ASUS has been one of Nvidia’s premier partners for a while, and for good reason. ASUS always has a special way of supercharging its GPU offerings and what we have here today is no different. The GTX680 DirectCU II will plant you in your seat as it jumps out of the gate. Now let’s look at what this card has to offer.[review_ad]
Introduction – ASUS GeForce GTX680 DirectCU II TOP
The ASUS way of handling GPU’s is quite unique. They often release excellent non-reference video cards as soon as AMD or Nvidia allows it. Quite some time ago we had the chance to look at a Matrix 580, and we were blown away by the sheer amount of engineering that went into the card. Add to this the fact that ASUS has a staff of overclockers on hand working with the R&D and Engineering teams. How can you not expect something really awesome to come from it? What we have today is the top model as of now for the GTX680 offering from ASUS the GeForce GTX680 DirectCU II TOP edition card.
TOP edition cards are basically ASUS speak for the top clocking top binned cards from the stack (with the exception of the rare Matrix models which we hear rumors of on the 680 model). A top binned card means you see some amazing speeds from it. Normally binning happens by the manufacturer placing a load of cards in to torture test and picking out ones that run that speed or “pass” that testing. This allows the manufacturer to find the limit of the card’s potential and set that as their top clocked model. This is called Edge binning which means when you get the overclock model card it is already at the razor’s edge of speed without the user having to mess around with voltages. ASUS TOP cards are not edge-overclocked, and in fact they test each card to ensure it has a certain amount of headroom over the stated speed so that power users still have some wiggle room for extra performance. The TOP moniker and performance is just an identifier to show what really is under the hood so to speak.
This card definitely is surprisingly not very bad price wise as it carries a full custom cooler, monster PCB and a monster clock along with it, all at a retail price of $539.99 on Newegg. This puts it well below contenders from MSI or EVGA and even Zotac. Normally, we would not call a card over 500 dollars a value product, but when compared to the competition presently listed at Newegg, we must say this looks like it could be one hell of a performance bargain.
SAP (Super Allow Power)
ASUS has great pride in the components they infuse into their graphics offerings very much like the motherboards we have covered previously. ASUS has whats called SAP or Super Alloy Power which covers the components in the very VRM we are discussing. The components are hand picked for quality and performance based around not only power delivery but efficiency as well. The components in the SAP solution are super durable for a rated lifespan of up to 2.5X what reference cards would offer and also with the DIGI+ controller your talking ultimate precision which means better voltage stability, better overclcoking potential and overall better power efficiency clock for clock.
Here we see the VRM Chokes, Mosfet/driver Assemblies and the solid state caps which make up the SAP components or to simplify the super strong and efficient VRM.
Here we see what makes the difference for the DIGI+ solution which has to do with the accuracy and efficiency of the Digital controller in comparison to the analog VRM control we see on many other solutions. This level of control allows for unprecedented voltage accuracy, along with lower signal noise and overall more overclockability due to the tighter stability offered by the DIGI+ digital controller.
DCII (Direct CU II)
ASUS DirectCU II coolers are the ASUS way of saying maximum cooling and plenty of quiet with one naming scheme. DirectCU II coolers are direct touch heatpipes to the GPU surface ensuring the heat is wicked away from the GPU and up into the cooling fin array as quickly as possible. From there the custom shrouded dual fans push air through the fins effectively but most important quietly to keep the GPU as cool as possible so hopefully it will never hit a temp to need a higher or noisier fan speed. The air pushing through the fin array also helps cool board components and the VRM cooler as well which is a nice little added bonus to this style cooler since we all know cooler components tend to run stronger, longer and with better efficiency.
Dust proof Fan Technology
You would thing that by now everyone would know that one of the number one killers of a fan is the dirt and dust it comes into contact with. Many fans simply are not sealed in such a way that it can keep dust out and in many cases they are not sealed at all and you can see the sensitive winding area clearly exposed just by looking at the gap.
Here you can see that the ASUS solution is not just seaking the hub from dust but having 2 levels of sealing which means that over the lifespan of the cooler you can expect a much lower likelihood that you will get the grinding or simply the failing taht you normally get from the unprotected fan as seen above.
I cannot count how many times I have had a perfectly good card or cooler just to have it reduced to useless because the fan dies.
ASUS offers its own software utility and its functionality has grown with generations just like the cards it supports. Of course the card can be overclocked but also voltages can be tweaked and within the GPU Tweak app we can even launch the GPU info utility which is a full custom version of GPUz. This is a really cool feature and a benefit especially to benchmarkers who we can definitely see using this card with some of the awesome tweaks we will discuss in the card overview.
