For the past few weeks the hardware community has been busy pitting nVidia and ATiâ€™s latest graphics behemoths against each other. However, while enthusiasts are happy to debate the advantages of Pixel Shader 3 support over 3DC support or vice versa until theyâ€™re blue in the face itâ€™s all fairly pointless if you canâ€™t actually buy the cards in question.
As of writing this article the situation is that cards based on the GeForce 6800 Ultra are still hard to get hold of. Equally ATiâ€™s competing card â€“ the X800 XT Platinum Edition has yet to surface in retail. This isnâ€™t that surprising since many believe that this card only appeared as a last minute response to the threat of the 6800 Ultra. If this is true, it's likely that the delay is down to yield issues, due to ATi being forced to introduce its 16-pipeline GPU earlier than it would have liked.
This means that the choice for those looking to buy a top end graphics card is between a Â£400 16-pipeline GeForce 6800 Ultra and a Â£300 12-pipeline ATi X800 Pro card â€“ not really a fair comparison.
However, for some enthusiasts with money to burn, the real deal breaker on the GeForce 6800 Ultra is not just the Â£400 asking price but also that fact that it takes up two slots in your PC (in reference design format). And while nVidia has lowered the power requirements from 480Watts to 350Watts for the Ultra youâ€™ll still need a higher rated power supply if you want to overclock it.
To address these issues nVidia has popped up with a new card to fill the gap - the GeForce 6800 GT. This card will only take up one slot in your PC enabling small form factor users to join the GeForce 6800 party. Whatâ€™s more, it only requires a single power connector so a standard 300W power supply should be sufficient.
As you can see in the pictures, the fan on the reference board is embedded in a relatively slender heat spreader that covers the GDDR3 RAM as well as the GPU. Noise levels from the fan, though difficult to judge in a lab with many machines going, were drowned out by the CPU and chipset fans. Unlike the dual-DVI connections on the 6800 Ultra, the reference GT board has one DVI and one D-SUB connector along with an S-Video out.
With street prices of retail boards already listed at lower than Â£300, this new 6800 part is set to heat things up for the ATi X800 Pro. To pile on the pressure, the GeForce GT has one key architectural advantage - itâ€™s a full 16-pipeline card, compared to the X800 Proâ€™s 12 pipelines. The only differences to its bigger brother are lower clock speeds, with 350MHz for the GPU and 1,000MHz effective for the 256MB of memory. This gives it the edge over the X800 Pro on paper but as they say battles arenâ€™t won on paper. Ladies and gentleman, I think we have a fight on our hands.
Two machines were used for testing. The first is powered by a 3.2GHz Prescott Pentium 4 processor â€“ a fast system but a step away from the cutting edge, which matches the 6800 GT nicely. However, in an attempt to avoid a CPU bottleneck situation, we also tested in a setup based on a Pentium 4 3.4GHz Extreme Edition. To complicate matters though we also tested an X800 Pro with a 3.4GHz EE CPU a couple of weeks back, but this was part of the Evesham Evolution Extreme system, equipped with a fast 875 chipset motherboard and two Western Digital 10,000rpm Raptor drives. But, as this system had to be returned, the 3.4GHz Extreme Edition system used for the 6800 GT testing was more modest, consisting of an 865 chipset motherboard, and a 7,200rpm hard disk drive.