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.
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)|
|Radeon X800 Pro||475||12||5700||1||5700||900||256||28.8|
|GeForce 6800 GT||350||16||5600||1||5600||1000||256||32.0|
|GeForce 6800 Ultra||400||16||6400||1||6400||1100||256||35.2|
|GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme||450||16||7200||1||7200||1100||256||35.2|
|Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition||520||16||8320||1||8320||1120||256||35.8|
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.
Comparing the cards
Since the focus today is on GeForce 6800-series implementations, here’s how the cards we’ll be looking at today stack up in a number of generally more manufacturer-determined categories:
|GeForce…||Core clock (MHz)||Memory clock (MHz)||Memory type||Memory size (MB)||Video outputs||Warranty period||Street price|
|BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC||6800 GT||370||1000||GDDR3||256||DVI, VGA, S-Video||Lifetime||$399|
|Chaintech Apogee AA6800||6800||358||770||DDR||128||DVI, VGA, S-Video||2 years||$306|
|eVGA e-GeForce 6800 Ultra||6800 Ultra||400||1100||GDDR3||256||DVI (2), S-Video||1 year||$499|
|inno3D GeForce 6800||6800||325||700||DDR||128||DVI, VGA, S-Video||1 year||$299 (MSRP)|
|PNY GeForce 6800 GT||6800 GT||350||1000||GDDR3||256||DVI, VGA, S-Video||Product lifetime||$389|
We have two vanilla 6800 cards, two GTs, and one Ultra to look at today, but the 6800s and GTs aren’t necessarily created equal. Two of the cards we’ve rounded up, BFG’s GeForce 6800 GT OC and Chaintech’s Apogee AA6800, are overclocked by default. The higher clock speeds gives these cards an immediate performance advantage over their stock-clocked counterparts, although that performance advantage comes with a slightly higher price tag.
While we have all the clock speeds out on display, I should reiterate that the purpose of this comparison is to highlight differences in manufacturer implementations, not differences between the 6800, 6800 GT, and 6800 Ultra. BFG, Chaintech, eVGA, inno3D, and PNY all offer vanilla, GT, and Ultra flavors of the GeForce 6800.
All right, back to the comparison chart.
In addition to having lower clock speeds than their GT and Ultra siblings, our GeForce 6800 cards come with only 128MB of memory. As we saw with mid-range GeForce FX products, manufacturers have a penchant for adding 256MB of memory to lower-end products in an attempt to differentiate them from the competition. That’s not the case with the cards we have lined up today, though.
While we’re talking memory, notice that the 6800s use plain old DDR while the GT and Ultra cards are decked out with GDDR3. In addition to being able to run at higher clock speeds, GDDR3 also consumes less power than traditional DDR memory.
Because this wouldn’t be a TR graphics article without me banging the dual DVI drum, I have to highlight the fact that eVGA’s e-GeForce 6800 Ultra is the only card in this comparison with dual DVI output ports. Dual DVI seems to be standard for Ultra cards, but it’s disappointing that manufacturers aren’t releasing GT and 6800 cards with an extra DVI output.
Product warranties are probably the least sexy metric we’ll be looking at today, but coverage actually varies quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer. BFG leads the way in the warranty department with lifetime coverage. PNY’s warranty also offers lifetime coverage, but only for as long as the card is available on the common market. Depending on how long the GeForce 6800 GT is available for sale, PNY’s product lifetime warranty may be better or worse than Chaintech’s two-year warranty, which offers twice the coverage of inno3D and eVGA’s single-year coverage.
Finally, we come to price, and the cards stack up like you’d expect: 6800s are cheaper than GTs, which are cheaper than Ultras. Cards that are overclocked in the box carry a small price premium, too.
GT to the OC
BFG Technologies offers a full line of GeForce 6800-series products targeted at gamers and PC enthusiasts. These aren’t your standard 6800s, though. BFG’s 6800, 6800 GT, and 6800 Ultra offerings are all overclocked in the box in an attempt to offer better performance than the largely stock-clocked competition. BFG isn’t secretly turning up clock speeds behind the scenes; they proudly tag overclocked cards with an “OC” moniker.
