As of this writing the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 is the fastest single GPU gaming video card available. It bests the Radeon HD 7970 in most tests, and while the GTX 690 is faster it is only because it is two GPUs on a single card. In its reference design, NVIDIA equipped the GTX 680 with 2GB of video memory (VRAM) and it performs extremely well with that. However, several of the brands that make video cards with the GTX 680 chip are now offering 4GB versions! This doubling of the VRAM comes at an added price, and certainly appeals to those who think bigger numbers must be better... but is that really the case? Does doubling the memory on a video card of this caliber actually improve game performance, and if so under what circumstances?
|Motherboard:||Asus P8Z77-V Pro|
|CPU:||Intel Core i7 3770K 3.5GHz|
|GPUs:||Zotac Geforce GTX 680 2GB
Zotac Geforce GTX 680 4GB
|PSU:||SeaSonic X-850 850W Power Supply|
|Hard Drive:||Intel 320 120GB SATA II 2.5inch SSD|
|Chassis:||Antec P183 V3|
|CPU Heatsink:||Gelid Tranquillo Rev2|
- DiRT Showdown - The benchmark tool built into the game was run, with all settings at absolute maximum (including AA / AF).
- Skyrim - With settings at Ultra and the high-res texture pack installed, Fraps was used to record the frame rates during the first 180 seconds of the intro. This is one of the few exactly repeatable sections of the game, and also fairly demanding due to the high amount of detail in the forest scenery.
- Battlefield 3 - With settings at maximum, I recorded the frame rate via Fraps during the first 100 seconds of the intro to mission 4 of the single-player campaign. Use of this section was inspired by the testing methodology for benchmarking this game at Tom’s Hardware.
- Unigine Heaven - This one isn’t technically a game, but is built as a benchmark that tests in a similar way to games - visually moving around in a highly detailed 3D environment. Settings were at maximum again, including the “extreme” setting for tessellation.
With the descriptions out of the way, here are the results:
So, what can we glean from all of that? For one thing, with any single monitor the 2GB video card is plenty - even on the most demanding games and benchmarks out today. When you scale up to three high-res screens the games we tested were all still fine on 2GB, though maxing out some games’ settings at that resolution really needs more than a single GPU to keep smooth frame rates. With the right combination of high resolution and high detail, though, there is the potential for 2GB to be insufficient. For future games, or perhaps current games that were not tested in this article, you might be better off with a 4GB card if - and only if - you plan to run across a multi-screen configuration.