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GTX680 vs HD7970 vs BF3 Multi Screen (GTX 680 Review)

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#1
Hi all,

Two main reasons have caused me go ahead an create this thread / review, they are:

1) My curiosity around the GTX680. Not one review I have read has compared it against a HD7970 in Portrait Eyefinity and slightly less than one have bothered to answer the questions I had about the card itself.

2) Head-ache inducing tearing caused by different display connectors was making some of the games I enjoy the most unplayable. This meant I either had to switch back to a single screen (where the problem disappears) or try to find another solution.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I ordered a MSI GTX680 and have set about reviewing it against my HD7970 with the aim to answer the questions I set myself from the very beginning.

The card, box contents and HD7970 size comparisons

As there are plenty of review sites that have reviewed the GTX680 already I will forgo all of the technical details and just look at the physical product.

On receiving the card and removing the packaging, this is what I was greeted with:



An attractive jet engine themed box covered in marketing talk. TBH there isn't much more to say about this so I quickly opened it up to find out what was inside.



A big black box. Attractive! :eyebrow:

Inside the box you will find the card and the following:



Quite frankly considering the cost I was expecting more. My HD7970 came with everything required to get Eyefinity working out of the box including a £20 active miniDP to DVI adaptor. Nvidia/MSI should have at least made a HDMI to DVI adaptor mandatory to enable anyone with DVI only displays (like me) to run surround out of the box. As it was, I ended up pinching the HDMI to DVI adaptor that came with the HD7970 to get surround up and running.

Onto the card itself:



The card itself is completely reference albeit with an MSI sticker on it.



Output wise again it is reference affair with 2 DVI, HDMI and displayport connectors all present.

GTX680 meet HD7970





I must admit, I had forgotten how big the HD7970 actually is. The GTX680 is around 1.5CM shorter and give or take the same thickness.

Stacked PCI-e power connectors aside I had no issues fitting the card into my Define R3 case.

Overall first impressions are mixed. The card is more compact than the HD7970 which is good for people with smaller cases / less clearance, but the box contents leave alot to be desired.

Surround Setup & Impressions

I must admit having been a Eyefinity user for quite a while (HD6950 launch), I was somewhat nervous about trying Nvidia surround, especially after hearing some so not glowing user reviews. I can safely say I shouldn't have been nervous, it is great!

On first boot my monitors were corrected identified as being in Portrait mode and all three displayed perfectly as if extended mode was enabled in CCC. PLP can be enabled simply by changing the orientation of the middle monitor.

Enabling surround was simply a case of opening the Nvidia control panel, clicking on a box and following the instructions. Bezel management was painless and well laid out. Around 5 minutes from first boost I had surround up and running with no issues what-so-ever.

Now I would like to point out at this point that Eyefinity is also a cinch to setup, both companies have made multi screen gaming / productivity easy to set-up and easy to use.

One slight niggle I have found with the Nvidia driver / control panel is the settings for Task bar placement and window re-sizing are held within a completely different section to the main surround settings. I also noted that with the task bar set to the middle screen only I couldn't click on the start menu. Whilst these aren't major problems I thought it best to highlight that there is still some work to be done before it is 100% there. The same of course can be said about Eyefinity.

Another of my questions has been answered as surround doesn't use profiles to control the surround / extended modes. With surround enabled you can maximize screens such as Chrome to a single monitor whilst games will automatically default to all three. YOu can change this behaviour but I don't know why you want to. In Eyefinity you had to switch between Extended and Eyefinity profiles which whilst painless was one extra step.

Overall I am impressed with how far Nvidia have come with Surround. I am a fan of both Surround and Eyefinity and would recommend either to anyone wanting to try out multi screen gaming for the first time (single card only of course).

Benchmarking time!

