It should be pretty obvious based on the performance numbers you saw in this review that the 6600GT from NVIDIA is a screamer with a price tag that suits most gamers wallets.  NVIDIA had previously fallen behind ATI in this segment when ATI had their 9600XT product launched some time ago.  NVIDIA spent a long time working to catch up to ATI on the high end, and now that trickle-down technology idea is coming into play in NVIDIA’s favor this time around. 

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In our testing, we saw the 6600GT able to play Doom 3 at either the 1024×768 resolution with 4xAA enabled or at the 1600×1200 resolution without AA enabled.  Which you want to pick depends on your own personal prefeneces, though mine leans towards the IQ of the 1024 resolution.  Being able to play Doom 3 this well with a sub-$200 graphics card is going to make a lot of people very excited — id Software included.  Now they can sell that many more copies of the game. 

In Far Cry, the 6600GT plays best again in the 1024×768 resolution with 4xAA and 8xAF enabled.  If the minimum FPS gets in your way too often, you can switch to 1280×1024 without the eye candy and get away with some better performance and still decent image quality.  Who would have thought that Far Cry would be harder on a graphics card than Doom 3 would be?

UT2K4 fans will be delighted to see their game easily up to 16×12 without AA and AF or 1280×1024 with the AA and AF on the 6600GT card. 

Finally, City of Heroes players looking towards the 6600GT for an upgrade can also go to either 16×12 without the eye candy or 1280×1024 with 4xAA and 8xAF enabled. 

The overclocking results we saw out of the 6600GT reference card we received were pretty impressive, as any time you can get a 15-20% boost in performance at no extra cost is a cause for celebration.  This probably means you’ll be seeing 3rd party vendors like BFG Tech coming out with their custom overclocked verions of this card instead of stock cards in order to give their product the push over the competition and you the benefits of warrantied hardware. 

When comparing the $200 6600GT card to the $200 ATI X600XT card, there is really no comparison.  The NVIDIA mainstream card simply mops the floor with the ATI card leaving no benchmark result as any kind of saving grace.  While I expected this kind of humiliation on the Doom 3 tests, I was actually surprised to see it filter down into the other three games that we tested here — and that leads me to believe that this trend continues for most other games as well.  The ATI X600XT card never seemed like a great card to me, but when it was the only mainstream card in the market that was seemingly based on the latest generation of technology from its respective company, it was the only choice.  It had a head start in the PCI Express market as well, available with the Intel launch.  But now, there is really no reason why you should be getting an X600XT card over a potential 6600GT card available in the near future.  Sure ATI has something else up their sleeves — their flagship cards aren’t behind by much so how can they let the bread-and-butter mainstream cards fall behind so quickly?

Interestingly, the 6600GT is a good competitor to NVIDIA’s own 6800NU card according to our tests.  This could be because of the PCIe vs AGP platform, but in our intial look at the PCIe graphics cards, the PCIe platform was actually slightly slower than its AGP counterpart.  That being said, an AGP release of the 6600GT for $200 would make many folks think twice about the 6800NU purchase or maybe even the 6800GT purchase.  This is especially true when you take into account the SLI-readiness of the 6600GT graphics card.  When the boards become available sometime this winter, you’ll be able to buy this 6600GT card knowing that you can add a second on any time to increase your performance somewhere between 50-75% for just $200 or less.

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And that may be why NVIDIA is holding off the AGP version of the 6600 for a bit — no need to cannibalize sales yet if you are doing well with your Doom 3 marketing push.  But I think the 6600GT would make a killing in an AGP form factor where the mainstream still lies and WILL lie for some time to come; PCIe has even begun to saturate the high-end market so the mainstream market will still be a bit away.  Once we see the AMD-based PCI Express chipsets hit the street (end of this month maybe) then we should start to see the enthusiast transition take place.  But for now, if you have an AGP system and are looking for a low-cost graphics upgrade, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer to get some of the 6600GT goodness.

Overall though, the 6600GT launch should be seen as nothing but successful for NVIDIA as their card just wiped the floor with the competition.  If this were a retail card, it’d have an editor’s choice, but until we get one of those, ATI has a chance to play catch up.  I’d suggest they get those cards out and selling though, as there is no telling what ATI will deliver to us next. 

On our final note, we are awaiting arrival of our dual PCI Express motherboard in order to FINALLY get our hands on the new SLI offering from NVIDIA.  Testing two 6600GTs sounds almost as exciting as testing two 6800 Ultras!

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