Nvidia’s GeForce brand has had its up and downs over the past few years, the first GeForce was applauded for taking technology a big step forward with the T&L engine that introduced a whole new way of processing 3D graphics. The same can unfortunately not be said about the GeForce FX that was introduced a few iterations of the GeForce family later. The GeForce FX suffered from quite a few shortcomings which enabled Nvidia’s biggest competitor, ATI Technologies Inc., to take the lead with their Radeon family of graphics cards. Ever since, ATI has been able to stay on top by using both the available headroom of their chipsets and by slightly improving their chipsets to keep an edge over Nvidia.
Fig 1. The NV40 graphics processor and memory as found on the GeForce 6800 Ultra.
With the launch of the GeForce 6800 Ultra, or rather the NV4x architecture, that’s all about to change. In short the NV4x architecture is not a simple redesign of an older chipset, this new architecture is designed around a whole new set of requirements put forth by the new DirectX specification outlined in DirectX 9.0b and c as well as the new Shader Model 3.0 it is supporting. Especially that new shader specification is a feature worth noting as that’ll put a whole new meaning to previously used techniques such as anti-aliasing. The per pixel processing and mapping will allow the shaders to handle that instead, with minimum performance penalty if compared to traditional anti-aliasing processing. Furthermore these programmable shaders can be tailored to fit the performance level and complexity the application desires, thus giving the programmer infinite possibilities for pixel and vertex programs.
Fig 2. Dual DVI connectors supporting dual DVI monitors but also analog-VGA output.
On top of that Nvidia added a dedicated, HDTV compatible, video processor that handles playback and compression/de-compression features as well as high-quality video scaling and filtering. This will allow the NV4x architecture to offer MPEG en- and decoding on the videocard, so that the cpu is no longer needed to perform these tasks. The video processor is also fully compatible with and able to accelerate the decoding of Microsoft’ WMV9 media format. So by the looks of it Nvidia has once again designed an architecture that’s truly new and innovative, like the first GeForce was quite a few years ago. In the next few pages we’ll explore its features, and how you will benefit from them, as well as its performance, using some of the latest benchmarks and games.
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