Nvidia's GeForce 8800 graphics processor

The green team reinvents its own reality—and rattles ours

DURING THE LAST couple of years, whenever we've asked anyone from Nvidia about the future of graphics processors and the prospects for a unified architecture that merges vertex and pixel shaders into a single pool of floating-point processors, they've smiled and said something quietly to the effect of: Well, yes, that is one approach, and we think it's a good future direction for GPUs. But it isn't strictly necessary to have unified shader hardware in order to comply with DirectX 10, and it may not be the best approach for the next generation of graphics processors.

Nvidia's response to queries like this one was remarkably consistent, and most of us assumed that ATI would be first to market with a unified shader architecture for PC graphics. Heck, ATI had already completed a unified design for the Xbox 360, so its next GPU would be a second-generation effort. Surely ATI would take the technology lead in the first round of DirectX 10-capable graphics chips.

Except for this: Nvidia seems to have fooled almost everybody. Turns out all of that talk about unified architectures not being necessary was just subterfuge. They've been working on a unified graphics architecture for four years now, and today, they're unveiling the thing to the world—and selling it to consumers starting immediately. The graphics processor formerly known as G80 has been christened as the GeForce 8800, and it's anything but a conventional GPU design. Read on for more detail than you probably need to know about it.

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