Today, we’re looking at BFG’s GeForce 6800 GT OC, whose 370MHz core clock speed is 20MHz faster than a stock 6800 GT. An extra 20MHz doesn’t seem like a lot, especially since BFG sticks with the 6800 GT’s standard 1GHz memory clock, but we’ll get into performance a little later. First, let’s have a look at the card.
Although the 6800 GT OC’s core clock speed will differentiate it from the competition, there’s nothing terribly unique about the card’s look or layout. The card comes on a standard green board that appears to follow NVIDIA’s reference design for the 6800 GT to the letter. Following a reference design isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but from an aesthetic point of view, it’s not terribly exciting.
The 6800 GT OC comes with a single slot-cooler that won’t steal an adjacent PCI slot or argue with small form factor enclosures. That cooler is going to start looking very familiar, though. It’s the same one found on several other cards in this comparison.
BFG serves up a standard array of ports on the GT OC, including VGA, DVI, and S-Video outputs. As always, it would be nice to see dual DVI as an option, especially considering the card’s $400 price tag price.
As far as hardware extras go, BFG doesn’t offer much. The 6800 GT OC ships with a Molex power splitter and a DVI-to-VGA adapter, but that’s about it. Given what’s included with other cards, I’d like to see BFG at least throw in an S-Video cable for those looking to hook the card up to a TV.
Like its hardware bundle, the BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC’s software package isn’t exactly loaded with extras. The card ships with NVIDIA’s nvDVD software and demos of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Painkiller, and Silent Storm. Those game demos have been readily available for download to the general public for some time, so they contribute little real value to the card.
BFG’s bundling may be weak, but the company’s warranty is second to none. The GeForce 6800 GT OC is protected by a lifetime warranty that covers the card at its default “overclocked” speeds. Other manufacturers claim lifetime product warranties, but some of those warranties only apply to product lifetimes that can expire when a company stops producing and stocking a given product.
In addition to a lifetime product warranty, BFG also offers 24/7 tech support with a toll-free hotline for residents of Canada and the U.S.
Bringing a little bling to the 6800
The Apogee AA6800 is the second overclocked card in this comparison, and Chaintech’s clock tweaking is a little more ambitious than BFG’s. The AA6800 is based on the vanilla GeForce 6800, but Chaintech turns up both the core and memory clocks by 10%, yielding final core and memory clock speeds of 358 and 770MHz, respectively.
Chaintech has also dressed up the card to look better. Check it out:
With a bright blue PCB, silver heat sink, and gold trim, the AA6800 has plenty of aesthetic bling to back up the overclocked hardware. For all Chaintech’s cosmetic touches, however, the card still follows NVIDIA’s reference design.
The AA6800 does, though, have a slightly different cooler than other GeForce 6800 cards. Chaintech’s cooler is similar in shape and size to other 6800 coolers, but the heat sink has more exposed cooling fins. That’s a subtle difference at best, but when everyone else is using the same cooler, even minor tweaks stand out.
As expected, the AA6800 has the same array of video output port as nearly every other graphics card. By now you know I have a thing for dual DVI, so I won’t belabor the point. However, since the AA6800 is only a $300 card, I’m more inclined to forgive the lack of a second DVI output.
Aesthetically, I’m not sure I like the AA6800’s gold port cluster trim. The bling seems gaudy and out of place, especially given the card’s silver heat sink.
Chaintech is known for its bundles, and the AA6800’s lives up to Chaintech’s rep. The card comes loaded with goodies, including a power splitter, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, an S-Video-to-composite-video adapter, and both S-Video and composite video cables. The box also includes a fuzzy green monitor cleaner that removes dust and other particulates without scratching. The fuzzy ball is also great for throwing at unsuspecting LAN party attendees.
The gravy train continues with a massive software bundle that includes full versions of WinCinema 2.0 and Commandos 3. Chaintech also includes its own software overclocking utility and a demo CD filled with vintage titles like Serious Sam SE. Honestly, I don’t see the point in including such ancient game demos with a DirectX 9-class graphics card. Games like Serious Sam SE, Rally Trophy, and Tropico are hardly going to show off what the 6800 can do. Commandos 3 was released last year, so it’s quite a bit more current and, according to reviews, a pretty good game.
