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NVIDIA's GeForce 6200 graphics processor

Adding one more GeForce six to the mix

WHEN NVIDIA first announced the GeForce 6800 series, the company boasted that its new graphics architecture would scale down to mid-range and value markets by the end of the year. GeForce 6 trickle-down has already spawned the GeForce 6600 series, whose performance and feature set are a revelation for the mid-range market. Today, NVIDIA extends the GeForce 6 series even further into the value segment with the GeForce 6200. This four-pipe GeForce 6 brings Shader Model 3.0 support to graphics cards in and around the $129 mark, giving cash-strapped gamers an intriguing new low-end option.

How does the GeForce 6200 fare against competition that includes ATI's budget Radeons and Intel's Graphics Media Accelerator 900? Read on to find out.

The GeForce 6200
The GeForce 6200 graphics chip is a four-pipe derivative of the NV43 GPU that powers the GeForce 6600 series. Like the rest of the GeForce 6 line, the 6200 utilizes a fragment crossbar to link pixel shaders and raster operators (ROPs) within the pixel pipeline. Rather than being bound to a single pixel shader, ROPs are free to tackle output from any of the chip's pixel shaders. This rather promiscuous arrangement allows NVIDIA to pair eight pixel shaders with only four ROPs on the GeForce 6600, saving transistors without catastrophically bottlenecking performance. With the GeForce 6200, NVIDIA pairs four pixel pipes with four ROPs. There's no transistor savings, but the fragment crossbar may offer a clock-for-clock performance advantage over more traditional designs.

Like the GeForce 6600 series, the GeForce 6200 has full support for DirectX 9, Shader Model 3.0, and 32-bit floating point data types. The 6200 packs three vertex shader units, just like the 6600, as well. The two also share a programmable video processor that we'll have more to tell you about soon. The GeForce 6200 differs from the rest of the GeForce 6 line when it comes to antialiasing, though: its Intellisample 3.0 implementation lacks color and Z-compression. Since low-end cards generally lack the pixel pushing horsepower to make antialiasing viable in games, the lack of Intellisample color and Z-compression isn't a major flaw.

Looks like NV43 to me

The GeForce 6200 GPU is manufactured by TSMC on a 0.11-micron fabrication process. The die measures 12mm x 13mm according to my tape measure, making it identical in size to the NV43 GPU that powers the GeForce 6600. Isn't that interesting? When we asked NVIDIA for the 6200's code name according to the "NV4x" convention, the company would only say the chip was a "derivative" of the NV43. It's entirely possible that the GeForce 6200 GPU is simply an NV43 with four pixel pipes and Intellisample color and Z-compression disabled. If this is the case, we may see enterprising enthusiasts attempt to unlock the extra pipelines with hardware or software modifications.

Unlike other members of the GeForce 6 line, there will only be one version of the GeForce 6200¬óno GT, XT, Ultra, or Turbo Golden Sample Special Edition. Clock speeds for the 6200 aren't written in stone, though. NVIDIA recommends a core clock of 300MHz, but board vendors are free to run faster. There's also flexibility on the memory clock front. Our GeForce 6200 reference card has DDR memory clocked at an effective 500MHz, which thanks to the 6200's 128-bit memory bus, gives the card an even 8.0GB/sec of memory bandwidth. Board manufacturers will be free to run higher or lower memory clocks, and they'll also be able to make cheaper cards that have a narrower 64-bit path to memory.

Our GeForce 6200 reference card

As you can see, the GeForce 6200 reference card is a PCI Express affair. NVIDIA doesn't plan to make an AGP version of the GeForce 6200, leaving the existing GeForce FX products for AGP systems. Since PC builders are already producing lots of machines based on Intel's 900-series chipsets and PCI Express chipets are coming soon for the Athlon 64, there should be a burgeoning market for PCI Express graphics cards in the coming months.

The GeForce 6200 is primarily targeted at major OEMs and system integrators, so retail products may not make it to store shelves at places like Best Buy, CompUSA, or Fry's any time soon. Cards should be available from online retailers for between $129 and $149, if not less. Expect 64-bit flavors of the GeForce 6200 to be even cheaper and, hopefully, clearly marked.

Finally, notice that the GeForce 6200 card lacks "golden fingers." The 6200 doesn't support SLI, so you won't be able to team up two cards in a single system.