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nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra

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After the arguably disappointing GeForce FX family of products, nVidia has launched its latest graphics chip, which has been the subject of rumours from all corners of the world over the past few weeks. But now it’s finally here and it’s officially called the GeForce 6800. That’s it, no fancy moniker in front of the numbers this time, just plain old 6800. But this time nVidia has a product that will blow your socks off and no, I don’t just mean a noisy fan this time around, I’m talking about the quality of the graphics and the outlandish performance.

Although I only had a chance to play with a reference card for a few hours, I can honestly say that this is the most impressive graphics card I have ever seen. We’ve been talking about cinematic graphics on the desktop for some time now, but the GeForce 6800 is the first graphics card to show signs of actually delivering on that promise. These are indeed very bold words and I don’t say them lightly, even though it will be some time before we see actual games taking advantage of all the features of this new GPU. That said, there are titles such as Doom III and Half Life 2 around the corner, which should at least make you glad that you’ve got the latest graphics chip in your PC.

With a mind-boggling 222 million transistors onboard, (that’s just short of 80% more than Intel’s latest Prescott CPU by the way), nVidia claims that the GeForce 6800 Ultra will deliver up to eight times the pixel shading performance of its previous generation hardware. It should also deliver up to twice the vertex shader performance and close to twice the frame buffer bandwidth. On top of that it should also offer four times the shadow processing power and be up to four times more efficient at dealing with hidden surface removal. All this should have a massive impact on future games, with more advanced light and shadow effects than anything seen before.

Interestingly enough all of the new features aren’t geared towards a faster, better looking, more advanced 3D environment, but rather towards video playback and recording. This might seem like an odd path for nVidia to embark upon with a high-end graphics chipset such as the 6800, but with streaming media and high definition video becoming more popular by the day, it might not be as mad as it first looks. This, plus the fact that what’s top of the range today, is tomorrow’s mainstream product, makes a well rounded feature set all the more sensible.

2D quality hasn’t been forgotten either and the GeForce 6800 comes fitted out with dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs offering sharp, vibrant performance all the way up to 2,048 x 1,536 at 85Hz.

The GeForce 6800 can also handle advanced MPEG 1/2/4 video encoding and decoding as well as WMV9 decode acceleration. This should improve playback of DVD video as well as any current and upcoming streaming content. It should also offload your CPU during video editing and video rendering. I am however a bit uncertain if this makes the GeForce 6800 a viable alternative to a semi-pro video editing card, but this is something we will take a closer look at when we get a final production card.

Support for Microsoft’s Video Mixer Render (VMR) enables playback of multiple video streams without loss of quality. With our US readership being HDTV enabled, native support is a must and nVidia offers this for playback up to 1,920 x 1,080i, which is pretty much as high as you can go. Even though HDTV broadcasts are some way off in the UK, with Blu-Ray and HD-DVD on the horizon, distributed HD media isn’t too far off, so the ability to be able to playback HD content is a real bonus.

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