In the warranty department, Chaintech covers the AA6800 for two years. The card is covered at its in-the-box “overclocked” speeds, too. The two-year warranty isn’t quite as impressive as BFG’s lifetime pact, but it’s certainly better than the single-year warranties offered by other manufacturers.
eVGA’s e-GeForce 6800 Ultra is the most expensive card in this comparison, and for good reason: it’s the only Ultra. The card’s price is well-justified, though. The Ultra comes equipped with the fastest core and memory clock speeds of the lot, promising better performance than standard 6800s or even GTs.
As its e-GeForce name implies, eVGA hasn’t done much to put its mark on the GeForce 6800 Ultra. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it just means that there’s not much to differentiate eVGA’s Ultra from another manufacturer’s.
Apart from an eVGA sticker on the heat sink, the e-GeForce 6800 Ultra looks identical to NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra reference cards. Like other Ultras, the e-GeForce has two auxiliary power connectors. NVIDIA recommends that each of these connectors be attached to separate lines from the power supply rated to at least 450W.
GeForce 6800 Ultras use a dual-slot cooler that complicates squeezing these cards into some small form factor systems. To NVIDIA’s credit, the new cooler is much quieter than the original Dustbuster and even the dual-slot cooler that graced the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra. Also, unlike NVIDIA’s previous dual-slot cooling solutions, the GeForce 6800 Ultra’s cooler doesn’t directly vent outside air via the PCI back plate.
Speaking of the PCI back plate, eVGA’s GeForce 6800 Ultra comes adorned with dual DVI outputs. And there was much rejoicing. As far as I’m concerned, dual DVI is essential for a card in this price range. LCDs may not be favored by gamers yet, but if I’m dropping five bills on a graphics card, I want to at least have the option of going dual DVI.
If you don’t have a DVI-equipped LCD, don’t worry. The e-GeForce 6800 Ultra comes with a pair of DVI-to-VGA adapters. The card is also bundled with a couple of Molex splitters and an S-Video cable. Since the e-GeForce 6800 Ultra is such a premium product, it would be nice to see a few more extras in the bundle. However, eVGA includes everything most users will need.
The e-GeForce 6800 Ultra is the only card in this comparison to deliver a game bundle worthy of the NV40 GPU. The card comes bundled with a copy of nvDVD, but more importantly, a full version of Far Cry. With DOOM 3 on store shelves and Half-Life 2 apparently close to release, Far Cry probably won’t be getting much attention in the coming months. Still, it’s a great game with gorgeous graphics. Crytek, Far Cry’s developer, has even added Shader Model 3.0 support to the game to improve performance on GeForce 6800-series graphics cards. It’s also worth noting that eVGA is bundling the game with its e-GeForce 6800 and 6800 GT cards.
While I love eVGA’s Far Cry bundle, I’m not too impressed with the company’s one-year warranty. One year warranties are certainly not uncommon, but with Chaintech offering two years of coverage, PNY offering product lifetime coverage, and BFG offering true lifetime coverage, eVGA’s warranty looks particularly stingy.
inno3D’s GeForce 6800 is the least expensive card we’ll be looking at today, and that’s just going by the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. The card actually hasn’t shipped out to stores yet (it’s expected to ship out by the end of the month) so it’s hard to determine what its eventual street price will be. Chances are it will be available from at least a few vendors for less than the $299 MSRP.
Can inno3D makes its GeForce 6800 offering something unique?
Yes and no. The inno3D is built on a black board that’s sure to intrigue goth gamers and stealth modders. However, the card’s layout appears otherwise to stick to NVIDIA’s reference design.
The inno3D card’s reference feel extends to the cooler, which apart from custom graphics is identical to the coolers found on BFG and PNY’s GeForce 6800 GT cards. inno3D even copped NVIDIA’s “Nalu” mermaid for the cooler graphic. Since Nalu’s pretty hot, in a weird CG mermaid fetish kind of way, I can’t complain.
