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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590: Dual GF110s, One PCB
Date: Mar 24, 2011
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Specifications

Over the years, we have consistently been impressed by cutting-edge dual-GPU powered graphics cards, not only for their relatively high performance, but because of the engineering involved to design, build, and bring the cards to market, in form factors not much bigger than their high-end, single-GPU based counterparts. From the GeForce 7950GX2 to the GeForce GTX 295, or the Radeon HD 3870X2 to Radeon HD 6990, top of the line (for their time) dual-GPU cards have offered performance that’s head and shoulders above rival single-GPU cards of their generation. There have always been some specific issues to contend with, with dual-GPU powered cards, namely power and software support, but by and large they have been the more drool-worthy component level hardware to come through the lab.

A couple of weeks ago, we showed you AMD’s latest dual-GPU powered graphics card, the Radeon HD 6990. Sporting a pair of Cayman-class GPUs, 4GB of RAM, and foot long PCB, the Radeon HD 6990 proved to be one heck of a performer. Today, it’s rival NVIDIA’s turn to unveil their latest dual-GPU powered flagship, the brand new GeForce GTX 590.

We’ll dig into the GeForce GTX 590 in the pages ahead, but much can be deduced from the couple of pictures and specifications below. The GeForce GTX 590 is built with a pair of fully-functional GF110 GPUs, the same used on the GeForce GTX 580, each with 512 CUDA cores and 384-bit memory interface linked to 1.53GB of GDDR5 memory per GPU, for 3.07GB total. Those specs alone allude to the GTX 590’s high performance, but there’s more to the story.

The Surprisingly Sleek NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 Reference Card

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 Dual-GPU Graphics Card
Specifications & Features

NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 590, The Backside

In our coverage of the Radeon HD 6990 a couple of weeks ago, we said, "A lot of engineering when into designing and building the Radeon HD 6990. So much work in fact that it has spanned a few GPU generations."  The same is true of the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590. So, with that in mind, we’d suggest checking out a few past HotHardware articles to fully grasp all of the technology that the dual-GPU powered GeForce GTX 590 has to offer. We won’t be rehashing many of the architectural details that have already been covered in these previous articles:

In our coverage of the GeForce GTX 480 and GeForce GTX 580, we go in-depth regarding the architecture and features of NVIDIA GF100 and GF110 GPUs, and its two GF110 chips which power the GeForce GTX 590. In our reviews of the GeForce GTX 295 and 9800 X2, we discuss some of the methods and technologies NVIDIA has employed in some previous dual-GPU powered offerings. If you're in need of a refresher, take some time and peruse a few of those articles, then cruise on ahead to check out the most powerful graphics card NVIDIA has released to date. By far.

The GeForce GTX 590 Exposed

We’ll discuss many of the GeForce GTX 590’s features and specifications here, but before we do, NVIDIA has provided a simple animation that does a great job pointing out a few of the card’s high-level features. Take a look:

Animated Tour Of The GeForce GTX 590--Give It A Minute To Load.

Now that you are intimately familiar with the GeForce GTX 590, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. As we’ve mentioned, the GTX 590 is powered by a pair of GF110 GPUs, each with 512 CUDA cores (1024 total), 64 texture units (128 total), 48 ROPs (96 total), and 768KB of L2 (1536KB total). A 384-bit memory interface links the GPUs to 1536MB of GDDR memory (3072MB total).  In light of those specifications, the GeForce GTX 590 is most similar to a GeForce GTX 580 SLI configuration on a single PCB—which happens to be 11” long.

However, to keep power consumption and heat in-line, NVIDIA had to reduce the frequencies of the GPU and memory on the GTX 590. Whereas the GPU on the GeForce GTX 580 hums along at 772MHz with 1002MHz (4008MHz effective data rate) memory, the reference specifications call for the GPUs on the GeForce GTX 590 to be clocked at 607MHz with 853MHz (3414MHz effective data rate) memory. At those clocks, the bilinear texturing fillrate per GPU on the GTX 590 is 38.85 GigaTexels/sec and memory bandwidth is 163.9GB/s, down from 49.4 GigaTexels/sec and 192.4GB/s on the GeForce GTX 580. Of course, the aggregate peak fillrate and memory bandwidth of the GeForce GTX 590 will be higher than the 580, but due to the lower clocks performance will not match a pair of GTX 580 cards running in SLI mode. At its reference frequencies, the GTX 590 has a TDP of 365W, and cards require a pair of 8-pin supplemental PCI Express power feeds.

