PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra review: PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.1
  • Design: 6.0
  • Features: 9.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Excellent performance, with some promising new features on the way; dual DVI outputs.

The Bad Requires two expansion slots and a big power supply; pricey; no bundled games.

The Bottom Line A superspeedy performer, the PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra's cumbersome aspect and its power demands make ATI's high-end card a more convenient choice.

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Review summary

What a difference a few months--and a few graphics driver revisions--make. In our initial tests back in May, a not-for-sale engineering sample of Nvidia's just-announced, top-of-the-line GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics card was summarily stomped in our benchmark tests by ATI's equally new Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition . But after getting our hands on PNY's $499 Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra, the race became closer than the 2000 U.S. presidential election, with both cards claiming benchmark wins. Further muddying the picture is the fact that there aren't many games out right now that'll challenge either card--even with all of the settings and the special effects tuned to the max. There's more to this discussion (and buying decision), however, than performance alone. PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra's large size and steep power-supply requirements make installation trickier than it is with its ATI counterpart. If the continually improving driver updates keep bringing more performance gains, Nvidia could take the lead, but for now we recommend ATI's top dog, the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition. There's no confusing the PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra with its main ATI competitor, the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition , when you compare them physically. The ATI card looks like a typical modern AGP graphics card--it has a big heat sink and requires a connection to your PC's power supply, but it takes up just a single expansion slot. The Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra, on the other hand, is a behemoth, with a gigantic heat sink that blocks the PCI slot next to your PC's AGP slot, and it has sockets for two connections from your PC's power supply. And though both cards are designed for DirectX 9.0, there are some differences in their rendering engines, such as the 6800 Ultra's support for the new Shader Model 3.0 (SM 3.0).

With the dual power connectors comes a requirement for a hefty power supply--480 watts, if you believe Nvidia's recommendation. Nvidia admits that 480 watts is more juice that you'll likely need, and based on our experience, we'd agree. We tested the card in a system with a 400-watt Antec power supply (and four hard drives) and observed no unusual behavior, even during intense gaming. Still, keep in mind the expense of upgrading to a new power supply if you're considering the Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Despite the chunky heat sink and the large fan, the PNY GeForce 6800 Ultra remains relatively quiet, outputting a slight fan whine similar to that of the previous-generation GeForce FX 5900 Ultra , rather than the Hoover vacuum-like roar of the GeForce FX 5800 . Instead of the more typical DVI/VGA connector pair found on most boards, the Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra has a pair of DVI connectors (VGA adapters come bundled for analog monitors). The DVI duo affords you the best image quality--should you want to connect a pair of digital LCD monitors. We were disappointed, however, to find nothing in the way of bundled software--just a disc containing the latest drivers and utilities. At least PNY backs the card with a lifetime warranty. As is always the case with graphics cards, the performance landscape is in a constant state of flux, as both ATI and Nvidia regularly release driver updates. We test with the latest drivers available to us, but that doesn't mean a new driver won't be released tomorrow. Further complicating the picture is our benchmark based on Far Cry, which is the first game on the market to support the new Shader Model 3.0 (SM 3.0), a DirectX-based pixel-shading programming specification that gives game designers greater control of surface details in 3D games. We want to deliver performance results based on the newest games possible (look for us to add a Doom 3 benchmark soon to future graphics card reviews), so we tested with Far Cry even though doing so entailed downloading patches to enable SM 3.0 and relying on some beta software. Until more games are developed for SM 3.0 support, you won't see this feature's full potential.

Briefly, the backstory: Crytek, the company that developed Far Cry, plans to release a series of patches to enable SM 3.0 in the game, as well as support for ATI's 3Dc texture-compression feature, a different technique for improving image quality. We tested with patch 1.2, which installed some of the SM 3.0 code, but Crytek ended up recalling the patch after our tests were complete because of a series of unspecified conflicts. Further, since you need both the appropriate video driver and DirectX version 9.0c to enable SM 3.0, we downloaded beta versions of both (DirectX 9.0c comes as part of the Windows Service Pack 2 beta). Because we're using so many prerelease software apps, you'd be right to think that our Far Cry test is on somewhat shaky ground. Still, ATI and Nvidia approved our testing procedure, which pits their cards against one another on a level playing field.

