, graphics aficionados are very familiar with the story of NVIDIA's rise to the top in PC graphics, followed by a surprising stumble with its last generation of products, the NV30 series. NV30 was late to market and, when it arrived, couldn't keep pace with ATI's impressive Radeon 9700 chip. Worse, the GeForce FX 5800 had a Dustbuster-like cooling appendage strapped to its side that was loud enough to elicit mockery from even jaded overclocking enthusiasts. NVIDIA followed up the FX 5800 with a series of NV30-derived GPUs that got relatively better over time compared to the competition, but only because NVIDIA threw lots of money into new chip revisions, compiler technology, and significantly faster memory than ATI used.
But as of today, that's all ancient history. NVIDIA is back with a new chip, the NV40, produced by a new, crystal-clear set of design principles. The first NV40-based product is the GeForce 6800 Ultra. I've been playing with one for the past few days here in Damage Labs, and I'm pleased to report that it's really, really good. For a better understanding of how and why, read on.