Introduction

NVIDIA owns the high end graphics market. For the past six months, there has been no challenge to the performance leadership of the GeForce 8800 GTX. Since the emergence of Windows Vista, NVIDIA hardware has been the only platform to support DX10. And now, before AMD has come to market with any competing solution whatsoever, NVIDIA is releasing a refresh of its top of the line part.

The GeForce 8800 Ultra debuting today doesn't have any new features over the original 8800 GTX. The GPU is still manufactured using a 90nm process, and the transistor count hasn't changed. This is different silicon (A3 revision), but the GPU has only really been tweaked rather than redesigned.

Not only will NVIDIA's new part offer higher performance than the current leader, but it will introduce a new price point in the consumer graphics market moving well beyond the current $600 - $650 set by the 8800 GTX, skipping over the $700 mark to a new high of $830. That's right, this new high end graphics card will be priced $230 higher than the current performance leader. With such a big leap in price, we had hoped to see a proportional leap in performance. Unfortunately, for the 38% increase in price, we only get a ~10% increase in core and shader clock speeds, and a 20% increase in memory clock.

Here's a chart breaking down NVIDIA's current DX10 lineup:

NVIDIA G8x Hardware
SPs ROPs Core Clock Shader Clock Memory Data Rate Memory Bus Width Memory Size Price
8800 Ultra 128 24 612MHz 1.5GHz 2.16GHz 384bit 768MB $830+
8800 GTX 128 24 576MHz 1.35GHz 1.8GHz 384bit 768MB $600-$650
8800 GTS 96 20 513MHz 1.19GHz 1.6GHz 320bit 640MB $400-$450
8800 GTS 320MB 96 20 513MHz 1.19GHz 1.6GHz 320bit 320MB $300-$350
8600 GTS 32 8 675MHz 1.45GHz 2GHz 128bit 256MB $200-$230
8600 GT 32 8 540MHz 1.19GHz 1.4GHz 128bit 256MB $150-$160
8500 GT 16 4 450MHz 900MHz 800MHz 128bit 256MB/512MB $89-$129


We do know NVIDIA has wanted to push up towards the $1000 graphics card segment for a while. Offering the top of the line for what almost amounts to a performance tax would give NVIDIA the ability to sell a card and treat it like a Ferrari. It would turn high end graphics into a status symbol rather than a commodity. That and having a huge margin part in the mix can easily generate additional profits.

Price gaps larger than performance increases are not unprecedented. In the CPU world, we see prices rise much faster than performance, especially at the high end. It makes sense that NVIDIA would want to capitalize on this sort of model and charge an additional premium for their highest performing part. This way, they also get to introduce a new high end part without pushing down the price of the rest of their lineup.

Unfortunately, the stats on the hardware look fairly similar to an overclocked 8800 GTX priced at $650: the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTX KO ACS3. With core/shader/memory clock speeds at 626/1450/1000, this EVGA overclocked part poses some stiff competition both in terms of performance and especially price. NVIDIA's G80 silicon revision might need to be sprinkled with magic fairy dust to offer any sort of competition to the EVGA card.

We should also note that this part won't be available until around the 15th of May, and this marks the first launch to totally balk on the hard launch with product announcement standard. While we hate to see the hard launch die from a consumer standpoint, we know those in the graphics industry are thrilled to see some time reappear between announcement and launch. While hard launches may be difficult, going this direction leaves hardware designers with enough rope to hang themselves. We would love to believe AMD and NVIDIA would be more responsible now, but there is no real reason to think history won't repeat itself.

But now, let's take a look at what we are working with today.

The GeForce 8800 Ultra
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  • kalrith - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    ...because you can't purchase an E6600 that's overclocked to 2.9GHz out of the box, with the warranty intact. The extreme CPUs are actually marketable to people who want the overclocked performance without doing it on their own and voiding the warranty.

    We can already do that with EVGA's overclocked 8800GTX that performs at about 2% less than the Ultra and costs 22% less. It does that right out of the box and keeps its warranty at that performance level.
    Reply
  • ADDAvenger - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    quote:

    would give NVIDIA the ability to sell a card and treat it like a Ferrari. It would turn high end graphics into a status symbol rather than a commodity.


    Like they aren't already more of a status symbol than commodity!?
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    perhaps to some ... and the ferrari analogy isn't quite right there either -- ferrari's actually have something to offer on the road/track, and they can be a good investment as well ... perhaps I need to rework that sentence.

    the thing is, there are enthusiasts out there who will buy the 8800 GTX for it's performance. but with cards more like the ultra, we will see fewer people buy the card for any quality/performance advantage. a higher ratio of status seekers will buy it as opposed to real enthusiasts.

    certainly the hardcore overclockers will be interested. and it'll be interesting to see what A3 G80 silicon can do when strapped to a phase change cooling system. but that market isn't very large.
    Reply
  • sxr7171 - Thursday, May 03, 2007 - link

    Well the market for any $830 card isn't large as it stands, but the likelihood users adding some crazy cooling to it is pretty high among those who would pay $830 for a video card. Reply
  • Den - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    I would like to see the power usage numbers on this card since part of the A3 revision was supposed to help reduce power consumption.

    I agree this is a big step in price for a small step in performance, but that is just like high end CPU's. The interesting question is, when EVGA and others come out with overclocked Ultra cards, how much faster will those be than their overclocked GTX's? If they can get a 10% lead for $200 more, I bet they will get some takers.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    we don't usually test power with reference boards. we'll certainly look at it when we get our hands on a retail product though.

    nvidia is reporting lower power usage with the 8800 Ultra that ammounts to just a couple watts less than the 8800 GTX. While this is good for a higher performance part, it's nothing to write home about.
    Reply
  • Chadder007 - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    Holy Not worth the price of admission Batman!! That much more for an overclocked GTX? Reply
  • Fluppeteer - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    I completely understand this review's conclusions, but I can't help but notice...

    If the reviewers have agreed that the only point of this card is its ability to be overclocked, and given that they overclocked it (and proved that it has more headroom than the GTX), why are there no performance results for the overclocked card? Just because retail cards may behave differently? Surely they'd overclock *somewhat*, so the extra sample point (even with a "YMMV" by it) would be useful.

    Fine, overclocking ability varies on a card-by-card basis, but if the sole point of this card (whether nVidia market it as such or not) is to be ramped up from the default clock, it seems strange not to have shown how much performance this might have provided.

    Clearly the Ultra at default clock isn't economical compared with an overclocked GTX (no news there - a lot of overclocked devices are more economical than slower "higher end" parts), but if this card is really capable of running at higher speeds, that still makes it the fastest card available - and it would be nice to know by how much. Maybe nVidia will change their minds about the default clock (and remove a few Ultras from the production line) if the 2900XTX turns out to be faster than expected.

    I'll reserve judgement until the consumer cards appear.
    Reply
  • sxr7171 - Thursday, May 03, 2007 - link

    Yes that is the real question. The whole reason all the revisions were done was to enable better O/Cing. Anyway, I can't afford it, but I hope it O/Cs well for those who can. Reply
  • ss284 - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    This is a really good point. Some OCed results would help, although the card is still overpriced. Reply

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