Review By Kalyan Rai - December 13, 2004 Edited By Ed Piotrowski
High-end graphic cards typically are bought for two purposes by what I term "hardcore IQ gaming junkies." The first, for bragging rights and the second (and probably more important), to be able to play games with the highest quality settings. When the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro was introduced, gamers have had their appetites whet for such a gaming environment. A year, however, is a long time in the computer world, and even after successive refreshes from NVIDIA and ATI, gamers had already started to look forward to the new generation of GPUs.
It wasn't that the GPUs of generation 2003 from NVIDIA and ATI were unable to run the latest games. Certain sacrifices had to be made by turning the visual quality down a notch, turning anti-aliasing levels below your preferred level or combination of both. Prime examples would be Far Cry, and the bump mapped spectacular that is Doom III. These A-list 2004 titles left the class of 2003 GPUs rather taxed with maxed in-game settings and with AA and AF settings enabled.
On April 29, NVIDIA launched a new generation of GPUs. Codenamed NV40 and released to the masses as the GeForce 6800, these chips promised what hardcore IQ gaming junkies always seek. It was with great eagerness that I took into my hands a Leadtek A400 Ultra TDH to do what I, with other IQ gaming junkies, wanted to do: game with no compromises.
The A400 Ultra TDH is manufactured, marketed and sold by Leadtek, one of NVIDIA's Taiwan-based partners. Leadtek is one of the few manufacturers that have remained exclusively NVIDIA. Immediately you will notice unorthodox cooling solution that the A400 Ultra TDH utilizes. This setup is known as "Air Surround" and is a nice departure from the reference cooling solutions that other manufacturers use.
At the heart of the A400 Ultra TDH is the GeForce 6800 Ultra GPU. It promised a performance leap not previously in NVIDA's GPU generation transitions. The GeForce 6800 Ultra promised to deliver a significant increase in 3D acceleration performance over its GeForce FX predecessors. With that in mind, will the Leadtek A400 Ultra TDH deliver the promise of unbridled joy that is gaming with antialiasing set at 4X and anisotropic filtering set at 8X? Read on to find out.
NV40 GPU FEATURES
Here's a short summary of some of the key features of the NV40-class of graphics processors:
Here's what NVIDIA's Ujesh Desai has to say about Shader Model 3.0, one of the most talked-about aspects of the NV40:
While Shader Model 3.0 will enable some "new" effects, it is better characterized by ease of programming, more efficient use of the hardware, and higher scene complexity/or frame rates. Shader Model 3.0 makes developers lives easier due to the support for advanced programming features such as loops and branches.
This is a fundamental requirement and will improve the efficiency in how programmers can write their code. Without support for loops and branches enabled by Shader Model 3.0, developers will be forced to break up longer Shader Model 3.0 shader programs into smaller segments that will run on Shader Model 2.0 hardware. This will absorb clock cycles which will hamper performance in games that use the latest version of DirectX and have more sophisticated Shader Model 3.0 pixel shaders.
It is important to note that in some cases, developers can create the same effect with Shader Model 2.0 and Shader Model 3.0, however it may take longer to program using Shader Model 2.0 and may require more passes through the hardware to render.
Shader Model 3.0 does introduce some new functionality - particularly dynamic branching in the pixel shader, which must be used carefully for good performance. But in general, Shader Model 3.0 should actually make development easier, and can offer some nice performance benefits for complex shaders that can be executed in pixel shader 2.0, but can be executed more efficiently in Shader Model 3.0.