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GeForce 6800 and RADEON X800: Debutants of this Season!

NVIDIA GeForce 6800

NVIDIA’s was the first stroke in the fight as the company announced its next-generation graphics processor codenamed NV40 and a new graphics card series under the GeForce 6800 brand. They removed the “FX” suffix probably to avoid associations with the rather unlucky NV3x architecture that had been selling under the GeForce FX brand.

The announcement, which was in fact a proclamation of a new era in GPU making, happened on April 14, 2004. Out of the development labs crept a mind-boggling creature: the huge die of the new GPU consisted of as many as 220 million transistors! Its stuffing had been so thoroughly revised that you could hardly see any trace of the NV3x architecture (if there were any). Unfortunately, this level of complexity was incompatible with high frequencies; NVIDIA could only reach 400MHz keeping an acceptable chip yield.

The deficiencies of the previous architecture were all worked upon, and a number of new technologies, both for increasing the performance and improving the image quality, were introduced. Particularly, the new GPU boasts support of a high dynamic range (HDR) color space. However, the main innovation of the GeForce 6xxx is the comprehensive support of Shader Model 3.0, i.e. support of pixel and vertex shaders of the next version. The new GeForce was the world’s first GPU to comply with this new shader standard. This exciting technology along with the rest of them is discussed at length in the theoretical part of our NV40 review.

The technological breakthrough came at a high price in terms of money as well as power: the topmost model of the family came with two power connectors, which we had only seen in XGI’s Volari Duo V8 Ultra card. Moreover, NVIDIA’s advice about the PSU to use with a GeForce 6800 Ultra card was simply shocking: a 480W PSU was recommended! It transpired later that this was a bit of an overstatement – a less powerful PSU would suffice. However, high-powered and expensive PSUs are usually made of high-quality parts and don’t use any simplified schemes. They just provide the necessary stability of the voltage, and that’s the most important thing for the GeForce 6800 Ultra.

The new graphics cards from NVIDIA, as mentioned above, come into market under the name of GeForce 6800. The family includes:

  • GeForce 6800 Ultra: 16 pipelines, 400/1100MHz, two power connectors, two DVI-I outputs;
  • GeForce 6800 GT: 16 pipelines, 350/1000MHz, one power connector, one DVI-I output;
  • GeForce 6800: 12 pipelines, 325/700MHz, one power connector, one DVI-I output.

All the cards have got the full-width 256-bit memory bus.

The new series of high-end products from NVIDIA looks complete. You may be wondering why they shipped the GeForce 6800 GT, a card only slightly differing from the 6800 Ultra in the frequencies. Probably, the NV40 proved to be too complex a processor to allow for an acceptable yield of 400MHz chips and the manufacturer decided to clock such chips a bit lower, labeling them as GeForce 6800 GT. This GT version has certain advantages over the 6800 Ultra – its cooling system takes only one expansion slot, and the card has only one power connector.

Our tests of the GeForce 6800 Ultra confirmed its excellent performance; there’s no trace of that sluggishness that GeForce FX cards used to exhibit at executing pixel shaders! The new product from NVIDIA became the best where creations of ATI Technologies had been traditionally superior. Of course, NVIDIA’s blow couldn’t go unanswered. On May 4, ATI gave back a shattering punch.

 
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