Three Times The Fun: Surround on the GeForce GTX 680
Surround on the GeForce GTX 680, Part 1
March 22nd, 2012
By Andrew Burnes
Between the rise of the paperless office, Facebook, Twitter, and other services, our personal lives, recreational activities and work commitments are increasingly dependent on a computer or digital device. And as the number of applications and games on our hard drives balloon, we find ourselves lacking the screen space to adequately display them. The solution is the simultaneous use of multiple monitors, an increasingly popular choice due to the plunging cost of hardware and ever-improving technology.
With the NVIDIA GeForce 400 series we introduced NVIDIA Surround, which let you game across three monitors at once, an incredibly immersive gaming experience. In the past, two NVIDIA graphics cards in SLI were required to operate a Surround setup, but now, with the launch of the new GeForce GTX 680, users can create a four-monitor setup using just the one GPU.
Read on to learn about the many new 2D and 3D Vision Surround enhancements brought about by the launch of the GTX 680.
GeForce GTX 680 Single-GPU Surround
The GTX 680 allows three Surround monitors to run simultaneously through the GTX 680’s two DVI connectors, single HDMI connector and single DisplayPort connector.
Any combination of connectors and monitors is A-OK in 2D Surround, though in 3D Vision Surround the two DVI connectors and single DisplayPort connector must be utilized, and users must have three matching 3D Vision monitors. Furthermore, the 3D Vision monitor connected to the DisplayPort requires a DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter if the monitor lacks native DisplayPort compatibility. You can purchase adapters from the NVIDIA Online Store and Club 3D. Users wishing to avoid this additional purchase should turn their attention to the BenQ XL2420T and BenQ XL2420TX NVIDIA 3D Vision LightBoost monitors, the first to feature built-in DisplayPort connectors that support 3D.
An in-depth guide detailing connector configurations for single card, 2-Way SLI and 3-Way SLI setups can be found here.
GeForce GTX 680 Single-Card 2D Surround Performance
Powering video game graphics across three monitors simultaneously is a challenging task, and aside from the fact that previous-generation graphics cards lacked the ability to output to three monitors at once, it’s doubtful as to whether they would have pushed most recent titles past 30 frames per second.
As mentioned, the GeForce GTX 680 can output to three monitors simultaneously, and with the architecture’s performance-per-watt improvements and general enhancements, a fluid frame rate is possible in most of today’s top titles, as shown by the following chart.
- Crysis 2, 30.33 FPS: DirectX 11 Ultra Upgrade installed, high-resolution textures enabled, tessellation enabled, Extreme detail level.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution, 46.20 FPS: Highest possible settings, tessellation enabled, FXAA High enabled.
- Just Cause 2, 46.60 FPS: Highest possible settings, CUDA water enabled, 4xMSAA, 16xAF.
- Left 4 Dead 2, 126.10 FPS: Highest possible settings, 4xMSAA, 16xAF.
- Mafia 2, 51.35 FPS: Highest possible settings, PhysX Medium enabled, AA enabled, AF enabled.
- Metro 2033, 40.72 FPS: DirectX 11 enabled, Depth of Field disabled, tessellation enabled, PhysX disabled, 4xMSAA, 16xAF.
- Portal 2, 127.90 FPS: Highest possible settings, 4xMSAA, 16xAF.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 59.55 FPS: Ultra preset, Bethesda high-resolution texture pack enabled, indoor cave scene.
Each title tested, bar one, used Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA), whether that be as part of a preset as in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Crysis 2, or as an in-game option. If you’re unfamiliar with Anti-Aliasing, it is a key feature of today’s games, removing jagged, distracting lines, and enhancing overall fidelity. Though anti-aliasing is crucial, MSAA is an extremely demanding solution, and as the resolution increases, so does the performance impact.
At 5760x1080, 4xMSAA reduces performance by 20 to 30 frames per second in almost every game, often resulting in a playable game becoming unplayable. With the launch of the GTX 680, a high-speed, shader-based anti-aliasing technique can be enabled directly through the NVIDIA Control Panel. Called Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA), this technique is up to 60% faster than 4xMSAA, and can produce results equal to MSAA at minimum, and in some cases provide better than MSAA quality. For further details, check out our GeForce GTX 680 announcement article.
