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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 Graphics Card

A challenger to the throne?

March 24, 2011



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Dual-GPU solutions remain the highest performing in the graphics card market. It's been so since 3dfx Voodoo 2 and ATI Rage Fury MAXX, and it is so now. With all their drawbacks, including high power consumption and heat emission, high price, occasional performance quirks and rendering quality, these cards still have one key advantage — pure performance (read "high fps").

Unfortunately for NVIDIA fans, products from AMD have remained the fastest in the market for a long time. The latter rolled out Radeon HD 5970 as far back as in the late 2009, while NVIDIA haven't created a dual-GPU solution since GeForce GTX 295. But when AMD rolled out yet another dual-GPU card, Radeon HD 6990, NVIDIA just had to answer.

While such expensive solutions hardly affect financial success of either company, they create the much needed image. Although, given the current prices, they may just sell more of such cards than usual.

Anyway, GeForce GTX 580 has been NVIDIA's fastest solution for about five months. Based on the improved GF110 GPU, it still remains the fastest single-GPU solution of all. However, AMD intentionally makes its top-end graphics cards to feature two GPUs, while NVIDIA hasn't tried to create a Fermi-based dual-GPU product yet. Most likely because the first GF100 chips had flaws related to consuming too much power even at low clock rates. But then NVIDIA released GF104 and GeForce GTX 460 that could've already been used in a dual-GPU card. However, the latter would've had a hard time competing with the same old Radeon HD 5970. Finally, in November 2010, NVIDIA introduced the updated GF110 with better power efficiency and working at higher clock rates. So, it's no wonder that today's novelty, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590, is based just on those.



Of course, the new GeForce is intended solely for gaming enthusiasts and overclockers. The two GF110 paired together are perfectly capable of providing high performance even at reduced clock rates. Especially, if we forget about Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) issues for a second.

What's important, GF110 GPUs of GeForce GTX 590 remain full-fledged, with 512 stream processors, 1536 MB memory and 384-bit bus for each. But how did NVIDIA manage to squeeze the almost doubled power consumption of the GF110 GPU into the PCIe thermal envelope?

First of all, they didn't (AMD didn't either, by the way). Like Radeon HD 6990, NVIDIA's novelty has two 8-pin supplementary power connectors instead of the previously used 8-pin and 6-pin ones. Secondly, while GPUs remain full-fledged in terms of features, their clock rates are considerably reduced. Unfortunately, this should result in lower performance than we expected. Although, of course, GeForce GTX 590 will offer the expected 1.5x fps compared with GeForce GTX 580. The question is whether it'll be enough to outperform Radeon HD 6990. But that we'll see in the practical part of the review, and now we'll focus on architecture and, among other things, cooling system, which is surprisingly efficient and quiet (for a dual-GPU monster that is). Another feature worth mentioning is a SLI interface for making Quad SLI configurations. But these latter will probably be rare even among enthusiasts, because modern cross-platform games (90-95% of all released these days) are handled well by upper mid-end solutions based on a single GPU. Also remember those unsolved AFR issues.

We believe it will be more interesting to create a soft of hybrid machine based on a dual-GPU card, where one GPU will handle graphical computations and the other will process PhysX effects. Although, yet again, there are not many games that require a dedicated physics GPU. Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mafia 2, Dark Void are a few we can remember right now.

Not many people will want to output stereo image onto three monitors simultaneously as well. Because GeForce GTX 590 is NVIDIA's only graphics card capable of doing that alone.

Note that all these features (Quad SLI, dedicated physics GPU, 3D Vision Surround), along with the very idea of multi-GPU rendering, are aimed at a quite small number of enthusiasts for whom price doens't matter. These graphics cards can be compared with supercars and should be treated as such.

Since NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 is based on two GF110 GPUs we've already reviewed, you may want to look through these articles as well:

Now let's take a look at the specifications and architecture of GeForce GTX 590.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 specifications

  • Codenamed "GF110"
  • 40nm process technology
  • 2 GPUs with 3 billion transistors per each
  • Unified architecture with an array of stream processors for handling vertices, pixels, etc.
  • Hardware DirectX 11 support, including Shader Model 5.0
  • Dual 384-bit bus, 2 x 6 64-bit controllers, GDDR5 support
  • 607 MHz core clock
  • 1215 MHz stream processor clock
  • 2 x 16 Streaming Multiprocessors with a total of 1024 scalar ALUs (FP32, FP64 precision of IEEE 754-2008)
  • 2 x 64 texturing and filtering units (FP16, FP32 precision and support for trilinear and anisotropic filtering for all texture formats)
  • 2 x 6 wide ROPs (96 pixels total) supporting antialiasing up to 32x, FP16 and FP32 frame buffers included; each unit consists of an array of configurable ALUs and handles Z, MSAA, blending
  • Integrated RAMDAC support for each GPU; 2 x Dual-Link DVI, HDMI, mini DisplayPort supported by each GPU

GeForce GTX 590 reference graphics card specifications

  • 607 MHz core clock
  • 1215 MHz stream processor clock
  • 2 x 512 stream processors
  • 2 x 64 TMUs, 2 x 48 blending units
  • 4 x 854 (3414) MHz memory clock rate
  • 2 x 384-bit bus
  • 2 x 1536MB of GDDR5 memory
  • 2 x 164 GB/s memory bandwidth
  • 58 Gpixel/s theoretical peak fill rate
  • 78 Gtexel/s theoretical peak texture fetch performance
  • SLI connector
  • PCIe 2.0 x16
  • 3 x Dual-Link DVI, mini DisplayPort
  • Consumes up to 365 W
  • 2 x 8-pin supplementary power connectors
  • Dual-slot design
  • MSRP of $699 in the U.S.

The newly announced solution crowns NVIDIA's lineup and should compete with the recently rolled out AMD Radeon HD 6990. Like we've already said, manufacturers have to squeeze everything possible out of the 40nm process technology these days, and releasing dual-GPU cards is the only option left.

Just for your information, while the MSRP in the U.S. is $699, our local prices seem to be, er, a big higher: the MSRP in Russia is $908 (!). Although since this is an image product, enthusiasts will be buying it no matter what.

GeForce GTX 590 has a dual 384-bit memory bus, so it carries 2 x 1536 MB of memory. They reasonably decided that 3GB per GPU would've been too much. Although at ultra high resolutions this may still not be enough.

GeForce GTX 590 features a dual-slot cooling system and two 8-pin supplementary power connectors. Theoretically, judging by the figures above, the novelty should consume less than Radeon HD 6990, but we're more concerned with reduced clock rates.


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