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 Full Monty

In addition to designing an ultra-complex dual-GPU graphics card with larger GPUs and a wider interface to memory on a PCB that’s over an inch shorter than the Radeon HD 6900, NVIDIA put a lot of effort into designing the cooling hardware on the GTX 590. Along with the GPUs and memory, the GeForce GTX 590 PCB features four display outputs, three dual-link DVIs and a mini-DP port. This output configuration gives the GeForce GTX 590 the ability to run a triple-monitor 3D Surround setup from a single card.

GeForce GTX 590 Vapor Chambers and Fan Shroud

Cooling the GeForce GTX 590 is a single, center-mounted fan that directs air through a pair of vapor-chambers affixed to each GPU. There are also a few heat-plates employed, a longer one on the front that covers the RAM, PCIe switch, and power regulators, and a couple of smaller ones on the backside of the PCB, behind each GPU. Sleek fan shroud covers the entire apparatus, and also sports a lighted GeForce logo by the power connectors. We should also point out that the lighted GeForce logo isn’t just for looks. If there are any power-related problems, the logo will blink to let users know their cards aren’t getting enough juice.

Asus and EVGA GeForce GTX 590 Cards

Two, retail-ready GeForce GTX 590 cards arrived in time for this launch article, the Asus GTX 590 and EVGA Classified GeForce GTX 590. Both are pictured below...

The Asus GTX 590

Save for a few decals on the front and top of its fan shroud, the Asus GTX 590 is physically identical to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 reference card. Asus does, however, goose the clock speeds on their card slightly to a small increase in performance. Whereas the reference specifications call for a 607MHz GPU clock with 853MHz memory, the Asus GTX 590 sports a 612MHz GPU clock with 855MHz memory.

Asus ships their GTX 590 with a few accessories, which include a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a DVI-HDMI adapter, and dual-6-pin PCIe to single-8-pin PCIe power adapter, a quick installation guide and a driver / utility CD. Asus has also made available a new version of their Smart Doctor utility which allows for clock speed and voltage adjustments on the GTX 590. Due to time constraints, we haven’t spent much time overclocking the GTX 590, but considering how much higher-clocked the same GPUs are on the GeForce GTX 580, it’s clear there is plenty of clock speed headroom left in the GTX 590’s GPUs.

The EVGA Classified GeForce GTX 590

The EVGA Classified GeForce GTX 590 arrived in a box about the size of the average sofa cushion. The thing is huge. While the box has foam cut outs for two GeForce GTX 590 cards, hinting a quad-SLI bundle at some point, there was only one card in our package. Along with the card itself, EVGA threw in a ton of stuff, including a T-Shirt, oversized mouse pad, EVGA poster, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a DVI-HDMI adapter, a mini-DP to full-sized GP adapter, two dual-6-pin PCIe to single-8-pin PCIe power adapters, a quick installation guide and a driver / utility CD.

EVGA also overclocks their card a bit above NVIDIA’s reference specifications. The EVGA Classified GeForce GTX 590 has a 630MHz GPU clock with the 864MHz memory. The backside of the card gets some custom treatment as well. In lieu of two smaller heat-plates on the back, EVGA’s offering is outfitted with a single, long heat-plate the covers the entire length of the PCB.

Test Setup & Unigine Heaven v2.1

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard powered by a Core i7 980X six-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3-1333 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings (DDR3-1333, CAS 7) and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist, along with the necessary drivers, games, and benchmark applications.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Core i7 980X (3.3GHz)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5
(X58 Express)

Radeon HD 6970
Radeon HD 6990 
GeForce GTX 570
GeForce GTX 580
Asus GeForce GTX 590
EVGA GeForce GTX 590

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX Nov. 2010 Redist
ATI Catalyst v11.1a/11.4b
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 267.71

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.1
Futuremark 3DMark11
FarCry 2
Just Cause 2
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Lost Planet 2
F1 2010*

* - Custom benchmark

Unigine Heaven v2.1 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming

Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and it also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

The new GeForce GTX 590 takes the top spot in the Unigine Heaven benchmark. NVIDIA's current-generation of GPUs offer very strong geometry and tessellation performance and it shows in a benchmark like Heaven which makes heavy use of tessellation. The Radeon HD 6990 isn't too far behind, but the GeForce GTX 590 gets the win here nonetheless.

