Separating one GeForce 6800 graphics card from another is close to being a nightmare. The problem is, of course, that five graphics cards that use the same GPU will inevitably have very similar performance and that means we end up dwelling on relatively minor points to separate one card from another. Red PCB? Ooh, that’ll cost you a style point. What, no flashing LEDs? Dock another point, and so on.

Happily we were able to find some differences between all five cards, but we also proved beyond doubt that it doesn’t matter which graphics card you buy if you don’t install appropriate drivers. Once you’ve done that you can get busy overclocking it, but there’s no need to sweat blood. Instead you can use Coolbits to do the job in less than a minute and you’re sure to have reliability too. If you’re also overclocking the FSB and AGP buses then all bets are off, of course, but you really can get 99 percent of your new graphics card’s potential with the minimum of hassle.

We liked the Asus V9999GE, but we were also confused by it. This is an amazingly attractive graphics card with DDR3 memory and two power connectors that is effectively a 6800GT with 12 pipelines. The problem is that it can’t overcome the limitations of its chip, and no matter how hard you try you can’t get a big enough performance boost to warrant spending this much money on a 6800. And no, we weren’t persuaded by the webcam that Asus includes in the package either.

Moving on to the Galaxy, we hated the large plastic shroud over the heatsink that ducts heated air out of the back of your PC case. A GeForce 6800 doesn’t need this level of cooling and this solution is relatively noisy, while it also looks ugly. We were concerned that the Galaxy wasn’t consistent in its performance, with high results in one test and low scores in another. It’s certainly cheap and is also good value, but while the Galaxy came close we weren’t convinced by this package.

The Leadtek WinFast A400 fell in the middle of this group. It looks stylish and is priced at a middling £205, and while the software package is perfectly OK the performance is slightly lacking. We can’t get too excited about the odd frame per second here or there, but the Leadtek needs that extra bit of oomph to make it more desirable.

In many ways the MSI NX6800 annoyed us as the manual spends a great many pages telling you very little, and the MSI Clock part of the drivers is both inexcusable and unnecessary. We strongly suggest that you don’t install this utility, but instead rely on Coolbits, and suggest that you ignore most of the bloated software package. The graphics card itself is a good ‘un though and it offers you both decent performance and also good value for money.

Finally we have the XFX, which comes in a neat box and um, er, well that’s it really. If you were taking all five cards off the shelf and had no intention of experimenting with drivers or clock settings then the XFX is as good as any in this round-up, and it’s also the cheapest. If, on the other hand you intend to overclock your graphics card and take the extra ten percent performance that is there just waiting to be picked up then you should ignore the XFX, as our test results show.

Ultimately, despite exhaustive testing and pondering, we have a group test without a winner. The MSI probably provides the best all round package, but there is still enough that we don’t like about it to deprive it of a Recommended award. If your heart is set on a GeForce 6800 card, there will no doubt be something here to suit your needs, but none of the contestants is perfect.

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