Is a GTX 590 just not enough for you?
ASUS first showed off the MARS II graphics cards back in June at Computex in Taipei and now it is finally ready for your wandering eye!
A Legacy of Unique Engineering
ASUS has often been one of only a handful of companies that really pushes the limits of technology on their custom designed products including graphics cards, sound cards, notebooks, motherboards and more. Just a little over a year ago I wrote a review of the ASUS ARES Dual Radeon HD 5870 graphics card – the first of its kind and it was labeled the "Ultimate Graphics Card" at the time. Life on the top of mountain doesn’t last that long in the world of the GPU though and time (and the GTX 590 and HD 6990) left the Greek god of war in the rearview mirror.
This time around we have a successor to the MARS – the NVIDIA version that combines two top-level GPUs on a single PCB. The new ASUS MARS II we are reviewing today is a pair of binned GTX 580 GPUs paired together for full-time SLI and built with a limited edition run of 999 units. In many ways the MARS II and the ARES share a lot of traits: custom designed cooling and PCB, a unique aesthetic design, limited edition status and significant physical weight as well. Of course, the price tag is also pretty high and if you aren’t comfortable reading about a $1300 graphics card you might as well turn around now… For those that dare though, you can be sure that the MARS II will have you dreaming about PC gaming power for years to come!
The ASUS MARS II Graphics Card
Interestingly, having just finished our review of the ASUS ROG Matrix GTX 580 card this week, we are quite prepared to discuss the benefits and traits of ASUS Republic of Gamers lineage.
The other current top-end dual-GPU graphics cards available on the market are the Radeon HD 6990 and the GeForce GTX 590 and the ASUS MARS II trumps them both – by the company’s claims with a 22% performance edge. We’ll of course test that in our own benchmarking. What makes the design of the MARS II more impressive though are the combination of the DirectCU II cooler, 21-phase power control and the newly revised GPUTweak software that allows for really good monitoring and overclocking actions.
Without much discussion it should be obvious that the ASUS MARS II graphics card is HUGE – take a look at the image above and see where the brackets for the case retention sit. If you don’t have a pretty sizeable case you are going to want to double and triple check your measurements before placing and order for this card. For those that want the exact details the MARS II measures 13-in long by 6.2-in tall by 2.5-in thick.
One thing that I will say here is that I am not a big fan of the design. While the ASUS ARES was very sleek and sexy with sharp edges, the MARS II looks very boxy and most people when first seeing it call it "the brick" which isn’t usually a compliment. Normally we put aesthetics on the very furthest back burner for graphics cards but when you are shelling out $1300 for a card you might make more of it that most users.
The back of the card shows the back plate that helps cool the memory as well as protecting the PCB from any kind of ancillary damage. You can also see the two SAP CAPs that keep noise on the card low for improved stability and overclocking.
Power design on the MARS II is impressive with a 21-phase implementation though the single-GPU Matrix GTX 580 we reviewed earlier in the week from ASUS has a 19-phase design of its own. The Super Alloy Power capacitors are directly behind the GPUs on this card and this gives the MARS II an advantage for overclocking margin.
Another interesting note is that ASUS has removed the power limiter that existed in the GTX 590 so you are free to run Furmark and destroy your hardware to your heart’s content! Be careful of course – but this does add to the overclocking flexibility of the MARS II.
Ahh, external connections! The MARS II sports a pair of dual-link DVI connections, a full-size HDMI port and a full-size DisplayPort connection – almost identical to the configuration seen on the ROG Matrix GTX 580. Unlike the Matrix card though, the MARS II can support NVIDIA Surround and 3D Vision Surround using the two DVI ports and the HDMI port. Hopefully users that are going to pay this amount for a new card either have or are looking into the possibility of multi-display gaming; we really love it here.
I do kind of wish that the card would have had three DVI outputs so that it could have supported three 30-in panels for Surround gaming. As it is now you are limited to a set of three 1080p displays, while even though it is much more likely to be utilized, doesn’t give us the option to move on to bigger and better things.
Make sure you note that this card uses THREE back panel slots and to make sure your motherboard configuration will work with any other accessories or add-in cards you want to include in your build.
Yes, this card WILL support SLI with another MARS II card and, in theory, another GTX 580 for 3-Way SLI configurations if your motherboard has the right layout for it.
Rated at 600 watts (!!), the ASUS MARS II does require a lot of juice from your power supply. ASUS recommends having at least a 1000 watt unit though in my testing getting over 700 watts consumption required some overclocking; obviously ASUS is preparing you for the worst case scenario. For power connections the MARS II requires three 8-pin connectors and most power supplies of that capability should have the necessary outputs.
Simply put, the ASUS MARS II is a beast; we have an entire page coming up that is dedicated to showing the card compared to OTHER cards you might have reference with like the standard GTX 580, GTX 590, Radeon HD 6990 and more.
Because of the size issues in fact, ASUS even went as far to as create a support system for the card that sticks to the bottom of the MARS II and keeps it level rather than have extra stress put on the PCB itself when installed in a system the normal way. These are optional (though I recommend you install them) and are basically rubber pads with double sided tape on them.
Taking the exploded view of the ASUS MARS II, the PCB design and cooling infrastructure is impressive both for its efficient and that it fits in as small of an area as it does. There are two heatpipes and dual 120mm fans that push as much as 220 CFM across the card.
This gives MARS II 600% more airflow than the GTX 590 while still running at lower noise levels; something our testing verified.
In this naked photo of the MARS II you can see the 21-phase power circuitry that litters the middle of the PCB and keeps the powerful GTX 580s fed with consistent and reliable power for intense gaming and even some overclocking (as we’ll show you later).
Now, for the details you have been waiting for – the product specifications. The GPUs are clocked at 782 MHz core speed each with 1.5 GB of GDDR5 memory running at 1002 MHz. Everything else is right where you would expect it to be and if you are still interested in the MARS II then I am guessing you are familiar with what makes the GTX 580 one of the best GPUs on the market.