First impressions mean an awful lot when it comes to evaluating hardware. If a motherboard doesn’t work out of the box, it’s admittedly much more difficult to put faith in a replacement. Consequentially, I was having some pretty repugnant flashbacks when Gigabyte’s brand-new and very inventive 3D1 graphics card arrived looking a lot like the XGI pre-production Volari Duo that haunts my dreams to this very day. However, once I got the card up and running with Gigabyte’s equally impressive K8NXP-SLI motherboard, one thing became remarkably clear.
Mainly, unlike the Volari Duo, Gigabyte’s 3D1 actually works; and remarkably well, I might add.
The 3D1 represents the first multi-processor card based on NVIDIA’s SLI technology. It’s a limited-edition product and it obviously appeals exclusively to a particular niche of gamers who are looking for elevated performance characteristics without spending exorbitant amounts of money.
According to some of Gigabyte’s initial performance data, there’s an appreciable gain to be realized by putting two graphics processors on a single PCI Express add-in card. In fact, the company’s synthetic numbers even indicate superiority over ATI’s RADEON X850 XT PE. But before you get too enthused by the prospects of a single-card implementation of SLI, there are a few things you should know about Gigabyte’s design.
The Gigabyte 3D1
While we’d love to see a card armed with two GeForce 6800 Ultra chips, Gigabyte instead chose to use a pair of GeForce 6600 GT processors for the 3D1. That’s an understandable decision since the cost and complexity of two 6800 Ultra or 6800 GT GPUs on one board certainly would have been prohibitive. Nevertheless, representatives at Gigabyte acknowledge that other dual-chip boards are currently in development and may realize retail availability.
The Gigabyte 3D1 card
Bottom of the card
Each 6600 GT is mated to 128MB of GDDR3 memory on a 128-bit bus. Of course, all of Gigabyte’s marketing material indicates that the board comes with 256MB of RAM on an effective 256-bit bus, but those numbers aren’t entirely representative of how the card works. Each core runs at 500MHz in 3D mode and 300MHz in 2D mode. The memory subsystem courses along at 560MHz DDR or 1,120MHz. And, since each core boasts eight pixel pipelines, it should be interesting to see how the two combined chips deal with a single GeForce 6800 GT – a 16-pipe contender.
There are also some limitations when it comes to configuring the 3D1. To begin, it only works with Gigabyte motherboards since a special motherboard BIOS is required to recognize the card, according to Carol Chiou of Gigabyte’s channel marketing. That shouldn’t really matter, though, because Gigabyte is planning to sell the 3D1 in a limited edition bundle with its K8NXP-SLI nForce4 motherboard anyway. The package is expected to bear a $550 MSRP and realize retail availability by the end of January.