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NVIDIA GeForce 6600 Series Preview

INTRODUCTION
How does playing Doom 3 at High Quality, 1024x768 resolution, 4x anti-aliasing / 8x anisotropic filtering OR at High Quality 1600x1200 without anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering at 45* frames per second and 42* frames per second respectively sound? Now, how does that sound coming from not a $499 video card...not a $399...not even a $299 video card...but $199 and $149 video cards sound?

* Results from running timedemo demo1 in Doom 3

Welcome to the new mainstream video card offerings from NVIDIA. Known prior to now as the NV43 chipset, today we are introducing you to the NVIDIA GeForce 6600 series comprised of the 6600 and the 6600GT. Actually a third card (not an NV43 but rather NV42) has some brief mention by NVIDIA, that being a 6800LE which will be an 8 pipeline, 256-bit data bus product. The 6800LE is not within the scope of this preview but we'll be sure to cover it in the future.

NVIDIA's GeForce 6 Series

HI-RESOLUTION IMAGES
I know most of you want to see some eye candy so let's get that out of the way first before moving on to the details.

Click on any of the images below to view hi-resolution versions.

 

  

   

  

FEATURES & SPECIFICATIONS

  • Initial product launch will be for the PCI Express architecture (with AGP versions to follow).
  • Superscalar architecture
  • Industry's only SM 3.0 and 64-bit floating point processor
  • On-chip video processor
  • 128MB Video Memory (6600=DDR1     6600GT=DDR3)
  • 6600 core clock 300MHz / memory clock (to be determined by the AIC)
  • 6600 GT core clock 500MHz / memory clock 500MHz (1GHz effective)
  • Memory speed (nanosecond rating) will vary between manufacturers
  • 8 pipelines
  • 128-bit data bus
  • Shader Model 3.0 support
  • SLI Multi-GPU Ready (only with the 6600GT)
  • UltraShadow II Technology
  • Intellisample 3.0 Technology
  • Consumer Electronics Video

One thing that should really jump out at you (it did to me at least) is that all of the GeForce 6600GTs will be SLI-ready. What does this mean? Well it means that for roughly the price of a single 6800GT you could have two 6600GTs! NVIDIA appears to be sticking to their claims (as was originally announced with the 6800 series in an SLI config) that an SLI configuration will come close to doubling your 3D acceleration power.

Needless to say, there will be a new twist on video card reviews from now on:

"Hmm, I wonder what will run Quake 4 or Half-Life 2 faster...two mainstream NVIDIA video cards in SLI mode or a single enthusiast card?"

AVAILABILITY & PRICE
So great! This is some really cool news but quickly the question becomes "when can I buy one and for how much". Well as stated earlier you can see that NVIDIA is aiming for the 6600GT and 6600 to cost $199 and $149 respectively. As for availability the current timeframe is the end of September for the PCI Express versions and likely another month or so for the AGP versions.

An interesting point regarding availability is that NVIDIA does not necessarily have total control as to when their products will appear on store shelves. The retailers have a substantial stake in all of this too and so they play a large role in the entire availability process. In other words, it's not so simple as to being 100% up to NVIDIA as to when you see their latest products on store shelves.


NVIDIA is putting a strong emphasis on the penetration and then saturation of SM3.0/ capable hardware into the mainstream market. The sooner this happens, the better, for all of us. It should be a well known fact that game developers have to take into account the greatest market share of customers. Today that includes a large chunk of consumers that still have GeForce2-class cards that they game with. The sooner those folks upgrade to a SM3.0 capable video card the sooner we will reap the benefits of truly next generation gaming.

Along with this direction that NVIDIA is taking comes the importance of the OEM market. This will be the initial focus for NVIDIA in order to effectively and quickly achieve their goal of changing the landscape of the antiquated video card base that exists today.

PERFORMANCE
The last thing to touch on in this preview is that of performance. NVIDIA did not provide us with any sample 6600 or 6600GTs to test with so all that we can do is share with you NVIDIA's in-house test results. Rest assured, however, that once we do have these cards in hand a review will be soon to follow.

It should be noted that the following two graphs establish an ATI X600XT as comparison as well as presenting it as the x-axis baseline. In other words, the ATI X600XT in the graphs below represents the baseline to NVIDIA's 6600GT percentage gains over it. Also, these graphs are not very readable at the size shown below so please click on them for the full size graphs (~120KB each).

NVIDIA's Doom 3 Percentage Gain Graph

NVIDIA's Game Variety Percentage Gain Graph

ULTRASHADOW II
Now, for the first time, NVIDIA's mainstream product line will boast the UltraShadow II technology. UltraShadow II technology is in place on the 6800 product line and you can find many detailed articles on it which we'll not get into here other than to outline a few main points.

  • Single pass shadow volume rendering
    doubles the performance
     
  • Intelligent culling algorithms ignore
    shadow pixels that aren't visible
     
  • Combined with Intellisample 3.0 to
    ensure shadow edges are properly
    aliased

In other words, UltraShadow II technology is not a singular "all or nothing" approach. It is comprised of various parts, some of which can be enabled/disabled by the developer as necessary. One very current example is that Doom 3 (while making use of some parts of UltraShadow II technology) actually does not implement depth bound testing in the current NVIDIA drivers.

Programmers can define a subset of the scene (within z-min and z-max) to limit lighting/shadow calculations to the appropriate area for each light source. Z component of the window-space bounding box reduces the area that needs to be checked.

UltraShadow II - Implementing Depth Bounds

In the series of images below you can first see a scene with a lot of lighting and shadows at play. The second image points out the visible geometry and the last image shows the shadow volume geometry. Clearly, the shadow volume geometry is much greater than that of the object geometry and UltraShadow II technology affords excellent performance because shadows are not textured. Therefore, both shadow shaders can be sued for shadow calculations at the same time.

UltraShadow II - Example Scene
Dramatic chase scene with shadows


Visible geometry


Shadow volume geometry


Images courtesy of Contraband Entertainment

VIDEO
There are also some very interesting improvements regarding video quality in both encoding and decoding processes. This will be touched on in more detail in an upcoming article so for now I'll present you with some interesting screenshots to pique your curiosity. In the shots below the first image (with red circles) indicates the current state of video. In the following shot (with green circles) indicates the improvements now made available by NVIDIA.

No Inverse Telecine (3:2 Pull Down) Correction

GeForce 6600 Inverse Telecine (3:2 Pull Down) Correction

No Motion Estimation

GeForce 6600 Motion Estimation

Vertical Scrolling Text w/o De-Interlacing

Vertical Scrolling Text GeForce 6600 De-Interlacing

CONCLUSION
The NVIDIA GeForce 6600 and 6600 GT quite possibly offer more to the mainstream consumer than any mainstream video cards ever have before. In the past, advanced technologies like UltraShadow II, Intellisample 3.0 and the latest Pixel/Vertex Shader Model support were reserved for the enthusiast market...now, that has all changed.

NVIDIA is making a statement today with the GeForce 6600 series in that mainstream consumers will now have all of the major features that their enthusiast cards have always had. There obviously has to be something that allows room for the price difference in market segments. That something is the reduction of the bus width down to 128-bits (instead of 256 on the 6800 series cards). Also, these cards have half the pipelines (8) than that of the 6800 GT and 6800 Ultra (16). Pipelines are not everything though. One only has to look at the 500MHz core and 500MHz (1GHz effective) DDR3 memory of the 6600 GT and know that it could be one heck of a performer for the price.

Please feel free to discuss/ask questions about any of this in our forum.


Back to nV News

Last Updated on August 12, 2004


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