The 6800 GT certainly is not a low-end/budget video card, nor is it at the top of the product lineup. I wouldn't, however, put this card in the mid-range either. I consider budget cards to be $200 or less, with the mid-range at $250-300. The GT checks in with a suggested retail price of $399. This still is a solid going rate for this type of hardware. I paid this much for the original GeForce3 a few months after it was released.
I think a card like the 6800 GT belongs in its own class, something I'd like to call "upper middle class." Looking at the specs, this card should pack most of the punch of its top-end stablemates but is easier on the wallet. These cards are great for folks who either 1) don't necessarily have the latest and greatest CPUs to pair with a video card, 2) don't upgrade very often and/or 3) don't have lots of cash to drop on any one particular PC component.
If you read through discussion and analysis of the 6800 series, you'll notice that the CPU becomes a bottleneck in prohibiting the new-generation video cards from reaching their full potential. But don't let your lack of a monster CPU stop you from considering the purchase. I have owned video cards from the previous generation, including a GeForce FX 5900 and ATI Radeon 9800 Pro. I think it goes without saying that the 6800 GT unequivicably blows these two cards out of the water in terms of performance and image quality, even on a mid-range system such as the one I used to test the GT.
Clocked, Locked and Ready to Rock
I wish I could have tested this card on my overclocked AMD Athlon XP 2500+/NVIDIA nForce2 motherboard combination. Unfortunately, the motherboard died and I ended up selling the CPU. I moved to the opposite end of the CPU fence and tested the BFG GeForce 6800 GT OC on the following machine:
Intel Pentium 4 3.0C, 800 MHz front side bus, stock speed
Intel D875PBZ motherboard operating in dual-channel memory mode
Window XP Professional SP2 RC2 Build 2149 (w/DirectX 9.0c)
NVIDIA Forceware 61.45 drivers
While there are CPU/motherboard combinations that are faster than this, I wanted a machine that was stable above everything else. Incidentally, this machine "feels" faster to me than my Athlon not to mention the fact that it's quieter and cooler. I was hoping to be able to afford an AMD Athlon 64 setup, but I was in a time crunch and my supplier didn't have a motherboard I liked at a price I could afford. Still, this machine is no slouch and it (or any similar system) should prove to be a good match for the 6800 GT.
NVIDIA FORCEWARE DRIVERS
I'm still amazed that NVIDIA is able to have unified drivers that support every single card from the original TNT up to the GeForce 6800. I remember using the old Detonator 7.xx drivers with my GeForce2 MX. Though there have been many revisions since then, the core goodness of the Detonator/Forceware driver suite is still there.
During my testing of this card, NVIDIA still had not released official drivers on its site that specifically support the 6800 line. Several leaked drivers exist, and I tried a few versions before settling on 61.45. These seemed to give the best combination of performance, image quality and stability. I had no issues in any of the games I tested.
Speaking of games, here are the ones I used to show off this card. You'll find more detailed explanations of my test methods when you read each game's respective results.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (OpenGL)
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (OpenGL)
AMP II Engine Technology Demo (OpenGL)
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Direct 3D)
Halo (Direct 3D)
Painkiller (Direct 3D)
Far Cry (Direct 3D)
I've never been one for using synthetic 3D benchmarks such as 3DMark or Aquamark. I want to know how a card is going to perform in games where there is human interaction. I want to see how a card performs in games that are available for me to purchase right now, and the above are some of the best examples of games that can push a system to its limits. The only exception to this is the AMP II demo, which provides a small window into the world of Doom 3-esque lighting and shadowing.
You'll also noticed the perponderance of first-person shooters. Actually, all the tested games fall into that category. This is purely coincidental as this is my favorite genre. It's also a great platform for showing off advanced features such as ragdoll physics and programmable shaders.
The (Slight) OC
The above shot shows that BFG's advertised clock frequencies are right on the money. This and other information about the graphics card is accessible through enabling NVIDIA's Coolbits registry entries. These entries work for any NVIDIA graphics card running Forceware drivers. More information about Coolbits can be found in this forum thread. Further details about my overclocking experience with this BFG card will appear later. So let's see just how well this card fares in testing.