I can complain about the lack of dual DVI ports, though. Just not too loudly. After all, this is a sub-$300 graphics card. Single DVI, VGA, and S-Video ports should be more than enough for most users, especially those shopping for cards in this price range.
inno3D’s cable bundle is sparse, but most of the important extras are included. The card comes with a DVI-to-VGA adapter and an S-Video cable, but inno3D doesn’t include a Molex splitter for the card’s auxiliary power connector. If you don’t have a free four-pin Molex plug in your system, you’ll have to track down a splitter on your own.
While inno3D’s cable bundle is a little sparse, they make up for it with a stack of software titles. In addition to a full version of Commandos 3, the card comes with WinDVD 4, WinDVD Creator, and a games CD that features demos of Lock On: Modern Air Combat, Praetorians, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, and Yager. Again, I’m not sure how much value a games demo CD adds to the package, especially since we’re not talking about cutting-edge titles. Benchmark enthusiasts should also note that inno3D throws in a copy of 3DMark03, but it’s the same version anyone can download from FutureMark’s web site for free. Still, it’s amusing to see 3DMark03 bundled with an NVIDIA-based graphics card given how much NVIDIA criticized the benchmark over the past year and a half.
When it comes to warranties, inno3D offers only a single year of coverage with its GeForce 6800. One-year warranties may be common, but next to Chaintech’s two-year pact, PNY’s product lifetime warranty, and BFG’s true lifetime warranty, a single year of coverage is less than inspiring. There’s nothing wrong with a one-year warranty if the card never breaks, but after spending $300, it would be nice to have a little more insurance.
Read the fine print
Perhaps better known for its Quadro workstation-class graphics cards, PNY also offers a wide range of GeForce-based products, including three flavors of the 6800. We snagged a Verto GeForce 6800 GT for this round-up to see if PNY’s workstation experience rubs off onto its desktop products. Unfortunately, the Verto GeForce 6800 GT looks like just another reference card.
If you swapped heat sink graphics, the Verto GeForce 6800 GT would look exactly like BFG’s GeForce 6800 GT OC, which looks exactly like NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 GT reference card. Following a reference design to the letter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just gives me less to talk about.
And there’s not much to say about the card’s cooler, either. This is the same cooler you’ll find on 6800 GT cards from other manufacturers. It’s a good thing there’s plenty of flat space on the heat sink for a custom graphic, otherwise it might be tough to tell one manufacturer’s card from another. At least the single-slot cooler should have no problem squeezing into small form factor cubes or systems with a full complement of PCI cards.
Given that PNY’s workstation-class Quadro cards feature dual DVI outputs, I hoped that an extra DVI port might sneak its way onto the Verto GeForce 6800 GT. No such luck; the card comes with single DVI, VGA, and S-Video output ports.
To be fair, PNY may have the best excuse for not offering dual DVI on desktop graphics cards: they may not want to cannibalize potential Quadro sales by offering dual-DVI desktop cards.
PNY’s cable bundle is short on frills and gimmicks, but still has everything you’ll need to get the card up and running with multiple monitors and a television. The bundle includes a nifty purple DVI-to-VGA adapter, an S-Video cable, and a Molex power splitter.
The Verto GeForce 6800 GT comes with the sparsest software bundle in our comparison. Actually, it would be unfair to call this a bundle; it’s just a driver CD that also includes a PDF copy of the card’s manual. As far as extras go, that’s pretty weak. However, at least PNY isn’t throwing in any obvious filler *cough* game demos *cough* to try to beef up the package.
PNY offers a product lifetime warranty. Just make sure you read the fine print. According to the manual, the Verto GeForce 6800 GT is covered under warranty for the lifetime of the product, which PNY defines as the following:
Lifetime is defined as the lifetime of the product on the market. Outdated technology is not covered by lifetime warranty if the item is no longer available on the common market as a new product.
So PNY’s product lifetime warranty isn’t quite as snazzy as BFG’s lifetime coverage, but it’s still probably better than a one-year deal. It all depends on how quickly the GeForce 6800 GT is made obsolete.
