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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  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    I disagree
  • chadwilson - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    I have some issues with this article, the first of course being availability. Checking the past week, I have yet to see any availability of the 680 besides $200+ over retail premium cards on ebay. How can you justify covering yet another paper launch card without blaring bold print caveats, that for all intents and purposes, nVidia can't make for a very long time? There is a difference between ultra rare and non-existant.

    Is a card or chip really the fastest if it doesn't exist to be sold?

    Second, the issue of RAM, that's a problem in that most games are 32 bit, and as such, they can only address 3.5GB of RAM total between system and GPU RAM. This means you can have 12GB of RAM on your video card and the best you will ever get is 3GB worth of usage.

    Until games start getting written with 64 bit binaries (which won't happen until Xbox 720 since almost all PC games are console ports), anything more than 2-3GB GPU RAM is wasteful. We're still looking at 2014 until games even START using 64 bit binaries.

    Want it to change? Lobby your favorite gaming company. They're all dragging their feet, they're all complicit.
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    Hi Chad;

    While I'm afraid we're not at liberty to discuss how many 680 and 690 cards NVIDIA has shipped, we do have our ears to the ground and as a result we have a decent idea as to how many have shipped. Suffice it to say, NVIDIA is shipping a fair number of cards; this is not a paper launch otherwise we would be calling NVIDIA out on it. NVIDIA absolutely needs to improve the stock situation, but at this point this is something that's out of their hands until either demand dies down or TSMC production picks up.

    Ryan Smith
  • silverblue - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    The 690 is a stunning product... but I'm left wanting to see the more mainstream offerings. That's really where NVIDIA will make its money, but we're just left wondering about supply issues and the fact that AMD isn't suffering to the same degree.
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    A single EVGA GTX680 sku at newegg has outsold the entire line up of 7870 and 7850 cards combined with verified owners reviews.
    So if availability is such a big deal, you had better ask yourselves why the 7870 and 7850 combined cannot keep pace with a single EVGA 680 card selling at Newegg.
    Go count them up - have at it - you shall see.
    108 sales for the single EVGA 680, more than the entire combined lot of all sku's in stock and out of the 7870 and 7850 combined total sales.
    So when you people complain, I check out facts - and I find you incorrect and failing almost 100% of the time.
    That's what happens when one repeats talking points like a sad PR politician, instead of checking available data.
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    Have you considered using WinZip 16.5 with it's OpenCL accelerated file compression/decompression as a compute benchmark? File compression/decompression is a common use case for all computer users, so could be the broadest application of GPGPU relevant to consumers if there is an actual benefit. The OpenCL acceleration in WinZip 16.5 is developed/promoted in association with AMD so it'll be interesting to see if it is hobbled on nVidia GPUs, as well as how well if scales with GPU power, whether it scales with SLI/dual GPU cards, and whether there are advantages with close IGP-CPU integration as with Llano and Ivy Bridge.
  • ViRGE - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    Doesn't WinZip's OpenCL mode only work with AMD cards? If so, what use would that be in an NVIDIA review?
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    I actually don't know if it's AMD only. I know AMD worked on it together with WinZip. I just assumed that since it's OpenCL, it would be vendor/platform agnostic. Given AMD's complaints about use of vendor-specific CUDA in programs, if they developed an AMD-only OpenCL application, I would find that very disappointing.
  • ViRGE - Thursday, May 3, 2012 - link

    Going by their website it's only for AMD cards.

    "WinZip has been working closely with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to bring you a major leap in file compression technology. WinZip 16.5 uses OpenCL acceleration to leverage the significant power of AMD Fusion processors and AMD Radeon graphics hardware graphics processors (GPUs). The result? Dramatically faster compression abilities for users who have these AMD products installed! "
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, May 4, 2012 - link

    Oh, amd the evil company up to it's no good breaking of openCL misdeeds again.
    Wow that's evil- the way it's meant to be unzipped.

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