A little developer called Crytek dropped a bomb on the PC gaming world through the release of its first title - Far Cry. It wasn't so much the plot or gameplay that caused a stir but rather its graphics engine, which makes heavy use of programmable shaders and ragdoll physics. Gamers with high-end systems could rejoice because there finally existed a game that could take full advantage of their hardware. My old Athlon XP/Radeon 9800 Pro machine could run the game adequately at 1024x768 resolution with medium-high details. I enjoyed Far Cry thoroughly, but there's no such thing as too much visual goodness and that's where the GeForce 6800 comes in handy.
Far Cry is another game that will support NVIDIA's Shader Model 3.0. Support for this feature will come via a 1.2 patch. This patch has been available for review sites to test and thus is what I used to benchmark. I also used a special version of the Forceware 61.45 drivers that have SM 3.0 support, and Build 2149 of Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 has the last required component - DirectX 9.0c. For testing, I again used 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 resolutions and all in-game detail settings were set to their maximum via the Far Cry configuration control panel. FSAA and anisotropic filtering were set through the game as well. 4x AA corresponds to 'Medium' and anisotropic filtering goes up to 4x Trilinear (which is what I used).
The first chart here shows performance without Shader Model 3.0. As I didn't receive access to the 1.2 patch until the 11th hour, I only had time to run benchmarks on the Research level.
Far Cry Research Demo SM 2.0 Results
Not too shabby if you ask me. Far Cry's pace is similar to that of Halo so blistering high frame rates aren't exactly required here. Being able to maximize every graphical option in this game and still see playable scores in this game is a testament to the goodness of the 6800 GT. These are numbers I couldn't have dreamed about with my 9800 Pro.
Now for the SM 3.0 results.
Far Cry Research Demo SM 3.0 Results
There is improvement across the board here, but it's not very dramatic, less than 1 percent in some cases. This is likely due to a combination of things, including CPU and GPU limitation. The lower clock speed of the GT when compared to the 6800 Ultra and my 'lowly' 3 GHz CPU are probably starving this game from really showing off its capability with Shader Model 3.0. Overclocking the GPU does help, as you will see in the section below and I'm sure the 3.4 GHz CPU I'll be receiving will provide further benefits.
This is probably the most tedious, yet at the same time fun, part of video card testing. Power users are always looking for ways to extra the most performance out of their equipment. I'm no exception when it comes to video cards. Now I personally have never had good luck when it comes to overclocking video cards, and I was hoping the 6800 GT would bring a change of luck.
As stated earlier, stock clock speeds for this 6800 GT are 370 MHz on the core and 1000 MHz (effective) on the memory. From reports on our forums, it seems that about 80 to 90 percent of people who have 6800 GT cards (regardless of brand) are able to overclock theirs to at least 400 core and 1100 memory, which is the reference stock speed of the 6800 Ultra. The 431/1120 speed you see here is even beyond my expectation. This speed is higher than the 425/1100 speed that comes standard on BFG's own 6800 Ultra OC.
I do have to put one caveat on this, however. All the games I tested for overclocking except Far Cry had no problems handling 431/1120. During an impromptu run on the Carrier level, I noticed some graphical corruption. Lowering the core clock to 424 MHz saw all issues disappear. So for the Far Cry chart, the overclocking results were taken at 424/1120 while the others were taken at 431/1120. Lowering the core clock speed for Far Cry on the Carrier level is exactly the same thing Clay Angelly had to do in his BFG 6800 Ultra OC review.
Overclocking Enemy Territory and Far Cry
These are the most GPU-intensive tests I performed in these games. The results are pretty good here, with a 12 percent jump in Enemy Territory and a 13 percent increase in Far Cry. The latter's increase is most impressive because the added boost in clock speed helps keep the 6800 GT in the "smooth zone" (greater than 30 fps) more effectively at this high resolution.
Overclocking Halo and Unreal Tournament 2004
This CPU is really holding UT 2004 back on the performance level as overclocking the graphics card yields a 0.5 percent boost. Halo, which tends to be more GPU limited, sees an impressive increase of 24 percent. As the GeForce 6800 series drivers will get better from here, owners should realize some further performance benefits regardless of whether they overclock or not.