Asus DirectCU II Top Reviews: GeForce GTX 680 vs Radeon HD 7970

Josh Norem

Two overclocked flagship video cards go head to head one last time

Over the past year, the GeForce GTX 680 and the Radeon HD 7970 have served as the respective flagship GPUs for each of their camps, and even though both cards seem a bit like well-aged cheese by now, they are still fast. There have also been quite a few driver updates since these cards were released, so we've decided to pit two of the overclocked versions against one another in a battle royale to settle this feud once and for all. Fighters, touch circuit boards and come out of your PCI Express corners. It's time to get it on!

Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP

There are many flavors of GeForce GTX 680 out in the wild, from cards that have only modified the reference design with pretty stickers to this heavily mutated bad boy from Asus . For those not familiar with Asus nomenclature, this is the DirectCU II version of the GTX 680, meaning it features a heat pipe and fan-based cooler approximately the size of mainland China. The cooler utilizes five copper heat pipes that make direct contact with the GK104 Kepler GPU. The heat pipes fan out above the GPU and to the edge of the card, sending the heat they've collected into two separate heatsinks. Twin 100mm fans then blow into the heatsinks, exhausting the warm air outside of the chassis. It's a superb design that we've lavished praise on before because, even though it's a bit large, it works extremely well, and keeps the GPU just the way we like it—cool and quiet. Asus claims a noise reduction of 14dB compared to the reference design prepared by Nvidia , and we believe it even though we don’t specifically measure sound output. All this cooling takes up a bit of space, though, and this card's triple-slot design makes it the biggest GTX 680 ever to grace our test bench.

The Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP’s name is almost as long as the 11-inch card.

Some of you might be asking, "But wait, the GTX 680 already runs cool and quiet, so why is a cooler the size of Gordon Mah Ung’s anger management therapy bill required in this situation?" That's a good question, and the answer is in the second part of our nomenclature lesson, which is the word TOP in the card's name, which means it's overclocked like a son-of-a-gun to the tune of 112MHz over stock speeds at 1,137MHz. Its Boost Clock gets a gentle massage all the way up to 1,201MHz, as well. Memory is not overclocked, however. The card also comes with Asus's GPU Tweak software that lets you not only monitor the card's temps, fan speeds, voltages, and clock speeds, but also manually adjust all those values. The card even supports an Asus-exclusive feature called VGA Hotwire that’s also supported on several Asus motherboards (it has to be supported on both to work). It lets you adjust the GPU's voltage once you've soldered several wires that run from the motherboard to the video card's PCB. This allows for control at a hardware level instead of using software, and is designed for extreme overclocking enthusiasts, to put it mildly.

During testing, the overclocked Asus GTX 680 held a crystal-clear advantage over the overclocked Radeon HD 7970, which might not be too surprising to you, but it was a surprise to us. When we tested these same video cards (not these exact cards, but reference models at stock clock speeds) just a few months ago using the latest beta drivers from each manufacturer, it was a photo finish in practically every test, with AMD holding a very slight advantage. This was a distinct coup for AMD, which had always trailed Nvidia in these comparisons previously, and it all came down to drivers, essentially. AMD had released its beta 12.11 drivers, claiming they made a significant impact on performance, and they were right.

Perhaps it's fitting then, that this time around it is most likely drivers that have put Nvidia ahead, as we tested this card with the 310.70 version of the drivers, which were released about a month after the 12.10 drivers we used to test the Radeon card. As we were going to press, Nvidia released another version of its drivers numbered 310.90, claiming even further improvements, but they arrived too close to deadline for us to test them. However, the advantage Nvidia holds is clear, both in the benchmark numbers and frequency of driver updates. Drivers are clearly a weak point for AMD, and in this face-off it most likely made all the difference.

We should point out that the Asus card was totally silent at all times during testing, a remarkable feat given its overclocked status and its superb performance. It beat the AMD card in every test except Metro, where it lost by one frame per second, so not much of a loss, really. The numbers don't lie, though, and as we close the book on this era of GPUs, the crown goes to the green camp, and we'll award a crown to Asus too, for making the fastest, and most silent, GTX 680 we've ever tested.

Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP
A Huge Board

Fast; totally silent at all times; GPU Tweak software.

Being Bored

Massively huge and heavy, skimpy bundle.

$540, www.asus.com

Asus Radeon HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP

In the game of high-stakes poker known as the GPU industry, once a manufacturer reveals its hand, it then waits for the competition to do the same. If the competing manufacturer reveals a more powerful or desirable alternative, due to a combination of price, performance, noise, or all three, the other manufacturer will oftentimes update its lineup with a new Extreme Titanium Platinum FTW Balls-to-the-Wall Edition, which is usually mildly overclocked. We've seen both Nvidia and AMD do this in the past, but in this particular round it's been AMD pulling this maneuver with its GHz edition of the HD 7970. The original HD 7970 shipped with a 925MHz core clock speed, and in order to gain a bit of an edge on the suddenly dominant GeForce GTX 680, or at least attempt to match its performance, AMD overclocked its flagship board to 1GHz and released the Radeon-based Kraken. It achieved its goal, too, as the GHz edition of the card was, for the most part, as fast as the GTX 680, or at least the two were close enough to move the argument away from performance to price and other considerations. Unfortunately for AMD, once people began to consider other factors, such as noise and heat, Nvidia still held the edge with its power-sipping Kepler architecture. While third-party manufacturers can't do much about the card's power output, they could certainly change its noise profile, and that's exactly what Asus has done by adding its sizable DirectCU II cooler to this card.

