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Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core i7-3820
Motherboard Gigabyte X79-UD3
Chipset Intel X79 Express
Memory size 16GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1600C9
DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
Memory timings 9-9-11-24 1T
Chipset drivers INF update 9.3.0.1021
Rapid Storage Technology Enterprise 3.5.0.1101
Audio Integrated X79/ALC898
with Realtek 6.0.1.6662 drivers
Hard drive Corsair F240 240GB SATA
Power supply Corsair AX850
OS Windows 8

Driver revision GPU base
core clock 
(MHz)
GPU boost
 clock 
(MHz)
Memory
clock
(MHz)
Memory
size
(MB)
GeForce GTX 680 GeForce 313.96 beta 1006 1059 1502 2048
GeForce GTX 690 GeForce 313.96 beta 915 1020 1502 2 x 2048
GeForce GTX Titan GeForce 314.09 beta 837 876 1502 6144
Radeon HD 7970 GHz Catalyst 13.2 beta 5 1000 1050 1500 3072
Dual Radeon HD 7970 GHz Catalyst 13.2 beta 5 1000 1050 1500 2 x 3072

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, and Gigabyte for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. AMD, Nvidia, and the makers of the various products supplied the graphics cards for testing, as well.

Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

In addition to the games, we used the following test applications:

Some further notes on our methods:

  • We used the Fraps utility to record frame rates while playing either a 60- or 90-second sequence from the game. Although capturing frame rates while playing isn't precisely repeatable, we tried to make each run as similar as possible to all of the others. We tested each Fraps sequence five times per video card in order to counteract any variability. We've included frame-by-frame results from Fraps for each game, and in those plots, you're seeing the results from a single, representative pass through the test sequence.

  • We measured total system power consumption at the wall socket using a Yokogawa WT210 digital power meter. The monitor was plugged into a separate outlet, so its power draw was not part of our measurement. The cards were plugged into a motherboard on an open test bench.

    The idle measurements were taken at the Windows desktop with the Aero theme enabled. The cards were tested under load running Skyrim at 2560x1600 with the Ultra quality presets.

  • We measured noise levels on our test system, sitting on an open test bench, using an Extech 407738 digital sound level meter. The meter was mounted on a tripod approximately 10" from the test system at a height even with the top of the video card.

    You can think of these noise level measurements much like our system power consumption tests, because the entire systems' noise levels were measured. Of course, noise levels will vary greatly in the real world along with the acoustic properties of the PC enclosure used, whether the enclosure provides adequate cooling to avoid a card's highest fan speeds, placement of the enclosure in the room, and a whole range of other variables. These results should give a reasonably good picture of comparative fan noise, though.

  • We used GPU-Z to log GPU temperatures during our load testing.

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.