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Nvidia's GeForce GTX 670 graphics card


The GK104 in platform shoes
— 8:00 AM on May 10, 2012

The new PC hardware releases have been coming at us so fast lately, we haven't been able to keep up. Yes, today marks the introduction of yet another new graphics card, as Nvidia fills out its GeForce GTX 600 series. After posting my GeForce GTX 690 review just yesterday, I had half a mind to delay this review and give myself a breather. But then I realized, hey, that's why God made caffeine.


Nvidia's GeForce GTX 670 reference design. Source: Nvidia

Besides, we wouldn't want to miss this one, because the GeForce GTX 670 is sure to be the most broadly attractive product yet in the 600 series. As you might have cleverly deduced, the GTX 670 is a cheaper, somewhat down-spec version of the mighty GeForce GTX 680, which is itself a pretty darned desirable video card.

GPU
base
clock
(MHz)
GPU
boost
clock
(MHz)
Shader
ALUs
Textures
filtered/
clock
ROP
pixels/
clock
Memory
transfer
rate
Memory
interface
width
(bits)
Peak
power
draw
GeForce GTX 670 915 980 1344 112 32 6 GT/s 256 170W
GeForce GTX 680 1006 1058 1536 128 32 6 GT/s 256 195W

There's no magic to the GTX 670's appeal. Nvidia has dialed back the specifications just a bit versus the GTX 680 and sliced 100 bucks off of the price. Math is fun; do it with me: the GTX 680 lists at $499, so the GTX 670 will sell for $399. That's getting into territory where a lot more folks might feel inclined to justify the expense. The GTX 670 has a chance to be pretty popular.

Those chances are bolstered by the fact that Nvidia's cuts to the GTX670's specifications aren't likely to hurt too much. They've nuked one of the GK104 chip's eight SMX units and reduced clock speeds, but the cuts don't go terribly deep. The GTX 670 still has all 32 ROP units intact, preserving its anti-aliasing power, and its memory interface is still 256-bits wide at 6Gbps, just like the GTX 680. (Frankly, memory bandwidth and ROP rate are two of the places where we'd expect the GK104 GPU to be relatively weak, in the grand scheme of things.) Also helpful: the GTX 670's boost clock is 980MHz, not far from the GTX 680's boost clock of 1058MHz. Although the gap between the two cards' base clocks is a bit larger, the boost clock is probably the more important of the two; it's closer to the GPU's typical operating speed.

All in all, we suspect the GTX 670 may not trail the GTX 680 much at all in real-world performance. Looks to us like Nvidia is positioning itself pretty aggressively against the Radeon HD 7950.

Having said that, we should point out the GTX 670 is still made up of some relatively lightweight hardware. The card's max power draw is rated at only 170W—versus 200W for the Radeon HD 7950—and, well, have a look at the thing.


Source: Nvidia


Source: Nvidia

The board is only about 6.75" inches long, shorter than the world's tolerance for Nickelback. The cooling shroud protrudes to 9.5", like a pair of platform shoes, attempting to keep the GTX 670 from looking like something you'd find in a cut-rate Dell.

Nvidia does expect video card makers to do some nice things with its teensy-weensy reference PCB design, though, including shorter cards intended for small-form-factor enclosures and possibly some single-slot coolers. Board makers will also take things in the other direction, of course, offering higher-clocked variants with beefier cooling.


Source: Nvidia

Here's a picture of a Zotac GTX 670 AMP! card that is purportedly making its way to us right now via an unfortunately slow shipping method. Zotac tells us this puppy will have base and boost clocks of 1098 and 1176MHz, respectively, with 6.6GT/s memory. The performance of this thing is almost certain to eclipse a stock-clocked GeForce GTX 680's, given those numbers. Since Zotac's list price for the GTX 670 AMP! is $449, we think the stock GTX 680 might want to start looking for new employment. The cooler looks like the same snazzy one on Zotac's GTX 680 AMP!, from which we've seen good things. We're eager to test this card once, you know, it makes it here.

Peak pixel
fill rate
(Gpixels/s)
Peak bilinear
filtering
(Gtexels/s)
Peak bilinear
FP16 filtering
(Gtexels/s)
Peak shader
arithmetic
(TFLOPS)
Peak
rasterization
rate
(Mtris/s)
Memory
bandwidth
(GB/s)
GeForce GTX 560 Ti 29 58 58 1.4 1800 134
GeForce GTX 570 29 44 44 1.4 2928 152
GeForce GTX 580 37 49 49 1.6 3088 192
GeForce GTX 670 29 102 102 2.5 3660 192
GeForce GTX 680 32 129 129 3.1 4024 192
Radeon HD 6970 28 85 43 2.7 1780 176
Radeon HD 7870 32 80 40 2.6 2000 154
Radeon HD 7950 26 90 45 2.9 1600 240
Radeon HD 7970 30 118 59 3.8 1850 264

Even if you crunch the numbers based on the card's bone-stock base clock frequency, the GTX 670 looks to be considerably more powerful than Nvidia's prior-gen top-o'-the-line offering, the GeForce GTX 580, in every category but memory bandwidth (a tie) and ROP rate (where the 580's faster). Against the Radeon HD 7950, the comparison becomes complicated in a hurry because both cards have pronounced advantages in certain categories. Anyhow, it's best not to compare these numbers across different architectures and pretend they'll reliably predict real-world performance. We won't linger, now that our specs table quotas have been fulfilled.

We should address a couple of tricky issues instead.

First, although the GTX 670 looks like it might be something folks would want to buy, there is a question lingering over its head: will there be a sufficient supply of cards in the market? Since its launch, the GTX 680 has been flashing in and out of stock at online retailers very quickly, as shipments of cards arrive and then sell out quickly. Will the GTX 670 suffer the same fate? Nvidia tells us no, that it's confident the supply of GTX 670s will be better. The presence of custom boards from Nvidia's various partners on day one is likely to help. We'll have to watch the availability situation in the coming weeks, though. The supply and demand picture for video cards is notoriously difficult to predict.

Second, how does one pull off a video card review in a single work day? The answer, my friend, is cutting corners like a government contractor. That's precisely what we've done in order to produce this quick first look at the GeForce GTX 670. We have egregiously stolen the performance results from our GTX 690 review, added scores for the GTX 670 and the Radeon HD 7950, and called it good. One consequence of this highly questionable decision is that all of our performance numbers come from a triple-display setup running at the ridiculous resolution of 5760x1200. Thus, you're going to see the GTX 670 struggling to provide acceptable performance in some cases on the following pages. These results should still give you a sense of how this new card compares to its key competitors, along with some really expensive dual-GPU products from the last couple of generations. At least there won't be much doubt whether our test scenarios are truly GPU-bound.