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Nvidia's GeForce GTX 690 graphics card

SLI on a stick enters the Kepler generation

Man, I have to say, thank goodness for tablet computers, smart phones, Xboxes, and whatever else is distracting the masses from PC hardware. The rise of those other devices is supposed to be siphoning off interest from the personal computer, and on some levels, that must be true. There was a time when, as a guy who wrote for TR, I could make conversation with friends and relations about the latest Pentium or Radeon or whatever. These days, those conversations are all about iPads and such instead.

At the same time, it appears those of us still paying attention to, you know, the most powerful consumer computing platform are living in some sort of a magical future-land where our most persistent gripes have been replaced by difficult choices between multiple amazing options. Want a quiet case? Easily done. Want a case capable of housing powerful hardware? Easily had, as well. Want a case that's both at once? Also readily available. Need a power supply? This one's modular and makes zero noise at idle. Lousy keyboard got you down? Here, take your pick from ten different mechanical offerings with four different switch types. This one will massage your fingertips as you type.

Decent computer parts can still be had for cheap, but if you want to pay more in order to get something that's higher quality, the choices now are better than ever. Component makers are increasingly catering to the desires of PC hobbyists, and frankly, we could get used to it. Already are used to it, really, except when we're occasionally surprised by another nifty example of the trend.

We were a little startled recently when we received a package containing nothing but the prybar you see above. No, as far as we know, this isn't a new motion controller for Left 4 Dead, although that would be awesome. Instead, it's just a big, metal implement. We weren't sure what to make of it until several days later, when the following arrived:

Without the prybar, I would have surely chipped a tooth trying to get that crate open, so thank goodness.

Inside was the subject of our attention today, the GeForce GTX 690. Yes, this is the new uber-high-end graphics card from Nvidia that packs two of the GK104 graphics processors found in the GeForce GTX 680. You can probably tell from the picture above that the GTX 690 looks a little different from your typical graphics card. Here are a couple more shots, closer up, to give you a better sense of things.

Yes, the GTX 690 looks distinctive. What may not be obvious from the pictures is that the card's sleek lines and metallic color palette are not a plasticky imitation of something better, as one might expect given the history here. Instead, this premium graphics card is built with premium materials. The silver-colored portions of the cooling shroud are chromium-plated aluminum, and the black piece between them is made of magnesium. Beneath the (still plastic) windows on either side of the cooling fan, you can see the nickel-plated fins of the card's dual heatsinks. Oh, and there's a bit of a light show, too, since the green "GeForce GTX" lettering is LED-illuminated.

Touch a fingertip to the cool, solid surfaces of the GTX 690, and you can feel the extra expense involved. Use that fingertip to give the cooling fan a spin, and you'll feel it there, too, in a motion that's perceptibly smoother than most. No expense was spared on the materials for this card, and it shows in little ways that, we'll admit, not everyone will appreciate. We can't help but like it, though. In terms of look and feel, if the GTX 690 has a rival among current video cards, it may be XFX's aluminum-shrouded Radeons. But you'll need two of those in order to approach the GTX 690's performance.

Nvidia tells us it has invested heavily in tuning the acoustics of the GTX 690's cooler, as well. Beyond the fancy fan mechanism, the base plate beneath the fan features ducted air channels. Mounted on the board are very low profile capacitors, intended to reduce turbulence in the air flowing across the heatsinks. Time constraints have kept us from disassembling our GTX 690 yet, but below are a couple of stock pictures of the areas in question. As you can see, the GTX 690's cooler is designed to send air flowing in two directions: half toward the back of the card and outside of the case, and half toward the front of the card, into the PC enclosure.

Source: Nvidia.

Source: Nvidia.

All told, Nvidia expects the GTX 690's cooler to be very quiet for what it is—quieter even than some of the firm's single-GPU cards. We'll test that claim shortly, of course.