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Gainward PowerPack! Ultra/2100 Geforce 6800 Golden Sample 128MB Review - Page 1 of 7

INTRODUCTION
Many gamers will usually point out their video card first when describing their system, as it is usually among the flashiest pieces of hardware, is one of the main components of the system, and is usually a good conversation piece. They used to be ordinary green pcb's, lucky to have the manufacturer's stamp on the gpu. Now, cards feature extravagant heatsink designs, large fan setups, lights.... Some even have LED temperature indicators. Obviously IHV's have taken notice of gamers' enthusiasm for the video card, and have turned it into quite a flashy business, replete with full-page Rolling Stone advertisements and daring packaging designs.

The subject of this review is definitely a flashy video card in many ways, the Gainward PowerPack! Ultra/2100 Geforce 6800 Golden Sample 128mb. Those familiar with Gainward are probably used to the long naming scheme, as this is something they've stuck with for years. The company was founded in 1984, and enjoyed success in the early 3D accelerator days using the CARDEXpert name. Around the time of Geforce2, Gainward implemented the industry's first "Overclocked out of the box" line of cards, the Golden Sample line. Using hand-picked components, this line of cards features higher-than-normal clockspeeds, and a robust non-reference pcb design built to take the heat from the higher speeds.

Yes, that's right, I said "non-reference" (and don't forget, I also said "higher-than-normal clockspeeds"). This card is the first I've seen to deviate from the reference design. It also features a radical 2-slot cooling design (only available in the European/Asian version, the US version uses a single-slot method), only making this card even more attractive given its price point ($299 USD).

For those of you unfamiliar with the Geforce 6800 feature set, here's a quick and dirty...

SPECIFICATIONS

  • NVIDIA CineFX 3.0 Engine
  • 3 Quad (12-Pixel Pipeline) Design
  • 325MHz Core Clock
  • 700MHz Memory Clock
  • 128MB 2.8ns DDR Memory
  • 25.6 GB/s Memory Bandwidth
  • AGP 8X Bus (4X and 2X Compatible)
  • DirectX 9.0C and OpenGL 1.5 (2.0) Compliant
  • VGA, DVI, and S-Video Out
  • Forceware Graphics Drivers

Gainward has deviated from these original specifications by shipping a card with a default core speed of 350MHz, and a default effective memory speed of 800MHz, using 2.5ns chips instead of the slower 2.8 modules.

Here's a breakdown of some of the new features brought forth by the new Gefore 6800 family:

  • The addition of SM3.0 (enabled through the CineFX Engine) capable silicon brings developer friendly shader capabilities with minimal performance loss (please refer to Far Cry 1.2)
  • 256 bit memory interface absolutely helps powerful cards like this with higher levels of Antialiasing and Anisotropic Filtering at much higher resolutions than any 128 bit memory interface card ever could
  • The new Rotated Grid Array Antialiasing (Part of the new Intellisample 3.0 specification) provides superior image quality vs. the previous generation of nVidia cards
  • Displacement Mapping will allow for true vertex shader tricks without bump-mapping workarounds, allowing for great lighting effects
  • Full Pixel Branching Support allows for use of long shaders, beneficial for developers, and in the long run, the end customer
  • UltraShadow II, though not quite embraced by the developer community at this point, is an nVidia proprietary feature that optimizes the shadow creation process, accelerates the crucial areas of shadows, and gives the end user a more complete than ever view of lighting/shadow capabilities on today's gaming hardware
  • Enhanced codec decode support (specifically MPEG-2) increases the card's usability when working with video media files, and the addition of motion estimation will allow for higher quality video at comparable or lower bitrates
  • Digital Vibrance remains as an attractive feature of the Geforce series, allowing for a huge level of color adjustability in games and on the desktop

At the $299 price point, the Geforce 6800 Non-Ultra cards have no direct competition, as the ATI X800 Pro (their lowest hi-end card) occupies the $399 price bracket. Rumor has it that ATI's X700 series may be coming soon to battle the 6800NU on store shelves. Possessing the same feature set as its bigger brothers makes this card an attractive buy, even though the slower memory and lack of one quad unit and vertex shader make for slightly lower performance.


Next Page: Card Layout/Packaging

Last Updated on September 27, 2004


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