GeForce GTX 680 Single-Card 3D Vision Surround Performance
As acknowledged, Surround gaming puts graphics cards to the test, requiring every ounce of performance. 3D Vision Surround increases the load, at times halving frame rates from the simultaneous display of the left-eye and right-eye information. Despite this, a number of titles remain playable on a single GeForce GTX 680 at 5760x1080, using max or near-max settings, as the following chart shows.
- Crysis 2, 32.35 FPS: DirectX 11 Ultra Upgrade installed, high-resolution textures enabled, Very High detail level.
- DiRT 3, 30.77 FPS: DirectX 11 enhancements enabled, highest possible settings, AA off.
- Fallout 3, 51.09 FPS: Highest possible settings, 2xMSAA, 10xAF.
- Far Cry 2, 33.76: Highest possible settings, DirectX 10 renderer, 4xMSAA, 16xAF.
- Left 4 Dead 2, 54.30 FPS: Highest possible settings, 4xMSAA, 16xAF.
- Portal 2, 56.10 FPS: Highest possible settings, 4xMSAA, 16xAF.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 35.84 FPS: Ultra preset, Bethesda high-resolution texture pack, indoor cave scene.
As in the 2D Surround section, we have again used MSAA in all but one test, taxing the GeForce GTX 680 to the limit. Though below 40 frames per second in four of the tests, this stereoscopic 3D performance is unprecedented for a single-GPU graphics card, and as before it can be significantly increased by switching to NVIDIA Control Panel FXAA. Using FXAA instead of MSAA, Batman: Arkham City, Crysis 2, Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising, Mafia 2, and others, are playable in 3D Vision Surround using the highest possible settings.
Three Monitor Surround & Accessory Display
Over a hundred games support multi-monitor configurations, allowing players to see enemies outside of a single monitor’s field of view in first-person shooters, or take superior control of their troops in real-time strategy games, for example. Using the GeForce GTX 680's four connectors we’re taking that one step further, enabling a forth monitor; what we call an Accessory Display.
In the example above, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim runs at an impressive 49 frames per second across the three 1920x1080 screens, and on the Accessory Display our Bethesda-Approved Skyrim Tweak Guide shows the player how to take the game’s graphics to new heights. Acting like any other display, the Accessory Display could feature StarCraft II e-sport streams, chat boxes, in-game maps, game walkthroughs, a television show or movie, a web browser, or any other program you care to choose. In time, developers may even add official support for the Accessory Display, turning it into a large real-time map or some other useful game-enhancing tool.
Many games also support a feature called Borderless Windowed mode. Using this mode, the game’s resolution is set to that of the Surround monitors and invisibly run in a window, allowing players to check email, write replies, or browse the web on the Accessory Display without interrupting their experience. Titles already supporting Borderless Window mode include Portal 2, Tribes Ascend, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Left 4 Dead 2, World of Warcraft, and Civilization V. One caveat: performance on SLI systems may not be as high as in true fullscreen mode, but with the power of multiple GTX 680s that shouldn’t be too much trouble.
In fullscreen mode or in games that do not support Borderless Windowed mode, users must alt+tab to interact with the Accessory Display. The same is true when playing 3D Vision Surround titles, which at this time run solely in fullscreen mode, something we will address in future drivers. Despite this, the Accessory Screen remains an indispensable addition to the Surround family, and we can’t wait to see how our users incorporate it into their gaming setups, home offices, and workplace environments.
Desktop Windows Management
The GTX 680 is a brand new card, and as in the past we’re launching a brand new set of drivers alongside it, the first in the GeForce R300 family. In addition to general improvements, the driver features new desktop management tools, allowing users to confine the Windows taskbar to the central monitor, and define whether application windows should be maximized across all displays.
Accessible through the ‘Desktop’ menu in the NVIDIA Control Panel, these new options should give greater system control to Surround users and negate the need for third-party desktop management software.
