Graphics chip maker Nvidia Corp. unveiled the “NV40” or GeForce 6800 family Tuesday evening in San Francisco, a chip that will run about twice as fast as the company’s previous products.
The performance gain is striking, analysts said, for a graphics chip industry that usually achieves between 30 to 50 percent improvement in performance from one generation to the next.
However, Nvidia has “paper launched” the part, as the GeForce 6800 will ship in May, while an “Ultra” part will be available in June. The chip has been expected for many months, although the chip’s launch date was set last month.
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Nvidia concentrated on three aspects when designing the new chip, executives said: raw speed; an improved shader format, which will allow games designers flexibility to craft additional special effects; and a programmable video engine, which can independently record and encode video while the PC is playing a 3D game.
Baca novel sherlock holmes bahasa indonesia gratis. The new 6800 family is the “fastest performing product on the market, period,” according to Ujesh Desai, director of product marketing for Nvidia’s desktop products group. The new GeForce 6800 family’s capabilities will eventually find their way into Nvidia’s products for mobile PCs and workstations. Meanwhile, ATI Technologies Inc. is expected to launch its own rival product shortly, the Radeon R420.
“So how much faster is it than current-generation parts? Oh, only about twice as fast,” wrote ExtremeTech analyst Dave Salvator in the chip’s review. “No, that’s not a typo, and we’ve got the numbers to prove it. To those who may have been counting nVidia out, count again, because the new 6800 Ultra is taking no prisoners.”
Desai said the company is still finalizing the internal clock speed and memory interface speed of the standard 6800 chip, which will 128 Mbytes of DDR-1 memory. The “Ultra” version, designed for gamers, will be optimized for performance: the chip will run internally at 400 MHz, with a 550-MHz interface to 256 MB of a graphics-optimized version of next-generation DDR3 memory, or GDDR-3. The standard GeForce 6800 will take up one AGP slot on the motherboard, while the Ultra version will be wide enough that it will block two slots, Desai said.
Although final pricing will be set by Nvidia’s add-on card partners, the standard GeForce 6800 will be priced at under $300, while the “Ultra” model will cost nearly $500, Desai said. All of Nvidia’s 6800 and 6800 Ultra cards will be AGP only; cards designed for the PCI Express interface will appear later this year, he said. The 6800 will be the last of Nvidia’s chips specifically designed for AGP.
Optimized for speed
Nvidia’s GeForce 6800 chips represent an aggressive march to regain the performance crown. Nvidia’s first GeForceFX chips contained a cooling solution that produced an angry whine, derided even by Nvidia executives as a “DustBuster”. Nvidia engineers redesigned the chip to minimize the cooling needed, but the cards will still require an additional two power plugs from the power supply, in addition to the power supplied by the AGP connector.
From a performance standpoint, Nvidia chose to beef up the NV40’s raw speed by crafting 16 3D pipelines, double that of the GeForce FX, Desai said. Each pipeline is fed by a single texturing unit as well as a pair of shader units, the arithmetic units used to calculate effects. Six vertex engines were also included. In certain stencil operations, Desai said, the chip processes 32 pixel operations at once.
“We talked to a bunch of game developers, and they told us that as the GPU becomes more programmable, it’s using more math than textures,” Desai said. Most of the next-generation DirectX 9 games in development require three times more programmable effects than texture processing, he said.
The GeForce 6800 also includes support for DirectX 9.0’s Shader Model 3.0, a Microsoft-designed interface that will appear in the forthcoming DirectX 9.0c update. “The big thing about the chip — the main headline if you will – is that it is the first GPU to fully implement Pixel Shader 3.0,” said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Associates, Tiburon, Calif. “That’s really important, really quite significant.”
Several games shipping by year’s end will include Shader 3.0 support, Desai said. One game, Crytek’s Far Cry, published by Ubisoft, already supports the Shader 3.0 language inside of it, he said. The technology requires 32-bit shader precision and can support over 65,000 instructions.
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Finally, Nvidia’s designers made the video engine programmable, meaning that the chip can be upgraded to support additional codecs and add performance over time, Desai said. In addition, the video engine has been separated from the graphics engine, meaning that a user could record video in a PVR video card while the chip was separately playing a game. Previous GPUs have either performed this function using the host CPU or required the use of the entire GPU, monopolizing it, he said.
Desai disagreed that the GeForce 6800 and 6800 Ultra was a “paper launch”, claiming that roughly 50 hardware review sites and hundreds of developers had access to samples of the cards. “The proof will be in the pudding,” he said.