There are many tools within the GPU Tweak menus some a little more hidden than others. First off directly form the GPU Tweak utility itself you can check for BIOS updates and even update from within the program. For anyone whos ever updated a vBIOS before knows that having a tool that can do this in a mere few clicks is really handy.
The charts besides offering real time monitoring can also be setup to log thermals, voltages and clocks so that after benchmark or gaming runs you can see if there was any thermal issues or throttling that may have affected performance.
And another neat feature that many never delve into but its worth visiting is the custom fan profiling. This allos a specialized ramping of the fan according to a graph you set custom for your thermal/acoustic needs. Honestly after using this card awhile I would say the fan profile is damn near perfect as it keeps the card cool when under load and also super quiet when just messing around on the web.
The utility does come on the disk but its always advised to get the latest version HERE and search GPU Tweak in the ASUS page linked.
PCIe Power LEDs
One really cool feature is that there are status LED’s on each PCIe connector and these help you recognize that power is actively being sent to each connector of the card.
As seen above there is dual greens means your off to the races and everything is working well. However if the PCIe cable is not active or is not installed at all it will give you the red light which tells you something is wrong. I could definitely see some value in this when diagnosing multi card setups or even single card and getting just a black screen at post. a dead PCIe power cable could cause you to pull your hair out without these kinds of indicators and well I like my hair so I like these indicators
ASUS is definitely known in the overclocking world for its products due to the simple fact that they overclock very well.
Speaking of special abilities, we have the VGA Hotwire. Anyone who knows about volt-modding a card knows it can cause serious damage. ASUS and their legion of overclockers knew this and made it possible to volt-mod the card with very little work needed and also with a compatible motherboard such as the Rampage IV Extreme a connector can be simply plugged onto the board to allow hardware level voltage manipulation. This is not some simple software control anymore. This is LN2-level modding. Also keep in mind that connecting and overvolting the cards to such extreme levels will likely void the warranty. Howeverr, overclocking with LN2 cooling at well over -100C which means you’ve pretty much thrown most chances of warrantying the card out the window anyways. We are very happy to see such features on a card as soldering to SMD’s that some times are little more than the size of a grain of salt can be very troublesome, and with so many densely packed components its far to easy to have an oops moment.
Here we see the reference of where each connection will be made. Do note that the connections on the card would need to be soldered which requires some soldering knowledge. The motherboard side is as simple as plugging onto the board.
Nvidia implemented the GPU Boost feature on the new Nvidia GeForce 6 series GPU’s of the Kepler Architecture. This allows the card to have a base clock and it adjusts dynamically or overclocks to a speed of up to a certain amount depending upon the thermal and power envelope. This makes Overclocking these cards a bit different as you now are overclocking with a boost clock and by offsets from the out of the box clocks. We will discuss more of the overclocking aspects in the overclocking section but it does need to be noted. The voltage envelope can be adjusted as well with another offset setting. This will raise the ceiling in most cases for more overclocking headroom pending temps are within check which with this cooler should not be much of an issue.
Nvidia also included another feature as of recent called “Adaptive V-Sync” which allows for better performance while also stutter free gameplay by actively enabling and disabling V-Sync depending upon gaming situation and FPS all without any intervention from the user.
PCI Express Gen 3 Capable
ASUS wants to ensure everyone is aware that PCIe 3.0 is here and ASUS is ready with not only cards such as this but boards to support it as well.
Overview of the ASUS GeForce GTX680 DC II TOP
The packaging is simple yet has the extreme flavor with the tear at the front of the box showing this is meant to be one mean card. Also listed is some key specs such as the uber high max boost clock out of the box at 1201MHz. Also the DIGI+ VRM components which offer immense levels of voltage control along with very good stability and efficiency.
here is what you see when we open the box.
Here is a list of all items included in the accessory pack:
Dual 6 pin PCIe to 8 Pin PCIe adapter
Extended length SLI Ribbon
The accessory package is quite small but covers everything needed to get this card hooked up and running. One thing we would have liked to have seen is some wires included with connectors to hookup the VGA Hotwire function, but front panel case wires easily fill that demand with ease so users can cannibalize these parts from old cases.
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Here is the card out of the box and ready to go. The cooler is mean looking and built to handle some crazy overclocking and extreme gaming load. The card comes with a full length backplate which looks really awesome and also stiffens the card to help avoid flex.
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The 680 DCII TOP has dual SLI connectors for 3 way and even 4 way SLI capability but with triple slot coolers I think you will have a tough time getting 4 way together without some bridge magic and some flexible PCIe extenders. The reference GTX 680 utilizes a stacked dual 6 pin PCIe power configuration. The DCII TOP uses a 8 Pin + 6 Pin configuration to give more power available to the GPU which should help with the cases when overclocking to the limit and past is called for.
