GPU Testbed – Sandy Bridge-E, X79, New Games

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review (and all those going forward) we decided it was high time we replaced the somewhat dated Nehalem-based infrastructure (even though honestly, it was fast enough) with something a bit more current.  Obviously that meant going with the new Intel Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 motherboard.  By combining support for 40 PCI Express lanes and 3-4 full size GPU slots it makes for the perfect GPU base.

From this point on, our reviews will based around the following system:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard
  • Corsair DDR3-1600 4 x 4GB Vengeance memory
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor HDD
  • 1200 watt Corsair Professional Series power supply
  • Windows 7 SP1 x64

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The ASUS P9X79 Pro

The Intel Core i7-3960X gives us the fastest consumer-level CPU on the market to help eliminate the possibility of any processor-based bottlenecks in our testing (whenever possible).  There are still going to be some games that could use more speed (Skyrim comes to mind) but for our purposes this is as good as you get without getting into any kind of overclocked settings.  The ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard has enough space for three dual-slot graphics cards when the time comes for testing 3-Way SLI and CrossFire, and 8 DIMM slots should we want to go up from our current setup of 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory.  

I chose to stick with the 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive rather than an SSD as our total installation size with Windows 7 SP1 x64 and 6+ games was already hitting the 115GB range.  Finally the 1200 watt power supply from Corsair offers up more than enough juice for three power hungry graphics cards while running quietly enough to not throw off our noise testing drastically.

Speaking of noise, for this article we are re-introducing our sound level testing thanks to the Extech 407738 Sound Level Meter capable of monitor decibel ratings as low as 20db.  This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards at PC Perspective.

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Along with the new hardware configuration comes a host of new games.  For this review we will be using the following benchmarks and games for performance evaluation:

  • Battlefield 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • DiRT 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Metro 2033
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • 3DMark11
  • Unigine Heaven v2.5

This collection of games is both current and takes into account several different genres as well – first person role playing, third person action, racing, first person shooting, etc.  3DMark11 and Unigine Heaven give us a way to see how the cards stack up in a more synthetic environment while the real-world gameplay testing provided by the six games completes the performance picture.

With a soaring price tag like $999, the GeForce GTX 690 4GB has few, if any, direct competitors.  We are going to be breaking up the review into two segments: best single graphics card and best dual-GPU solution.  The first is simple, what are the best single cards on the market to go against the GTX 690?  You have the new GTX 680, the Fermi-based GTX 590 dual-GPU card and the dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990.  Both the GTX 590 and the HD 6990 are impossible to find, but they are the reigning kings.

The second comparison will look at the new GTX 690, a pair of individual GTX 680 cards in SLI and a pair of Radeon HD 7970 3GB cards in CrossFire.  

We used the latest driver versions on the HD 7900 cards (Catalyst 12.4) and for NVIDIA’s new GTX 690 we had a pre-release version of the 301.33 driver.  

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • NVIDIA GTX 690 4GB vs GTX 590 3GB and HD 6990 4GB – The battle for the fastest single graphics card in the world starts here…
  • NVIDIA GTX 690 4GB vs GTX 680 SLI – Is there a noticeable performance difference between the single card SLI solution and getting two separate GTX 680 cards and running SLI?
  • NVIDIA GTX 690 4GB vs HD 7970 3GB CrossFire – While we still don’t have a Radeon HD 7990 in our hands, how close does a pair of HD 7970 cards actually get us?  Can the upcoming AMD New Zealend card keep up?

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get on with the results and see how the new Kepler dual-GPU card performs!!

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