It should also be mentioned that the demo version of the game was NOT used since after careful testing, the performance of the demo is not representative of the final product. DX11 was forced through the game’s config file. In addition, you will see that these scores do not line up with our older benchmarks at all. This is due to the fact that a patch was recently rolled out for the game which included performance optimizations in addition to new graphics options.


1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 
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