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The cooler itself is a triple slot design with really thick and dense fin arrays which help keep the GTX 680 GPU well in check even at the obscene out of the box clock, not to mention there is alot left on the table as the temps are great so overclocking you definitely have some room on the temperature side of things.
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The cooler uses direct touch heatpipes which we see coming through the edge of the fin array here. The dual fans are setup and profiled to offer optimum cooling with minimum noise for an awesome gaming or benching experience.
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Here we just see a few detail shots of the card/cooler in preparation for removal.
Popping the Top off the TOP
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The heatsink came off rather quickly, and we see a lot of the bulk simply is the massive amount of cooling power strapped to the custom PCB. The reason we mention custom PCB is because it is much taller off of the moterboard surface than a standard GPU PCB. Next to it we have the direct touch heatpipe base for the cooler. This is the area that directly contacts the GPU itself and makes sure things stay nice and cool.
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Here we have the VRM first covered by the passive sink which in itself covers the mosfets/driver components which are the hottest components in the VRM section. But honestly it is not passive at all since the dual GPU fans actively blow air from the cooler over the VRM cooler keeping things well in check to ensure no toasty components or instability are even within possibility. After removal we see a nice neat layout of all of the VRM components neatly stacked and ready to work on delivering insane levels of power to the GPU when needed whether it is during game or pushing for records in a benchmark.
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Here we have what DirectCU II is all about. These are the direct touch copper heatpipes which are what makes sure the GPU stays nice and cool. You will notice that the heatpipe array is lapped very flat to ensure best possible thermal conductivity and excellent performance.
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Here is where the magic happens the VGA Hotwire connectivity points. The small holes are where you will run a wire through then solder it up and you will have a nice solid connection and full control over your cards vitals and really unlock some extreme overclocks when going under LN2 or other subzero cooling methods.
Testing & Methodology
We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.
The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear Prefetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
We are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. We ask that you provide feedback in an effort to help us deliver better reviews for you.
|Case||Thermaltake Level 10 GT|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3770K/Intel Core i7-2600K|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus V Gene
|Ram||16GbpsB Patriot Viper Xtreme 2400MHz +|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech H20-220 Edge|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB|
|SSD||Intel 510 series SATA III 120GB|
|GPU||ASUS GTX680 DCII TOP / Reference Nvidia GTX680 / Reference Nvidia GTX580|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 1200W|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Black gaming mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 mechanical gaming keyboard|
We will use the following applications to test the performance of the graphics card.
Synthetic Benchmarks & Games
|Aliens vs. Predator|
|Batman: Arkham City|
The GTX 680 and all Kepler cards have a completely different way of referencing clockspeeds as they now overclock via offsets and this takes some getting used to but once you do these cards can really ramp. For this sample we got the GTX680 DCII TOP to just over 1370 MHz at 1372 with full stability and this was from a base clock out of the box of 1137MHz and with a mild voltage increase while still maintaining more than acceptable temps. With a 100Mv increase we really don’t see that causing any excessive degradation or enough heat to cause issues so we would feel safe running this clock 24/7 for gaming without issues. Memory clocked very well to as it started out of the box at 6008MHz and shot up to just about 6500MHz at a final stable clock of 6496MHz.
This is not the tell all for every model as this was the sample we recieved and cards do vary from one another. You could easily receive one that overclocks better or worse than ours, but we’re guessing it won’t be too far off.
One thing to note is that when overvolting these cards now days via the software the Kepler cards have whats referenced as a “Power target” which means that at 100% power target normally Nvidia cards will have a limit at that power target but the target can be adjusted by offsets within the GPU Tweak software for more headroom. that being said we also can note that even overclocked the GPU never reaches the normal 100% power target which speaks very much to teh efficiency of the VRM DIGI+ design and the overall overclocking headroom that is available on the card itself. Granted there is a certain thermal envelope and overall relistic max you can expect before having to go cold but with these special features built into the card it certainly helps you stretch its legs just a little more when you really wanna push it.
As seen the card can be overclocked without touching the voltage tuning which in turn means you dont have to go crazy with the voltage or pump up the target to the absolute limit just to get some sweet overclocks whereas the reference card you definitely had to give it some love to get to this level.
In order to ensure no system bottleneck we clocked the CPU to 4.6GHz to ensure there is no reason the system will slow down the cards performance at all.
