In an unusual move, NVIDIA took the opportunity earlier this week to announce a new 600 series video card before they would be shipping it. Based on a pair of Kepler GK104 GPUs, the GeForce GTX 690 would be NVIDIA’s new flagship dual-GPU video card. And by all metrics it would be a doozy.

Packing a pair of high clocked, fully enabled GK104 GPUs, NVIDIA was targeting GTX 680 SLI performance in a single card, the kind of dual-GPU card we haven’t seen in quite some time. GTX 690 would be a no compromise card – quieter and less power hungry than GTX 680 SLI, as fast as GTX 680 in single-GPU performance, and as fast as GTX 680 SLI in multi-GPU performance. And at $999 it would be the most expensive GeForce card yet.

After the announcement and based on the specs it was clear that GTX 690 had the potential, but could NVIDIA really pull this off? They could, and they did. Now let’s see how they did it.

  GTX 690 GTX 680 GTX 590 GTX 580
Stream Processors 2 x 1536 1536 2 x 512 512
Texture Units 2 x 128 128 2 x 64 64
ROPs 2 x 32 32 2 x 48 48
Core Clock 915MHz 1006MHz 607MHz 772MHz
Shader Clock N/A N/A 1214MHz 1544MHz
Boost Clock 1019MHz 1058MHz N/A N/A
Memory Clock 6.008GHz GDDR5 6.008GHz GDDR5 3.414GHz GDDR5 4.008GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 2 x 256-bit 256-bit 2 x 384-bit 384-bit
VRAM 2 x 2GB 2GB 2 x 1.5GB 1.5GB
FP64 1/24 FP32 1/24 FP32 1/8 FP32 1/8 FP32
TDP 300W 195W 375W 244W
Transistor Count 2 x 3.5B 3.5B 2 x 3B 3B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Launch Price $999 $499 $699 $499

As we mentioned earlier this week during the unveiling of the GTX 690, NVIDIA is outright targeting GTX 680 SLI performance here with the GTX 690, unlike what they did with the GTX 590 which was notably slower. As GK104 is a much smaller and less power hungry GPU than GF110 from the get-go, NVIDIA doesn’t have to do nearly as much binning in order to get suitable chips to keep their power consumption in check. The consequence of course is that much like GTX 680, GTX 690 will be a smaller step up than what NVIDIA has done in previous years  (e.g. GTX 295 to GTX 590), as GK104’s smaller size means it isn’t the same kind of massive monster that GF110 was.

In any case, for GTX 690 we’re looking at a base clock of 915MHz, a boost clock of 1019MHz, and a memory clock of 6.006GHz. Compared to the GTX 680 this is 91% of the base clock, 96% of the boost clock, and the same memory bandwidth; this is the closest a dual-GPU NVIDIA card has ever been to its single-GPU counterpart, particularly when it comes to memory bandwidth. Furthermore GTX 690 uses fully enabled GPUs – every last CUDA core and every last ROP is active – so the difference between GTX 690 and GTX 680 is outright the clockspeed difference and nothing more.

Of course this does mean that NVIDIA had to make a clockspeed tradeoff here to get GTX 690 off the ground, but their ace in the hole is going to be GPU Boost, which significantly eats into the clockspeed difference. As we’ll see when we get to our look at performance, in spite of NVIDIA’s conservative base clock the performance difference is frequently closer to the smaller boost clock difference.

As another consequence of using the more petite GK104, NVIDIA’s power consumption has also come down for this product range. Whereas GTX 590 was a 365W TDP product and definitely used most of that power, GTX 690 in its stock configuration takes a step back to 300W. And even that is a worst case scenario, as NVIDIA’s power target for GPU boost of 263W means that power consumption under a number of games (basically anything that has boost headroom) is well below 300W. For the adventurous however the card is overbuilt to the same 365W specification as the GTX 590, which opens up some interesting overclocking opportunities that we’ll get into in a bit.

For these reasons the GTX 690 should (and does) reach performance nearly at parity with the GTX 680 SLI. For that reason NVIDIA has no reason to be shy about pricing and has shot for the moon. The GTX 680 is $499, a pair of GTX 680s in SLI would be $999, and since the GTX 690 is supposed to be a pair of GTX 680s, it too is $999. This makes the GTX 690 the single most expensive consumer video card in the modern era, surpassing even 2008’s GeForce 8800 Ultra. It’s incredibly expensive and that price is going to raise some considerable ire, but as we’ll see when we get to our look at performance NVIDIA has reasonable justification for it – at least if you consider $499 for the GTX 680 reasonable.

Because of its $999 price tag, the GTX 690 has little competition. Besides the GTX 680 in SLI, its only other practical competition is AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 in Crossfire, which at MSRP would be $40 cheaper at $959. We’ve already seen that GTX 680 has clear lead on the 7970, but thanks to differences in Crossfire/SLI scaling that logic will have a wrench thrown in it. But more on that later.

