Flagship GPU Rematch: AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition vs. NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680


Which One Should You Buy?

Which One Should You Buy?

Earlier in 2012, NVIDIA held a fairly considerable performance lead over AMD. However, the way things stand now, AMD has been able to catch up and, at present, both cards are almost exactly equal in terms of gaming performance (barring a few games optimized in favor of one over the other).

As such, your choice of which camp to side with will have to come down to other considerations:

Usage Potential

As previously mentioned, AMD's Radeon HD 7970 is, components-wise, a more powerful card. It boasts a higher transistor count, more stream processors and 1GB more VRAM. While this won't effect most gamers, it may be relevant for those planning on running 2 or 3-way configuration CrossFireX setups, or for those with 3D or multi-monitor gaming in mind, as the extra VRAM will definitely help. We've already seen that the HD 7970 was able to edge out a slight advantage at the more challenging games at our highest 2560 x 1600 pixels resolution setting and we expect this lead to grow at even higher resolutions.

Advantage: AMD Radeon HD 7970

 

Temperature and Power Consumption

In theory, there is no question here, NVIDIA boasts far superior thermal design and more efficient power consumption. However, do remember that we are considering reference cards in this match-up, which are not exactly known for their cooler designs. The likely reality is that, if you're in the market for a new graphics card, you will probably be looking at a custom cooler design. With this in mind, the reference card temperatures and power consumption levels shown in this match-up will be, perhaps, less pertinent to you.

Do note that custom HD 7970 GHz Edition cards are next to impossible to find in this region. However, as previously noted, the GHz Edition is functionally identical to a first generation HD 7970, except overclocked. As such, it's a fairly simple matter to bring any HD 7970 card up to GHz Edition specs, requiring only a moderate overclock.

Once you start looking at the different variety of custom cards available, each with their own cooler design and accompanying power efficiency, can a well designed cooler effectively nullify any temperature disadvantage lost from using a stock Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition? Considering the pair of OC-edition Radeon HD 7970 cards from ASUS and Sapphire that we've tested previously, they look very promising. Of course, you could also argue that a similarly well designed cooler applied to a GTX 680 would result in the same drop in temperature and thus recreate the same disparity - and that they did when we tested a trio of custom-designed GTX 680 cards from Gigabyte, MSI and Palit. Considering that the trio were overclocked GTX 680 cards, this means their thermal output would have been a lot lower if they were running at reference clock speeds (which is when they match-up with the overclocked Radeon HD 7970 cards in the form of the GHz edition).

So in all fairness, NVIDIA still retains a notable lead in operating temperatures and power consumption.

Last but not least, consider as well that a case with good air flow and sufficiently powerful fans can have a large effect on GPU temperature. 

Advantage: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680

 

Pricing 

While temperature and power consumption are important, many gamers are indifferent to these values as long as they don't exceed acceptable levels and reach the point where they start causing problems. As such, pricing is likely to be the biggest determining factor in which card you end up with. And in this arena, there is a huge difference.

When first released, the GTX 680 was priced cheaper the HD 7970, making it quite an attractive buy at the time. Things are now, however are very different. AMD's summer price cuts have managed to trickle down to this region and, a quick look at HWZ's Price Lists and our Graphics Cards Price Guide will show that local pricing on the HD 7970 is much lower than the GTX 680. The average price of the HD 7970 is around S$650, with the lowest we've seen priced at S$580. Conversely, the average price for a GTX 680 remains at around S$800, with the cheapest we've seen priced at S$695.

In fact, as far as pricing goes, the competing NVIDIA SKU appears to be the lower tier GeForce GTX 670, which varies between $499 to $600 in price and faces off against a reference clocked Radeon HD 7970. We're unable to find any GHz edition of the Radeon HD 7970 retailing locally at this point of time. As such, remember that any reference clocked Radeon HD 7970 cards you buy in this region will be based off of the first generation 915MHz core clock speed model, so you will have to overclock core speeds to at least 1050MHz and memory to 6000MHz DDR to achieve the same results we've shown in this article.

Advantage: AMD Radeon HD 7970 (not the GHz edition since it's unavailable in this region)

 

Our Pick

This one was a very tough one to call. While we started out comparing the AMD Radeon HD 7970 1GHz Edition, we had to get back to reality since actual availability locally is almost next to impossible, and we don't blame it since the GHz Edition is nothing more than an slight overclocked and tweaked edition of the standard Radeon HD 7970. In fact, some of the add-in board partners offered a BIOS update to customers using the standard Radeon HD 7970 to ramp them up to a GHz Edition. As such, when considering actual retail availability, the several pre-overclocked and custom edition Radeon HD 7970 cards are technically (and value-wise) a fair match against a stock GeForce GTX 680 graphics card. Using the GHz Edition card as a reference mark, we found gaming and overclock performance effectively at a dead heat with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680. In the end, we chose AMD's Radeon HD 7970 for its better overall functionality due to its higher potential with multi-GPU, multi-monitor and 3D gaming (more VRAM), as well as its much lower cost in this region.

Of course, the choice comes with several caveats such as being comfortable to overclock your graphics card, putting up with the louder operational noise, higher operating temperatures and power consumption. While the custom cooler equipped Radeon HD 7970 cards fare much better in some of these traits, they can't best the GeForce GTX 680. So for the best out-of-the-box experience, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 cards are still the best around, but they come at quite a cost. They too are available in non-reference editions that excel better than the reference model and there are even 4GB editions for the extreme enthusiasts.