Unless otherwise stated all benchmarks / results are using the following setup / game scenario:

Core i5 2500k @ 3.3Ghz
4GB DDR3 1600MT/s @ 8-8-8-20
MSI P67A-GD55
Crucial C300 64GB SSD

HD7970 @ stock and overclocked 1125/6600 on 8.91 RC11 drivers
GTX680 @ stock (1085 boost) and overclocked +100/+400 (1185/6800) on 301.24 drivers

3 x LG IPS321P monitors in Portrait mode - 3560x1920 Eyefinity and 3620x1920 Surround

(The resolution is different due to the bezel management differences between CCC and Nvidia control panel. Actual results should not be affected beyond a margin of error).

BF3 - 5 minute play through of Operation Swordbreaker starting from the point you exist the APC at the beginning.

Unigine Heaven - Default settings

BF3 - "High Settings"



I forgot to run the HD7970 through at stock settings :duh:

HD7970 OC

Min - 48.00
Avg - 63.60

GTX680

Min - 39.00
Avg - 54.10

GTX680 OC

Min - 45.00
Avg - 61.47

A minor "win" for the HD7970 although the two cards are basically imperceptible once overclocked. The GTX680 remained perfectly quiet when clocked whilst the 7970 became very noticable as the temperatures rose and the fan went above 50%.

The orange line depicts a single HD6970. In absolute framerate terms both the HD7970 and GTX680 are ~ 75% faster throughout the run.


BF3 - Ultra Settings No MSAA



HD7970 OC

Min - 27.00
Avg - 49.07

GTX680

Min - 27.00
Avg - 42.57

GTX680 OC

Min - 31.00
Avg - 47.99

Interestingly the GTX680 actually closes the gap slightly as the going gets tough. Again both cards are imperceptible once clocked but the 680 puts in a slightly higher minimum and if pushed, a *slightly* smoother experience.

Again the GTX680 remained quiet whilst the 7970 was making a noticeable racket as the fan went above 50%.

BF3 - Ultra Settings with MSAA



HD7970 OC 4xAA

Min - 25.00
Avg - 32.75

HD7970 OC 2xAA

Min - 30.00
Avg - 38.42

GTX680 OC 4xAA

Min - N/A - ran out of video memory
Avg - N/A - ran out of video memory

GTX680 OC 2xAA

Min - 23.00
Avg - 37.68

At this "extreme" setting we finally see the GTX680 crumble. At 2xAA the cards were very close with a slight win going to the HD7970 for holding a better minimum frame rate. At 4xAA the HD7970 remained on the borderline of playable whilst the GTX680 curled up in a little corner and cried for its mummy. In fact it threw such a hissy fit that only a hard reset would coax it back.

Personally I would say the 4xAA "win" for the HD7970 is somewhat academic as I wouldn't want to actually play at these settings normally. The framerate is just a bit low for my liking and personally I couldn't really tell the difference with MSAA on vs MSAA off in terms of graphical quality, but in terms of playability they are night and day different.

Academic or not though one thing is clear, there are specific scenarios where the HD7970 makes a lot more sense than the GTX680 and that is VERY high settings coupled with mutli card configs. HD7970CF would have the grunt to run 4xMSAA at this resolution and the VRAM to boot. GTX680SLI on the other hand would have the raw grunt but not the VRAM. 4GB cards should cure this issue but TBH given the cost HD7970CF makes more sense in these rare scenarios.

In summary I would say that at any setting that requires the HD7970's extra VRAM a single card isn't enough anyway, thus making the lack of VRAM point a bit moot.

In terms of Vram usage I monitored the following during the Ultra settings with 2xAA run through:

HD7970 - 2400-2600MB
GTX680 - 1600-1800MB

BF3 really isn't a very good indicator of actually how much VRAM is actually being used and thus is actually required.

In all BF3 testing I couldn't tell any different between the GTX680 and HD7970 in terms of graphical quality. Anything that might be there simply doesn't show up when you actually play the game.

Now for a bit of fun:

Unigine Heaven - Default Settings



Now I usually would not run synthetic benchmarks as I don't see the point but I know Heaven is popular so I ran it.

Ignoring the random minimum frame rate on the stock HD7970 the cards are pretty evenly matched. You could say the HD7970 wins by having a slightly higher average but the minimums are still too low to consider it a "playable" result.

