REVIEW: PNY GeForce GTX 680 Enthusiast Edition graphics card

Gerald Lynch Computers, Gaming, Reviews, Tech Digest news

pny-card.jpgreview-line.JPGName: PNY GeForce GTX 680 Enthusiast Edition

Type: DirectX 11 compatible graphics card

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £410.98 from Amazon

review-line.JPGPNY roll out their reference build of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680 card. Packing in the latest “Kepler” architecture and offering superlative SLI options, it’s a beast of a card. Does it hit the price/performance sweet spot though? Read on to find out.
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The GeForce GTX 680 can be seen as a direct replacement to the GTX 580, sitting below the crazily powerful GTX 690, and at roughly half the price. In effect then, it’s the enthusiast gamer’s go-to card, putting it in direct competition with AMD’s Radeon HD 7970. Run the GTX 680 in SLI however, and you’re looking at a pair of cards edging ahead of even the GTX 690, but at the expense of a serious power draw and considerable cooling needs. Looking back at the legacy Nvidia GTX cards, it’s worth noting that though the GTX 580 is effectively made redundant by the GTX 680, it’s seen considerable price drops, making it well worth a look for those on a tight budget.

Key Specs:

Processor Cores: 1536
Core Clock: 1006 MHz
Boost Clock: 1058 MHz
Texture Fill Rate: 128.8 Gigatexels/sec
Memory Amount: 2048MB GDDR5
Memory Data Rate, effective: 6.0 Gbps
Memory Interface: 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth: 192.0 GB/sec
Power & Thermal: 195W-Active
On-board Outputs: DVI, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort
Bus Type: PCI Express 3.0

The new “Kepler” architecture for the 2012 GeForce GTX series see the card shrinking the die size for a 28nm production process. You’re looking at the GTX 680’s GK104 GPU as a 295mm2 chip compared with the 520mm2 GF110 in the GTX 580. Even with the shrink, it’s pushing as many as 500 million transistors more than the GTX 580.

It runs more efficiently too. At its base clock of 1,006MHz, it hits 195W at full load. Put this alongside the 244W GTX 580 and 230W HD 7970, and this is a card considerably less taxing on your power supply.

The card is further helped in its power-saving mission thanks to the newly-introduced GPU Boost feature. If that 1,006MHz base clock speed seems low, it’s because Nvidia have primed the cards to adaptively boost clock speeds, analysing the amount of power an application is using and boosting the GPU frequency appropriate to the amount of extra headroom it has at its disposal. It’s a card therefore as at home in the hands of tinkering newbies as it is overclocking masters; we’ve comfortably hit 1,300MHz during testing.

3DMark 11 Benchmarks

Extreme Score (1080p, MSAA Sample Count 4, Anisotropic Texture filtering, Maximum Tesselation factor 15): 3066

Performance Score (720p, MSAA Sample Count 1, Trilinear Texture filtering, Maximum Tesselation Factor 10): 9635

Entry Score (1024×600, MSAA Sample Count 1 Trilinear Texture filtering, Maximum Tesselation Factor 6): 15675

Compared to the rival AMD HD 7970, the GTX 680’s 3DMark11 scores average out at slightly higher at stock speeds. With a fair bit of overhead room for overclocking, the card can be pushed significantly further too – alongside the aforementioned GPU Boost tech you can easily get to the 1,200MHz mark, and often be stable at 1,300MHz without much effort.

Gaming Performance (No overclocking)

Metro 2033 (DirectX 11, 1080p, AAA antialisaing, AF 16X texture filtering, full shadow filtering, full voumetric texture filtering): 64.179 average FPS

Rage (“High quality” settings, 1080p with custom config – improved texture cache, GPU transcode): 61 average FPS

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (“Ultra” settings, 1080p, multiple high resolution texture mods): 56.539 average FPS

Installed on a fairly average rig (Intel Core i7-920 processor, 6GB triple channel RAM, 1920x1080p resolution), the GTX 680 offered silky-smooth frame rates on even the most demanding of games. The notoriously-picky, DirectX 11 heavy Metro 2033, bounced along at some of the finest frame rates we’ve seen from a single card at stock clock levels, even with multiple enemies on screen at once and advanced lighting techniques in play.

Likewise, our heavily-modded version of Skyrim (at Ultra settings, no less) only just dipped below the 60 FPS holy grail constant, even when playing through GPU intense areas, such as the trek down from the top of Whiterun Hold, and the on-rails intro sequence.

While we’ve yet to try a game that makes use of the card’s PhysX potential, the buzz around Borderlands 2 suggests the GTX 680 again has the edge over AMD rivals, offering superb performance with destructive environments and tiny particles, as well as boasting improved cloth animation and degradation. Check it out in the video above.

With performance like this then, the only qualm will lay with price. The cheapest we’ve seen the card is at around the £410 mark, making it a fair chunk more expensive than the outgoing GTX 580, which can now be grabbed at as low a price as £230 if you shop around. Then there are the cards lower down the 600 series; a GTX 660 TI sits at around the £260 mark, and with a few card manufacturers throwing in Borderlands 2 as an added free bonus. AMD Radeon HD 7970’s hover around the £360 mark too, showing there’s a distinct premium placed on the GTX 680. We’re not arguing it’s not worth the extra money (it very much is), but the market is ripe for a bargain right now if you’re not fussed about hitting the high watermark for current GPU technology.

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Verdict:

A PC gamer’s dream with superb DirectX 11 performance and ample over-clocking headroom, the GTX 680 is pretty much as fine a card as they come right now without bankrupting yourself for a GTX 690. It’s still a bit on the pricey side, but it’s also a flexible card that we imagine will see a fair few years worth of gaming enjoyment eked out of it before it’s made redundant.

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4.5/5

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By Gerald Lynch | October 2nd, 2012