Summary: At CeBIT this year NVIDIA announced the GeForce 6800 Ultra 512MB, promising ďnew levels of performance and visual qualityĒ. Today we're taking a look at one of the first GeForce 6800 Ultra 512MB cards to hit the market, BFG's GeForce 6800 Ultra OC 512MB. The card not only ships with 512MB of memory, but like the rest of the "OC" lineup of BFG cards, faster than stock clock speeds. With two BFG GeForce 6800 Ultra 512MB cards in our hands, we took the 512MB GeForce 6800 Ultra card out for a spin in both single-card and SLI 512MB configurations, comparing it to GeForce 6800 Ultra, the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition, and finally, ATI's recently announced 512MB RADEON X800 XL. Do twin 512MB GeForce 6800 Ultras sound exciting to you? See the performance improvements 512MB brings to the GeForce 6800 Ultra inside!
More recently, we saw the first 512MB graphics cards in ATIís PCI Express RADEON X800 XL. Itís an impressive piece of work by most accounts; however, the extra performance afforded by additional memory is offset by that productís lower operating frequency compared to the X850 XT Platinum Edition. Half-Life 2 demonstrates the cardís alacrity to some degree, but I think itís fair to say your money is better spent on a faster card instead of one with more memory.
What happens, though, when you combine a super-fast graphics processor and an extra-large frame buffer? After all, both ATIís X800-class and NVIDIAís GeForce 6-series architectures support 512MB memory capacities. ATI first demonstrated 512MB on a RADEON X850 XT board, suggesting itíd pursue the high-end with great memory capacity. ATI later revealed itíd instead arm its X800 XL with 512MB and shoot for a lower price point. In response, NVIDIA announced plans to introduce a 512MB GeForce 6800 Ultra, heralding a new flagship theoretically capable of besting every other card on the market. It employs the same 130nm manufacturing process and even runs at the same frequency. The real issue here is memory capacity.
BFGís GeForce 6800 Ultra OC 512MB
Physically, the 512MB model differs from 256MB 6800 Ultra boards in that it is longer and includes some extra power circuitry, much of which is covered by a secondary passive heatsink. It employs the same six-pin power input youíd expect on any other high-end PCI Express graphics card, and the board sports a very similar active cooler for its graphics processor. Interestingly, only half of the onboard memory modules are blanketed with aluminum RAM-sinks. The other eight 1.6ns modules run bare.
Naturally, the cardís core specifications remain unchanged. It wields 16 parallel pixel pipelines, Shader Model 3.0 compliance, and PureVideo technology. Absolutely nothing is different about the graphics processor itself. Memory is one of only two variables here.
The idea is that anyone with enough money to buy one or two of these 512MB cards is also planning to use a nice display. Thankfully, BFG had the foresight to employ two, dual-link DVI connectors, each of which supports resolutions up to 2048x1536 at 85Hz. Youíll get away with up to 1920x 1080 at 60 Hz using the single-link port featured on 256MB Ultra cards. But if you really want to go big, Appleís 30-inch Cinema HD display, for instance, requires a dual-link DVI output for operation (BFGís product manager makes the clarification that the 30-inch Cinema HD is not supported in SLI mode, though). Previously, this was a feature only available on high-end Quadro cards, so including it with the GeForce 6800 Ultra is a big deal for graphics professionals.
Understanding that those improvements alone make it hard to stomach a $999 purchase, BFG bundles the card with a handful of value-added extras. Thereís an 80mm case fan with blue LED lighting, Teflon pads for the bottom of your mouse, a t-shirt that lets everyone know you bought a 512MB graphics card, and a full copy of Far Cry. Though the bundle doesnít make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, Far Cry is a great game and the other items are each useful in their own ways. Just donít wear that t-shirt on a first date.
