If â€˜The Way It's Meant to Be Playedâ€™ is nVidiaâ€™s marketing mantra, then the ATI equivalent right now has surely got to be, â€˜ It Was Never Meant to Be This Wayâ€™.
It seems a long time ago since ATI proudly made its pact with Valve to give away Half Life 2 with each 9600 XT and 9800 XT card sold. While it seemed like a smart move at the time, the best gaming bundle ever soon turned a bit sour. What started as a bundled copy of Half Life 2, turned from an actual game to just a voucher, and then simply into to a very long wait, and weâ€™re still waiting. Of course this was in no way ATIâ€™s fault, but the damage had been done nonetheless.
In the mean time the behemoth that was Doom3 finally lumbered into view and bulldozed even the excellent Far Cry out of the way to become the uber-game of the moment. Unfortunately for ATI it runs fantastically well on nVidiaâ€™s 6800 series, even though specific features such as Pixel Shader 3.0 support and Ultra Shadow II arenâ€™t actually used by the Doom3 engine.
Of more impact is that the 6800 GT and Ultra cards can use their sixteen pipelines to render sixteen single textured pixels in a single pass, a feature that Doom3 makes extensive use of. Another bonus for nVidia is that the game uses the OpenGL API rather than DirectX, an area where nVidia has always been stronger than ATI.
All this means that, for now at least, nVidia has regained the performance high-ground and established a lead over ATI, not only in benchmarks but in mindshare. Of course gamers are a fickle bunch and with Half Life 2 around the corner (we hope), ATI is no doubt confident that things will turn around in the blink of a frame.
Of course you may be wondering why all this fuss is being made over two games, but we're not really talking about just two games. In addition to being great games themselves, Doom3 and Half Life 2 will spawn a large number of other titles based on each of these cutting edge game engines, so the graphics card you buy now will have an impact on your future gaming experience.
However, another advantage that nVidiaâ€™s 6800 Ultra has over ATIâ€™s high-end Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition is simple availability. While weâ€™ve seen several 6800 Ultra boards in the TrustedReviews offices weâ€™ve only seen one retail board based on the X800 XT Platinum Edition. However as of writing it seems that stock of 6800 Ultra boards is also running low. Also, ATI will soon be releasing the X800 XT (non Platinum Edition), which will employ slightly lower clock frequencies, and should increase yield significantly.
The two cards weâ€™re looking at here are from AOpen and Leadtek, both familiar names in the graphics card market. As both are based on the GeForce 6800 Ultra they are identical in terms of 3D capabilities, with features such Ultra Shadow II and Shader Model 3.0 support. The differences lie in the design, the clock speeds and the game bundle so letâ€™s get down to it and look at the cards themselves.