The GeForce GTX 590 is out, and with it, NVIDIA can claim the crown for the fastest graphics card – barely, but at least for a short while. To build the GTX 590, NVIDIA has put the theoretical equivalent of two GeForce GTX 580 cards onto a single board: that’s multi-GPU without the hassle. As you can expect, the GTX 590 can handle high-end games in almost every situation (multi-display+3D+max settings), but what speed boost you should expect from it, and who is this card really for?
As I said previously, the GeForce GTX 590 is a dual-GPU board. There are two GF110 graphics processing units (GPUs), each containing 512 CUDA cores (CUDA cores are basic processing units).
The GTX 590 has also been built with better acoustics than the GTX 580. I know, one usually doesn’t associate “acoustics” with “GPU” (and even less so “dual GPU”), but the big fan of the 590 allows the card to be just a tiny bit noisier than the relatively quiet GTX 580, while providing twice the raw power.
High-end graphics cards tend to be big and the GTX 590 is relatively long, so you should check if it fits your case. Often, the motherboard SATA connectors or the cables going to the local drives can get in the way. The GTX 590 barely fits in the Antec 900 case that we used to test it. That said, it is much smaller than having a two-board setup. On the side, there are two 2×8-pin power connectors, and NVIDIA recommends using a 700 Watt power supply. it’s always an important detail with high-end graphics cards.
GPU enthusiasts have known for some time that multi-GPU doesn’t quite scale linearly, which means that doubling the number of GPUs usually doesn’t translate to doubling the performance. What happens is that not everything can be perfectly split and executed. In reality we tend to double the pixel performance, but the geometry and other operations don’t always scale well.
With multi-GPU, pixel processing tends to scale better than geometry processing, so the easy way to use a setup like this is to increase the resolution (larger or more screens) and/or increase pixel processing by adding more effects (texture filtering, image-quality enhancers, shadows…) and/or use stereo 3D. If the card is fast enough you can do everything at once. This is the case here.
It is also possible to allocate one GPU to work on non-graphics game elements -like physics- while the other GPU renders the graphics. This will make it possible to add a lot more particles and debris, without a huge impact on the frame-rate. Of course, you would be trading frames-per-seconds (FPS) for more eye-candy on the screen, but one can argue that not every game needs to run at 100FPS.
What kind of boost should you expect from this card? If you compare the GTX 590 to its single-GPU sibling, the GTX 580, we are talking about an average of 40% to 50% on an array of popular games. Against AMD’s own 6990 dual-GPU board, it’s a mixed bag, but NVIDIA manages to win *most of the time* by 10% to 60%. In games, like Dirt 2 and Stalker:Cop, both cards are toe-to-toe.
NVIDIA Surround + 3D Vision Surround
As I said earlier, boosting the performance allows players to use a three-screen (“nvidia surround“) setup while maintaining a playable frame-rates, even with stereo 3D. Unfortunately, my 3-display setup is not compatible with NVIDIA surround. I have a 20”+30”+20” setup, and NVIDIA Surround requires all displays to use the same resolution. However, I’ve seen Crysis 2 on such a setup + stereo 3D, and it was absolutely playable.
Noise level (low)
I have vivid memories of the GeForce FX days, and back then, GPUs could get really noisy. Fortunately the days of loud high-end GPUs are behind us. The large fan and the dual vapor chambers in the heatsink allow an efficient and quiet cooling of the card. Even when running games, I did not notice a spike in noise. I think that most users will be satisfied. It’s not absolutely silent, though.
Want more speed?
It is possible to use two GeForce GTX cards in a quad-GPU setup. Again, adding two more GPUs doesn’t quite bring a 100% performance boost, but 60%-80% should be in the cards. This is getting expensive, but that’s a quick way to scale the graphics capabilities of your setup. Again, keep in mind that pixel processing scales the most, so you need to be at very high resolution to use such a setup.
Warning: all cards are not created equal
I’d like to add a note to tell you that despite using the same chip, all cards are not created equal. While some add-in board makers will sell cards that are faster than the reference design that we’ve been using, others might sell cards that are slower. The action item is to check reviews for the actual card that you want to get, and not just rely on the overall chip performance described here.
It took an NVIDIA dual-GPU card to take the performance crown back from AMD and its Radeon 6990 dual-GPU card. The GTX 590 tends to wins with DX11 titles, but the Radeon 6990 can fight back -and win- on many popular games. For those who seek the absolute highest performance, this could be a good pick, and at $699, the card is priced to compete with AMD’s Radeon 6990.
The card is very fast, but don’t forget that you will need a display setup that has a lot of pixels if you want to get the most out of the GeForce GTX 590. If you have a standard 1080p display, there might be other graphics card that brings more value for the money: look at the GeForce 560 Ti or the Radeon 6950. Both cost about $250.