BFG GeForce 6800 Ultra OC
The original announcement of Nvidia's GeForce 6800-series graphics cards was confused by a muddled marketing message that implied that Nvidia was going to ship a factory-overclocked version of its highest-end cards, similar to what Intel has essentially done by shipping Extreme Edition Pentium 4 processors, which are tweaked Pentium 4 chips whose silicon was determined to be of high-enough quality to warrant the upgrade. This plan never really materialized, leaving any post-production tweaking to Nvidia's partners, such as BFG, and users themselves. The BFG GeForce 6800 Ultra OC is one such card; its core clock settings increased from the standard 400MHz to 425MHz. We found no drastic performance improvement from cards we've tested at the factory-default settings, but considering that BFG's overclocked card sells for the same price as the standard version, it can't hurt to go after a few more frames per second.
Like other iterations of Nvidia's GeForce 6800 Ultra video card, the BFG model is saddled with a huge heat sink and fan assembly, which means you'll have to keep free the PCI slot next to your PC's AGP slot. The other trade-off is power related; BFG recommends a power supply with a minimum output of 480 watts to supply adequate juice to the card via two separate power connectors. So unless your PC is already outfitted with a game-class power unit, be prepared to spend around $100 for a power-supply upgrade. Conversely,card needs only one power connector, will work with the more common 300-watt power supplies, and because it uses a smaller cooling assembly, does not tie up an additional expansion slot.
Not included on our review card but available as an option is a water-cooled version of the BFG GeForce 6800 Ultra OC ($599.99). The fan assembly is replaced with a water block that accepts 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch tubing from an existing liquid-cooling system, but you'll still have to leave an expansion slot open to accommodate the plumbing. The enhanced cooling would theoretically allow you to increase the card's clock speed even more.
As we said, the BFG GeForce 6800 Ultra OC is already optimized (read: overclocked) at the factory, where BFG ramped the core clock up to 425MHz from the 400MHz default setting. The GDDR3 (graphics double data rate) memory is not tweaked, however, and runs at the standard 1.1GHz. Connections include dual digital video (DVI) ports and an S-Video port. The board comes bundled with two VGA-to-DVI adapters to accommodate analog monitors, and two Y cables, which allow you to tap into your hard drive power sources if four-pin connectors on your motherboard are scarce.
In addition to the connecting hardware, BFG includes a driver and utility disc, which contains Nvidia's Unified Drivers and NVDVD 2.0 software. For games, you'll have to settle for demo versions of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Painkiller, and Silent Storm. This selection is better than PNY'sbundle, which offers only the driver disks, but it's still skimpy when you consider ATI's inclusion of a coupon redeemable for a free copy of Half-Life 2 with its high-end X800 card. As with PNY's version of this card, BFG provides a lifetime warranty with toll-free (United States and Canada only) 24/7 technical support.
Compared to PNY's Verto GeForce 6800 Ultra running at the standard 400MHz, the BFG GeForce 6800 Ultra OC showed a barely perceptible performance increase, if there was an increase at all. On our Unreal Tournament 2003 tests, the BFG card scored 121.8 frames per second (fps) compared with PNY's score of 121.6fps (at 1,600x1,200 resolution with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled), and their scores were identical (226.9fps) with the resolution set to 1,024x768. The ATI Radeon X800 XT Platinum, however, blew past both cards on Unreal, with scores of 133fps and 248.5fps, respectively.
Results on our Far Cry tests varied. The BFG card's 84.9fps topped the PNY Verto card's 83.9fps by a full point in the 1,024x768 mode, but BFG lost ground at the higher resolution, scoring 53.1fps to the Verto's 54.7fps. Again, the ATI card took top honors with scores of 91.0fps and 59.0fps on the same tests.
But both GeForce 6800 Ultra cards showed their chops on our Doom 3 Timedemo tests. The BFG card essentially ties the current performance leader, with a score of 80.1fps to the Verto's 80.0fps at the 1,024x768 resolution in High Quality mode, while the ATI trailed with a 72.4fps score. The BFG's margin of victory over the PNY card was similarly slim on the higher-end 1,600x1,200 resolution test in Ultra Quality mode, scoring 40.9fps to the PNY card's 40.8fps. The ATI card still brings up the rear at 34.3fps.
The test results for Far Cry were similar. We thought that the overclocking might help the BFG card overtake the ATI Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition, but BFG's overclocked GeForce 6800 Ultra stayed basically tied with PNY's standard version of the card, the former gaining 1 frame per second on the 1,024x768-resolution test and actually scoring 1.5 frames per second slower on the 1,600x1,200-resolution test. And neither result was enough to overtake ATI.