What good is top of the line hardware if you canít push it further than anyone else? It wasnít too long ago that 1600x1200 was the absolute highest resolution anyone could imagine using to game. After all, most video cards still keel over when you add anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering to such a high-end workload. Not the 6800 Ultra, though. We hooked a handful of cards up to our Dell 2405FPW wide-aspect LCD display and fired up Half-Life 2 and Far Cry at 1920x1200. Doom 3 was on the list too, but it topped out at 1600x1200, unfortunately.
Far Cry yields more of the same, except the jump is a staggering 63 percent improvement when you add SLI to the mix, making 1920x1200 with 4xAA and 8xAF a perfectly playable setting. Itís again unfortunate to see no gains from the extra memory, though.
We ran this one in order to get our bearings on comparing the 512MB and 256MB Ultra cards with and without SLI technology. The results are taken at 1600x1200 to tax the graphics subsystem as much as possible. And interestingly enough, the slight loss of memory bandwidth actually puts the 512MB cards a tad behind the 256MB set. While we hesitate to make comparisons between ATI and NVIDIA products in a purely synthetic setting, it is surprising how much lower the 512MB X800 XL scores versus ATIís X850 XT Platinum Edition product.
id Software Doom 3
Doom 3 is NVIDIAís playground and the GeForce 6800 Ultra dominates in a major way. At 1280x1024, thereís an imperceptible advantage tilted toward the 512MB variant. The gap persists at 1600x1200. Naturally, SLI helps, but arguably not enough to justify a second $1,000 graphics card.
id Software Doom 3 with 4xAA and 8xAF
Even with the added intensity of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, BFGís GeForce 6800 Ultra OC card isnít able to put any appreciable space between itself and ASUSí highly capable 256MB variant. What is worth mentioning, though, is that SLI allows both of the Ultra variants to play through Doom 3 at Ultra quality settings and with the graphics details enabled while continuing to crank out impressive frame rates. ATIís lineup, on the other hand, lags a ways behind, especially at 1600x1200.
Crytekís Far Cry
Crytekís Far Cry with 4xAA and 8xAF
The difference between single-card and SLI configurations becomes more apparent with the application of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, but thereís still no improvement to be had by adopting the 512MB implementation. In fact, with either of the Ultras set up in a single-card setup ATIís RADEON X850 XT PE is able to place first. Only with the application of SLI do the 6-series cards come out ahead. And again, thereís really little gain to be had here from buying a 512MB X800 XL board, it seems.
Valve Softwareís Half-Life 2
Not only does Half-Life 2 fail to benefit from 512MB of memory, it also shows a drop in performance with SLI. Undoubtedly a driver problem, we can only hope an official driver will turn the performance picture around. Then again, given some of the other scores, itíd appear we might be looking at some other bottleneck other than graphics-related. For what itís worth, we finally see ATIís 512MB RADEON X800 XL shine, in both resolutions taking a first place finish above the competing cards.
Valve Softwareís Half-Life 2 with 4xAA and 8xAF
More of the same here, only this time, the 512MB card does show a slight performance improvement, even if itís to the tune of one frame in SLI mode. Otherwise, thereís very little to say about how the 256MB and 512MB boards compare. In fact, moving from 1280x1024 to 1600x1200 with the bells and whistles enabled has very little impact on frame rate, suggesting bottlenecks elsewhere. Most notable, perhaps, is the first-place finish garnered by ATIís X800 XL 512MB, again.
1C:Maddox Gamesí Pacific Fighters
If you saw the preceding benchmark results and were hoping for something a little more exciting here with Pacific Fighters, turn back now (or even better, skip ahead a page instead) because all of the NVIDIA scores are flat. ATIís numbers drop off from there, but basically reveal that this simulator gains nothing from the future-looking 512MB board designs.
1C:Maddox Gamesí Pacific Fighters with 4xAA and 8xAF
Linear, once again here. Itís worth mentioning that this game looks absolutely gorgeous at super-high resolutions and with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled. And with that said, any of these setups will give you spectacular performance--even the 512MB X800 XL at 80 frames per second. Clearly, this title isnít the most graphically demanding of the bunch.
BFG GeForce 6600 GT OC