NVIDIA's next-gen GPUs sure took their sweet time arriving, but the first of the Kepler crew is finally available in stores and its 28nm silicon is just itching to show off what it can do. You may be wondering what the 2GB GeForce GTX 680 brings to the gaming table, and whether it'll put an end to AMD's free run at the top of the food chain. Well, NVIDIA now claims it has "the fastest GPU in the world", with both lower power consumption and a 10-40 percent performance advantage over AMD's single-GPU rival, the Radeon HD 7970, at 1920 x 1080. How can it back up such a boast? Ultimately, everything hinges on independent benchmarks (coming soon in our review round-up), but in the meantime we need to look at NVIDIA's new architecture for clues. Intrigued? Then head on past the break.
First, the GTX 680 has a GPU Boost feature that automatically increases the clock speed when the GPU isn't fully taxed. You see, GPUs are designed with a thermal power limit (TPL), and they often operate well beneath that limit -- the new boost technology simply leverages that TPL headroom to increase the clock speed, while still keeping the card running within its tolerances.
As explained in the video below, this is all done with real-time hardware monitoring and it means that NVIDIA no longer has to factory-set its cards to a fixed, 'safe' clock speed that will work even in poorly cooled environments. For example, the GTX 680 has a base clock speed of 1GHz, but GPU Boost can increase that by 10 percent when needed, while packaged overclocking utilities will let you notch up the clock / voltage curve even further to readily achieve 1.2GHz, so long as your over-sized fans or water pipes are doing their job.
Kepler also utilizes NVIDIA's new Adaptive VSync technology to keep your fragging sessions as smooth as possible. The tech enables the GPU to dynamically switch on VSync when frame rates are above 60fps -- to keep rendering in lock step with your monitor's refresh rate -- and switch VSync off when frame rates drop below 60fps in order to reduce the image stuttering that would normally occur were it left on. Lastly, Kepler can utilize an improved anti-aliasing algorithm, called TXAA, to smooth out onscreen polygons better than ever before without sacrificing gaming performance. See the results for yourself in the gallery below.
What does all that tech do in real world situations? Well, during GDC 2012, the company showed one GeForce GTX 680 card running a stunning demo of the game Samaritan that just a year ago demanded three GTX 580 cards just to play. With three times as many CUDA cores as the Fermi-based GTX 580 but greater efficiency due to the 28nm process, the Kepler hurtled through the demo with almost a quarter of the power and heat radiation.
Now, we're talking about a top-level GPU here, with sufficient guts to power four displays at once (twice as many as Fermi) and a hefty price tag to match -- a £429 confirmed MSRP in the UK and likely in the same $500 ballpark as the GTX 580 in the States (Update: $499). But of course, it won't be the only card in the new stack. NVIDIA's got plenty of capable cousins in the Kepler family tree that include not only other desktop GPUs awaiting their own no-doubt imminent launches, but mobile models too.
The company says we'll see Kepler in many laptops this year, and not just in purpose-built gaming rigs, either -- Jen-hsun's crew promises to put the 600 series in regular laptops and even Ultrabooks, and let us play Battlefield 3 on them. To that end, NVIDIA has been working with OEMs to design the most thermally efficient laptop chassis designs possible to best take advantage of Kepler's GPU boost capabilities. We're not convinced that a true Ultrabook can deliver a good gaming experience, but we're currently reviewing Acer's Timeline Ultra M3 with a GeForce GT 640M onboard, so we'll know soon enough if Kepler can keep that promise in a thin and light laptop. Stay tuned.
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NVIDIA Launches First GeForce GPUs Based on Next-Generation
GeForce GTX 680 for PC Gamers is Fastest, Most Efficient GPU Ever Built; GeForce GT 640M for Notebooks Puts the "Ultra" in Ultrabooks
SANTA CLARA, Calif.-March 22, 2012-NVIDIA today launched the first GPUs based on its next-generation Kepler™ graphics architecture, which deliver dramatic gaming performance and exceptional levels of power efficiency.
The result of some 1.8 million man-hours of work over five years, the Kepler architecture's first offerings bring unprecedented technical capabilities to both gaming desktops and Ultrabooks.
For desktop gaming, the NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 680 GPU provides a faster, smoother and richer experience. For notebooks, the new lineup of GeForce 600M GPUs puts the "ultra" in Ultrabooks, enabling smaller, more powerful designs than were previously possible. Both are available immediately.