Update 8/18/2004 – PNY recently announced a promotion with CompUSA that bundles a retail copy of DOOM 3 with Verto GeForce 6800 GT graphics cards for $399. You can find more details on the bundle here.
Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.
|Processor||Athlon 64 3200+ 2.0GHz|
|Front-side bus||HT 16-bit/800MHz downstream
HT 16-bit/800MHz upstream
|North bridge||VIA K8T800|
|South bridge||VIA VT8237|
|Chipset driver||VIA Hyperion 4.51|
|Memory size||512MB (1 DIMM)|
|Memory type||Corsair XMS3500 DDR SDRAM at 400MHz and 2-7-3-3 timings|
|Graphics||inno3D GeForce 6800 128MB
Chaintech AA6800 128MB
PNY GeForce 6800 GT 256MB
BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC 256MB
eVGA e-GeForce 6800 Ultra 256MB
|Graphics driver||ForceWare 61.76|
Western Digital WD360GD 10,000RPM Serial ATA hard drive
|Operating System||Windows XP Professional
Service Pack 2 RC2 and DirectX 9.0c
Since we’ve already covered GeForce 6800 GT and Ultra performance great detail, I’ve only rounded up a couple of games to benchmark today. Since this is a comparison of GeForce 6800-series board vendors, you won’t find any results for ATI’s Radeon X800 series graphics cards. You can read more about Radeon X800-series performance here.
Again, I want to reiterate that the purpose of this comparison is to highlight differences between manufacturer implementations of NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800-series GPUs. I’m only showcasing the performance of Ultra, GT, and vanilla GeForce 6800s to give you a rough idea where they sit in relation to each other, and to examine how much of a performance advantage our overclocked-by-default cards have over the stock-clocked competition.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. All of the 3D gaming tests used the highest possible detail image quality settings except where otherwise noted.
All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
Unreal Tournament 2004
Although eVGA’s Ultra has a slight performance advantage in Unreal Tournament 2004, all the cards are pretty close. The “overclocked in the box” BFG and Chaintech cards don’t show any significant advantage over their stock-clocked counterparts, either.
4X antialiasing and 16X anisotropic filtering spreads the field, and the e-GeForce 6800 Ultra continues to offer the best performance, albeit at the highest price point. The GTs aren’t far behind. BFG’s 20MHz core overclock is worth a few frames per second over PNY’s stock GT.
While the GTs are able to stay close, the vanilla GeForce 6800s take a huge performance hit with 4X antialiasing and 16X aniso as we move to higher resolutions. At 1024×768, both cards flirt with 50 frames per second, but they can’t keep it up at higher resolutions where frame rates take a huge dive. Not even the AA6800’s 10% overclock can help the cardit’s barely faster than inno3D’s 6800 running at stock speeds. The fact that the two are so close makes me wonder if perhaps their 128MB memory size might be limiting performance.
Our Far Cry testing used a beta version of the game’s 1.2 patch.
Far Cry is demanding enough to stress the cards without antialiasing or anisotropic filtering, and as expected, eVGA’s Ultra leads the way. We have to use resolutions higher than 1024×768 to see any performance advantage over our 6800 GTs, though.
Among the GTs, BFG’s 20MHz overclock gives the card a slight edge over PNY’s stock clock speeds, but it’s pretty close. Chaintech’s 10% overclock fuels a more significant performance advantage over inno3D’s stock 6800, but both deliver playable frame rates at resolutions up to 1600×1200.
Far Cry’s anisotropic filtering settings are handled in-game and only extend to 8X aniso. Still, when combined with 4X antialiasing, 8X aniso is more than demanding enough. The Ultra’s out in front again, but the GTs continue to put on an impressive show. BFG’s 20MHz core overclock continues to deliver slightly better performance than PNY’s stock GT, but we’re only talking one to two frames per second here. That’s roughly the same advantage Chaintech’s overclocked AA6800 has over the inno3D GeForce 6800, although performance for both cards is much lower than it is for the GTs.
