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Asus GeForce GTX 690 Review

SLI speeds on a single card

Hello, gorgeous. That’s what we said when we first laid eyes on Nvidia’s reference design for the GeForce GTX 690, which combines two full 28nm GK104 GPUs into one PCB and covers them with the best-looking cooling shroud we’ve seen on any videocard. Our in-depth analysis of the reference card can be found in our August 2012 issue, but we can’t verdictize a reference card. If you’re wondering how this Asus GTX 690 differs from the reference card Nvidia sent us, wonder no more: It’s exactly the same, except the edges of the PCB are a slightly different color.

Still gorgeous. Still massive.

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How to Build a Small Gaming PC

This small gaming PC isn't as wee as our Wee Ass-Kicking Machine, but it kicks more ass

Way back in December 2010, we built an awesome Mini-ITX gaming rig dubbed the Wee Ass-Kicking Machine. It featured a Core i7-870 CPU, a GeForce GTX 460 GPU, 4GB of DDR3, a 1TB hard drive, and a 120GB SSD—all crammed into a Silverstone SG07 chassis not much larger than a shoebox. The total cost? Around $1,600 (at the time).

It’s, uh, been a while since then, though, and I thought it was high time we built another Mini-ITX gaming rig. This one’s not quite as small, but it’s got a lot more oomph. We’re using the BitFenix Prodigy, which has room for a full-size ATX PSU, scads of hard drives, and even a 240mm radiator (if you swing that way), while still being small enough to be lugged around by its convenient carrying handles.

Bitfenix

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XFX Radeon HD 7850 Black Edition Review

Outsized performance from a midrange card

The $250 price point is where the hardcore and the serious gamer part ways. It’s not that hardcore gamers aren’t serious—it’s that they sometimes lose perspective, willing to throw vast, silly sums of money at shiny high-end GPUs. Serious gamers know that a good $250 graphics card will buy you high frame rates on standard, 1080p displays without requiring a second mortgage.

XFX’s “Ghost” fan shrouds are easy on the eyes, but they don’t vary much from card to card

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Asus GeForce GTX 670 DirectCU II TOP Review

More power than a stock GTX 680

Every GPU generation has its flagship videocards: the ones with the top-of-the-line GPU with all cores enabled, loaded for bear. In this generation, those cards are Nvidia’s GTX 680 (with a full GK104 GPU inside) and AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 (with a full Tahiti GPU). These cards are monstrously fast, but they’re also expensive and tricky to manufacture. Not all parts come off the line fully functional. So a few months after each flagship GPU launch, the vendors come out with a slightly stripped-down version that uses binned top-end GPUs with a few parts disabled, or lower clock speeds. AMD’s Radeon HD 7950, for example, uses the same GPU as the 7970, but with 28 GCN units instead of 32, and with an 800MHz reference clock instead of 925MHz. The cheaper, lower-powered video cards appeal both to gamers with shallower pockets and also to vendors, who clock those stripped-down, less expensive GPUs right back up to within spitting distance of their full-powered peers. Thus we arrive at the Asus GeForce GTX 670 DirectCU II TOP, a factory-overclocked GTX 670 with a custom cooling solution.

The DirectCU II cooler’s three direct-contact heat pipes keep the GPU cool.