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Power consumption

These power consumption numbers aren't quite what we'd expected, based on prior experience. Driving three monitors appears to change the math in some cases. For example, the Radeon HD 7970's ZeroCore power feature evidently doesn't work with three displays attached. Both the single 7970 and the primary card in our CrossFire team refused to enter the ZeroCore state when the display dropped into power-save mode. Their fans never stopped spinning. Not only that, but the idle power consumption numbers for a single 7970 are quite a bit higher than we saw with a single display attached. (And we're not measuring the display power consumption here, just the PC's power draw at the wall socket.) We're also not sure why the GeForce GTX 680 SLI rig pulled more power with the display in power-save mode, but it did.

Given everything, the GTX 690's power consumption is remarkably low, both when idle and when running Skyrim across three displays, which is how we tested under load. Our GTX 690-based test system pulled fully 100W less than the same system with a GTX 590 installed.

Noise levels and GPU temperatures

The GTX 690's acoustic profile is, if anything, even more impressive than its power draw numbers. Nvidia's new dual-GPU card achieves noise levels very similar to a single GeForce GTX 680, which is one of the quieter cards on the market. The 690 doesn't come by its low decibel readings cheaply, either—it maintains lower GPU temperatures under load than almost anything else we tested.

If you're wondering about why the single Radeon HD 7970 produced higher noise levels and higher temperatures than the 7970 CrossFire config, well, so am I. Some of the issue, I think, is that we have an asymmetrical CrossFire team, with different coolers on the two cards. Somehow, using them together produces a different fan speed policy, it seems. Also, of course, noise is not additive, so putting in a second card doesn't always lead straightforwardly to higher decibel readings. Another contributor may be relatively higher GPU utilization in the single-card config, since 7970 CrossFire performance doesn't appear to scale well in Skyrim. We may have to try testing with a different game next time.