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GeForce 6800 series round-up

Five of the best compared

CHOOSING A NEXT-GEN graphics card is tough. First, one has to decide between ATI's Radeon X800 family and NVIDIA's GeForce 6800 series. That decision alone is a daunting one, requiring one to weigh DOOM 3 performance, potential Half-Life 2 performance, the merits of NVIDIA's Shader Model 3.0 implementation, and ATI's stellar performance in current DirectX 9 applications. There's also the religion factor. These days, choosing between ATI and NVIDIA is like declaring a religious affiliation, and there's plenty of rabid preaching on both sides of the fence.

Settling on a GeForce or Radeon is just part of the equation, though. Once you've narrowed the field down to a product family or even a specific GPU, there's the question of board manufacturers. Some offer better warranties, many bundle in all sorts of extras, and others even go so far as to offer cards overclocked in the box.

To explore what different graphics card manufacturers have to offer on the GeForce 6800-series side of the fence, we've rounded up cards from BFG, Chaintech, eVGA, inno3D, and PNY. Which manufacturer's implementation reigns supreme? Read on to find out.

Five cards, five manufacturers

A primer on NV40
The GeForce 6800 series of graphics products is based on NVIDIA's brand-new NV40 GPU. Inspired by the philosophy that "wider is better," NV40 is decked out with up to sixteen pixel pipelines, six vertex units, and gobs of memory bandwidth. The GPU also supports Shader Model 3.0, DOOM 3-friendly Ultrashadow II, and a host of video-related goodies. Rather than go into excruciating detail on the NV40 GPU here, I suggest you read Damage's in-depth GeForce 6800 GPU review.

Although the GeForce 6800, GeForce 6800 GT, and GeForce 6800 Ultra share the same basic NV40 architecture, there are clock speed and pipeline differences between them. Here's how the three 6800 iterations stack up against each other and ATI's competing Radeon family.

  Core clock (MHz) Pixel pipelines Peak fill rate (Mpixels/s)Texture units per pixel pipeline Peak fill rate (Mtexels/s) Memory clock (MHz) Memory bus width (bits) Peak memory bandwidth (GB/s)
GeForce 6800 3251239001390070025622.4
Radeon X800 Pro4751257001570090025628.8
GeForce 6800 GT35016560015600100025632.0
GeForce 6800 Ultra40016640016400110025635.2
GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme45016720017200110025635.2
Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition52016832018320112025635.8

The GeForce 6800 GT and Ultra personify NVIDIA's new "wider is better" mantra with a sweet 16 pixel pipelines. The Ultra core is clocked 50MHz faster, which gives it a significant fill rate advantage over the GT. Memory bandwidth is close between the two cards, though. There's a 100MHz difference in memory clock speed, but that only translates to an extra 2.8GB/second of peak theoretical memory bandwidth.

While the GT and Ultra bask in the glory of sixteen pixel pipes, the vanilla 6800 must make do with only a dozen. When combined with a lower core clock speed, this pixel pipe deficiency puts the vanilla 6800 at a huge fill rate disadvantage. A relatively low memory clock speed also gives the 6800 significantly less memory bandwidth to work with. Of course, the 6800-series cards are cheaper than GT and Ultra-based products, so you get what you pay for.

Don't forget ForceWare
When discussing graphics cards, it's easy to get wrapped up in pixel pipelines, vertex units, shader models, and other hardware-centric attributes. All that's important, but drivers matter too, and NVIDIA deserves special recognition for all the extra goodies they've added to the ForceWare graphics driver.

For starters, ForceWare's nView multimonitor software is better than anything else out there. nView 3.5 is loaded with more multimonitor functionality than the best Matrox has to offer, and it's an order of magnitude better than ATI's Hydravision. NVIDIA's latest ForceWare graphics drivers also come with an integrated pop-up blocker, which should come in handy for die-hard Internet Explorer users who don't want to switch over to an alternative browser or run a third-party toolbar. ForceWare even has game profiles that let users set different image quality, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering preferences for different games.

For many, ForceWare's extra features aren't going to make or break the GeForce 6800. Still, it's nice to see NVIDIA adding a little extra value to its drivers.