Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT Hands-On Preview

Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT Hands-On Preview

By Sarju Shah
Design by James Cheung

Vice president of marketing Dan Vivoli tells us about Nvidia's new 6600 graphics card. Click "Stream for Free" for higher resolution.

With the release of the GeForce 6600 and 6600 GT graphics chips, Nvidia finally begins to flesh out the 6-series lineup to include mainstream products. The new GeForce 6600 series brings all the advancements of the 6800 series to the masses, albeit with lower clock speeds and fewer pixel pipelines.

Both the GeForce 6600 and 6600 GT ship with 8-pixel pipelines. The GeForce 6800 and 6800 GT, in comparison, come with 12- and 16-pixel pipelines, respectively. The GeForce 6600 series may seem hobbled when compared to the overachieving 6800s, but you have to remember that the top-of-the-line graphics cards at the beginning of this year only had 8-pixel pipelines. In addition, the 6600 GT sports all the perks of its bigger brothers, which specifically include the CineFX 3.0 engine, Directx 9.0c support, and Shader Model 3.0 support.

The GeForce 6600 GT clocks in with a 500MHz core. The memory also clocks in at 500MHz, but the effective speed is 1GHz if you take into account the GDDR3 technology. The graphics core of the vanilla GeForce 6600 has a considerably lower clock rate of 300 MHz. The memory also clocks in at 300 MHz but is effectively 600MHz due to GDDR1 memory. Both GeForce 6600 cards have a 128-bit memory interface, but the 6600 GT contains 128MB of GDDR3 memory, while the 6600 has 128MB of GDDR1 memory.

The GeForce 6600 GT.
The GeForce 6600 GT.

The GeForce 6600 has roughly half the pixel-pushing power of the 6800 series cards, but Nvidia makes up for it by also halving the cost. The MSRPs for the GeForce 6600 GT and 6600 are set at $199 and $149, respectively. The current run will only be available in PCI-Express format at first, but AGP versions of the cards will hit the market shortly afterward.

Currently, ATI only has the X300 and X600 in the PCI-Express arena. Both cards are considerably weaker, with only 4-pixel pipelines, which is half that of the GeForce 6600. Not to be outdone, ATI will also have its own 8-pipe solution at around the same time the GeForce 6600 hits the market. At the moment, older-generation flagship cards--such as the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro and Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 series--provide for useful comparison in terms of cost, since these cards fall into the $200 price range.

Like the GeForce 6800 GT and Ultra, the 6600 GT will support Nvidia SLI, Scalable Link Interface. SLI allows two video cards to work in conjunction to render one scene, theoretically doubling the pixel-processing power available in an SLI-capable system. SLI will, of course, require users to purchase two video cards as well as a motherboard with two available PCI-Express 16x slots. As with the regular GeForce 6800, the vanilla GeForce 6600 will not be capable of SLI.

SLI in action.
SLI in action.
Side shot.
Side shot.

Test Systems

Intel P4 3.6GHz, Asus PC4800 i875p, Intel 915 reference board, 1GB (512MBx2), 250GB Maxtor Maxline III SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: GeForce 6600 GT PCI-E 128MB, Radeon X600 PCI-E 128MB, Radeon 9800 Pro AGP 128MB.

Graphics Driver: Nvidia Forceware 65.76, ATI Catalyst 4.8 (4.9 for Doom 3).

GeForce 6600 GT Performance Comparison

Performance Analysis

The GeForce 6600 GT wipes the floor with the competition in all our tests. But that's to be expected, because ATI's current PCI-Express Radeon X600 solution is woefully underpowered by only 4-pixel pipelines. Once we enable antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, the 6600 GT pulls away from the competition by a significant amount, more than doubling the performance of the Radeon 9800 Pro and nearly tripling that of the X600. The GeForce 6600 GT, without a doubt, offers best-in-class performance in the mainstream PCI-Express market.

However, it's probably unfair for us to compare the GeForce 6600 GT to ATI's current solutions, since ATI's own 8-pipe response isn't ready yet. ATI should have its own 8-pipe solution out in time to duel with the GeForce 6600 series, and we'll reopen the books when that happens. As it stands, the 6600 GT looks to be the king of the hill when it comes to sub-$200 video cards.

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