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Our previous review covered three proprietary GeForce GTX 670 graphics cards from Gigabyte, Palit and Zotac. Having collected so many graphics cards, including a reference GeForce GTX 670 too, we couldn’t help testing them in multi-GPU configurations. It is not often that we can build a 3-way SLI subsystem that may be expected to ensure a very high level of performance, at least theoretically. Besides that, we are going to compare a GeForce GTX 680 with a Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition (simulated by overclocking a regular HD 7970) with the latest drivers from Nvidia and AMD. We’ve got some interesting results to share, so read on!

Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology

So, here are our GeForce GTX 670s: a reference card from Nvidia, a Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 Ultra Durable and a Zotac GeForce GTX 670 AMP! Edition.

  

Every card was tuned to the clock rates of the Zotac version, namely 1098/6608 MHz. The Gigabyte GTX 670 Ultra Durable went into the topmost PCI Express slot of our Intel Siler DX79SI mainboard. The reference card occupied the second slot and the bottom slot was given to the Zotac. The slots worked at x16+x8+x8 speed due to the mainboard’s limitations. As for our 2-way SLI configuration, it was built out of the Gigabyte in the first slot and the Zotac in the second, both slots working at their full speed (x16+x16).

  

To carry out a comparative test of Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 vs. AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, we took a Zotac GeForce GTX 680 2GB AMP! Edition (we’ll tell you more about this card in an upcoming review) and a Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC 3GB.

  

The former’s clock rates were reduced to those of the reference GeForce GTX 680, i.e. 1006/6008 MHz, whereas the latter was overclocked to the level of the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition (1050/6000 MHz).

 

So, we’ll see how faster the new Radeon is and whether it can beat the fastest GeForce.

All participating graphics cards were tested in a system with the following configuration:

  • Mainboard: Intel Siler DX79SI (Intel X79 Express, LGA 2011, BIOS 0494 from 04/24/2012);
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, 3.3 GHz, 1.2 V, 6 x 256 KB L2, 15 MB L3 (Sandy Bridge-E, C1, 32 nm);
  • CPU cooler: Phanteks PH-TC14PE (2 x 135 mm fans at 900 RPM);
  • Thermal interface: ARCTIC MX-4;
  • System memory: DDR3 4 x 4GB Mushkin Redline (Spec: 2133 MHz / 9-11-10-28 / 1.65 V);
  • Graphics cards:
    • Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 2 GB, 256 bit, GDDR5, 1098/6608 MHz;
    • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 Ultra Durable 2 GB, 256 bit, GDDR5, 1098/6608 MHz;
    • Zotac GeForce GTX 670 AMP! Edition 2 GB, 256 bit, GDDR5, 1098/6608 MHz;
    • Zotac GeForce GTX 680 AMP! Edition 2 GB, 256 bit, GDDR5, 1006/6008 MHz;
    • Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC 3 GB, 384 bit, GDDR5, 1050/6000 MHz;
  • System drive: Crucial m4 256 GB SSD (SATA-III,CT256M4SSD2, BIOS v0009);
  • Drive for programs and games: Western Digital VelociRaptor (300GB, SATA-II, 10000 RPM, 16MB cache, NCQ) inside Scythe Quiet Drive 3.5” HDD silencer and cooler;
  • Backup drive: Samsung Ecogreen F4 HD204UI (SATA-II, 2 TB, 5400 RPM, 32 MB, NCQ);
  • System case: Antec Twelve Hundred (front panel: three Noiseblocker NB-Multiframe S-Series MF12-S2 fans at 1020 RPM; back panel: two Noiseblocker NB-BlackSilentPRO PL-1 fans at 1020 RPM; top panel: standard 200 mm fan at 400 RPM);
  • Control and monitoring panel: Zalman ZM-MFC3;
  • Power supply: Xigmatek “No Rules Power” NRP-HC1501 1500 W (with a default 140 mm fan);
  • Monitor: 27” Samsung S27A850D.

In order to lower the dependence of the graphics cards performance on the overall platform speed, I overclocked our 32 nm six-core CPU with the multiplier set at 37x, BCLK frequency set at 125 MHz and “Load-Line Calibration” enabled to 4.625 GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.46 V in the mainboard BIOS:

Hyper-Threading technology was enabled. 16 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 2 GHz frequency with 9-10-10-28 timings and 1.65V voltage.

