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NVIDIA and ATI's new supercards


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— 8:00 AM on May 12, 2003

BOTH ATI AND NVIDIA are out to raid your wallet with new graphics cards they're introducing today. These things cost nearly as much as a basic PC at Sam's Club, so please, brace yourself. The two new cards being introduced today are NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900 Ultra, which is based on the chip code-named NV35, and the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB, which is a slight update to the Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB card we reviewed here. The new GeForce FX card is based on a new chip, while the Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB packs new DDR-II-type memory. We'll look at 'em both, starting with the biggest news, NVIDIA's new NV35-based card.

The GeForce FX 5900 Ultra card
I could tell you once more the story of the ill-fated NV30 chip that the NV35 replaces, or I could point you to my review of the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra. But I couldn't tell it any better than NVIDIA's CEO told Reuters last week:

Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang said the company will launch its new graphics chip, code-named 'NV35,' next week. It will replace the company's prior top-end product, code-named NV30, which Huang said was unsuccessful.
Ahem. Let's move on, because NVIDIA certainly is.

Here's a look at the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra reference card design.


The GeForce FX 5900 Ultra reference card — Source: NVIDIA

As you can see, the Dustbuster is gone, replaced by an interesting cooler design with a blower and some angled fins. NVIDIA says air flowing over these fins creates a Bernoulli effect to enhance cooling. (I can't wait to see the card lift up and fly across the room in the middle of an intense gaming session.) As you can probably tell by looking, the reference card is about the same dimensions as a typical GeForce4 Ti 4600 card. However, like the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, the 5900 Ultra will eat up both an AGP slot and an adjacent PCI slot. Frankly, so long as it's not too loud, I'm OK with that. This new design ought to be a big improvement. Owners of Shuttle XPC systems and other small-form-factor PCs may beg to differ, though. The FX 5900 Ultra's extra-wide body won't fit into many of those systems.