NVIDIA's Last Minute Effort

On the verge of ATI's R420 GPU launch, NVIDIA brought out a new card called the GeForce 6850 Ultra. This new card is to be sold as an OEM overclocked part (ala the "Golden Sample" and other such beasts), and will be able to run at 450MHz+ core and 1.1GHz+ memory clock speeds. It is very clear to us getting this board out here right now was a bit of a rush for NVIDIA, and it would seem that they didn't expect to see the kind of performance ATI's X800 series can deliver. We were unable to get drivers installed and running on our 6850 Ultra card until about two hours ago, but we will be following this article up with an update to the data as soon as we are able to benchmark the card. The 6850 Ultra looks exactly the same as the 6800 Ultra (it really is the same card with an overclock), so we'll forego the pictures.

The other part NVIDIA is launching today is their $399 price point card, the GeForce 6800 GT. This card won't be shipping for a while (mid June), and NVIDIA cites the fact that they didn't want to announce the card too far ahead of availability as the reason for the timing of this announcement.

The 6800 GT is a 16x1 architecture card that runs at 350MHz core and 1GHz memory clocks. As we can see from the beautiful picture, NVIDIA is bringing out a single slot card with one molex power connector based on NV40. Even if its not the fastest thing we'll see today, it is still good news. We will definitely be trying our hand at a little overclocking in the future. Power requirements are much less than the 6800 Ultra part, with something like a 300W PSU being perfectly fine to run this card.

Along with this new card release, NVIDIA have pushed out new beta drivers (61.11), of which we are still evaluating the image quality. We haven't seen any filtering differences, but we currently exploring some shader based image quality tests.

The Test

The key factor in the ongoing battle is DirectX 9 performance. We will be taking the hardest look at games that exploit PS 2.0, but that's not all people play (and there aren't very many on the market yet), we have included some past favorites as well.

Our test system is:

FIC K8T800 Motherboard
AMD Athlon 64 3400+
Segate 120GB PATA HDD
510W PC Power & Cooling PSU

The drivers we used in testing are:

NVIDIA Beta ForceWare 60.72
NVIDIA Beta ForceWare 61.11
ATI CATALYST BETA (version unknown)

We didn't observe any performance difference when moving to the Beta CATAYLST from 4.4 on 9800 XT, so we chose to forgo retesting everything on the new drivers. Also, the 61.11 driver does show a slight increase in performance on NVIDIA cards, so we retested previously benchmarked hardware with the 61.11 drivers. Old numbers will be left in the benchmarks for completeness sake.

As mentioned earlier, we will be updating our tests later today with number collected from the GeForce 6850 Ultra (and we'll throw in a few other surprises as well).

The Cards Pixel Shader Performance Tests


View All Comments

  • Pumpkinierre - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    Sorry, scrub that last one. I couldnt help it. I will reform.
  • Pumpkinierre - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    So, which is better: a64 at 2Gig or P4 at 3.2?
  • jibbo - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    "Zobar is right; contra Jibbo, the increased flexibility of PS3 means that for many 2.0 shader programs a PS3 version can achieve equivalent results with a lesser performance hit."

    I think you're both still missing my point. There is nothing that says PS3.0 is faster than PS2.0. You are both correct that it has to potential to be faster, though you both assume that a first generation PS3.0 architecture will perform at the same level as a refined PS2.0 architechture.

    PS3.0 is one of the big reasons that nVidia's die size and transistor count are bigger than ATI's. The additional power drain (and consequently heat dissipation) of those 40M transistors also helps to limit the clock speeds of the 6800. When you're talking about ALU ops per second (which dominate math-intensive shaders), these clock speeds become very important. A lot of the 6800's speed for PS3.0 will have to be found in the driver optimizations that will compile these shaders for PS3.0. Left to itself, ATI's raw shader performance still slaughters nVidia's.

    They both made trade-offs, and it seems that ATI is banking that PS3.0 won't be a dealbreaker in 2004. Only time will tell....
  • Phiro - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    K, I found the $400M that the CEO claimed. He also claimed $400M for the NV3x core as well. It seemed more as a boast than anything, not particularly scientific or exact.

    In any case, ATI supposedly spent $165-180M last year (2003) on R&D, with an estimated increase of 100% for this year. How long has the 4xx core been in development?

    Regardless, ultimately we the consumers are the winners. Whether or not the R&D spent pans out will play out over the next couple years, as supposedly the nv4x core has a 24 month lifespan.

  • 413xram - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    If you watch nvidia's launch video on their site they mention the r&d costs for their new card. Reply
  • RyanVM - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    What ever happened to using ePSXe as a video card benchmark? Reply
  • Phiro - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    Well, Nvidia may have spent $400M on this (I've never seen that number before but we'll go with it I guess) but they paid themselves for the most part.

    ATI's cost can't be too trivialized - didn't they drop a product design or two in favor of getting this out the door instead? And any alteration in the architecture of something doesn't really qualify as a hardware "refresh" in my book - a hardware refresh for an OEM consists of maybe one speed notch increase in the RAM, new bios, larger default HD, stuff like that. MLK is what Dell used to call it - Mid Life Kick.
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    "Precisely. By the time 512mb is useful, the card will be too slow for it to matter, and you'd need a new card any way."


    Both cards perform great, both have wins and losses depending on the game. The deciding factor will be price and power requirements.

    Since prices will adjust downward, at a fairly equal rate, that leaves power. With Power requirements being so incredibly high with the NV40, that leans me toward ATI.

    413xram also has a good point above. For Nvidia, this is a 400 million dollar new chip design. For ATI, this was a refresh of an old design to add 16 pipes, and a few other features. After the losses NV took with the heavily flawed NV30 and 35 , they need a financial boom, and this isnt it.

  • mattsaccount - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    There are no games available today that use 256mb of video RAM, let alone 512mb. Even upper-high-end cards routinely come with 128mb (e.g. Geforce FX 5900, Radeon 9600XT). It would not make financial sense for a game developer to release a game that only a small fraction of the community could run acceptably.

    >> I have learned from the past that future possibilties of technology in hardware does nothing for me today.

    Precisely. By the time 512mb is useful, the card will be too slow for it to matter, and you'd need a new card any way.
  • 413xram - Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - link

    #64 Can you explain "gimmick"? Reply

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