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Nvidia GeForce GTX 590: The Dual-GF110 Beast

The GTX 590 is a Dual-GPU GF110 video card capable of playing all the latest video games, including some of the greatest 3D titles. This is done while maintaining reasonable temperatures at a very quiet operation.

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 – The Dual GF110 video card

Nvidia’s long awaited Dual-GPU video card is finally here. The GeForce GTX 590 is designed for enthusiast gamers that need the highest graphics performance and image quality from a single video card. The GTX 590 is a DX11 based video card designed to allow users to turn up their graphics settings–including resolution, anti-aliasing, and image quality–without causing excessive performance decreases which would otherwise render games impossible to play. With full control over Nvidia’s driver game presets and other graphics features, users can also enjoy image quality customization which would allow them to use up to 64x anti-aliasing with a single GTX 590 and up to 128xAA with two GTX 590s combined for Quad SLI. The user needs to over-ride the application AA through the Nvidia drivers. Once that is done a Multi-GPU 64x AA is possible with a single GTX 590.

The new Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 uses two GF110 GPUs on a single board, providing up to 1024 CUDA cores (512 per GPU) and 1.5GB of GDDR5 memory per GPU (3GB total). The memory subsystem is very similar to the older single GPU card, the GTX 580, which uses six 64-bit memory controllers (384-bit). This also means that while using one GTX 590, games can use up to 1.5GB of memory (similar to a two-GTX 580 configuration), and with two GTX 590s, games can take advantage of all 3GBs during gameplay. Clock speeds have also changed on the GTX 590. Unfortunately, we do not see two standard clocked GF110 GPUs on the GTX 590 running at the specs that the GTX 580s ran at, so those who have waited to see a card that can perform exactly like two GTX 580s in SLI might be slightly disappointed. Instead, Nvidia downclocked the GPU Clock from 772 MHz to 607 MHz, the Shader from 1544 MHz to 1215 MHz, and the Memory from 4008MHz to 3414MHz. We believe this was the option Nvidia had to take in order to optimize their GTX 590 to stay quiet during full load while also maintaining reasonable temperatures. We will have additional dB(A) readings later in the review comparing the Nvidia GTX 590 to the AMD HD6990. The raw performance we can conclude from these numbers is somewhat like the GTX 570 video card, so it should perform somewhat close to two GTX 570s in SLI.

As far as GPU architecture goes, since the GTX 590 is using the same GF110 chips as the GTX 580, there are no changes in die size, and it still uses a 40nm technology with 3000M transistors. We have a more detailed explanation of the GF110 architecture in our GTX 580 review from November 2010. Note that the Graphics Processing Clusters, Streaming multiprocessors, CUDA Cores, Texture Units, and ROP Units have doubled over the GTX 580 because the GTX 590 is using two GF110 GPUs; however, the card will only be utilizing 1536MB GDDR5 memory and 768KB L2 Cache Size unless there are two GTX 590s which would enable full 3072MB GDDR5 total video memory and 1536kb L2 Cache Size support.

(Expected performance tests between the GTX 580 and GTX 590 set forth by the Nvidia Team)

When the AMD HD6990 was launched, we were severely disappointed by its acoustics. The AMD HD6990 would run at higher RPM which caused a lot of noise during gameplay. Thankfully, Nvidia paid close attention to acoustic noise coming from cooling, and optimized the GTX 590 in order to maintain good temperatures as well. The GTX 580 had fantastic acoustic levels and while the GTX 590 is rated at slightly higher dB levels, it should not be too big of a difference for gamers, especially for those playing with headsets or loud speakers. As mentioned earlier, it seems that in order to maintain good temperatures along with low acoustics, Nvidia had to downclock their cards a bit. This also has to do with its power design, however: with two PCI-E 8-pin power connectors and certain motherboards like the ASUS Rampage Series or the GIGABYTE G1.Killer series, users can provide additional power to the PCI-E lanes with Molex power connectors from the PSU. With this said, overclocking for the card should not be a problem once overclocking tools like MSI Afterburner will support voltage tweaking for the GTX 590. We will take a look at overclocking throughout the review, but we are expecting yields somewhere around 700-750 MHz for the GPU Clock speed.

