As NVIDIA’s 28nm GPU supply situation has improved over the past couple of months we have seen their partners finally begin to branch out with unique designs. The first such cards were the requisite factory overclocked models, and more recently semi-custom and finally fully-custom cards have started appearing.

With the floodgates finally open for custom cards we have recently received several different GeForce cards covering a range of performance levels, prices, and cooler configurations. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be taking a look at such GTX 670 and GTX 680 cards from Asus, EVGA, MSI, and Zotac. NVIDIA is going through a period of tight control over their partners’ designs, but this hasn’t stopped their partners from putting their own unique touches on their cards.

Nowhere is this embodied more than with our first card, EVGA’s GeForce GTX 680 Classified. In EVGA’s product hierarchy the Classified is their top of the line product, where they typically go all-out to make customized products to scratch the itch of overclockers and premium buyers alike. The GTX 680 Classified in turn is EVGA’s take on a premium GTX 680, resulting in a card that is monstrous in virtually every sense of the word. What has EVGA seen fit to do with their fully-custom GTX 680, and does it live up to the hype and the price tag that comes with the Classified name? Let’s find out.

EVGA GeForce GTX 680 Condensed Product Lineup
  EVGA GTX 680 Classified EVGA GTX 680 FTW+ EVGA GTX 680 SC EVGA GTX 680
Stream Processors 1536 1536 1536 1536
Texture Units 128 128 128 128
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 1111MHz 1084MHz 1058MHz 1006MHz
Boost Clock 1176MHz 1150MHz 1124MHz 1058MHz
Memory Clock 6.008GHz GDDR5 6.008GHz GDDR5 6.208GHz GDDR5 6.008GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 4GB 4GB 2GB 2GB
Price $659 $629 $519 $499

Perhaps before we start anywhere else, it’s best to start with a quick explanation of our particular interest in fully-custom video cards.

All things considered, NVIDIA usually turns out solid reference card designs. For their high-end single-GPU cards NVIDIA typically uses balanced designs that are reasonably quiet, reasonably cool, and have some degree of overclocking potential. On the other hand NVIDIA also tends to go conservative in some ways, with NVIDIA favoring blowers so that their reference cards work in most cases, and rarely overbuilding their cards in order to keep the manufacturing cost of the card down.

This is where custom cards come in. NVIDIA’s reference design is a jack of all trades but master of none, which leads to their partners creating custom products not only to differentiate themselves from each other, but to target specific niches that the reference design doesn’t do a good job of covering. Even just replacing the cooler while maintaining the reference board – what we call a semi-custom card – can have a big impact on noise, temperatures, and can improve overclocking. But at the end of the day there’s only so much you can do with NVIDIA’s reference boards, particularly when it comes to form factors and overclocking. This leads us to fully-custom cards.

The bulk of fully-custom designs for such a high-end GPU are intended to focus on overclocking, and for good reason. Because NVIDIA is shying away from hardcore overclocking on the GeForce 600 series – something we’ll get to in a bit – to push GK104 to its limit and beyond a fully-custom card is necessary. These kinds of custom cards primarily allow partners to lay down bigger, better, and more VRM circuitry to improve power delivery and allow more power to be delivered overall, but it also allows partners to try their hand at improving the memory bus, adding support for additional memory chips (for more memory in total), and adding features above and beyond what NVIDIA directly provides. Whereas NVIDIA needs to worry about the larger market partners can worry about their niches, and in the world of premium cards it’s all about pushing GPUs to their peak.

This brings us to EVGA’s GeForce GT X 680 Classified, a card that embodies all of these design principles. Fundamentally of course it’s a factory overclocked GTX 680, with EVGA shipping the card at 1111MHz for the core clock and 6GHz memory, representing a 105MHz (10%) core overclock, but no memory overclock. The factory overclock is only half of the story though, as more so than any other GTX 680 card the GTX 680 Classified is meant to be overclocked. Even without voltage adjustment the card has a fair bit of headroom thanks to the binning EVGA does for its product lineup, and with voltage adjustment the limits can be pushed even further. But more on that in a bit.

Meet The EVGA GeForce GTX 680 Classified
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  • HisDivineOrder - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - link

    To be fair, AMD started the gouging with the 7970 series, its moderate boost over the 580 series, and its modest mark-up over that line.

