Mainstream Graphics for Doom 3

NVIDIA is planning to reinvent the mainstream graphics market with a chip powerful to run Doom 3 at 16×12 for under $200. Are you interested yet?

A Launch at Quakecon – How Appropriate

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NVIDIA chose the perfect spot to launch their 6600 graphics card based on their marketing stance as the “The Doom 3 GPU.”  In a convention hall where nearly 4000 people who have been looking forward to Doom 3 are gathered, you can pretty much guarantee a positive response. 

While NVIDIA is by no means claiming this graphics chip is going to bring the highest performance and image quality to players of Doom 3, they ARE saying it will bring the best price-conscious gaming experience to those playing Doom 3 and other games.  id Software is obviously excited about this announcement too, based on NVIDIA’s claims, that would enable Doom 3 to be experienced at even better qualities on mainstream-priced systems.

GeForce 6600 Architecture

Let’s get right to the technology behind the new GeForce 6600 graphics chip.  First, we have to note the slide below:

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The 6600 is a completely new chip, not a respin of the 6800 series GPU.  Interestingly, it is actually built on the new 0.11 micron process and that is a good step for the development of future technologies from NVIDIA as well.  You can see noted above that there are two variations of the new card: the 6600 and the 6600 GT models.  Both are using 8 pipeline architectures and have 128-bit memory interfaces. 

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The two cards are being launched today as PCI Express only cards though NVIDIA assured us the AGP versions would follow in the not too distant future.  This is NVIDIA’s first truely native PCIe graphics chip, and they are going to be using the same HSI (high speed interface) that they used for their AGP-to-PCIe conversion to convert the 6600 series to AGP cards.  It looks like NVIDIA’s development and use of the HSI actually is paying off here as the need for a new spin of the chip for different interfaces isn’t necessary.

The differences between the 6600 and the 6600 GT are coming into form here, as we see the memory on the GT is DDR3 while the 6600 remains at DDR1.  Also noteworthy is the inclusion of support for SLI on the GT model, which we’ll touch on later.

The price points on the cards currently show the 6600 going for $149 and the 6600 GT at $199.  These are the bread and butter price ranges that NVIDIA is in desperate need of a product line to fill, and it looks like the 6600 series is going to do that well.  The current quoted clock rate for the GT is 500 MHz core clock and 500 MHz DDR (1.0 GHz) memory speed.  No word yet on the standard 6600 speeds.  Also, if you look at the pictures of the cards, you will see NO external power connector at all, as the 6600s are able to get all the power they need from the PCI Express slot.  Of course, as you could guess, these are single slot cooling solutions, so SFF here you come!

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NVIDIA is once again integrating an improved video processor in the new 6600 series GPU as well.  Those features that it posseses are shown above, and NVIDIA is planning on demonstrating them to editor’s first hand fairly soon, so we’ll report more on them at a later date.

SLI for $200 a Card

As I mentiond above, the 6600 GT card is capable of the new SLI-technology that NVIDIA announced last month.  It is no longer “scan line interleave” but instead “Scalable Link Interface” and though the technicalities of the technology are very different, the idea is the same: using two cards to speed up the graphics processing. 

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Using specialy made motherboards that have two 16x PCIe slots, the NVIDIA graphics cards that support SLI can be connectoed with a small dongle to communication and transfer data between each other.  The processors split the workload and output a single image through one card to give improved performance.  NVIDIA has been quoting us an average of a 1.8x speed in most games.  If this is the case, SLI is going to be very exciting, and even more so on a reasonably priced graphics card.  My mind is already running on whether two 6600 GTs SLI’ed together will be able to out perform the more expensive $400 6800 GT or even the $500 6800 Ultra cards.  Wait and see, wait and see…

Proof is in the Pudding

Of course, all of this technology is fun to talk about, what do the games say?

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Here is NVIDIA’s official quoted benchmark running the “timedemo demo1” on Doom3 setup.  Of course, the rest of the system that they used is the Intel 560 processor running at 3.6 GHz with 1 GB of memory.  Though not excactly a “mainstream” system by an stretch of the imagination, the card is PCIe only for the time being, so that is what you are stuck with.  Being able to play Doom 3 at 1600×1200 in High Quality mode is pretty damn impressive for a $200 video card in any event. 

NVIDIA is claiming great performance leaps over ATI’s X600 PCIe cards in the same price range.

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(Click to Enlarge)

Call of Duty, AquaMark, Serious Sam and UT2004 among others show marked improvements based on NVIDIA’s own findings here.  We will of course be testing this card out ourselves very soon to see if this holds true, but for now, it looks like NVIDIA has a great mainstream market graphics card.

Our Exciting Conclusion

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NVIDIA is once again serious about graphics market as both their 6800-series has proven as does this announcement of the 6600-series of cards.  The mainstream market is really where the chip makers are going to make their money, as the volume far surpasses that of the enthusiast level cards.  Domination in that market would go a long way to improving NVIDIA’s recent financial issues. 

The 6600 and the 6600 GT look to be very competitive cards at the right price for a lot of gamers out there and NVIDIA is hoping for just that.  These cards are scheduled to be in editor’s hands very soon and in the market within a few weeks. 

There are a couple of caveats that go with this launch though.  First, these are mainstream cards, priced under $200, but launching them as PCI Express only is really going to limit their audience of buyers.  Not to mention that those people that shelled out the money for PCI Express systems, or even those that are going to, are going to invest a substantial amount of money in the upgrade, so a $200 card may not be what they are looking for.  As PCI Express proliferates through the industry the market will get bigger for NVIDIA’s 6600, but I hope they can get their AGP-based cards out before then so that true mainstream gamers can take advantage of this performance.

Finally, it really puts a charge back in the graphics industry to see technologies like SLI coming back in the scene, especially with a card at the $200 price range.  Not to mention that here we are seeing the 0.11 micron process at work for NVIDIA and that can only mean great things for the future flagship products as well.  I think a 6800 chip clocked at 600 MHz sounds good, don’t you? 

The 6600 series looks to be a sucess, but only hard numbers from testing will show that for sure.  You won’t be waiting long.