Some may ask why we chose the mainstream Z77 system and we can explain. Up until recent the X79 enthusiasts platform does not really support PCIe Gen 3 on the Nvidia 600 series GPU’s and come to find out it is due to the inherent instability many have seen with the X79 platform with Gen 3 products. This is why Nvidia has been hesitant to enable it, and now there is a workaround via registry to get it working but in order to ensure best possible testing scenarios we have stuck to the natively supported Z77 platform.
Important note: Overclocking can cause component failure. Please exercise caution when attempting any level of overclock on system components.
The temperatures were recorded with full loaded Heaven benchmark looping for over 30 minutes or longer depending how long it took for the card to level out in temps and sat at a plateau for more than 10 minutes.
|GPU Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS GTX680 DCII TOP OC||32C/71C|
|ASUS GTX680 DCII TOP||32C/69C|
The cooling efficiency of the cooler can be seen as it keeps the card nice and cool not to mention during the runs it was very quiet and in no way annoying at all.
Real world/Gaming Benchmarks
3DMark 11 is the newest in Futuremark’s suite of benchmarking utilities. Its a fully capable DirectX11 benchmark which also stresses and analyzes the system performance as a whole to simulate a heavy rendering environment such as a high end game or other app the end user may run. This benchmark was run with Performance settings 5 times and all runs were averaged for the result below.
Here we see the 680 is quite a jump over teh 580 of old and the TOP card with its extra clock is just that much better knocking out another 2 FPS on the Graphics test.
Aliens Vs Predator
Aliens Vs Predator is a quite demanding game and overall just a cool title so we had some fun running this one through its paces.
Here we see the jump from 580 to 680 is pretty drastic, then we go to the TOP and the jump is small but still apparent. This looks like the 680 itself runs the game much better than 580 but overclocking it will only net negligible gains.
Metro 2033 is just pure hell on a GPU as with the GTX580 we found minimum framerates slowing to a complete crawl, though with the new GTX 680 that situation has been improved by a bit. The TOP card adds a small amount more of performance but Metro 2033 still shows itself as a very hard nut to crack as it looks like Dual 680′s would do the job but at max settings there could still be some stutter from a single GPU setup.
Batman: Arkham City
Batman is a very cool game once again, it is one I personally enjoy and benchmarking it shows that once again it is a game that likes the Kepler cards alot and shows a sizable jump from the 580 to 680. Then add the TOP and all of the sudden we get a nice little jump from the higher clockspeeds.
Dirt 3 is a relatively newer game to me and I must say it is first of all it is a pretty good looking game but it doesnt seem to tax a GPU too bad which is good for midrange gamers. In the case of 580 vs 680 there is a sizable 60+FPS jump then another 25FPS jump from the higher clocked TOP card which means this game just loves GPU frequency.
When receiving the GTX680 DirectCU II TOP card, we were kind of wondering if all of the bells and whistles would be worth it but then we saw the price and realized it was actually quite a value. These cards are very popular and sell out almost instantly, but with the extra performance out of the box we can definitely see why especially since it is the highest card we have seen from browsing cards available on retailers websites.
The card has many cool factor points such as a massive cooler capable of keeping excellent overclocks within reasonable temps with little to no increase in temps. The fans are quiet even when pushed hard which is a very nice plus as a normal system load of fans will likely drown out any noise these fans may put out. The VGA Hotwire connectors opens the possibility to much easier volt modding of the card for those looking to push for the extreme. the GPU Tweak software is easy to use and has seemingly endless amounts of adjustability. Add to this that the GPU Tweak software also has GPUz integrated and it just gets better and better as every software needed for the most part is all within one utility. The SAP components along with the DIGI+ controller helps with reliability along with higher efficiency and performance potential to make a great card combo that should stand up to pretty much anything.
The only real bad thing we could think of would be that the card is triple slot which means as sold out of the box 4-Way SLI is going to be very difficuly without some flexible PCIe bridges and some SLI ribbon trickery.
This card plays most games damn well by itself so for anyone looking to put 2 of these together for some amazing performance potential, this card can do it and do it well. If looking for 3-4 card setup, you will need to swap brackets and coolers to make the magic happen.
For the extreme gamer (or even more so the extreme benchmarker) looking for a card built from the ground up to kick major ass should definitely be taking a close look at this thing as it has all the right parts in the right place to make it a world record breaker right out of the box.
|OUR VERDICT: ASUS GTX680 DirectCU II TOP|
|Summary: ASUS has been on a roll lately and the GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP is keeping the ball rolling with amazing performance, a nice price and a full feature set that is hard to beat. It earns the Bjorn3D Golden Bear Award.|