    When nVidia saw what AMD had launched, they must have laughed and rubbed their hands together with glee. Because their mainstream part was beating it and it cost them a LOT less to make. So they COULD have passed those savings onto the customer and launched at nominal pricing, pressuring AMD with extremely low prices that AMD could probably not afford to match...

    ...or they could join with the gouging. They joined with the gouging. They knocked the price down by $50 and AMD's pricing (besides the 78xx series) has been in a freefall ever since.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - link

    You people are using way too much tin foil, it's already impinged bloodflow to the brain from it's weight crimping that toothpick neck... at least the amd housefire heatrays won't further cook the egg under said foil hat.

    Since nVidia just barely has recently gotten a few 680's and 670's in stock on the shelves, how pray tell, would they produce a gigantic 7 billion transistor chip that it appears no forge, even the one in Asgard, could possibly currently have produced on time for any launch, up to and perhaps past even today ?

    See that's what I find so interesting. Forget reality, the Charlie D semi accurate brain fart smell is a fine delicacy for so many, that they will never stop inhaling.

    Wow.

    I'll ask again - at what price exactly was the 680 "midrange" chip supposed to land at ? Recall the GTX580 was still $499+ when amd launched - let's just say since nVidia was holding back according to the 20lbs of tinfoil you guys have lofted, they could have released GTX680 midrange when their GTX580 was still $499+ - right when AMD launched... so what price exactly was GTX680 supposed to be, and where would that put the rest of the lineups on down the price alley ?

    Has one of you wanderers EVER comtemplated that ? Where are you going to put the card lineups with GTX680 at the $250-$299 midrange in January ? Heck ... even right now, you absolute geniuses ?
    Reply
  • natsume - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    For that price, I prefer rather the Sapphire HD 7970 Toxic 6GB @ 1200Mhz Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - link

    Currently unavailable it appears.

    And amd fan boys have told us 7970 overclocks so well to (1300mhz they claim) so who cares.

    Toxic starts at 1100, and no amd fan boy would admit the run of the mill 7970 can't do that out of the box, as it's all we've heard now since January.

    It's nice seeing 6GB on a card though that cannot use even 3GB an maintain a playable frame rate at any resolution or settings, including 100+ Skyrim mods at once attempts.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - link

    Sad how it loses so often to a reference GTX680 in 1920 and at triple monitor resolutions.

    http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/sapphire__...
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    One good reason not to have it is the fact that software overclocking can sometimes be rather wonky. I can see Nvidia erring on the cautious side to protect their customers from untidy programs.

    EVGA is a company I want to love, but they are, in my opinion, one that "almost" goes the extra mile. This card is a good example, I think. Their customers expressed a desire for unlocked voltage and 4GB cards (or "more than 2GB"), and they made it for us.

    But they leave the little things out. Where do you go to find out what those little letters mean on the EVBot display? I'll tell you where I went - to this article. I looked in the EVBot manual, looked up the manual online to see if it was updated - it wasn't; scoured the website and forums, and no where could I find a breakdown of what the list of voltage settings meant from EVGA!

    I'm not regretting my purchase of this card; it is a very nice piece of hardware. It just doesn't have the 100% commitment to it a piece of hardware like this should.

    But then, EVGA, in my opinion, does at least as good as anybody, in my opinion. MSI is an excellent company, but they released their Lightning that was supposed to be over-voltable without a way to do it. Asus makes some of the best stuff in the business - if their manufacturing doesn't bungle the job and leave film that needs to be removed between heatsinks and what they should be attached to.

    Cards like this are necessarily problematic. To make them worth their money in a strict results sense, EVGA would have to guarantee they overclock to something like 1400MHz. If they bin to that strict of a standard, why don't they just factory overclock to 1400 to begin with?

    And, what's going to be the cost of a chip guaranteed to overclock that high? I don't know; I don't know what EVGA's current standards are for a "binning for the Classified" pass, but my guess is it would drive the price up, so that cost value target will be missed again.

    No, you can judge these cards strictly by value for yourself, that's quite a reasonable thing to do, but to be fair you must understand that some people are interested in getting value from something other than better frame rates in the games they are playing. For this card, that means the hours spent overclocking - not just the results, the results are almost beside the point, but the time spent itself. In the OC world that often means people will be disappointed in the final results, and it's too bad companies can't guarantee better success - but if they could, really what would be the point for the hard-core overclocker? They would be running a fixed race, and for people like that it would make the race not worth running.