I didn't even try MSAA on this as I think both cards would cry mercy.

Conclusion & Summary + thoughts on Surround

Overall I am not exactly surprised by the results I have gathered. I went into this expecting both cards to perform equally either at stock or overclocked (mildly in both cases). There might be some games out there that would show a different either way but in the hugely popular BF3 at least there isn't.

High levels of MSAA highlights the GTX680's relative short comings but TBH at the settings that require it you would be looking at mutli card configs anyway.

In terms of Surround itself I am pleasantly surprised how easy it was to setup and use.

I am extremely pleased to report the tearing that plagued me in JC2 has now gone as has the random tearing I exhibited on the desktop under the 12.4 Cat drivers.

I can also report that anyone concerned about the GTX680 running its side monitors at half the frame rate of the main monitor should not be. Either this isn't what is happening or it is a setting I haven't switched on as I genuinely could not see any difference across all three screens. Even attempting to split an action sequence across two screens ended up no different than if it was viewed on a single screen. Perhaps it does happen but to the end user it is imperceptible.

The GTX680 itself has impressed me immensely. The auto clocking feature is a boon with my card clocking to 1085mhz steady out of the box. I have only overclocked it by +100 at the moment but I can sense there is plenty left in the tank.

Couple this with a fan that unlike the HD7970 stays very quiet and you have a real corker.

Price is obviously the main kicker now and I must say with HD7970's dropping in price (especially the Sapphire OC model) it does make the 680 a relatively hard sell at its current price point.

My purpose though wasn't to save money it was to get rid of the tearing AND maintain the performance, I must say the GTX680 has achieved this perfectly.

Anywhoo to summarize this rather large post I can conclude with the following positives and negatives with regard the GTX680:

+ Great performance, equalling a HD7970 at all settings where both are playable
+ Great overclocking potential
+ Stays quiet even when overclocked
+ Surround set-up is a doddle and you get no multi connector based tearing
+ Nvidia only features such as Physx and adaptive V-sync (for now at least)

- Very poor box contents
- Price is a bit steep now that HD7970's are dropping down a bit (£350-£400)
- Slight feeling that the card could have been better but was held back deliberately

Anyway I hope this has been a useful post and a good read.

I am happy to answer any Surround or Eyefinity centric questions, so please ask away.
 
Last edited:

stinger608

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#2
Thanks Xaser!!! Very informative.
 

W1zzard

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#3
good job
 

crazyeyesreaper

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#4
run Heaven bench twice, first time the Minimum frame rate is almost ALWAYS lower then the second run, noticed it in my own testing of multiple AMD gpus

6950's 6970's and 7970's usually first run to second run i see minimum fps jump of around 3-5 fps depending on the situation aka single gpu or multi gpu blah blah
 
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#5
Nice man! One question though. Isn't it because you only have 4GB of RAM the 680 wasn't capable of running ULTRA preset? I have read reviews for the surround where the card was capable of running ULTRA preset at 5760x1080. Maybe you should try and add another 4GB and retest.
 
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#6
Nice man! One question though. Isn't it because you only have 4GB of RAM the 680 wasn't capable of running ULTRA preset? I have read reviews for the surround where the card was capable of running ULTRA preset at 5760x1080. Maybe you should try and add another 4GB and retest.
The 680 can run the Ultra preset fine - minus AA of course (average of 47fps), it is 4xAA that causes it literally to run out of VRAM. The game literally crapped out as soon as the APC doors opened at the beginning of the level with a Direct X out of memory error before total hard lock. Dropping to 2xAA allows the run through to complete fine.

EDIT: Just re-ran by whipping the 4GB of memory out of wife's machine, same result. Just before it crashes VRAM is peaking at 2040MB, as soon as the APC doors open, BAM it crashes.

This is a true case of running out of VRAM.
 
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#7
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#8
Very nice review. Thanks.
 
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#9
Nice review, I'm still waiting on some one to do a Multi screen review


I found him ^. I'm dieing for your Multi Screen review W1zzard. I really want to build an all out new computer.