NVIDIA immediately won extra points with me by honoring 16th/17th century astronomer and physicist Johannes Kepler when they announced their first foray into 28nm-fabricated GPUs. As a space nut, I couldn’t be happier. And honestly Kepler likely contributed more to science than our friend Fermi. Just saying!
Kepler was a pioneer for his time, and has given us numerous advancements, including better telescopes with which to investigate our universe. However, we’re not here to talk about Mr. Kepler, but rather the newest GPU from NVIDIA, codenamed as a tribute to him. The “Kepler” GPU uses 28nm transistors, bringing NVIDIA up to speed with their friends at AMD. The card we’re looking at today is a reference model made by ASUS, using a stock single-fan cooler. It’s a 256-bit part that requires two slots in the case, making it a reasonable choice for pretty much any PC gamer, as it will fit in a mATX box comfortably. The length is likewise a decent 10.08” (25.60cm).
NVIDIA specs put 2GB GDDR5 memory on this card, clocked at a nice 6008MHz actual. There are 1536 CUDA cores, which is impressive to be sure. That means the GTX 680 is even better at parallel computing and general purpose GPU operations than its GTX 500 series predecessors. At the same time, the TDP is just 195W and we only need two 6-pin power connectors to get it running. This once more shows us the increase in efficiency we get with leaner fabrication. You definitely won’t need a monster PSU to run the GTX 680. On its own, a modest 600W powerplant will do just fine.
The big thing with the GTX 680, and likely all subsequent 28nm cards from NVIDIA which will come out in the next few months, is overclocking. The BIOS has special GPU Boost/Boost Clock accommodations that can alter core speeds as needed based on system load. The base 1006MHz core can instantly push ahead to 1058MHz when gaming, which may not sound like a lot, but it is a free 5% overclock out of the box and will net you a few more frames per second when you need them. Then there’s ASUS GPU Tweak, all done up for the GTX 680, offering even more flexible GPU boosting possibilities, as well as overvolting, memory speed tuning, and fan controls. It still has the 2D/3D mode locking we mentioned before (turn off 2D for better 3D benchmarks, etc.), and a nifty on-screen widget for better monitoring. It also comes with a dedicated GPU-Z tab for added oversight.
Performance gains are compounded when you take into account new NVIDIA Adaptive Vertical Sync. And before you yell at the screen that it’s just vsync (as was I tempted to do), just think of never having to turn vertical sync on or off again for each individual game. The card intelligently detects optimized settings, turning vsync on when it notices screen tearing and sufficient resources to sync every frame without slow down. Vsync gets shut off whenever no screen tearing occurs and resources are better used on upping the frame rate (since vsync does eat up processing power, as we know). The end result is a more consistent frame rate and smoother gaming, plus one less thing to worry about in options menus.
Besides, even if none of this was relevant, this DX11/PCI Express 3.0 juggernaut has so much on-the-ground power that it could run the heaviest current game without even thinking about it, let alone struggling. Just like the 7800/7900 cards from AMD we’ve been looking at recently, the GTX 680 proves that 2006 is well and truly in the past. You don’t have to earn your frame rate anymore, as these 28nm leviathans could probably make your breakfast while doing 60fps BF3 in the background.
Once more, apologies due to this not being an ROG version, but those will likely follow soon. Even so, with both AMD and NVIDIA now firmly in the 28nm business, the good times for PC gaming just got better.
Here are the obligatory snaps. I am very sad to say my friends the knight and the warhorse are nowhere to be seen for this outing. Sure hope they’re OK. In their stead, we get an all-new ASUS GTX 680 box design, which I’ve taken to calling “Claws”. This will likely be the standard box art for civilian ASUS graphics cards in the near future. ROG models will obviously differ in presentation.
On the back you just have highlights of what the card offers.
The usual ASUS quality packaging logic.
The card itself is clearly a vanilla reference model, but I like the simple and elegant look of the shroud and fan. Sorry for the smudges, that’s my grubby mitts at work.
The side reveals two SLI fingers and two 6-pin connectors. No 8-pin needed.
Nicely enclosed shroud all the way, which I like very much.
Finally, we get two DVI, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort. That’s more than enough for me, and plenty for multi-screen setups.
With significantly increased performance compared to the GTX 580, this is definitely the one to get for NVIDIA fans, and a great option alongside the new ASUS HD 7970. Take your pick, both are amazing pieces of technology that will make you a happy gamer. Just imagine what Kepler could have done with all this power!