Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 Review

Posted by Robert Dow and Jon Peddie on March 24th 2011 | Discuss
Categories: Hardware Review
Tags: gpu nvidia graphics 3d aib gaming pmark benchmark games

Let no pixel go un-accelerated

Nvidia’s dual GPU GTX 590 AIB

Right on the heels of their most recent midrange product launch, the GTX 550 Ti, Nvidia rolled out their flagship AIB the dual GPU GTX 590.

This top of the line, take no prisoners, 3GB GDDR5 AIB with a massive 384-bit memory bus (per GPU) has delivered some impressive scores, but doesn't beat two GTX 480s or 2 GTX 580s in SLI configuration—it doesn't cost as much either

The AIB has a 12-layer PCB and to help disperse heat more effectively across the PCB, two ounces of copper are used for each of the board's power and ground layers on the PCB. Running cooler enhances the board's longevity.

Powering the twin GPUs is a 10-phase digital power controller with over-voltaging capability, while two dual-phase controllers provide power for the board's GDDR5 memories.

The cooling subsystem of the GTX 590 consists of two self-contained GPU coolers, each with a copper vapor chamber and dual-slot heatsink.

The board has three dual-link DVI and one HDMI 1.4a connectors on the back panel making it capable of driving four screens at once.

Putting two GPUs on one AIB is not as easy as it sounds, especially when it's a top of the line, power hungry, high-performance GPU like the Fermi GF110. Nvidia used their special vapor cooling system and high-performance fan, but had to drop the GPU and memory clocks down to bring the temperature and power consumption within limits.

The memory subsystem of the GTX 590 is similar to the GTX 580, with six 64-bit memory controllers (384-bit) with 1.5GB of GDDR5 memory per GPU (3GB total), but is run at a slower clock rate (607 MHz compared to 1002 GHz for the GTX 580). The result is that the GTX590 delivers a little less performance than two GTX 580s in SLI, and even a little less than two GTX 480s in SLI. But, remember, it is one AIB, one slot, and close to the same price as a single GPU AIB.

Taken all together the differences between two GTX 580s in SLI to a GTX 590 the GTX 590 looks pretty good.

GTX590 difference to two GTX580 AIBs
GPU clock 79%
Score (ave) 85%
Mem clock 85%
Power 73%
Price 60%

For 70% the cost of two GTX 580s you get 85% of the performance which results in a 22% gain in price-performance, plus the other benefits on single AIB and less power consumption – that's a really good deal.

So how good is it really? Take a look at the following charts

Pmark

The Pmark is a calculation of an AIB's Power, Performance, and Price. We use the average of all the tests to arrive at the performance factor.

Pmark Comparison of several AIBs

Some people have suggested power consumption isn't a factor when dealing with a high-end Enthusiast AIB, the idea being that gamers who want the highest performance possible will sacrifice money and power to get it. Maybe. However, we live in a green-conscious world today and we think it sells the gamer short to label him or her as being irresponsible and selfish such that they don't take such things into consideration or care about them. Now having said that, would high power consumption cause a gamer to hesitate in purchasing a high-performance AIB (assuming money was not a problem)? Hard to say for sure. But one thing that could influence the sale of an AIB is how noisy it is.

Noise factor

If a high-end AIB gets so hot that the fan has to be run as extreme RPMs then it's going to be noisy. And if you have to listen to a screaming graphics AIB all day you're going to get tired and irritable. That could defer a buyer: word gets out on the blogosphere that XYZ AIB is too noisy to live with and down go sales.

The GTX is remarkably quiet – almost whisper quiet.

Nvidia ran some acoustics tests and produced the following chart to show just how quiet the GTX 590 is.

Comparison of various AIB’s noise level (Source Nvidia)

Sound is usually measured with microphones and they respond (approximately) proportionally to the sound pressure, The power in a sound wave, all else equal, goes as the square of the pressure, and expressed in decibels (dB).

Maybe we should add a factor to the Pmark for noise since it is also important in a purchasing decision – we could call it Pressure so we can keep it in the "P" family. It would be numerator operator.

If we did it would like this:

P4mark = 1000 x (((Performance x Pressure)/Price)x(1/Power))

And the scores would be:

P4mark test results

Adding noise to the Pmark is a good thing to do if a consistent and repeatable testing scenario can be established. The actual dB number will not be that exact because we're not going to be able to use an anechoic chamber (or build one) so ambient noise will be a factor. A tare value can be established to run the tests and several runs can be made, so this might be doable.

Benchmarking

We put the GTX 590 through the usual regime of tests, and got the results show in the following charts.

Comparison of four popular games at HD resolution

Comparison of AIBs at high-resolution

Comparison of AIBs at ultra high resolution

Synthetic benchmark results using 3DMark 11

3DMark has been criticized for not being representative of real world testing (i.e., games). However, you look at the patterns of the above four charts you can see that 3DMark is indeed representative.

The tests at ultra-high resolution are the most significant in our collective opinion. These ultra-high resolution tests put the most stress on the AIBs and are appropriate for the classification (Enthusiast segment) and the price of the AIBs. We also included the other resolutions because people like to quote Steam's population data which shows most of the users of Steam have a 1680 x 1050 display. It's difficult for us to understand why someone would plunk down $500 to $1,000 for AIBs and then cheap out on the monitor.

Other features

It's just about accelerating games to give you higher frame rates, there are other experience enhancing aspects to a modern gaming PC.

Accelerate physics and game. With as much power as the GTX 590 brings by having two GPUs, it also offers the opportunity to redeploy one of those GPUs, or a portion of it, to accelerating physics through Nvidia' PhysX. For optimal performance, Nvidia typically recommends a dedicated GPU for PhysX gaming.

See around corners (almost). Nvidia's 3D Vision Surround technology expands the display real estate across three HD 1080p 3D monitors for a really immersive gaming experience. 3D Vision Surround combines up to three displays to act as one larger display to allow a panoramic view of full-screen games, or your desktop.

Three monitors in surround vision give a new perspective to gaming

The GTX 590 is fully capable of driving three 1080p 120Hz displays for Nvidia Surround/3D Vision Surround without an additional graphics card. Prior to the GTX 590 it would take two AIBs to drive the three displays.

Nvidia sent the demo board to us to test in an ammo box, with a set of dog tags; we felt it was fitting to wear them during the testing.

Stalker Dow benchmarks the beast

What do we think?

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 is the best price-performance dual GPU combination available – period.

We are now running a series of dual GPU test and will test GTX 570 in SLI, HD 6990, and other combinations – so as they say, stay tuned to this station.

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