I used NVIDIA’s overclocking utility, which is embedded in the ForceWare drivers and easy to unlock with the CoolBits registry hack, to overclock the cards. NVIDIA’s overclocking utility is particularly handy, because it can automatically overclock cards and test new clock speeds to verify stability. Testing to verify stability is more important than you might think. Usually, one can fire up a game and look for artifacts or wait for crashes, but as id Software’s John Carmack pointed out in HardOCP’s Official DOOM 3 benchmarks, newer games like DOOM 3 utilize transistors that other games leave dormant. A stable overclock Far Cry could show artifacts or suffer from instability problems in DOOM 3.
In the interests of finding the most stable overclock for what’s hopefully a wide variety of games, I relied on NVIDIA’s automatic overclocking utility to detect the highest stable core and memory clock speeds. The automatic detection routine was run at least three times to ensure consistency.
In testing, I was able to get the following core and memory clock speeds from each card:
- e-GeForce 6800 Ultra – 464/1180MHz
- BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC – 439/1130MHz
- PNY GeForce 6800 GT – 421/1140MHz
- Chaintech AA6800 – 380/811MHz
- inno3D GeForce 6800 – 375/798MHz
As always, your mileage may vary. Overclocking success is never guaranteed.
For the eVGA e-GeForce 6800 Ultra, overclocking doesn’t have a huge impact on frame rates. The card is already a performance leader, and cranking up the clock speeds a little doesn’t change that. However, the overclocked GTs come very close to equaling the overclocked Ultra’s performance. Our GT overclocks were good for an average frame rate gain of about 10 frames per second, which is quite respectable.
On the vanilla 6800 front, overclocking can have a huge impact on performance as long as you keep the resolution reasonable and antialiasing and anisotropic filtering disabled. Overclocking still helps at higher resolutions and with 4X antialiasing and 8X aniso, but the frame rate boost is less pronounced.
For kicks, I whipped out my trusty watt meter and measured overall system power consumption at idle and under load (running Far Cry at 1600×1200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X aniso).
With lower clock speeds and less memory, it’s no surprise that our vanilla 6800s have lower power consumption than the GT and Ultra cards. This one lines up according to clock speed: the higher the clock, the higher the power consumption.
Noise levels were measured using an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level Meter. Idle and load environments were identical to those described in our power consumption tests.
Despite their lower clock speeds, our vanilla 6800s were actually noisier than the 6800 GTs. Not by much, mind you. Unfortunately, the AA6800’s slightly different cooler design didn’t yield lower noise levels than NVIDIA’s stock cooler. Maybe there’s something to sticking to the reference design after all.
Although it’s certainly no Dustbuster, the eVGA Ultra’s noise levels at idle and under load are higher than the rest. That should come as no surprise considering the card’s higher clock speeds and meaty two-slot cooler, but it seems a little excessive to be running that loud at idle.
If you’re on the market for a GeForce 6800-series graphics card, each of the cards we’ve looked at today has something different to offer. All are solid choices, but depending on your priorities, some are better than others. Here’s a quick run-down of the strengths and weaknesses.
BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC – With a 20MHz core clock speed boost over a stock GeForce 6800 GT, BFG’s GT OC delivers a consistentalbeit modestperformance advantage. The real kicker for this card, though, is BFG’s true lifetime warranty. BFG offers lifetime coverage for its entire GeForce 6800 line, ensuring unequaled protection for your graphics card investment. Unfortunately, while the performance and warranty are excellent, BFG’s bundle is sparse at best. With no bundled games (freely downloadable demos don’t really count) and few extras, BFG’s offerings seem most appropriate for performance enthusiasts who don’t get much out of bundled extras they probably already have anyway.
Chaintech Apogee AA6800 – The Apogee AA6800 is probably the most well-rounded offering in the comparison when it comes to extras, warranty, and performance. For starters, the card comes with plenty of cables, a nifty monitor cleaner, and copy of Commandos 3. Throw in a two-year warranty and a 10% overclock, and the AA6800 starts to look pretty compelling. Unfortunately, the 10% overclock rarely translates to a 10% performance advantage, but I’m not going to argue about a few bonus frames per second here and there.