"The Kepler architecture stands as NVIDIA's greatest technical achievement to date," said Brian Kelleher, senior vice president of GPU engineering at NVIDIA. "It brings enormous performance and exceptional efficiency. Gamers will love the GTX 680's performance, as well as the fact that it doesn't require loud fans or exotic power supplies. Ultrabook users will love the GT 600M family for its performance and power efficiency."
Kepler is based on 28-nanometer (nm) process technology and succeeds the 40-nm NVIDIA Fermi architecture, which was first introduced into the market in March 2010.
GeForce GTX 680: A Marriage of Speed and Extreme Efficiency
The GeForce GTX 680 GPU brings impressive performance and extreme efficiency to the desktop gaming market, delivering a quiet, smooth, extremely fast experience.
Compared with the closest competitive product, the GeForce GTX 680 GPU is more than 300 percent faster in DirectX 11 tessellation performance(1) and up to 43 percent faster in cutting-edge games such as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim(2), yet consumes 28 percent less power(3). It also provides twice the performance per watt of the GeForce GTX 580, the flagship Fermi-based processor that it replaces.
Setting the standard for future enthusiast-class GPUs, the GeForce GTX 680 is built on an array of new technologies, including:
· A new streaming multiprocessor block, known as SMX, that delivers twice the performance per watt of previous-generation products
· Special board components, including acoustic dampeners, high-efficiency heat pipes and custom fins, that create a quiet gaming experience
· NVIDIA GPU Boost technology, which dynamically adjusts GPU speeds to maximize gaming performance
· New FXAA and TXAA antialiasing and Adaptive VSync technologies to enrich visual quality without compromising gaming performance
· Support for up to four separate displays – three of them in 3D – off a single card for a massive 3D gaming experience
· Manufactured on TSMC's new 28-nm process, with support for PCI-E Gen 3 and DX11.1
Kelt Reeves, president of Falcon Northwest, a leading producer of high-end gaming systems, said: "The GTX 680 lays down what should be whiplash-inducing speed at the sound of a whisper. Even at full throttle, it doesn't heat up. In the immortal words of Obi-Wan describing a lightsaber, it's 'an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.'"
Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, creators of the award-winning Unreal Engine and billion-dollar "Gears of War" franchise, said: "The GTX 680 is amazing and completely redefines what an enthusiast-class GPU is. We have already shown outstanding success with the GTX 680, recently presenting our real-time Samaritan demonstration running on it along with a special preview of Unreal Engine 4 for select developers."
GeForce 600M GPU Family: Putting the "Ultra" In Ultrabooks
The NVIDIA GeForce 600M family of GPUs, when paired with the latest processor technology from Intel, enables Ultrabook and notebook PC designs that are thin, light and fast. Technological advances that set them apart from the competition include:
· NVIDIA Optimus™ technology enables extra-long battery life by automatically switching the GPU on and off so it runs only when needed
· NVIDIA Verde™ notebook drivers provide frequent performance improvements and rock-solid stability
· NVIDIA PhysX® engine support brings games to life with realistic physics
· Optional NVIDIA 3D Vision™ technology automatically converts more than 650 titles into immersive 3D
· Optional NVIDIA 3DTV Play™ software connects 3D Vision-based notebooks to 3D TVs
· NVIDIA SLI® technology links two NVIDIA GTX GPUs up to double gaming performance
"The Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 brings a superior level of performance to the Ultrabook category," said Sumit Agnihotry, vice president of product marketing at Acer America. "With a GeForce GPU onboard, our thin and light Ultrabook does everything our customers want it to do, with no compromises."
Rene Haas, general manager of notebook products at NVIDIA, said: "Customers are about to see notebook manufacturers unveil a host of Ultrabooks that are truly worthy of the 'ultra' moniker. The more efficient and powerful GeForce 600M GPUs will raise performance from the Ultrabook segment all the way up to gaming notebooks. And they will be the most popular discrete GPUs used with Intel's upcoming Ivy Bridge processor."
Availability The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 GPU is available now from the world's leading add-in card suppliers, including ASUS, EVGA, Gainward, KFA2 (Galaxy), Gigabyte, Inno3D, MSI, Palit, Point of View, PNY, Sparkle and Zotac. Expected pricing is £429.
The following manufacturers will be shipping Ultrabooks and notebooks based on the GeForce 600M family of GPUs: Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.
For more information about the new GeForce GTX 680, please visit http://www.geforce.com/News/articles/introducing-the-geforce-gtx-680-gpu. For more information about GeForce 600M-Series GPUs, please visit: http://www.geforce.com/News/articles/geforce-600m-notebooks-efficient-and-powerful.
Sharif Sakr contributed to this report.