Futuremark 3DMark11

Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

Futuremark 3DMark11

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

In the 3DMark11 benchmark, the dual GPU powered cards significantly outpace anything with only a single GPU. And this time around, the Radeon HD 6990 takes the lead over the GTX 590, although, the delta isn't very big.

FarCry 2 Performance

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA enabled.

It was another close call, but in the FarCry 2 benchmark, the Radeon HD 6990 takes another slight lead over the GeForce GTX 590. At about 120FPS on up though, at a resolution of 2560x1600, with max details, anti-aliasing and aniso enabled, we doubt anyone would complain about performance here.

In the multi-GPU tests, you can see that a pair of mid-range cards perform about as well as the dual-GPU cards and that FarCry 2 is compeltely CPU bound, even with a 6-core CPU at the heart of the test system.

Just Cause 2 Performance

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called Desert Sunrise. The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level. 

The new GeForce GTX 590 takes the top spot in Just Cause 2 with the resolution set to 1920x1200. At the higher resolution though, the Radeon HD 6990 inches ahead. Once again, the deltas separating the two cards are relatively small.

One thing we want to point out with regard to Just Cause 2 though is that the game offers enhanced image quality when using an NVIDIA card. JC2 features GPU simulated water and a Bokeh filter that enhance the realism of the graphics, and neither feature is available with a Radeon. While performance between NVIDIA's and AMD's flagship cards may be similar in this game, the NVIDIA options offer more than just high framerates here.

Multi-GPU tests with Just Cause 2 show the GeForce GTX 570 SLI configuration performing about on-par with the GTX 590. Significantly better quad-GPU scaling helps the pair of Radeon HD 6990s move out to a large lead over the quad-SLI GTS 590 setup.

Metro 2033 Performance

Metro 2033
DirecX11 Gaming Performance

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects. We tested the game resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with 4X anti-aliasing and in-game image quality options set to their High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

The Radeon HD 6990 was a few percentage points faster than the GeForce GTX 590 in the Metro 2033 benchmark, but once again, framerates were similar.

The Metro 2033 benchmark shows minimal scaling when moving from two to four GPUs. The quad-SLI and quad-CrossFireX configurations ended up performing at about the same level.

Lost Planet 2 Performance

Lost Planet 2
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Lost Planet 2

A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows.  There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water.  This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11.  We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.

Lost Planet 2 was a no contest. The new GeForce GTX 590 simply dominates every other card in this game, including the Radeon HD 6990.

Moving up to a four-GPU configuration doesn't help performance very much in the Lost Planet 2 benchmark, but the slightly better scaling by the quad-SLI setup helps the NVIDIA configuration extend its lead in this test.

F1 2010 Performance

F1 2010
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

F1 2010

Though Codemasters still continues to torture us with their ridiculously complicated labyrinth of game menus, we’ve found ourselves coming back to one of their titles for a taste of bleeding-edge DX11 benchmarking. F1 2010 is their latest racing simulation and like Dirt 2, it sports impressive visuals with DX11 support. “Ultra” settings for shadow effects and post processing elements like depth of field then become available to the gamer and in turn, crank up the workload on the graphics subsystem. The game engine also makes use of multi-core processors for higher performance on top-end systems. We tested the game configured with its Ultra graphics options at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600.

F1 2010 proved to be a clear strong point for the Radeon HD 6990. In this game, at both resolutions, AMD's flagship dual-GPU powered card ran rampant over the GeForce GTX 590.

Performance actually suffered on the quad-CrossFireX setup in the F1 2010 benchmark, which allowed the dual-GeForce GTX 590 quad-SLI setup to somewhat close the gap, although scaling past two GPUs wasn't very good at all in this game with current drivers and application profiles.

Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion and high-quality shadow features, available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11 related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark also proved to be a strong point for the Radeon HD 6990, which bested the new GeForce GTX 590 by a wide margin at both resolutions.

The quad-CrossFireX dual-Radeon HD 6990 setup showed no scaling in the AvP benchmark, while the quad-SLI rig showed huge gains. As such, the quad-SLI rig clearly leads the pack here.

Total System Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

With two GF110-class GPUs at its core, we expected the GeForce GTX 590 to consume quite a bit of power. And as you can see, it did, but it's no more power hungry than the Radeon HD 6990. At idle the GeForce GTX 590 consumed about 20 more watts than a 6990 and about 30 more than a GeForce GTX 580, but while under load the 590's power consumption fell right in-line with the Radeon HD 6990--the 6990 consumed slightly less in "standard" mode, but slightly more in the overclocked "AUSUM" mode.

With regard to noise, however, it's a no contest. The thermal solution NVIDIA designed for the GeForce GTX 590 was much quieter than the Radeon HD 6990. NVIDIA claimed that the GeForce GTX 590's cooler was somewhat louder than the GeForce GTX 580, but significantly quieter than the GTX 480. Having tested all of the cards, we'd have to agree. The GTX 590 is noticeably louder than the GeForce GTX 580 side-by-side, but it's definitely much quieter than the GTX 480. We should also note that temperatures were a non-issue with the GeForce GTX 590 as well. At idle, the card's GPUs hovered around the 44'C mark and under sustained load they hovered in the mid 80's.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The new GeForce GTX 590 was a strong performer throughout our entire battery of tests. In comparison to the fastest single-GPU powered cards on the market, namely the GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 6970, the GeForce GTX 590 offers significantly higher performance in every game or application we tested. In comparison to its chief rival, however, the dual-GPU powered Radeon HD 6990, the GeForce GTX 590 ultimately comes up a bit short in terms of framerates. While both cards are exceptional performers, the Radeon HD 6990 offers higher framerates more often than not. The cards were evenly matched in FarCry 2 and Just Cause 2, the GTX 590 came out on top in the Unigine Heaven benchmark, and in Lost Planet 2, but the Radeon HD 6990 led in 3DMark11, AvP, Metro 2033, and in F1 2010.

The GeForce GTX 590 Reference Card

The GeForce GTX 590 should be hitting your favorite etailers almost immediately at a price of about $699. Factory overclocked cards will obviously be a few dollars more. That puts the GeForce GTX 590 and Radeon HD 6990 on equal footing in terms of price. Since the Radeon HD 6990 typically offers better overall performance than the GTX 590, that price may raise a few eyebrows, but we see where NVIDIA is coming from with this one. First, the GeForce GTX 590 is noticeably quieter than the Radeon HD 6990, that’s going to be a big plus for many users. The GeForce GTX 590 also allows for triple-monitor surround gaming from a single card, somewhat negating the Radeon’s more flexible Eyefinity capabilities, although AMD still has an edge here for the very small group of ultra-enthusiasts that may want to run more than three monitors. And the GTX 590 also offers support for PhysX and a wide range of CUDA apps that the Radeon can’t. This has historically been the case for GeForce cards, but now with the dual-GPU powered GTX 590 there is more flexibility and obviously more performance to enable all of these things without too adversely affecting framerates. Two of the games we feature in our benchmark suite, for example, Metro 2033 and Just Cause 2, arguably looks more realistic on the GeForce due to its support for PhysX and some other CUDA related features. And NVIDIA is hoping these capabilities add some value. If all you care about is framerates, you’ve probably already made up your mind as to which dual-GPU powered card is better, but there are certainly some other factors to consider.

We’re sufficiently impressed by the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 and its rival the Radeon HD 6990. These graphics cards offer performance that’s simply on another level versus even the fastest single-GPU powered cards. Now let’s hope game developers get as excited over this kind of horsepower as we are and release some games that truly take advantage of their capabilities.

  • Extreme Performance
  • Relatively Quiet
  • PhysX and CUDA Support
  • Surround Gaming From One Card

  • Not As Fast As The 6990
  • Hefty Power Requirements
  • Pricey


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