But let’s put flashy packaging and bundled games to one side and look at how well the final GeForce 6800 Ultra stands up against ATI’s Radeon X800 cards. We tested all the cards in the Evesham Evolution Extreme PC, as it was the fastest PC we could get our hands on at the time. With a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and 1GB of RAM on an Intel 875P board you’d be hard pushed to find a faster platform to test a high-end gaming graphics card on.
Due to time restraints we didn’t quite manage to get a full suite of benchmarks done on the XFX 6800 Ultra and you’ll notice that 3DMark 2001 and Far Cry are sadly missing. But let’s take a close look at the numbers we do have.
First up is 3DMark 03, in which the 6800 Ultra manages to edge itself in front of the Radeon X800 XT in all of the tests, but not by much and with the retail cards being 25MHz slower, this gap will be even smaller. The 6800 Ultra continued its lead in Aquamark until it reached 1,280 x 1,024 with 4x FSAA and 4x AF as this is the point where the ATI X800 XT takes the lead. The Radeon X800 Pro is also very close here at the higher resolutions and as Aquamark is a very demanding 3D benchmark this gives us some idea of how these cards will perform in real games.
Moving away from the synthetic benchmarks and on to the real game benchmarks we’ll start with X2 – The threat, which is yet again a very demanding test, and the 6800 Ultra is the first card to break the 100fps barrier here. The ATI card does however catch up at higher resolutions and the X800 XT even manages to overtake the 6800 Ultra a couple of times.
Moving swiftly on to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness the 6800 Ultra and X800 XT are head to head at 1,024 x 768, but this is the first benchmark where we see a clear lead by ATI at higher resolutions, although it is worth remembering that the XFX 6800 Ultra card was tested with pre-release drivers while the ATI cards where tested with the Catalyst 4.5 drivers.
The XFX takes the lead again in Halo, not by a huge margin, but enough to make it a clear leader once again. Overall the 6800 Ultra is just that little bit faster than the ATI cards, but the question is whether this lead is enough to convince current ATI users to change back to nVidia. For all nVidia fans this is great news and with the inclusion of Pixel Shader 3.0 (a feature missing from the ATI X800 chipset) there are really only a couple of minor drawbacks when going for a 6800 Ultra.
The first one is the size of the card, as it takes up two slots, which means you loose the first PCI slot on your motherboard - this might not be a major issue, but ATI has nonetheless managed to produce a single slot solution using its high-end chipset.
The second issue is the power requirement, with the 6800 Ultra needing a fairly hefty PSU in the region of 460W plus if you intend to even try to overclock the card. You can run the card at 400MHz with only one of the power connectors attached, but anything beyond this requires two power connectors.
That said, the power hungry nature of the 6800 Ultra might not be as terrible a problem as it first seems since you would need a super charged PC to make the most of this card anyway – even the mighty 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition seemed to be limiting the power of this graphics card. And to be able to afford one of these cards you need to have no less than £397.15 of spare cash knocking about, so you’ll probably also be able to afford a decent power supply.
Taking the power requirements and the size of the card into account, it’s clear that the 6800 Ultra is not suited to small form factor systems, and this could be good news for ATI. That said, nVidia has a 16 pipeline, lower power, single slot solution just around the corner called the 6800 GT which will address this issue (look out for a review of this card soon).
It’s impressive to see a fairly unknown company such as XFX getting the first nVidia GEForce 6800 Ultra onto the market. The overall package is good, but the expected high price puts this card out of reach for most of us, but for those lucky few that have the cash spare, there is little doubt that this is the fastest card money can buy - for the moment at least.
XFX has impressed by being the first manufacturer to get the GeForce 6800 Ultra out into the channel and although it is in scarce supply and the price is high, it is a great gaming solution that has everything you would expect from a cutting edge graphics card.