AMD Radeon HD 7970 vs. Nvidia GeForce GTX 680, Take Two

Josh Norem

We test the latest Beta drivers to see who is the single-GPU champ

Earlier this year both AMD and Nvidia released all-new 28nm GPUs, resulting in AMD taking the single-GPU performance crown momentarily with its HD 7970 before Nvidia swiped it away a few months later with its GeForce GTX 680 . It’s been awhile since we’ve even thought about either of these cards as we’ve been busy testing their binned counterparts for most of the year, but this past week AMD released a new Beta driver that it claims provides "significant" performance improvements for its already-potent HD 7000 series cards. Just one day later Nvidia pounced, releasing its own Beta driver which also claimed to boost performance in a wide variety of popular titles. This happens all the time; as soon as one manufacturer holds an advantage the other strikes back in order to help drag the performance crown back to its own camp, typically via an overclocked card, improved drivers, or both.

EVGA’s GTX 680 card is a bit boring to look at but it certainly makes up for it with sizzlin’ performance.

The difference this time is that AMD is not only claiming its new driver offers a substantial performance improvement, but it’s also throwing in a killer game bundle for its 7000 series cards as well, and prices have also dropped quite a bit since launch. All these factors could make quite a compelling case to go GPU shopping in the AMD aisle during the holiday buying season. But then again, all this could be trumped by the fact that the Nvidia card is still faster despite not having a game bundle to motivate shoppers. And maybe Nvidia’s newest drivers would wipe out any performance gain AMD might have achieved with its newest driver as well. With new drivers from both manufacturers on-hand, and the holiday season around the corner, it was clear we had to retest both cards with the newest drivers to see where the two cards stand.

We’d normally roll our eyes at a “gaming bundle” but this one’s legit — 3 AAA titles with any HD 7970 is a great deal (unless you’re not into shooters).

Benchmarks

2560x1600

1900x1200

Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition in an Asus P9X79 motherboard with 16GB of DDR3/1600 and an AX1200 Corsair PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows Ultimate. All games are run at their noted resolution with 4XAA except for the 3DMark tests.

Conclusion

With both Beta drivers loaded on our Core i7-3960X test bed we fired them up and ran through our standard testing gauntlet at both 2560x1600 and 1900x1200 resolution to see what difference the new drivers would make in the cards' performance.  As you can see from the benchmarks the two cards are excruciatingly close, enough to almost call it a draw — almost. The HD 7970 takes victory in five out of nine games at 2560x1600 and in six out of nine games at 1900x1200, but the GTX 680 takes the cake in our synthetic benchmarks. Also, two were very close in every test we ran with the exception of Borderlands 2 which makes liberal use of PhysX effects to shower you with debris every second of the game. The AMD card simply chugged in scenes with heavy PhysXeffects, so if Borderlands 2 is your game there's no question Nvidia's cards are superior at this time. For the other games though it was a nail-biter, with the advantage going to the HD 7970. That alone might not be enough to bring you over to the red team, but adding to the AMD card’s attractiveness is the fact that it is throwing in free copies of Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs right now. Whether or not all of this will be enough to move some HD 7000 series cards remains to be seen, but one thing is certain — AMD is certainly putting up one heck of a fight.

Note: This story was updated to reflect lowered prices on the Radeon HD 7970.

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