Desktop Windows Management and many other driver-level features will be rolled out to other NVIDIA GPU users in the near future – to find out more, please check out our GeForce 301.10 WHQL driver article.
When playing in Surround users are given the choice of enabling Bezel Correction, a technique that hides small sections of the screen behind the monitor’s bezel so that bezel appears to be part of the game. This results in a superior, continuous image across the displays and produces a more realistic experience. Occasionally, elements of a game’s HUD are trapped behind the bezel, preventing players from accessing menus, inventories, or essential information.
In this example from Neverwinter Nights 2, the character’s encumbrance, item slots and inventory are all obscured in some way, severely hindering the player.
With the launch of the GTX 680, gamers can now utilize a customizable keyboard hotkey to reveal the hidden detail, as the following image shows.
With the ctrl+alt+b hotkey pressed, the hidden HUD elements are revealed, allowing the player to correctly view his or her encumbrance, inventory, and item slots.
Acting as a toggle, this new feature allows users to retain the superior bezel-corrected view that our software offers, without sacrificing game usability and accessibility.
Surround on the GeForce GTX 680, Part 2
Central Display Acceleration
Unfortunately, some games do not support Surround resolutions, and so run only on the center screen. On SLI systems, this results in a noticeable performance loss, forcing users to competely disable Surround if playing a non-Surround game, such as StarCraft II, lest their performance plummet. With the release of the GTX 680 this annoyance has now been resolved, as our updated software allows userss to run any game on the center screen at full speed, with the provision that the center screen is connected to the GPU powering two monitors.
Full speed ahead in StarCraft II, on a SLI GeForce GTX 680 Surround system.
Custom Resolution Management
As PC gamers we often complain when the latest releases offer an inadequate selection of resolution options, but occasionally they feature too many, resulting in a bug where the Surround resolution you want isn’t shown simply because the list of options is too long.
Once again, the updated software of the GTX 680 allows users to avoid this issue thanks to the addition of a Custom Resolution Management tool. Using the tool, gamers can add or remove any supported resolution to the list shown, which by default now includes three without bezel correction, and six with.
The new resolution customization screen allows for easy filtering of the many possible choices.
To access the Custom Resolution Management screen, open the NVIDIA Control Panel, navigate to ‘Configure Surround, PhysX’, click the ‘Configure’ button, on the new screen that appears click ‘Resolutions’, and on the next screen click ‘Add or remove resolutions.”
When searching for faster frame rates there’s only so much that can be done before graphics settings have to be dialed down, something every gamer is loath to do. The optimal solution for many years has been the creation of a SLI setup, utilizing two or more graphics cards to dramatically increase frame rates.
The insertion of a second graphics card rarely ever results in an exact 2x performance boost, though as the adoption of SLI has increased, the average level of ‘scaling’ in games has increased as well. Defined as the percentage improvement in frame rates over those of a single graphics card, efficient scaling is key to maximizing frame rates; otherwise, the second graphics card’s oomph goes to waste.
Below, the level of GTX 680 2-Way SLI scaling is recorded, using the same settings, resolution, and hardware as the performance charts earlier in this article.
SLI scaling on the GTX 680 results in a 73.75% average performance improvement based on these results, a figure that climbs to 77.58% with the removal of the unusually low Mafia 2 result. Crysis 2, playable at 30.33 frames per second on a single GTX 680, now speeds along at 55.73 frames per second with the aid of the second card. Similarly, Far Cry 2 goes from 64.21 frames per second to 127.19 frames per second, a remarkable 98.08% improvement.
Now, let us look at 3D Surround SLI Scaling, again using the same settings, resolution, and hardware as earlier.
3D Vision Surround 2-Way GTX 680 average SLI scaling clocks in at an impressive 81.34% based on these tests, with the strongest results coming from Deus Ex: Human Revolution (97.05% improvement), Batman: Arkham City (95.98% improvement), and Mafia 2 (90.80% improvement).