The Asus HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP’s triple-slot design is an amazing thing to not hear at all.

In the game of high-stakes poker known as the GPU industry, once a manufacturer reveals its hand, it then waits for the competition to do the same. If the competing manufacturer reveals a more powerful or desirable alternative, due to a combination of price, performance, noise, or all three, the other manufacturer will oftentimes update its lineup with a new Extreme Titanium Platinum FTW Balls-to-the-Wall Edition, which is usually mildly overclocked. We've seen both Nvidia and AMD do this in the past, but in this particular round it's been AMD pulling this maneuver with its GHz edition of the HD 7970. The original HD 7970 shipped with a 925MHz core clock speed, and in order to gain a bit of an edge on the suddenly dominant GeForce GTX 680, or at least attempt to match its performance, AMD overclocked its flagship board to 1GHz and released the Radeon-based Kraken. It achieved its goal, too, as the GHz edition of the card was, for the most part, as fast as the GTX 680, or at least the two were close enough to move the argument away from performance to price and other considerations. Unfortunately for AMD, once people began to consider other factors, such as noise and heat, Nvidia still held the edge with its power-sipping Kepler architecture. While third-party manufacturers can't do much about the card's power output, they could certainly change its noise profile, and that's exactly what Asus has done by adding its sizable DirectCU II cooler to this card.

Like the GTX 680, this card is also overclocked a bit and runs at 1,000MHz, which is 75MHz over its stock speeds. Its memory also has a teeny, tiny overclock up to 1,400MHz from 1,375MHz. The card includes four Display Port connectors along with one single-link DVI port and one dual-link DVI port, giving it a distinct advantage in the multiple-displays department, and allowing you to run all six displays using AMD’s Eyefinity setup for multi-monitor gaming.

During testing, the Asus card showed a mild advantage over the reference design, pulling a few frames per second out of its red-and-black hat in each test. In two games in particular, though—Dirt 3 and Far Cry 2— we saw the most improvement, though in Metro we’re still stuck in the sub-20fps region, which is simply ridiculous but not the fault of the cards, obviously. Given its overclocked nature, it's not too surprising that it's faster than the reference design, but what's most impressive is how utterly silent the card is at all times; a marked improvement over the reference design, and all other HD 7970s we've ever tested. Sadly, the Radeon card still gets its lunch eaten by the GTX 680 in almost every benchmark, and not just by one or two frames but by enough to make it clear which card is faster. As we stated in the GTX review, it could be down to drivers, as we used the 12.10 drivers for these tests, which are the latest "official" drivers. The 12.11 drivers have been in beta for a while now and might have turned the tide had they been released, but we don't test with beta drivers, so for now the crown goes to the green camp. To be clear, this is the best version of the HD 7970 we've tested in this generation of cards, but given its performance deficit to the GTX 680, we're forced to withhold a Kick Ass award for now. Let's hope the company can reclaim one very soon with its HD 8000 series GPUs.

Asus Radeon HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP
Heat Pipe

Whisper quiet; as fast as GHz edition; GPU Tweak software; runs six displays.

Crack Pipe

Expensive; not as fast as the GTX 680 in our tests.

$490, www.asus.com

Specifications

Asus GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP
Asus Radeon HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP Reference Radeon HD 7970 Reference GTX 680
3DMark 2011 Performance 10,886
8,700 8,337 9,555
Unigine Heaven 2.5 (fps)
33.1
28.9 28.7 31.2
Shogun 2 (fps)
37.8
29.6 25.7 29.8
Far Cry 2 / Long (fps) 118.6 97.4 91.6 107.3
Dirt 3 (fps)
79.3
75.2 70.5 72.9
Metro 2033 (fps) 17 18.6 18.6 16.3
STALKER: CoP SunShade (fps) 41.5 40.2 38.7 34.3
Just Cause 2 (fps) 57.71 53.1 51 54.7
Batman: Arkham City (fps) 66 62 60 58
Catzilla 5,690 4,427 4,218 4,880
Base Clock 1,137MHz 1,000MHz 925MHz 925MHz
Boost Clock 1,201MHz N/A N/A 1,000MHz
Memory Clock 6,008MHz 5,600MHz 5,500MHz 6,000MHz

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 a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050w PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows Ultimate. All games are run at 2560x1600 with 4xAA except for the 3DMark tests.

Around the web

by CPMStar (Sponsored) Free to play

Comments