There are several features that the GTX 590 has which makes the card unique from previous Nvidia video cards.

  1. Users no longer need two video cards in order to support NVIDIA Surround/3D Vision Surround. Users can enjoy 3 displays with NVIDIA Surround/3D Vision Surround from a single card, as the GTX 590 works as two video cards in SLI.
  2. The GTX 590 can also dedicate one of its GPUs solely to PhysX processing, but this will require the user to exit SLI mode. It is possible to use both GPUs in SLI mode but then PhysX calculations will be limited as the GPU rendering and PhysX will have to cooperate together. It’s the same idea as a single GPU video card both rendering the 3D graphics and calculating PhysX. If needed, users can also dedicate a PhysX card and keep both GPUs on the GTX 590 solely for graphics rendering.
  3. Quad-SLI is much easier with two GTX 590s. Users no longer need to buy 4 video cards in order to achieve Quad-SLI performance. By having two GTX 590s, users can enjoy the performance of Quad-SLI for ultimate gaming systems. This setup would be idea for 3D Vision Surround gamers that want to push the gaming envelope as far as they can. We’ll talk more about Nvidia certified Quad-SLI components on the next page.

The price for the GTX 590 is $699 MSRP, though we can expect more expensive models coming out, especially as Nvidia partners could come out with their own custom design cooler, and perhaps higher clocked cards. We do have word about waterblock-cooled GTX 590s for the water cooling enthusiasts.

GTX 590 Certified Hardware

To make choosing the right hardware easier for gamers, Nvidia certified several motherboards, Quad-SLI capable PSUs, and Quad-SLI ready chassis. While the list provided below only shows hardware officially certified by Nvidia as Quad-SLI capable, it is still possible to run Quad-SLI on other hardware as well.

Motherboard Requirements: Nvidia made it clear to us that having at least one expansion slot space between two GTX 590s is necessary for proper video card ventilation. This way users do not risk damaging their cards, especially during summer, when even the air outside the case can be very hot. The listed Quad-SLI certified motherboards all support spacing between their PCI-Express slots in order to maintain Nvidia’s standards of proper cooling.

PSU Requirements: Because the GTX 590 uses two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors, which use up to 150W on each connector, the card uses a total of 300W just from the PCI-E power connectors. The PCI-Express expansion slots provide additional 75W of power if needed. While it is extremely unlikely that users will use 375W for their video cards, it is good to have headroom not just in terms of wattage, but also in terms of the amperes provided on each rail of the power supply. The first requirement for Quad-SLI is that the PSU support 4x 8-pin PCI-E power connectors. Secondly, the PSU must meet the minimum 30A requirement for the 12V rails that the cards are connected to. Users with 1100W+ power supplies that have a single rail with 80A+ should not worry about whether there will be enough power to feed two power hungry GTX 590s.

Chassis Requirements: There are several chassis out there that have plenty of cooling possibilities, though Nvidia only certifies cases that have pleasant acoustics in addition to proper cooling potential . These chassis can also fit the 11 inch GTX 590s without any problem.

These products are qualified Quad-SLI products, guaranteed to work fine with the Nvidia GTX 590s in Quad-SLI. Of course, the final choice of hardware is ultimately up to the end-user. Nvidia will update this list on their website as they certify more hardware.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 vs. AMD HD6990

Acoustics: One of the biggest differences between the Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 and the AMD Radeon HD6990 Dual-GPU graphics cards is the acoustics. The GTX 590 manages to stay at a quieter 48-49dB(A) range, while the HD6990 runs up to about 58dB(A). Every 10dB increase is perceived by the ears as a 2x increase in noise. Comparing the HD6990 to the GTX 590, the GTX 590 is half as loud as the HD6990 at full load.

