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

  • ZobarStyl - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    Jibbo I thought that the dynamic branching capability as part of PS3.0 could make rendering a scene faster because it skips rendering unneccessary pixels and thus could offer an increase in performance, albeit a small one. In an interview one of the developers of Far Cry said that there weren't many more things that PS3.0 could do that 2.0 can't, but that 3.0 can do things in a single pass that a 2.0 shader would have to do in multiple passes. The way he described it, the real pretty effects can come in later but a streamlined (read: slightly faster) shader could very well improve NV40 scores as is. This seems kind of analogous to the whole 64-bit processor ordeal going on; Intel says you don't need it, but then most articles show higher scores from A64 chips when they are in a 64 bit OS, so basically if you streamline it you can run a little bit faster than in less efficient 32-bit.

    In the end, it'll still be bitter fanboys fighting it out and buying whatever product their respective corporation feeds them, despite features or speeds or price or whatever. Personally, like I said before, I'll wait and see who really ends up earning my dollar.

    Anyway, thanks for keeping me on my toes though, jib...I can't get lazy now... =)
  • Barkuti - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    From my point of view, the 6800U is superior high end hardware. Folks, you don't need to be that intelligent to understand that if ATI needs 520 Mhz to "beat" nVidia's 400 MHz chip, as it will need to overclock proportionally to keep the same level of performance that means it will need a good bunch of extra MHz to stay at least on par on the overclocking front.

    I think the final revision of the 6800U will manage 500 MHz overclocks or around (probably more if they deliberately set the initial clock low waiting for ATI), so ATI's hardware may need around 650 Mhz, which I doubt it'll make. As for the power requirements, sure ATI is the winner, but the nVidia's card can be fed with more standard PSU's than they claim; I just think they played on the safe side.
    Oh, sure, power may be a limiting factor when oc'ing the 6800U, but the reality is that people who buy these kind of harware already has top end computer components (including the PSU), so no worries here also.

    And finally speaking, I think PS 3.0 will make some additional difference. With the possibility to somewhat enhance shader performance and the superior displacement mapping effect, it may give it the edge in at least a handful of games. We'll see.

    "Just my 2 cents"
  • Staples - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    Everyone be sure to check out Tom's review. Looks like the X800 did better here than it did against the 6800. I have seen other reviews and the X800 doesn't really seem as fast in comparison as it does here.

    Anyway, it is a lot faster than I though. The 6800 was impressive but it seems that the reason it does really well in some games and not so great in others is because some games have NVIDIA specific code that the 6800 takes advantage of very well.
  • UlricT - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    wtf? the GT is outperforming the Ultra in F1 Challenge? Reply
  • jibbo - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    Agree with you all the way on the fanboys, ZobarStyl.

    Just wanted to point out that PS3.0 is not "faster" - it's simply an API. It allows longer and more complex shaders so, if anything, it's likely to be "slower." I'm guessing that designers who use PS3.0 heavily will see serious fill-rate problems on the 6800. These shaders will have potentially 65k+ instructions with dynamic branching, a minimum of 4 render targets, 32-bit FP minimum color format, etc - I seriosuly doubt any hardcore 3.0 shader programs will run faster than existing 2.0 shaders.

    Clearly a developer can have much nicer quality and exotic effects if he/she exploits these, but how many gamers will have a PS3.0 card that will run these extremely complex shaders at high resolutions and AA/AF without crawling to single-digit fps? It's my guess that it will be *at least* a year until games show serious quality differentiation between PS2.0 and PS3.0. But I have been wrong in the past...
  • T8000 - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    I think it is strange that the tested X800XT is clocked at 520 Mhz, while the 6800U, that is manufactured by the same taiwanese company and also has 16 pipelines, is set at 400 Mhz.

    This suggests a lot of headroom on the 6800U or a large overclock on the X800XT.

    Also note that the 6800U scored much better on tomshardware.com (HALO 65FPS@1600x1200), but that can also be caused by their use of the 3.2 Ghz P4 instead of a 2.2 Ghz A64.
  • ZobarStyl - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    I love seeing these fanboys announce each product as the best thing ever (same thing happened with the Prescott, Intel fanboys called it the end of AMD and the AMD guys laughed and called it a flamethrower) without actually reading the benches. NV won some, ATi won some. Most of the time it was tiny margins either way. Fanboys aside, this is gonna be a driver war nothing more. The biggest margin was on Far Cry, and I'm personally waiting on the faster PS3.0 to see what that bench really is. This is a great card but price drops and drivers updates will eventually show us the real victor. Reply
  • jibbo - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    If I had to guess, DX10 and Longhorn will coincide with the release of new hardware from everyone. Reply
  • Akaz1976 - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    Just thought of something. If i am reading AT review right, ATi now has milked the original Radeon9700 architecture for nearly 2 years (sure says a lot of good things about the ArtX design team).

    Anyone know when the true next gen chip can be expected?

  • Ilmater - Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - link

    Hearing about the 6850 and the other Emergency-Extreme-Whatever 6800 variants that are floating about irritates me greatly. Nvidia, you are losing your way!

    Instead of spending all that time, effort and $$ just to try to take the "speed champ" title, make your shit that much cheaper instead! If your 6800 Ultra was $425 instead of $500, that would give you a hell of alot more market share and $$ than a stupid Emergency Edition of your top end cards... We laugh at Intel for doing it, and now you're doing it too, come fricking on...
    This is ridiculous!! What do you think the XT Platinum Edition from ATI is? The only difference is that nVidia released first, so it's more obvious when they do it than when ATI does. I'm not really a fanboy of either, but you shouldn't dog nVidia for something that everyone does.

    Plus, if nVidia dropped their prices, ATI would do the same thing. Then nVidia would be right back where it was before, but they wouldn't be making any money on the cards.

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