The test session started on June 22, 2012. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:

The latest Catalyst drivers didn’t boost the performance of the Radeon HD 79xx graphics cards that much, which was definitely not the case with the new GeForce driver version 304.38. Except for two-three applications from the list of utilized benchmarks, the performance in all other tests improved stably by 2~3%, and in Crysis 2, Batman: Arkham City and all synthetic tests the improvement was as high as 5% or more in individual test modes and test resolutions. On top of that they also fixed the bug in Total War: Shogun 2 game, so that all GeForce GTX 6xx cards now run much better (up to +60%) in this game. So, it would be fair to day that Nvidia is well prepared to welcome the new AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition properly.

The graphics cards were tested in two resolutions: 1920x1080 and 2560x1440. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “Quality+AF16x” – default texturing quality in the drivers with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “Quality+ AF16x+MSAA 4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen 4x or 8x antialiasing if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panels of Catalyst and GeForce drivers. We also disabled Vsync there. There were no other changes in the driver settings.

The list of games and applications used in this test session includes two popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suites, one technical demo and 15 games of various genres:

  • 3DMark Vantage (DirectX 10) – version 1.0.2.1, Performance and Extreme profiles (only basic tests);
  • 3DMark 2011 (DirectX 11) – version 1.0.3.0, Performance and Extreme profiles;
  • Unigine Heaven Demo (DirectX 11) – version 3.0, maximum graphics quality settings, tessellation at “extreme”, AF16x, 1280x1024 resolution with MSAA and  1920x1080 with MSAA 8x;
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (DirectX 11) – version 1.6.02, Enhanced Dynamic DX11 Lighting profile with all parameters manually set at their maximums, we used our custom cop03 demo on the Backwater map;
  • Left 4 Dead 2 (DirectX 9) – version 2.1.0.4, maximum graphics quality settings, proprietary d98 demo (two runs) on “Death Toll” map of the “Church” level;
  • Metro 2033: The Last Refuge (DirectX 10/11) - version 1.2, maximum graphics quality settings, official benchmark, “High” image quality settings; tesselation, DOF and MSAA4x disabled; AAA aliasing enabled, two consecutive runs of the “Frontline” scene;
  • Just Cause 2 (DirectX 11) - version 1.0.0.2, maximum quality settings, Background Blur and GPU Water Simulation disabled, two consecutive runs of the “Dark Tower” demo;
  • Aliens vs. Predator (2010) (DirectX 11) – Texture Quality “Very High”, Shadow Quality “High”, SSAO On, two test runs in each resolution;
  • Lost Planet 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, maximum graphics quality settings, motion blur enabled, performance test “B” (average in all three scenes);
  • StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty (DirectX 9) – version 1.4.3, all image quality settings at “Extreme”, Physics at “Ultra”, reflections On, two 2-minute runs of our own “bench2” demo;
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization V (DirectX 11) – version 1.0.1.348, maximum graphics quality settings, two runs of the “diplomatic” benchmark including five heaviest scenes;
  • Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.04, maximum graphics quality settings, shadows On, tessellation Off (not available on Radeon), two runs of the test scene;
  • Total War: Shogun 2 (DirectX 11) – version 2.0, built in benchmark (Sekigahara battle) at maximum graphics quality settings;
  • Crysis 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.9, we used Adrenaline Crysis 2 Benchmark Tool v.1.0.1.13. BETA with “Ultra High” graphics quality profile and activated HD textures, two runs of a demo recorded on “Times Square” level;
  • Hard Reset Demo (DirectX 9) – benchmark built into the demo version with Ultra image quality settings, one test run;
  • Batman: Arkham City (DirectX 11) – version 1.2, maximum graphics quality settings, physics disabled, two sequential runs of the benchmark built into the game.
  • Battlefield 3 (DirectX 11) – version 1.4, all image quality settings set to “Ultra”, two successive runs of a scripted scene from the beginning of the “Going Hunting” mission 110 seconds long;
  • DiRT Showdown (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, built-in benchmark at maximum graphics quality settings (“Ultra” preset) on the “Nevada” track.

If the game allowed recording the minimal fps readings, they were also added to the charts. We ran each game test or benchmark twice and took the best result for the diagrams, but only if the difference between them didn’t exceed 1%. If it did exceed 1%, we ran the tests at least one more time to achieve repeatability of results.

 
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