Acoustics Testing

When we test acoustics for each video card in our system, we minimize ambient environment noise by running each test after 2AM. This prevents any ambient noise from outside due to cars and other noise. Usually all electronics and other hardware are off at night as well, so it’s the best possible time to perform acoustic testing. We also try to minimize noise by using low RPM fans. Since the dB(A) sound meter only records the highest noise coming from the system, as long as the other fans in the system are quieter than the video card, the extra minimal noise level should not be a problem in our testing. We set up the sound meter on a small tripod exactly 12 inches away from the video card, making sure that the sound meter pointed at the fan of the video card. Then we ran the system and recorded idle fan noise in Windows. To record the highest noise coming from the fan, we ran Unigine Heaven 2.1 for 15 minutes before taking the maximum reading.

We used an Extech Instruments 407730 Sound Meter on a monkey rubber tripod.

Acoustic Levels (Fan Noise)

Video Card Idle – db(A) Load – db(A)
GIGABYTE Radeon HD 6990

45.4

58.6
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 45.7 48.5

From the table above, we can tell that the GIGABYTE Radeon HD 6990 is twice as loud as the Nvidia GTX 590, because every 10db is twice as loud for our ears. Here we have a quick video which can provide an idea of how loud each card is:

We have the proof of the noise level testing in our video, however we would like to note that we could not include the 100% fan speed noise for the HD 6990 because the video seemed to be corrupted in Premier Pro CS5. Our application would freeze every single time we would add the video to our timeline, so we deleted that part. Though we have never heard anything as loud as the HD 6990 before. The HD 6990 was 73db loud at 100% fan speed over the 57dB that we got with the GTX 590.

Length: The GTX 590 board design measures up to 11 inches in length, which is a great advantage over the AMD Radeon HD6990′s 12.2 inches. The problem with Dual-GPU video cards is that they become too long and become impossible to install in mid-tower chassis. The GTX 590 should fit fine into most gaming mid-tower chassis, but the HD6990 will only fit into cases that have at least 12.3 inches or about 310mm clearance for expansion cards. A mid-tower case like the Zalman Z9 Plus, which has 300mm clearance, would fit the GTX 590, but not the HD6990.

Click Image To Enlarge
 

Here we can see three images. The first one shows the GTX 590 compared to the top GIGABYTE HD6990 video card. We can see that the GTX 590 is about 1.2 inches shorter. The other two pictures compare the GTX 590 to the same HD6990 as above, and also to an ASUS GTX 580. The length difference is clearly visible in these two pictures, which also show the cooler implementation on each card.

Cooler Design: While the HD6990 and the GTX 590 both use the same general vapor chamber cooling design, the acoustics really come down to GPU design, Thermal Design Power, and of course, fan design on the video card. The HD6990 uses the dense small fin PowerTune design fans, whereas the GTX 590 uses a standard 9-fin fan design which provides enough cooling for each vapor chamber heatsink to efficiently cool down the GPUs and other components quietly.

Supersample Anti-Aliasing and Image Quality: One very interesting option on Nvidia video cards that has been around for a while now is that Nvidia cards can take advantage on Anti-Aliasing by having higher AA settings than AMD cards. While the AMD HD6990 only allows up to 8xAA in video came graphics settings, the Nvidia cards provide up to 32xAA. Of course with the GTX 590, this limit is doubled to a maximum of 64xAA, and a maximum of 128xAA for two GTX 590s.

With two GF110 GPUs, the tessellation engines have also doubled. With 32 tessellation Engines, the GTX 590 should have phenomenal performance in extreme tessellated scenes. Here is a picture from a new game coming out this year from Epic Games, which uses Unreal Engine 3 and DirectX 11 with tessellation to create a morphing effect of the face in real time.

What is CUDA?

CUDA is NVIDIA’s parallel computing architecture that enables dramatic increases in computing performance by harnessing the power of the GPU (graphics processing unit).

With millions of CUDA-enabled GPUs sold to date, software developers, scientists and researchers are finding broad-ranging uses for CUDA, including image and video processing, computational biology and chemistry, fluid dynamics simulation, CT image reconstruction, seismic analysis, ray tracing and much more.

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