In general, based on the hundreds of GTX 680 benchmarks we’ve examined, SLI scaling is directly proportional to the load being placed on the graphics cards, making a SLI setup a worthwhile purchase for Surround users. On a 1920x1080 screen, a single GTX 680 can drive most games at max settings. On a 2D Surround and 3D Vision Surround system, SLI is an extremely attractive proposition, allowing all settings to be maxed out, 3D Vision to be enabled without fear of frame rate stutters, and GeForce-exclusive enhancements such as Hardware PhysX and Ambient Occlusion to be enabled, in addition to lashings of anti-aliasing.
Adaptive Vertical Synchronization
Many gamers enable Vertical Synchronization (VSync) by default to prevent screen-tearing, an unsightly occurrence caused by frame rates exceeding a monitor’s refresh rate. The downside to enabling VSync is the occasional and equally annoying noticeable stutter when frame rates drop below the locked rate, and again when they return to the locked rate.
Applied to an entire hour’s gaming, one minor performance hiccup becomes a frustrating problem that can even lead to eye strain and headaches.
Our solution is Adaptive VSync, an automated technique that disables VSync when frame rates fall below the locked rate, drastically reducing the noticeability and frequency of stuttering.
When frame rates return to normal, VSync is re-enabled, preventing screen tearing.
Adaptive VSync benefits single-card and SLI setups alike, and works in all 3D Vision and Surround modes. For further details, please check out our GTX 680 announcement article.
Recommended 3D Vision 2 Monitors
If you’re investing in a GTX 680 3D VisionSurround system you’ll want the best possible monitors, and currently those are 3D Vision 2 screens starring our LightBoost technology. Dramatically increasing the brightness and vibrancy of the 3D images seen through our 3D Vision 2 glasses, LightBoost is a must-have for new buyers.
In addition to this sensational improvement in fidelity, the latest 120Hz 3D Vision 2 monitors have vastly improved response times, eliminating the unpleasant ghosting that can strain eyes and sour the experience. Offering performance similar to that of the old CRT monitors, the latest tech has come a long way in a short time, and answers all of the complaints that came to light when stereoscopic 3D technology was first introduced.
At present, the crème de la crème of 3D Vision 2 LightBoost monitors, in our opinion, are BenQ’s XL2420T and XL2420TX. Reviewers have lauded them as the best 3D monitors to date, gamers love their superb response times, and everyone loves their price tag. Furthermore, they are the only 3D Vision 2 LightBoost monitors to currently include a DisplayPort, removing the need to buy pricey DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI convertors that can add up to $100 to your outlay.
The BenQ XL2420T in all its glory.
Packed with BenQ’s own innovative tech, preset breakout box, and other goodies, there’s no other monitor that comes close to matching the feature set, overall price, and picture quality.
With multiple monitors in hand you’ll likely want to mount them to save space, or merely to improve aesthetics. At NVIDIA, we use Ergotech’s Triple LCD Desk Stand for 2D Surround and 3D Vision Surround setups, and their ‘1 over 3’ HD LCD Desk Stand for Surround setups utilizing the new Accessory Display.
Other companies make similar stands, however, so make sure to shop around for the best possible deal.
GeForce GTX 680: The New King Of Surround
That it’s taken 3,000 words to fully describe the evolutionary and revolutionary Surround features of the GeForce GTX 680 is testament to the amount of work that our engineers, designers, and software specialists have poured into its creation. Designed to not only be a fantastic graphics card, but also an all-encompassing single-GPU Surround solution, the GeForce GTX 680 handles 2D Surround and 3D Vision Surround with aplomb, tackling both modes with ease when using the highest possible settings.
If you want a multi-screen setup, the GeForce GTX 680 is the new undeniable single-GPU king, and thanks to the addition of Accessory Display, NVIDIA Control Panel FXAA, Adaptive VSync, Bezel Peaking, Desktop Windows Management, and Central Display Acceleration, the GTX 680 is also the most adaptable, configurable, flexible multi-monitor platform on the market.
We thank you for your time – if further information is required please visit the GeForce Forums.