Summary: Last week we explored the new 3.0 shaders, performance, and image quality of NVIDIA's upcoming GeForce 6800 Ultra. There were a few areas we wanted to address in more detail however. In this article, we explore the noise level of the 6800 Ultra's new cooler in a little more depth (including MP3s), as well as providing updated 3DMark 03 scores with ATI's high-end DX9 offerings included. Finally, we also took a bit of time to overclock our GeForce 6800 Ultra card. Read all the fine details in our follow-up story!
As promised, we wanted to discuss a few topics from our GeForce 6800 Ultra Performance Preview, chief among them being the noise of the 6800 Ultra reference board and how it compares to other graphics cards.
If you recall, NVIDIA has implemented a dual-slot heat pipe-based cooler for GeForce 6800 Ultra. NVIDIA has also designed a single-slot variant of the same cooler, which they considered using on their Ultra reference board, but ultimately felt that the enthusiast market the 6800 Ultra is intended for would rather have a more powerful cooling solution. This single-slot cooler will likely be used on reference 6800 non-Ultra designs. Keep in mind however that NVIDIA’s board partners can implement whichever cooling solution they wish.
Historically the first crop of retail cards based on a brand new NVIDIA GPU have followed NVIDIA’s reference specifications, while second generation boards are the first to feature custom cooling designs. MSI in particular has made a name for itself with its T.O.P. Tech coolers, which are designed to offer good cooling performance (often relying on copper heatsink designs or dual Twin Flow fans) with near silent operation. ASUS on the other hand, has produced single-slot copper coolers for both GeForce FX 5900 Ultra and GeForce FX 5950 Ultra. Basically, NVIDIA’s board partners have come up with some pretty clever cooling designs in the past, and we don’t expect that to change for GeForce 6800 and 6800 Ultra.
Until those second generation cards come out however the reference cooler will likely be pretty popular, so we’ve provided the following MP3s of the 6800 Ultra and RADEON 9800 XT in action. Click here to download the 6800 Ultra and 9800 XT MP3s.
Like its predecessor, GeForce6800 Ultra runs in two modes, a high mode and an intermediate setting. The high mode kicks in once you boot up the system, but reduces to the lower setting once the driver loads in Windows. From there, the card remains in the intermediate setting, even during extended gaming sessions with overclocking. This is good, as the higher setting is a little loud, not so much because of the fan’s motor but rather due to the amount of air the fan is pushing. Meanwhile the intermediate setting on the 6800 Ultra is more conservative, running at lower RPMs and thus generating less noise, but it’s certainly louder than ATI’s RADEON 9800 XT.
The 6800 Ultra board itself runs cooler than other DX9 cards such as the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra (and 5700 Ultra with GDDR2) and RADEON 9700 PRO. And while NVIDIA’s new ducted cooling design doesn’t exhaust hot air outside of the case (or vice versa), it does do a good job of combating heat without creating a new hotspot within the case that you should be concerned about. We don’t think heat will be a concern, NVIDIA has certainly implemented an effective cooler for the GeForce 6800 Ultra reference design.
But what about the other intangibles such as overclocking? Let’s take a look.
SIDEBAR: NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 webpage
3DMark 03 – Direct3D
In our original performance preview article, we weren’t sure if NVIDIA’s 60.72 driver was FutureMark approved. So rather than include numbers with all cards, we decided to just run numbers with the NVIDIA cards, that way you could still see how GeForce 6800 Ultra compared to previous GeForce FX cards. (We also included GeForce4 Ti 4600 benchmarks in the original article for this reason as well.) Now that 60.72 is FutureMark approved, we’ve run 3DMark 03 on the same platform as the previous article, only with ATI’s RADEON 9800 XT, 9800 PRO 128MB, and 9700 PRO with CATALYST 4.4.
3DMark 03 – Game Test Results
Looking at the game test results, we want to focus on Mother Nature, which is the one game test in 3DMark 03 that utilizes 2.0 shaders (used for the leaves, water, and sky). In this case, GeForce 6800 Ultra delivers 1.5 times the performance of ATI’s RADEON 9800 XT at 800x600x32. While this margin is narrower than 3DMark 03’s pixel shader 2.0 test, keep in mind the synthetic nature of 3DMark’s individual shader tests.
FarCry – Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2004 – Direct3D
As you can see, we weren’t able to overclock the memory on our board very far, we only hit 555MHz before the card became unstable. We had a little more luck with the graphics core, hitting a top frequency of 435MHz before artifacts began to appear, this is an improvement of 8%.
So there you have it, our GeForce 6800 Ultra reference board didn’t turn out to overclock as high as some of the reference boards we’ve seen in the past, but we wouldn’t necessarily read too much into this aspect, as we’re dealing with a very early board while shipping retail cards are still over a month away from release.
Many early samples of those shipping boards will likely adopt NVIDIA’s reference specifications, but we’ve been told by NVIDIA that board partners will be given some leeway when it comes to their retail GeForce 6800 Ultra board designs, including clock speeds. Just as eVGA’s e-GeForce FX 5900 Ultra shipped at higher clock frequencies than other GeForce FX 5900 Ultra boards, it’s possible that an enterprising board partner may decide to clock their board a little higher than stock. History has also proven that NVIDIA’s board partners can come up with some pretty interesting coolers, so if you don’t like the stock unit, wait around and see what the second-generation boards look like.
Of course, we’re also still waiting to see how ATI’s upcoming R420 core performs. R420 is intended to compete directly with GeForce 6800 Ultra, but up to now ATI has been pretty tight-lipped about the details. ATI could be waiting to see how GeForce 6800 Ultra performs in order to see what they need to shoot for before spilling the beans, or they could be looking to compete with a follow-up part due later this year. It’s just too early to tell.
One point that can’t be denied however is that this generation of graphics cards will provide a substantial performance improvement over their predecessors. This should allow gamers to crank up the screen resolution and AA/AF without suffering from poor frame rates. As always, you will want a fast CPU in order to unleash the full potential of your graphics card.
Therefore, until the upcoming ATI and NVIDIA high-end cards come out, we wouldn’t spend a penny on a high-end graphics upgrade. These next gen cards are simply offering too many goodies over existing DX9 flagship boards. Fortunately you won’t have too wait much longer, we’re merely weeks away from retail release.
SIDEBAR: Have any other areas you’d like to see us take a look at in regards to the GeForce 6800 Ultra? Has your opinion changed since our preview article was posted? Share your thoughts in the news comments!
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