Q2 2004: Nalu Attacks Ruby
The long wait ended in the second quarter when the mermaid Nalu, a symbol of the GeForce 6800, and the sports beauty Ruby, a symbol of the RADEON X800, stepped on the scene.
NVIDIA NV40: A Revolution?
NVIDIA found itself in a tight corner in the spring of 2004 as it had nothing to fight ATI’s highly successful RADEON 9800 series with. It had become clear by then that the GeForce FX didn’t fit for the role: the architecture couldn’t provide enough performance in modern games that were widely using the capabilities of DirectX 9. So, NVIDIA had to hasten the release of a new product that would be absolutely different from the predecessor.
Urged on by the failures in the sector of top-end graphics cards, NVIDIA was the first to show its new weapon – the graphics processor of the new generation, codenamed NV40, was announced on the 14-th of April along with a new family of graphics cards based around it (For more details read aur review called NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra and GeForce 6800: NV40 Enters the Scene). It was a completely new architecture, free from a score of drawbacks of the earlier one. NVIDIA packed a heap of advanced technologies into the chip, endowing the NV40 with support of Shader Model 3.0 and of the enhanced dynamic range as described by the OpenEXR standard, yet the GeForce 6 still had a few discernable features left from the GeForce FX. Besides that, the NV40 featured a special video processor capable of encoding and decoding video streams in MPEG-4, -2, and HDTV formats, thus freeing the CPU for other tasks. This luxurious functionality came at a price – the die of the new processor came out very complex, consisting of a whopping number of 220 million transistors.
The complexity of the chip made NVIDIA release the GeForce 6800 Ultra processor at a lower frequency than the earlier GPUs. Until the release, NVIDIA’s top-end GPUs used to be clocked at about 500-600MHz, but NVIDIA could only hit an acceptable chip yield at 350-400MHz with the NV40. NVIDIA’s new family at first included two graphics cards, GeForce 6800 Ultra and GeForce 6800, but later was complemented with GeForce 6800 GT and GeForce 6800 LE.
In fact, the yield of NV40 dies capable of working at 400MHz was too low, and the company manufactured the GeForce 6800 GT out of chips that couldn’t work at 400MHz, but were stable at the reduced clock rate.
The power consumption of the top-end model remained almost the same as that of the GeForce 5950 Ultra, but the requirements to the quality of power had grown up, especially to the power received from the +12v power rail. NVIDIA even recommended using 480W or higher PSUs with the GeForce 6800 Ultra: such units are expensive, but employ high-quality components and provide the necessary stability of the output voltages.
The blow was strong from the technological point of view. The GeForce 6800 Ultra dethroned the R360 in no time, showing a much higher level of performance. Alas, in spite of the success, there were no graphics cards with that GPU in shops, so NVIDIA’s victory kind of remained on paper only. The problem was that IBM, the first company NVIDIA had chosen as the manufacturer of the new GPU, couldn’t supply GeForce 6800 chips in sufficient quantities until the fourth quarter.