Concerns and Conclusion
One can safely assume that whenever a new product is being tested, there are sure to be some issues and unanswered questions. The latest crop of graphics cards fail to disappoint us as there are surely some grey areas to their operation. Although there are no major issues thus far, we’ll comment on a few concerns we have for each vendor.
For one reason or another, the reference GeForce 6800 GT board we received refuses to run a handful of games when HyperThreading is enabled. In order to have games such as FarCry or UT2004 function at all, we are forced to dive into the BIOS and disable HyperThreading. Although we asked the question some time ago, we have yet to receive any answer as to what the issue is or when a resolution is expected.
The second issue we face with NVIDIA is a strange bug with the flagship GeForce 6800 Ultra OC. When attempting to use the driver’s built-in “Auto-overclocking” feature, the system will reboot during gameplay. Given how we’re dealing with an early reference board and ultra-high frequencies, we can be optomistic and register this as a temporary bug. Hopefully, this will be cured once people start spending money on retail versions of this card.
Aside from an isolate glitch with Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, we only had one issue with ATI. However, this issue is by far the one which conerns us most. After receiving the cards and exploring through the Beta Catalyst 4.5 drivers, we realized that the OverDrive auto-overclocking options was nowhere to be found. A quick phonecall later and we learned that although the BIOS of the cards supported OverDrive, the feature was not enabled within the driver we received. Although the last year in the graphics industry might have made us pessimistic, we were a bit curious why the option which was present now for several drivers suddenly disappeared for our version. Playing devil’s advocate, we installed a Radeon 9800XT with the Beta drivers and saw the familiar OverDrive tab. To make things a bit more suspect, a quick inquiry of the default clockspeeds seen in X800XT reviews around the net yielded several different results. Although Kyle at HardOCP received a board with correct speeds (520/560) as we did, others were above and below those speeds by a considerable margin. Anandtech’s board clocked in at 500/550, whereas Tom’s Hardware Guide saw 526/574 and ExtremeTech saw 520/600. Our efforts to overclock the X800XT through PowerStrip were limited at best as any increase to the core frequency caused visual distortion of the desktop resulting in a necessary reboot. Looking around the web, we realize that we aren’t the only ones having a tough time overclocking this card. So for now, we are left with a unsatisfied urge to push the envelope and a handful of questions. Fortunately, all the questions regarding OverDrive and frequencies will be answered once ATI gives us the option to manually disable the auto-overclocking feature and visually verify that it is not in action.
So now that we have a fair amount of time with each card under our belt, we can begin to determine the good, bad, and the ugly with regards to ATI and NVIDIA’s latest and greatest. Above all, the most critical point to make is that every card tested offers exceptional performance and image quality. Surely, the drama we’ve endured the last few months has resulted in two spectacular product lines that excel in both performance and image quality. The days of landslide victories in either category are a thing of the past as these new cards have collectively raised the bar across the board.
In terms of performance, we have somewhat mixed results. For the $399 range, the GeForce 6800 GT narrowly edges out the Radeon X800 Pro for the performance crown. In contrast, the $499 Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition narrowly wins over the GeForce 6800 Ultra and Ultra OC. In each case, the margin of victory was very slim and was contingent on a few critical aspects.
Looking at the $399 price-point, we see that there is considerable potential for overclocking the GeForce 6800 GT. This board offered faster performance and equivalent image quality to the Radeon X800 pro. Equipped with the same 16 pipelines seen on the flagship GeForce 6800 Ultra, there will be many who try and coax the additional 50MHz from the core and save themselves $100. Further considering how many vendors will likely spec faster memory, the odds of getting a healthy boost over stock speeds seems in your favor. When you take these facts and realize that it is a single-slot solution with one Molex connector, it seems convincing to pick the GeForce 6800 GT as the best bang for the buck for this price-point.
Moving our attention to the flagship $499 range, we find ourselves choosing the Radeon X800XT Platinum Edition over the GeForce 6800 Ultra and GeForce 6800 Ultra OC. Here, the performance at default settings and single-slot solution make this card a plausible option for every gamer. Furthermore, the relaxed power supply constraints help ensure that you won’t have the added cost of a high-end power supply working its way into your budget. With that said, anyone looking at buying a $500 graphics card should not be using a cheap generic power supply. Regardless, that’s another story altogether. In the end, NVIDIA has closed the once appreciable gap for performance and image quality. Were the GeForce 6800 Ultra core frequency the 450MHz seen on the Ultra OC, we might have a tougher time determining a winner. However, in the end the X800XT Platinum Edition walks away as the best combination of performance, features, and functionality.
Although vendor fanboys are pulling out their hair trying to convince the other whose products are the winner, the real winner these days is the gamer. Regardless of what color the logo is on the card you choose here, you are sure to have an exceptional gaming experience. Both image quality and performance have been brought to new heights leaving past contenders comfortably far behind. With demanding titles such as Doom3 and Half-Life 2 on the horizon, the timing of the arrival of this graphics horsepower is impeccable. As Ryan and I prepare for E3, we’ll be able to confirm first hand how well these new cards are able to tame these monster titles. Look for more information in our upcoming analysis of E3 and the latest scoop on these highly-anticipated titles.
Check out some prices on ATI’s X800 cards!