The current high-end video card market is becoming increasingly crowded, as both NVIDIA and ATI release new and revised models of their current GeForce 6 Series and Radeon X800/X700 lines. This is especially true of the mainstream and high-end segments, which has also seen the entry of competing PCI Express and AGP models, such as the recent GeForce 6600 AGP cards. There is a lot of potential selection on the market right now, and this doesn't end with the reference video cards either. We also have companies like ASUS putting their own spin on existing cards, and some like the V9999 Gamer Edition 256-MB, utilize an interesting mix of both high-end and enthusiast-level hardware.
The NVIDIA GeForce 6800 is the entry-level part for the GeForce 6 Series line, and although it is the base model, there is nothing basic about its features or performance. The main difference between the GeForce 6800 and its higher-end brothers is the number of pipelines, and while the GeForce 6800 GT/Ultra models sport 16 pipes, the GeForce 6800 has lowered the pipelines to 12.
Naturally, this drops the maximum fill rate by approximately 25%, and follows along with the 16/12-pipeline format of the ATI Radeon X800 Pro vs. XT models. The GeForce 6800 has a default core speed of 350 MHz and a fill rate of 4.2 Giga-texels/sec., which is a bit lower than the 350 MHz GeForce 6800 GT (5.6 Giga-texels/sec.), and well back of the 400 MHz GeForce 6800 Ultra (6.4 Giga-texels/sec.). The higher-end GeForce 6800 cards feature blazing fast GDDR3 memory, running at 1 GHz for the GT and 1.1 GHz for the Ultra. The card memory on the GeForce 6800 is, by default, 128-MB of 256-bit GDDR running at 700 MHz, but as we'll see a bit later on, the reference design is open to interpretation.
The GeForce Series 6 cards have also been upgraded to the third iteration of CineFX architecture, and now support Shader Model 3.0, IntelliSample 3.0 anti-aliasing, an improved anisotropic filtering algorithm, and Ultra Shadow II technology. The features of all the GeForce 6800-based cards are the same, so regardless of its 12-pipeline core, the GeForce 6800 is feature-equivalent to the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The standard GeForce 6800 requires an external power source, but is a single-slot design, as opposed to the dual-slot format of the GeForce 6800 Ultra.
ASUS has definitely gone high-end with their recent GeForce 6 Series cards, and the AGP line includes V9999 versions of the GeForce 6800 Ultra, GeForce 6800 GT and GeForce 6800. These cards are top-end models, with many pushing above the reference design specifications, but none pulls out all the stops quite like the ASUS V9999 Gamer Edition 256-MB.
The GeForce 6800 GPU runs at the default 350 MHz clock speed, and initially at least, the ASUS V9999 Gamer Edition 256-MB looks like a basic GeForce 6800 card. The first clue that we're looking at something a bit more lies in the name, and the card sports a full 256-MB of 256-bit GDDR3 running at 1.0 GHz. This is basically the same onboard memory architecture as the enthusiast-level GeForce 6800 GT 256-MB, and not far from the 1.1 GHz of the GeForce 6800 Ultra card. This also translates into 32 GB/sec. of memory bandwidth, which is far in excess of the 22 GB/sec. found on a standard GeForce 6800 board.
The ASUS V9999 Gamer Edition 256-MB is a single-slot card with a low-profile heatsink-fan and dual Molex power connectors. The card's backplate is standard issue, and features VGA-in, DVI-I and S-Video/TV-out connectors. The silver heatsink-fan unit is ASUS branded with a blue LED fan light, and the card has the overall look and feel of a GeForce 6800 GT board. ASUS also includes the usual suite of gaming and enthusiast applications, such as GameFace Live (real-time video/audio communication), Video Security Online (creating a personal security system), SmartDoctor (dynamic overclocking, fan/temperature monitoring, over-heat protection, etc.) and SmartCooling (fan speed management).
ASUS usually spoils buyers with their incredible retail bundles, and although the ASUS V9999 Gamer Edition package is not as flashy as some of their more expensive cards, it is still quite impressive. In terms of hardware, we have the V9999 Gamer Edition 256-MB card, an S-Video/TV-out cable, a DVI to VGA adaptor, a user manual, and even a free Webcam. The only missing piece was a Y-adaptor power cable, which given the dual Molex connectors on the card, would really come in handy. The software side is covered off quite neatly, and includes Deus Ex: Invisible War, Battle Engine Aquila, Gun Metal, ASUS DVD XP, ASUS Media Show SE 2.0, a game demo CD, and the driver/utility/manual CDs, all in a hard plastic CD case.