Using the latest drivers at the time of testing from both manufacturers, we saw benchmark results that showed some dramatic differences since the last time we tested the cards (although our initial coverage of the GeForce 6800 Ultra was based on an Nvidia reference card). But there is no across-the-board performance winner. And whether the improvements we saw were a result of Nvidia's Shader Model 3.0 support is still too hard to say.

The PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra bested the ATI Radeon X800 XT Platinum on the lower-end, 1,024x768 resolution tests in both Splinter Cell and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. Meanwhile, on the same tests at 1,600x1,200 resolution, the ATI card came out on top. The picture was clearer on our Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmark. The ATI card went home with top honors at both resolutions by roughly 15 percent. You might take this performance difference with a grain of salt, however, as ATI has admitted to cheating by optimizing its drivers for Unreal Tournament 2003.

And that brings us to the Far Cry test. Nvidia is counting on the GeForce 6800 series' support for Shader Model 3.0 to make it stand out from the competition. With SM 3.0 supposedly bringing faster, more sophisticated per-pixel shading operations, Nvidia promises that you'll see unrivaled boosts in graphics performance. Because the code is so preliminary across the board, it's hard to say exactly what's going on. We will need to reserve judgment until we have full SM 3.0 implementation with final software, but our initial impression is extremely promising. We saw a significant performance boost with Far Cry tests using the 1.2 patch, with the Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra beating the Radeon 9800 XT PE on both the 1,024x768 and the 1,600x1,200 Far Cry tests by 9 and 11 percent, respectively; these are tests that ATI previously dominated. The Nvidia-based card also demonstrated a remarkable leap of 89 percent on the 1,600x1,200 test compared with the results from a reference version of the same card back in May. And although the improvement is not as dramatic, the ATI Radeon X800 XT PE also showed a speed increase, posting a 15 percent jump on the 1,600x1,200-resolution test compared with results from our previous tests. In other words, both cards have gotten faster with newer drivers and with Crytek's fine-tuning of Far Cry, but it's still too early to tell if SM 3.0 is having any effect. We know that it won't be fully implemented until the upcoming version 1.3 Far Cry patch, which should also introduce support for ATI's 3Dc texture-compression technique. Hopefully future testing will show more-conclusive results, but if this current beta-flavored teaser is any indication, the future looks promising for cards based on Nvidia's new GeForce 6800 chips. Also of note, despite the recall of the Far Cry 1.2 patch, we had no stability issues with any of the cards, and because we saw faster scores than we did with earlier testing, we're led to conclude that whatever configuration was adversely affected by the patch is different from ours.

Although the PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra turned in some stunning performance improvements, there are enough wins shared between it and the ATI Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition that the two cards share the overall performance crown. Given the Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra's large size and its steep power-supply requirements, we still have issues with its design, so for now, we stick to our initial recommendation of the Radeon X800 XT PE over a GeForce 6800 Ultra-based solution. Of course, with the next driver revision, the performance differences could change dramatically. Stay tuned.

Unreal Tournament 2003 test: Flyby-Antalus (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
eVGA e-GeForce 6800 GT (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
187.3 
97.0 
PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
213.4 
111.2 


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell test (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with medium-quality settings  
1,024x768 with high-quality settings  
1,600x1,200 with medium-quality settings  
1,600x1,200 with high-quality settings  
ATI Radeon X800 Pro (Catalyst 4.7 driver)
108.0 
85.7 
89.8 
65.4 
eVGA e-GeForce 6800 GT (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
110.4 
95.0 
90.3 
71.6 
PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
110.5 
101.6 
99.6 
80.5 


Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
eVGA e-GeForce 6800 GT (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
47.1 
24.1 
PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
47.4 
27.1 


Far Cry (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
eVGA e-GeForce 6800 GT (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
92.42 
52.80 
PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra (ForceWare 61.45 driver)
97.62 
61.96 

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Where to Buy See all prices

PNY Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra

Part Number: VCG6800UAWB
Low Price: $261.90 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Interface Type AGP 8x
  • Graphics Engine NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra
  • Size 256 MB / 256 MB (max)
  • Compatibility PC