Thereâ€™s certainly been a lot of movement in the graphics card market this year, and it isnâ€™t showing any signs of stopping. It wasnâ€™t that long ago that nVidia and ATI launched their new high-end graphics parts â€“ the GeForce 6800 and Radeon X800 respectively. But even the cheapest versions of those chipsets will set you back a significant amount of cash, and thereâ€™s a big market for game players that donâ€™t want to spend over Â£300 on a new graphics card. This is where nVidiaâ€™s new GeForce 6600 chipset comes in.
The GeForce 6600 will come in two flavours, the standard 6600 and the 6600 GT - itâ€™s the latter iteration that I have in front of me right now. To be honest, I canâ€™t imagine too many users going for the standard 6600, since the GT offers some significant advantages, but more on that later.
First things first, the GeForce 6600 is a PCI Express part and unlike the PCI Express GeForce 6800 cards, this is a native solution. nVidia received a certain amount of criticism for using a bridge chip to make the GeForce 6800 cards PCI Express compatible, but this time around there shouldnâ€™t be anything to complain about. Of course if an AGP GeForce 6600 appears, weâ€™ll probably see a bridge chip implemented rather than nVidia resorting a whole new spin.
So, letâ€™s get down to basics. The GeForce 6600 GT sports a core frequency of 500MHz, which is 100MHz faster than the stock core speed of the GeForce 6800 Ultra, and 150MHz faster than the 6800 GT. The 128MB of GDDR3 memory is also running at 500MHz (1,000MHz effective), which is 100MHz behind the stock 6800 Ultra, and identical to the 6800 GT â€“ although itâ€™s worth remembering that both the aforementioned 6800 cards sport 256MB of memory. So, the clock speeds on the 6600 GT are very respectable, but thatâ€™s not the be all and end all of performance, and the big compromise made on the 6600 GT is the 128bit memory interface. With the GeForce 6800 family of chipsets sporting a 256bit memory interface, the resultant memory bandwidth will far outstrip the 6600, but ultimately, thatâ€™s one of the reasons youâ€™re paying more for the top-end cards.
Of course thereâ€™s more to performance than just clock frequencies and memory interfaces, and nVidia has made a few other cut-backs on the GeForce 6600. The GeForce 6800 Ultra and GT both sport 16 pixel pipelines, while the standard 6800 has 12. The GeForce 6600 on the other hand only has eight pixel pipelines, which looks disappointing on paper, but letâ€™s remember that this is a mid-range card.
The GeForce 6600 GT is very small form factor PC friendly, and doesnâ€™t even need an external power connector. Of course this is helped by the increased power output of a PCI Express slot over an AGP slot. The heatsink and fan assembly is also quite small, with the memory chips left completely bare. This was a little surprising considering that the memory is running almost as fast as a 6800 Ultra, and the chips did become very hot to the touch when the card was under heavy load.
On the backing plate youâ€™ll find both DVI and D-SUB outputs â€“ whereas on the 6800 Ultra you get dual DVI connectors. However, if youâ€™re looking for video functionality, youâ€™ll be glad to hear that the 6600 chipset has full ViVo support, allowing you to capture video and encode it, and then output it to a TV or an analogue recording device. Again this will make the 6600 an attractive proposition for the small form factor user that wants to build an AV box that can also play games.
nVidia is referring to the GeForce 6600 as the Doom3 chip, and itâ€™s a pretty good marketing ploy right now. Thereâ€™s no denying that Doom3 is the game of the moment, and offering PC gamers a way to get solid Doom3 performance without taking out a second mortgage is bound to spark interest. And with a projected price of around Â£150, I think weâ€™re going to see significant interest.
But thereâ€™s one more feature that is going to make the GeForce 6600 GT a killer card for hardcore gamers on a budget, and thatâ€™s SLi support. So, assuming you invest in a motherboard with two x16 PCI Express slots you have the option of running two 6600 GT cards and potentially doubling your 3D performance. The beauty of the SLi option is that you could buy one 6600 GT, and six months down the line, you could add another one to boost your performance. Add to this, the fact that the price would have dropped on the 6600 GT significantly after six months, and the SLi scenario looks even more appealing.