Finally, there’s the elephant in the room: availability. As it stands NVIDIA cannot keep the GTX 680 in stock in North America, and while the GTX 690 may be a very low volume part due to its price, it requires 2 binned GPUs, which are going to be even harder to get. NVIDIA has not disclosed the specific number of cards that will be available for the launch, but after factoring the fact that OEMs will be sharing in this stockpile it’s clear that the retail allocations are certainly going to be small. The best bet for potential buyers is to keep a very close eye on Newegg and other e-tailers, as like the GTX 680 it’s unlikely these cards will stay in stock for long.

The one bit of good news is that while cards will be rare, you won’t need to hunt across many vendors. As with the GTX 590 launch NVIDIA is only using a small number of partners to distribute cards here. For North America this will be EVGA and Asus, and that’s it. So at least unlike the GTX 680 you will only need to watch over two products instead of a dozen. On a broader basis, long term I have no reason to doubt that NVIDIA can produce these cards in sufficient volume when they have plenty of GPUs, but until TSMC’s capacity improves NVIDIA has no chance of meeting the demand for GK104 GPUs or any of the products based off of it.

Spring 2012 GPU Pricing Comparison
  $999 GeForce GTX 690
  $499 GeForce GTX 680
Radeon HD 7970 $479  
Radeon HD 7950 $399 GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 7870 $349  
  $299 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 7850 $249  
  $199 GeForce GTX 560 Ti
  $169 GeForce GTX 560
Radeon HD 7770 $139  


Meet The GeForce GTX 690
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  • von Krupp - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    Not precisely. That $350 performance point? It used to be a $200 performance point. Similarly, that $350 point will turn into a $400 performance point. So, assuming I maintain the price tier, graphics returns for my dollar are gradually tapering off. I look at the performance I was getting out of my 7800 GT at 1280x1024, and it wasn't worth upgrading to a newer card, period, because of Windows XP, my single core CPU, and the fact that I was already maxing out every game I had and still getting decent frame rates. I think they key factor is that I do not care if I dip below 60 frames, as long as I'm above 30 and getting reasonable frame times.

    I also know that consoles extend the life of PC hardware. The 7800GT is a 20-pipe version of the GTX, which is in turn the GPU found in the PS3.Devs have gotten much better at optimization in titles that matter to me.
  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    You spend well over $1,600 on a decent system.
    It makes no sense to spend all that money, then buy monitors the cards in question cannot successfully drive on 3 year old Crysis game, let alone well over half the benchmarks in this article set without turning DOWN the settings.
    You cannot turn up DX11 tesselation, keep it on medium.
    You cannot turn up MSAA past 4X, and better keep it at 2X.
    You had better turn down your visual distance in game.
    That in fact, with "all the console ports" moanings "holding us back".
    I get it, the obvious problem is none of you seem to, because you want to moan and pretend spending $1,000.00 on a monitor alone, or more, is "how it's done", because you whine you cannot even afford $500 for a single video card.
    These cards successfully drive 1920X1080 monitors in the benchmarks, but just barely - and if you turn the eye candy up, they cannot do it.
  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    Thanks for telling everyone how correct I am by doing a pure 100% troll attack after you and yours could not avoid the facts.
    Your mommy, if you knew who she was, must be very disappointed.
  • geok1ng - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    This card was not build for 2560x1600 gaming. a single 680 is more than enough for that.
    The 690 was built for 5760x1200 gaming.

    I would like to see triple 30" tests. Nothing like gaming at 7680x1600 to feel that you are spending well your VGA money.
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    You can use cards 2 generations back for that, but like these cards, you will be turning down most and near all of the eye candy, and be stuck rweaking and clocking, and jittering and wishing you had more power.
    These cards cannot handle 1920X at current "console port" games unless you turn them down, and that goes ESPECIALLY for the AMD cards that suck at extreme tesselation and have more issues with anything above 4XAA, and often 4XAA.
    The 5770 is an eyefinity card and runs 5760X1200 too.
    I guess none of you will ever know until you try it, and it appears none of you have spent the money and become disappointed turning down the eye candy settings - so blabbering about resolutions is all you have left.
  • _vor_ - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    "... blabbering..."

    Pot, meet kettle.
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    They cost $400 to $2,000 plus, not $150 like the 242 1080p.
    Thanks for playing.
  • hechacker1 - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Nope, you can already get IPS, 27", 2560x1440 panels (the same that Apple uses) for $400.

    They're rare, but currently they are building them in batches of 1000 to see how strong demand is for them.

    Sure the 120Hz will sort of go to waste due to the slow IPS switching speed, but it will accept that signal with 0 input lag.

    The only problem is that only the 680 seems to have a ramdac fast enough to do 120Hz. Radeon's tend to cap out at 85Hz.
  • marine73 - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    After checking Newegg it would seem that, unfortunately for Nvidia, this will be another piece of vaporware. Perhaps they should scale the Kepler's to 22nm and contract Intel to fab them since TSMC has major issues with 28nm. Just a thought.
  • marine73 - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    I guess I should retract my comments about TSMC as other customers are not experiencing supply issues with 28nm parts. Apparently the issues are with Nvidia's design, which may require another redo. I'm guessing AMD will be out with their 8000 series before Nvidia gets their act together. Sad because I have used several generations of Nvidia cards and was always happy with them.

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