Design by Marty Smith
Nvidia opens the next-generation graphics card race with today's official announcement of the Nvidia GeForce 6 GPU series. Code-named NV40, the GeForce 6 GPU family will soon replace Nvidia's current NV3x-based GeForce FX line of graphics processing units. And not a moment too soon, many will add.
It's no secret that many consider ATI the winner of the previous architecture cycle, in large part due to the strength of the Radeon 9700/9800 series design, but also due to production delays and a handful of miscalculated design decisions on the part of Nvidia.
ATI was able to get the Radeon 9700 to market roughly six months ahead of the GeForce FX because Nvidia tried to adopt the then relatively new 0.13-micron manufacturing process. Usually a move to a smaller manufacturing process results in smaller chip dies and higher potential clock speeds, but Nvidia encountered problems with the move that resulted in a significant shipping delay. ATI, on the other hand, used the less efficient but proven 0.15-micron process to get to market quickly.
When the first GeForce FX did ship, it only featured a 128-bit memory interface, which required Nvidia card manufacturers to use faster, more expensive memory just to get close to the memory bandwidth offered by ATI's 256-bit memory interface. Nvidia did correct the issue by including a 256-bit memory interface with the GeForce FX 5900 release, but another crisis emerged when Valve's Gabe Newell openly criticized the GeForce FX's full-precision floating point performance under Pixel Shader 2.0.
Nvidia smoothed over the incident by acknowledging that games needed special optimizations for the GeForce FX and indicating that the next driver release would have optimizations for Valve's Half-Life 2, but Nvidia still took a significant blow in the eyes of consumers.
Today, Half-Life 2 still has yet to reach gold status, but it looks like Nvidia finally has an answer to the performance question with the announcement of the new GeForce 6 line of GPUs. Nvidia showcased the GeForce 6800 at its Editors' Day 2004 event just over a week ago. Company officials presented details of the new GPU along with several impressive technology demonstrations.
|GeForce 6800 Ultra||Radeon 9800XT|
|Transistors||222 million||115 million|
|Memory Clock||550MHz (1100MHz effective)||365MHz (730MHz effective)|
As you can see, the GeForce 6800 weighs in with a hefty 222 million transistors, almost double that of the Radeon 9800XT's 115M. To offer a little CPU comparison, Intel's Prescott Pentium 4 processor sports 125M transistors, and AMD's Athlon 64 has a 105.9M count. Manufactured on IBM's 0.13-micron process, the GeForce 6800 Ultra will ship with a 400MHz clock speed.
The extra complexity is necessary since Nvidia has outfitted the GeForce 6800 Ultra with 16 pixel pipelines and six vertex units. In comparison, the ATI Radeon 9800XT has eight pixel pipelines and four vertex units. Running at a 400MHz clock speed, the GeForce 6800 Ultra's theoretical peak fill rate will be a massive 6400 Mpixels per second.
Note that we're only talking about the 6800 Ultra version here. Nvidia plans to release two different GeForce 6800 versions to target different consumer markets. Both cards will support the same feature set but will vary in performance levels and memory configurations. The GeForce 6800 Ultra will have 16 pipelines, 400MHz core clock, 256MB of memory, two four-pin Molex power connectors, and an estimated street price of $499. The regular GeForce 6800 will have 12 pipelines, 128MB of memory, a single Molex connector, and a $299 price tag. Nvidia has yet to announce clock speeds for the regular 6800 GPU. Both the Ultra and non-Ultra versions should hit store shelves near the end of May.
Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra Hands-On Preview
We take Nvidia's new flagship video card for a test drive. Is it fast enough to retake the performance crown from ATI's Radeon lineup? What new features will be made available to developers? Read our hands-on preview for the scoop.