The ownership of the high-end video card market has flipped back and forth between NVIDIA and ATI over the years, with the last major shift being the Radeon 9X00 line taking over top spot from the GeForce 4-based cards and their GeForce FX successors. This paved the way for a sort of "Golden Age" for ATI, whereby the company held a performance and features advantage over NVIDIA, and offered a wide range of market-leading video cards. Those days look to have either come to an end, or at the very least, NVIDIA has made up significant ground. Their GeForce 6800 line of performance video cards has definitely caught the attention of gamers, right from the GeForce 6800 base model, all the way up to the top-of-the-line GeForce 6800 Ultra.
The NVIDIA NV40 core provides the base for this new line of GeForce Series 6 cards, and provides a superscalar 16-pipe GPU architecture for the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The NV40 core and is built on a 0.13-micron core and features 200 million transistors, which is more than AMD or Intel desktop processors, and is a very complex design for a graphics core. At the default clock speed of 400 MHz, the GeForce 6800 Ultra sports a fillrate of 6.4 Giga-texels/sec. and because the NV40 is a true 16 pipe design with added texture, shader and vertex processing, it is a far more powerful core than the NV35/NV38 used in the GeForce FX 5900/5950 Ultra cards.
The memory subsystem has also been slightly upgraded, and the GeForce 6800 Ultra features a 256-bit link to powerful GDDR3 memory, in a 256-MB configuration. The 1.1 GHz default memory clock speed also drives memory bandwidth a bit higher, to approximately 35 GB/second. In an NVIDIA comparison, the GeForce 6800 GT is basically a lower-clocked, 16-pipeline GeForce 6800 Ultra, while the base GeForce 6800 lowers these clock speeds even more, and features only 12 pipelines. The Radeon X800 XT models also match the 16-pipeline and 256-bit GDDR3 specifications of the higher-end NVIDIA cards, while the base X800 Pro follows the 12 pipe design of the GeForce 6800.
The GeForce Series 6 cards have also been upgraded to the third iteration of CineFX architecture, and now support shaders 3.0, IntelliSample 3.0 anti-aliasing, an improved anisotropic filtering algorithm, and Ultra Shadow II technology. Of course, this level of performance and features doesn't come without concessions, and the GeForce 6800 Ultra requires a cooling system reminiscent of the old GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, along with additional external power requirements. The GeForce 6800 Ultra is the only card of the recent high-end crop to require two slots, while the GeForce 6800 GT and 6800, along with the Radeon X800 line come in a single-slot design.
The PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra 256-MB card follows a pretty standard format, and other than the Verto-branded cooling unit, it's extremely close to the reference design. The base core speed is 400 MHz, while the GDDR3 memory checks in at the default 1.1 GHz clock speed. The PNY card features dual DVI-I connectors (with dual 400 MHZ RAMDACs), and there are bundled VGA dongles for full compatibility. The cooling apparatus covers all of the core and memory hardware, and uses the basic NVIDIA pipe design, which is surprisingly quiet and much better than prior GeForce FX dual-slot cooling fans.
The Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra is a dual-slot card, which means that unless your motherboard is NVIDIA-friendly and incorporates a space between the AGP slot, the first PCI slot will be unavailable. The GeForce 6800 Ultra also requires external power, and not just one like the old GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, but two Molex connectors. PNY has bundled a power splitter with the card, and we had it up and running in no time. The PSU requirements have also been lowered from pre-launch days, and PNY lists a 350W power supply as a minimum requirement. Our reference 400W units handled the card with no problems whatsoever.
The Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra is pretty light on the retail bundle side, and stays away from flashy games and applications to keep prices low. The bundle sticks mostly to the hardware end, and includes dual VGA dongles, an S-Video cable, power splitter, and driver CD.