eVGA e-GeForce 6800 Ultra – I could go on and on about how the e-GeForce 6800 Ultra offers the best performance of the lot, but since it’s competing with vanilla 6800s and GTs, that wouldn’t be fair. It also wouldn’t be right to highlight the card’s dual DVI ports, since in the Ultra world, they’re hardly unique. I can, however, praise eVGA for bundling Far Cry with not only its GeForce 6800 Ultra, but also its 6800 and 6800 GT-based offerings. The game is a $40 value and definitely worth playing, if only as a tropical vacation from DOOM 3’s dark hallways. Sadly, as hot as I am for eVGA’s game bundle, the e-GeForce’s one-year warranty is disappointing, especially as it applies to a $500 product.
inno3D GeForce 6800 – Despite coming with a stack of software titles, the inno3D GeForce 6800 doesn’t offer anything above and beyond the competition. The card’s one-year warranty is unremarkable, the cable bundle is missing a Molex power splitter, and apart from Commandos 3 and WinDVD, the software bundle has a lot of demo-filler one could download for free anyway. That doesn’t make the inno3D GeForce 6800 a poor choice, especially if one isn’t not concerned with warranties or extras; it just doesn’t make the card wildly different from most other GeForce 6800 cards.
PNY Verto GeForce 6800 GT – Apart from a unique and potentially confusing “product lifetime warranty,” the Verto GeForce 6800 GT is about as vanilla as they come. Stock clock speeds, a nonexistent software bundle, and plain appearance don’t exactly get my heart racing. However, the card’s cable bundle hits all the important areas, and the product lifetime warranty has the potential to be better than one- and even two-year warranties. All in all, that’s not a bad deal. Just not a very exciting one.
Update 8/18/2004 – PNY’s recently announced Verto GeForce 6800 GT DOOM 3 bundling promotion with CompUSA makes this card considerably more appealing for those planning on picking up a copy of id’s latest shooter.
Now that I’ve dealt with each card and manufacturer individually, I have to take a moment to chastise everyone. Apart from tweaked clock speeds and a couple of colored boards, none of the cards do anything terribly unique with cooling, card design, or aesthetics. Of the five cards we looked at, none offer VIVO, passive cooling, inexpensive dual DVI outputs, or noteworthy improvements on NVIDIA’s reference design. Since the GeForce 6800-series is so new, I can’t complain too much. Manufacturers may need time to engineer radical changes. As the 6800 series matures, I hope we’ll see more card-level variety in the future.
So which manufacturer’s GeForce 6800-series offering is right for you? That depends on your priorities. If you’re a gamer and haven’t experienced the lush jungles of Far Cry, eVGA’s e-GeForce cards look pretty good. If you’re looking for overclocking in the box and a fantastic warranty, BFG’s “OC” series is the way to go. If you want to balance the bundle, warranty, a little extra performance without dropping too much money, Chaintech has an Apogee AA6800 with your name on it. Finally, if you’re pinching pennies, the offerings from inno3D and PNY offerings are available at slightly lower prices, but with fewer extras. See, I told you picking a board manufacturer wasn’t easy.
If I had to pick a favorite out of the five cards we’ve looked at today, I’d be torn. On one hand, I love the performance and lifetime warranty offered by the BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC. However, as much as I think the card’s performance and warranty are worth the $400 price tag, I can’t bring myself to drop four bills on a card that doesn’t have dual DVI outputs. I just can’t. That brings me to my other favorite, eVGA’s e-GeForce 6800 Ultra. I adore the card’s dual DVI outputs, in part because I actually run a pair of DVI-equipped LCDs on my workstation. The Far Cry bundle is pretty spiffy, too. However, eVGA’s one-year warranty and the Ultra’s noisier dual-slot cooler are serious enough flaws to give me pause. The fact that the Ultra isn’t much faster than the GT, which costs $100 less, makes me even more hesitant.
But what about the vanilla 6800s? I’m not too keen on those, either, if only because for $100 more, the GeForce 6800 GTs offer significantly better performance at higher resolutions and with antialiasing and aniso enabled. In the end, I can’t pick a personal favorite. However, I can wholeheartedly recommend the BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC as the pick of the litter for anyone who has no interest in dual DVI. I’ll bet that’s the majority of you.