With countless hours of gaming under our belt and the embargo lifting from this card a few short hours from now, we can safely say that it is nothing short of exceptional. NVIDIA has made tremendous progress in image quality and has managed to raise the performance bar to new heights at the same time. It is a shame such a strong marketing campaign was spent on NV30 because this card could have surely lived up to all the hype. Having benchmarked more graphics cards than I can even begin to recall, the only time I can remember being this impressed with a card was with the launch of the original GeForce DDR. As monotonous as benchmarking graphics cards can be seeing the same scene over and over, I found myself dying to try higher settings and new games in order to see what this card could do. With the next generation software titles taking things up a notch, it is nice to see that the hardware is following suit.
Although this reference board already shows stellar performance and is using shipping silicon, we must remember that this is not necessarily indicative of retail boards. That is not to say that future boards will offer lower performance or will spontaneously combust. Rather, that is making clear that there is ample room for improvement. Between now and the time the card is present on store shelves, NVIDIA’s driver team will be hard at work getting every ounce of performance out of the architecture and adding new multimedia functionality as well. There will also be efforts made by board vendors to spec higher frequency memory modules and intricate heatsink assemblies to further aid in overclocking.
Aside from adding major improvements to performance and image quality in the games available today, the GeForce 6 Series also serves as a solid foundation for developers who are looking to maximize the quality of the next generation titles. Support for features such as Shader Model 3.0 allow developers the liberty to tailor the graphics to their imagination without hardware limitations. Although we won’t see any immediate benefits, we must realize that making these features available today is critical for having these features implemented in games for tomorrow.
Taking a step back and looking at the GeForce 6800 Ultra, we see that NVIDIA is serving up a lot of features and performance for the usual price. The 256MB GeForce 6800 Ultra will sell for $499 and will come with a full 16 pipes and operating frequencies of 400MHz core and 550MHz memory. The pricing here is standard fare for the flagship model in a graphics card company’s product line. However, once you start looking at the card’s multimedia functionality you realize that this is a relative bargain. In contrast, ATI’s infamous All-In-Wonder solutions typically have a premium over their non-multimedia capable counterparts. Granted, $499 is certainly not cheap. However, when only the best will do you’ll find yourself wanting nothing but to top of the line model. Those who wish to spend a little less can still have excellent performance and multimedia functionality with the standard GeForce 6800. Retailing for $299, this model will feature 12 pipes and will require only one Molex connector and a single slot. Although frequencies have yet to be determined, this has potential to be a very strong card for the money. Per usual, there will be lower cost variations of this architecture down the road. However, with such demanding and exceptional titles on the horizon you might find yourself wanting to splurge and spoil yourself with the latest and greatest.
Today we have seen what NVIDIA has in store for the next generation hardware and are walking away extremely impressed. Although ATI has yet to officially share the details of their next generation hardware, they now find themselves in the rather unusual position of having a serious threat to the performance crown. NVIDIA has seemingly learned from their mistakes in the past and are coming back with a vengeance. In the end, who the winning vendor will be means little to gamers as either way they will end up with some phenomenal hardware. Though from what we have seen so far, we cannot think of a way any gamer would be anything but blown away with the GeForce 6800 Ultra. Once we have more than a few days with a retail version of this board, you can expect a painfully thorough analysis and comparison from PC Perspective. With retail boards showing up on shelves sometime next month, you won’t have to wait long at all.