Summary: With PCI Express versions of the GeForce 6800 GT and 6800 Ultra so scarce and expensive, a lot of gamers have instead opted for NVIDIA's lower-priced alternative, the GeForce 6800 PCI-E. Up for today we take a look at the first GeForce 6800 PCI-E card to hit the market, MSI's NX6800. In this article we've gathered single and SLI benchmarks for the GeForce 6600 GT, 6800 GT, and the NX6800. We also threw in a RADEON X800 XL card, and of course, finished it off with a little bit of overclocking. Check out the performance results inside!
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.
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.
The board design of the NX6800 itself is fairly standard for a GeForce 6800 card. Unlike the high-end GeForce 6800 Ultra boards, GeForce 6800 board partners are free to deviate from NVIDIA’s reference board design, but most chose not to stray too far from reference. This allows them to get their boards to market more quickly, which can be important for getting an early edge on your competitors.
Thanks to their slower graphics core and memory (and reduced number of pipelines), PCI Express GeForce 6800 cards don’t require an external power source for operation. In fact, we’ve found that AGP boards based on this chip tend to run fairly cool, a high-end cooling solution isn’t necessary.
256MB of memory
Not only is MSI’s NX6800 the first PCI-E GeForce 6800 card to hit the market, it’s also the first to ship with 256MB of memory. Typically most manufacturers outfit their GeForce 6800 cards with 128MB in order to save costs; keeping their price as low as possible in comparison to other board manufacturers. This is good for consumers looking to save a few bucks, but we’ve found that next generation titles such as Half-Life 2 really like the larger memory footprint a card with 256MB of memory provides, especially once you crank up the AA and AF. By providing more memory on their GeForce 6800 board, MSI’s NX6800 is better designed for these titles. As far as we know, MSI has no plans for a 128MB GeForce 6800 PCI-E SKU.
In operation the fan on the NX6800 runs fairly well, fortunately it doesn’t run too loud and does a decent job of keeping the graphics core (and card) cool, and while this is more than enough for the GeForce 6800 we can’t help but wonder what a little copper cooling would do for the card.
Software and accessories
Like all MSI graphics cards we’ve evaluated lately, MSI equips their NX6800 board with an excellent software bundle. Included in the box are copies of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Ubi: Ages Beyond Myst, XIII, a 14-in-1 CD of assorted game demos, MSI’s Media Center Deluxe 2 software, Virtual Drive 7 Professional version, Restore It 3, Photoshop Album SE, 3D Album SE, and 5.1 channel DVD playback software. MSI also includes a DVI adapter and S-Video cable for hooking the card up to a TV.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Halo – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
GeForce 6800 core: NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 core gives gamers a taste of the performance offered in today’s latest 16 pipeline graphics cards. You’ve got a 256-bit memory interface, just like the high-end 6800 Ultra and 6800 GT cards. This is important if you find yourself playing most of your games at higher resolutions such as 1280x1024 or 1600x1200, or with AA/AF.
Basic design: After testing multiple MSI graphics cards with fire engine red PCBs and copper cooling, it’s a little bit of a surprise to see that the MSI NX6800 relies on standard cooling.