Ironically enough, when NVIDIA first introduced their PCI Express GeForce 6 cards last June, the only products in the pipeline that were officially announced were the GeForce 6800 Ultra and the GeForce 6800 GT PCI-E: GeForce 6800 PCI-E was nowhere to be found; NVIDIA was focusing their efforts solely on the GT and Ultra parts.
It has now been over seven months since these PCI Express cards were first announced to the public and, for the most part, they’re still nowhere to be found at retail!
For the most part, GeForce 6800 Ultra has been completely AWOL. We have inquired with multiple NVIDIA board partners on retail availability of these cards and still haven’t received a firm date; even our attempts to get a reference GeForce 6800 Ultra PCI-E board directly from NVIDIA have fallen short up to this point (which is why we had to overclock a GT board to Ultra levels to obtain numbers for this article). In more recent weeks, a few retail boards have popped up online, but as far as we’re concerned, this card is just as guilty of vaporware status as ATI’s RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition, if not more so.
GeForce 6800 GT PCI-E (top) and MSI NX6800 card
PowerColor X800 XL and MSI NX6800
In contrast, availability of GeForce 6800 GT PCI-E cards has been a little bit better. Cards can be found at retail from time to time, but supply of the boards is still so limited that most retailers are asking over $500 for the GeForce 6800 GT PCI-E, this is $100 over its MSRP of $400! With both high-end 6800 parts so hard to find, consumers looking for a good performing GeForce 6 card have really only had one readily available solution: the vanilla GeForce 6800.
These cards first popped up quietly a few months ago. If you’re already familiar with the AGP version of the GeForce 6800, the specs are basically the same. The chip sports a 12-pixel pipeline configuration with a 256-bit memory interface and DDR1 memory. NVIDIA clocks these boards at 325MHz, so they’re not fill-rate monsters like the 16 pipeline solutions from ATI and NVIDIA, but they’re still good performers, packing a peak pixel fill rate that is twice that of NVIDIA’s previous high-end product: GeForce FX 5950 Ultra.
One key difference between the GeForce 6800 AGP and GeForce 6800 PCI-E is memory clock frequency: while AGP 6800 cards ship at 350MHz (700MHz effective), the memory used on PCI Express GeForce 6800 cards runs 50MHz slower, at just 300MHz (600MHz effective). This means that PCI Express GeForce 6800 cards are effectively giving up 3.2GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth to their AGP cousins, which can have ramifications at higher resolutions (or when AA/AF is used). Of course, PCI Express GeForce 6800 cards have the added ability to be linked together (via SLI) for added performance.
MSI was one of NVIDIA’s first board partners to release a GeForce 6800 PCI-E card to the market, read on to see how this card performed in our testing.