With a tremendous amount of information now under our belts, we can boil things down, almost cruelly, to a few simple results in a final couple of scatter plots. First up is our overall performance index, in terms of average FPS across all of the games we tested, matched against the price of each card. As usual, the most desirable position on these plots is closer to the top left corner, where the performance is higher and the price is lower.
The GeForce GTX 680 is slightly faster and 50 bucks less expensive than the Radeon HD 7970, so it lands in a better position on this first plot. However, if we switch to an arguably superior method of understanding gaming performance and smoothness, our 99th percentile frame time (converted to FPS so the plot reads the same), the results change a bit.
The GTX 680's few instances of higher frame latencies, such as that apparent GPU Boost issue in Arkham City, move it just a couple of ticks below the Radeon HD 7970 in overall performance. Then again, the GTX 680 costs $50 less, so it's still a comparable value.
The truth is that, either way you look at it, there is very little performance difference between these two cards, and any difference is probably imperceptible to the average person.
We've already established that the GTX 680 is more power efficient than the Radeon HD 7970 (at least when running a game, if not sitting idle), and it's quieter, too. In fact, there is very little not to like about the GeForce GTX 680. With this GPU, Nvidia catches up to AMD on a whole host of fronts overnight, from power efficiency and performance to process tech and feature set. Nvidia was even able to supply us with working software that uses its H.264 video encoder, something AMD has yet to do for the Radeon HD 7970 and friends. All of those considerations lead us, almost inescapably, to one conclusion: the GeForce GTX 680 has earned itself an Editor's Choice award for being the most desirable video card in its class.
That honor comes with some small caveats, though. For one, if you require the absolutely fastest single-GPU video card available, with price as no object, then you'll probably want to check out some of the higher-clocked versions of the Radeon HD 7970, like XFX's Black Edition. We figure a slight bump in GPU core and memory clocks ought to put the 7970 solidly over the top versus a stock-clocked GTX 680 like the one we tested—and we don't yet have any information about what board makers will be doing with the GTX 680. You'll have to be very finely attuned to bragging rights for any of this to matter, though. Fortunately, AMD and Nvidia are so attuned, and I expect to see higher-clocked variants of both cards hitting the market in the coming weeks in an attempt to establish a clear winner. That should be fun to watch.
Also, the GeForce GTX 680 is a massive generational improvement, extracting roughly twice the performance of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti from a similar class of GPU. Still, we're a little disappointed Nvidia isn't passing along more of those gains to consumers in the form of higher performance per dollar, as has happened in the past. Half a grand is a lot to ask for a mid-sized chip on a card with a 256-bit memory interface. We had a similar complaint when AMD introduced the Radeon HD 7970, and at that time, we expressed the hope that competition from Nvidia would drive prices down. Now, we're having to face the reality that the problem isn't really lack of competitive fire at the GPU companies, it's the limited number of 28-nm wafers coming out of TSMC, who makes the chips for both firms. The number of good chips per wafer is likely an issue, too. AMD and Nvidia will probably be able to sell all of the chips they can get at current prices for a while, simply because of supply constraints.
We hate to be a Debbie Downer here, though, so we'll mention something else. The GTX 680 is part of a family of Kepler-based products, and as the fastest member so far, it's bound to command a premium. But we expect to see a whole range of new cards and GPUs based on Kepler to be hitting the market in the coming months, almost all of them more affordable than this one. Given the amazing efficiency of the Kepler architecture, we expect really good things to follow—and we'll be there, making up ridiculous ways to plot the goodness.
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