The Geforce GTX 590 is a beastly dual-GPU card.  (Source: Anandtech)

Clearly it's a dedicated response to AMD's dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990. Yet, it fails to surpass its competitor, on average, in benchmark performance.  (Source: Anandtech)
Card is obviously a direct response to AMD's Radeon 6990

AMD's dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990 card was a bit of a preposterous preposition to consumers.  It was hot, it was noisy, and it was expensive ($700).  And it offered users less bang for their buck than two individual Radeon HD 6970s.  Still, it was incredibly powerful and offered AMD bragging rights for owning the title of the most powerful single card solution.

NVIDIA wasn't about to let AMD walk away with this useless prize.  So it went and released its own equally over-the-top dual-GPU supercard.

That card is the GeForce GTX 590 and it broke cover today.

I. Specs

The GTX 590 is built on the Fermi architecture and manufactured at a 40 nm process.  It has a pair of GPU chips each with 512 stream processors.  Those 1024 hungry processing units are paired with 3 GB of GDDR5 memory.

The core is clocked at 607 MHz, the shaders are clocked at 1214 MHz, and the memory is clocked at 853 MHz.  The two GPU chips contain 6 billion transistors in total, and are manufactured by Taiwan's TSMC.

The card retails for a whopping $700 USD, $60 USD more than a pair of GeForce GTX 570s.  And the price of special performance models climbs even higher, to $730 USD or more.

II. Performance

The GTX 590 inherits the proud lineage of the dual-GPU GTX 295.  According to AnandTech it earns a virtual draw with the Radeon HD 6990, just 1 percent shy of its mean performance.

Ultimately, what that means is that the two competitors split the field.  In benchmarks of Civilization VDIRT 2, Mass Effect 2, and HAWX NVIDIA's card dominates, according to AnandTech.  AMD dominates Crysis, BattleForge, and especially STALKER: Call of Pripyat.  

This tie is somewhat negated by the fact that AMD's wins are a bit higher quality in so much that it gets better framerates in games which tend to get lower framerates (like Crysis), where as NVIDIA gets ridiculously high framerates in games with already good framerates (like HAWX).  

So perhaps AMD still can claim to hold the performance crown by a narrow margin.

Ultimately the worst thing about NVIDIA's performance is the same as the worst thing about AMD's, though -- the card is beat by a pair of single-GPU cards in SLI that cost less.  Namely, a pair of GeForce GTX 570s appears faster than the GTX 590 in most benchmarks, though they fall to the GTX 590's overclocked variant.

Tom's Hardware and HotHardware offer similar conclusions.

III.  Noise and Heat

You may recall the AMD card was "relatively cool" by this generation's standards, measuring up to 89 degrees Celsius (to be fair, this is "hot" in human terms -- hot enough to cook an egg) during loading exercises.  In gaming the AMD card was cooler than NVIDIA, but in benchmarks the NVIDIA card was cooler, indicating it might run cooler when used for GPU computing

The NVIDIA card edges out AMD's offering in noise by a more substantial margin.  While the Radeon 6990's stock 65 decibels pain the ears, the GTX 590 manages to operate at 57.9 decibels when loaded.  Even the overclocked version only manages to produce 63.1.  This is a bigger difference than you might think as decibels are a logarithmic measurement.

Similar to the heat issue, NVIDIA's card does well on power in benchmarks, but not quite as resoundingly well in gaming.  When running Furmark, the stock model sucks up ~455 watts in average benchmarks, while AMD card pulls ~520 watts.  However, the NVIDIA card consumes roughly 10 more watts when gaming.

IV. Conclusions

While the GTX 590, like its AMD doppelgänger, seems impressive it falls short in that it gets beat by a cheaper package of two cards.  So which ridiculous, overpriced single card is better?  That depends on what you value.

NVIDIA wins on temperature, noise, and power.  AMD arguably still holds the performance crown by a narrow margin.  

That said, the scale might tip in NVIDIA's favor ever so slightly given its card’s CUDA GPU computing capabilities, which are increasingly being used by researchers.

Ultimately, though, despite the shine and allure, this is a card rational customers simply should not buy, outside a few highly specialized scenarios.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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