It's that time again when the two industry leaders in the graphics chips market, ATI and NVIDIA, unveil their latest creations. Since the release of the Radeon 9700 Pro, and moving onwards to the 9800XT series, ATI has maintained a firm grip on the per-formance crown. NVIDIA came close to stealing back the performance title with the release of the GeForce FX series, and gained considerable ground, but never really lived up to expectations. However, with these new chip-sets, the situation seems to be changing.
Both new cards are built on the 0.13 micron process, use 256MB of GDDR3 memory and feature two different variations for each chipset.
The NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra (NV40) we received was an engineering sample. It runs a core clock speed of 400MHz and a memory clock speed of 550MHz, and features 16 graphics-rendering pipelines. The card itself looks quite weighty but this is deceiving, due to the aluminium heatsink-and-fan combo. The fan is noticeably louder than that of the X800 and the card requires two external power connections. NVIDIA recommends that a power supply of at least 480W be used to provide the extra juice; however, we used a 400W power supply during tests and had no problems.
In contrast, the ATI Radeon X800 Pro (R420) we tested ran a core clock speed of 475MHz and a memory clock speed of 450MHz, and has only 12 pipelines. It consumes much less power than the GeForce 6800, requiring only one power connector instead of two. In place of the dual DVI outputs seen on the 6800, the X800 has the standard VGA, DVI and TV-out connections located on the bracket. The heatsink-and-fan combo is also noticeably smaller, further reducing the card's overall weight.
We tested the cards on a system with a Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor, 512MB of memory (configured in dual channel mode), an ATA100 80GB Seagate hard disk and a Gigabyte 8PENXP motherboard. The cards were put through their paces using the 3DMark 2001 and 2003 benchmarks and Unreal Tournament 2003. We installed the latest WHQL drivers for the ATI card (Catalyst 4.5) and ForceWare 60.72 beta drivers for the NVIDIA card.
Results indicate that both cards offer considerable improvements over their pre---decessors but NVIDIA has reclaimed the 'speed king' title with this latest release and now awaits ATI's rebuttal.
In brief:NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra
This pre-release card left us wanting more! No pricing or release date was available at press time.
ASUS Radeon AX800 Pro
Not as pricey as the first-generation 9800XT-based cards, and offers better performance. What more could a gaming buff ask for?
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