    These cards aren't meant for the general-population overclocker that wants a guaranteed more "bang for the buck" out of his purchase. Great OCing CPUs like Nehalem and Sandy Bridge bring a lot of people into the overclocking world that expect to get great results easily, that don't understand the game it is for those who are actually responsible for discovering those great overclocking items, and that kind of person talks down a card like this.

    Bottom line - if you want a GTX 680 with a guaranteed value equivalent to a stock card, then don't buy this card! It's no more meant for you than a Mack truck is meant to be a family car. However, if you are a serious overclocker that likes to tinker and wants the best starting point, this may be exactly what you want.

    ;)
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, July 22, 2012 - link

    Nvidia wasn't happy with the partners' designs, eh? Oh please. We all remember the GTX 480. That was Nvidia's doing, including the reference card and cooler. Their partners, the ones who didn't use the awful reference design, did Nvidia a favor by putting three fans on it and such.

    Then there's the lack of mention of Big Kepler on the first page of this review, even though it's very important for framing since this card is being presented as "monstrous". It's not so impressive when compared to Big Kepler.

    And there's the lack of mention that the regular 680's cooler doesn't use a vapor chamber like the previous generation card (580). That's not the 680 being a "jack of all trades and a master of none". That's Nvidia making an inferior cooler in comparison with the previous generation.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - link

    I, for one, find the 3rd to the last paragraph of the 1st review page a sad joke.

    Let's take this sentence for isntance, and keep in mind the nVidia reference cooler does everything better than the amd reference:
    " Even just replacing the cooler while maintaining the reference board – what we call a semi-custom card – can have a big impact on noise, temperatures, and can improve overclocking. "

    One wonders why amd epic failure in comparison never gets that kind of treatment.

    If nVidia doesn't find that sentence I mentioned a ridiculous insult, I'd be surprised, because just before that, they got treated to this one: " NVIDIA’s reference design is a jack of all trades but master of none "

    I guess I wouldn't mind one bit if the statements were accompanied by flat out remarks that despite the attitude presented, amd's mock up is a freaking embarrassingly hot and loud disaster in every metric of comparison...

    I do wonder where all these people store all their mind bending twisted hate for nVidia, I really do.

    The 480 cooler was awesome because one could simply remove the gpu sink and still have a metal covered front of the pcb card and thus a better gpu HS would solve OC limits, which were already 10-15% faster than 5870 at stock and gaining more from OC than the 5870.

    Speaking of that, we're supposed to sill love the 5870, this sight claimed the 5850 that lost to 480 and 470 was the best card to buy, and to this day our amd fans proclaim the 5870 a king, compare it to their new best bang 6870 and 6850 that were derided for lack of performance when they came out, and now 6870 CF is some wonderkin for the fan boys.

    I'm pretty sick of it. nVidia spanked the 5000 series with their 400 series, then slammed the GTX460 down their throats to boot - the card all amd fans never mention now - pretending it never existed and still doesn't exist...
    It's amazing to me. All the blabbing stupid praise about amd cards and either don't mention nVidia cards or just cut them down and attack, since amd always loses, that must be why.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - link

    Nvidia cheaped out and didn't use a vapor chamber for the 680 as it did with the 580. AMD is irrelevant to that fact.

    The GF100 has far worse performance per watt, according to techpowerup's calculations than anything AMD released in 40nm. The 480 was very hot and very loud, regardless of whether AMD even existed in the market.

    AMD may have a history of using loud inefficient cooling, but my beef with the article is that Nvidia developed a more efficient cooler (580's vapor chamber) and then didn't bother to us it for the 680, probably to save a little money.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - link

    The 680 is cooler and quieter and higher performing all at the same time than anything we've seen in a long time, hence "your beef" is a big pile of STUPID dung, and you should know it, but of course, idiocy never ends here with people like you.

    Let me put it another way for the faux educated OWS corporate "profit watcher" jack***: " It DOESN'T NEED A VAPOR CHAMBER YOU M*R*N ! "

    Hopefully that penetrates the inbred "Oxford" stupidity.

    Thank so much for being such a doof. I really appreciate it. I love encountering complete stupidity and utter idiocy all the time.
    Reply

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