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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  • BloodAgent - Wednesday, January 02, 2008 - link

    It is worth it, that is all that needs to be said. If you wanna be cheap and get the lesser computer equipment that will fall short sooner then go with the GTX. I have a Intel Quad Core cpu and two EVGA-8800 Ultra's in SLI, and there is not a game out there that weakens my system. The price is a bit much, but you get what you pay for. My 8800 Ultra's are great. My buddy has a rig running two 8800 GTX's and we benchmarked them using the same version of 3DMARK and my system chewed up the benchmarks while his suffered and choked a bit across the finish line. Go with the Ultra 8800. Reply
  • derubermensch1 - Friday, May 04, 2007 - link

    The ONLY reason to step-up to this card is if you utilise EVERY one of your expansion slots. The reason being the EVGA card has a backplate which, in most cases, blocks the adjacent slot so it is essentially a 3 slot cooler for all intents and purposes.

    The Ultra will undoubtedly overclock better but then you void that nice EVGA lifetime warranty :(

    So youre basically banking on some magic driver to come along that may take advantage of the new bios on the card, but that's a big "if"

    I was on the fence for awhile until I saw that my EVGA card does better in 1600x1200 (I use 1680x1050) so that cemented my decision to stay away. It would be cool to own such a card, just because I can, but then I realized that step-up cost would pay for an HD-DVD add-on for my 360 :)



    Reply
  • derubermensch1 - Friday, May 04, 2007 - link

    I forgot to mention, don't get an Ultra or hold out on stepping up in the hopes you will be able to step-up to one of those pre-overclocked Ultras that seem to be around the corner. As anyone who tried to step-up to an ACS3 edition 8800 GTX knows, EVGA will not allow it, the program applies to reference spec'd cards ONLY, no exceptions. Reply
  • masa77 - Thursday, May 03, 2007 - link

    I have a pair of 8800 GTXs already and both can be overclocked to 650MHz on the core and 2.1GHz on the memory, but for a boost of three frames per second or so in 2560x1600 it's pointless.

    These cards are only ideal for those who don't have an 8800GTX and even then, you might consider the 8800 GTS because it can basically run anything in 1920x1200 and below quite well. I can often game in 2560x1600 with SLi disabled and all settings maxed. The 8800GTX is a very powerful card.
    Reply
  • adaofer - Thursday, May 03, 2007 - link

    There are 2 reasons why nvidia produced this card:
    1. Ati new flag ship - this card is supposed to keep the crown on nvidia side and give
    nvidia the upper hand VS Ati , it's the same story as 7800 GTX 512 it's a stepping
    stone in the road map between 8800 --> 8900
    2. price fixing between nvidia and ati : if nvidia ultra costs 830$ and Ati's new flag
    ship has the same performance why sould it cost less , this those company's are
    creating a new price level for ultra/premium cards
    Reply
  • Stele - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    Almost everything significant to be said about the 8800 Ultra has already be said; it looks very much like this card's more for the clueless but loaded folks who want it as much as they'd want a Bugatti Veyron to show off to their pals.

    Even with the supposedly enhanced overclocking headroom, it's unlikely that it'd be able to justify the massive premium - it can only reach 684 MHz core while remaining stable, which is certainly not $300's worth more than the Foxconn's 630 or EVA's 626. That it can reach even higher (702/1728 as Anandtech found) is not much use since, to maintain stability, one would have to spend even more on top of the large premium to replace the stock HSF with a better one - it would have been a little different if, for example, the extra money gives us a superb cooler that allows us to reach 700 (and stay there) out of the box.

    Right now there's the 8500, 8600 and 8800. There's a very conspicuous and inviting hole for an 8700 with 64 SPs, 12/16 ROPs and maybe 550/1190/1000 MHz clocks at the $250 mark. A pretty sweet spot, imho. Nvidia really ought to have something there... or perhaps that's an ace in the hole to be pulled out depending on how AMD's lineup performs. Besides that, hopefully Nvidia manages to iron out any kinks in the transition to 65nm fast, as these GPUs could sure use the lower TDPs. On the other side of the fence, hope AMD bucks up soon... they've dropped the ball quite a bit lately and R600's already a whole 6 months behind the 8800.
    Reply
  • cornfedone - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    Nvidia is no doubt just trolling to find gullible fools with more money than technical knowledge. Only a fool would cough up this kind of money for a video card. Don't be surprised if these outrageously over-priced cards become symbols of cluelessness for the well healed but technically challenged fanboys. There's a sucker born every second.

    Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    I don't get it... it's not April 1st... Reply
  • TA152H - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    Why is everyone whining about this card? I mean, you realize that NVIDIA is in the business of making money, right? You also realize that no one from NVIDIA will come to your home and hold a gun to your head and make you buy it, right? Wow, a company that wants to make money is greedy! Too funny.

    In actuality, they are probably just looking for an identity and want to go more upscale. Is it worth it? Maybe to someone, and now they have the choice. High end CPUs have always been a bargain for some uses, even though they cost a lot more and offer only a few percentages more performance. The reason is simple, for some companies the cost for employees is so much higher than the cost of equipment, even a $1000 is trivial if it makes people more productive or gets answers faster. I have been in these situations before, and they aren't willing to overclock so they buy the best and don't really care about the cost. I'm just not sure if a video card applies to many of these situations, since shooting space aliens isn't a viable business strategy. But there are probably some pursuits that benefit from this besides kiddies and their games. For them, this might make sense.

    Comparing an overclocked card with a stock, pre-production card is kind of silly too. I mean, it's fine for the review, but when people extrapolate from this that they should get other card and overclock it, they ignore that this new card might overclock better, so again, it's not a matter of getting the same thing for less, but of getting less performance for less.

    AMD probably realizes the kiddie market is too small like Intel has and prefer to go with better mainstream products. They don't need to be in that business anymore, since it's a much bigger company and they can expand in different, more meaningful ways (like Fusion). NVIDIA has big problems, the merger between AMD and ATI has made their life a whole lot more difficult in that chipset market, and I don't know anyone with an IQ over 70 that buys a chipset from a penny-ante company like NVIDIA when they can buy a real Intel chipset for their Intel processors. Intel chipsets have always been the best, if not in performance then in reliability and support.

    So, NVIDIA is looking like the odd man out, especially with IGPs slowly creeping up. Maybe they need to reinvent themselves as a high end company, as ATI goes a bit more mainstream. Good luck to them, I'll be surprised if they're not belly up in a few years, or really bought by another company, especially if processors continue to gain GPU functions as seems the current path.

    Does anyone else think it's a little funny how everything goes back to the way things were? I mean, there are math coprocessors again! Now, it seems like all the graphical stuff will be done by the processor again pretty soonb (as in the days of the dumb frame buffer video cards). I wonder when the DOS prompt will be the interface for the next generation operating system. Google isn't that far from it, although it's not an OS.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Saturday, May 05, 2007 - link

    Just one issue with what you said.
    quote:

    Comparing an overclocked card with a stock, pre-production card is kind of silly too. I mean, it's fine for the review, but when people extrapolate from this that they should get other card and overclock it, they ignore that this new card might overclock better, so again, it's not a matter of getting the same thing for less, but of getting less performance for less.
    You can look at it like an overclocked card, but the fact is that the EVGA card we tested and stock 8800 Ultra cards compete on the same level. This isn't a card we bought and then overclocked, this is a retail product that EVGA sells at higher performance than stock 8800 GTX hardware. It's got a lifetime warranty at the clock speeds they set at the factory. As will their stock 8800 Ultra card which won't perform any better.

    I understand the argument that comparing the 8800 Ultra to an 8800 GTX that we overclocked ourselves is silly. But people that don't want to overclock their hardware who are in the market for a high end graphics card will only see a negligible performance difference with a huge price gap between EVGA's 8800 GTX KO ACS3 and any stock 8800 Ultra. It absolutely is a matter of getting the same thing for less.

    Overclockers may see some value in the 8800 Ultra, but even the businesses you mentioned should look at the EVGA 8800 GTX KO ACS3 and the 8800 Ultra as competitors on equal ground. Sure a company might not mind paying more money for more performance, but it is hard to understand why a company would needlessly pay more money for somethign that offers the same performance as a competing part.

    I do agree that a lot of people are making a bigger deal out of this than they need to. The market is still driven by supply and demand afterall. If people are smart enough to realize that NVIDIA has priced their hardware too high, the price will come down. We certainly won't pass up the opportunity to educate people about the fact that the 8800 Ultra is an incredibly bad value with other retail graphics cards performing the same and costing much less.

    Reply

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