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Q3 2004 High-End GPU/VPU Shootout (AGP)
By Vijay Anand
Category : Graphics
Published by Jimmy Tang on Saturday, 23rd October, 2004


Quarter two of 2004 saw both ATI and NVIDIA, the two most prominent graphics processor companies, launch their next generation graphics chips to propel upcoming games to the next level of interactivity and realism. NVIDIA first unleashed their NV40 GPU that is now used in their GeForce 6800 series, while ATI unraveled their R420 VPU a few weeks after, which is now incorporated in their X800 series of products. Unlike many of the past releases, the hardware and feature sets of these newcomers have been beefed up tremendously, so much so that they can outperform the previous generation of products (GeForce 5900 series and RADEON 9800 series) by at least a full 100% or faster.

Why And Who Needs Upgrading?

So why does anyone need this huge graphics crunching power? You’ll soon see in this shootout that very recent games such as Farcry and Doom 3 running at maximum detail and anti-aliasing settings are enough to bring the highest performing graphics card from the previous generation, like the RADEON 9800 XT, to an unplayable slideshow. If currently released games require such high graphics processing prowess to look their very best, you can bet that upcoming titles would demand even more.

Does that mean these games will definitely require a graphics card upgrade? The answer is both yes and no, depending on which category of gamer you are. For the casual gamer who cares more for the game play, its story line and doesn't mind sacrificing some game quality, you can most definitely carry on with gaming with your existing setup. On the opposite end, we have gamers who demand their game to be as realistic as possible with every game detail set to maximum and yet insist on a smooth game play. More often than not, this latter group of gamers are also very avid PC upgraders who equip their gaming machine with the very best hardware. These are the people who would truly appreciate the gaming power offered by the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 series and ATI RADEON X800 series of graphics cards. If you are one of them and have been sitting on the fence not knowing which card to best spend your hard earned cash, we prepared this high-end GPU shootout just for you. Take note that both the GeForce 6800 and RADEON X800 series have also been designed for the current AGP interface and as well as the newer PCI Express (PCIe) interface that is gradually picking up momentum, but in this article we'll focus only on the AGP variants.

The Shootout Contestants

Like all previous graphics processors, both companies have offered a few graphics card variants based on their new chips to cater for different budgets, though they are still expensive enough that they all fall under the high-end category. The following table clearly illustrates the graphics card models available at the recommended retail US price points as stipulated by both ATI and NVIDIA:-

Price Point NVIDIA ATI
US$499 NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra 256MB ATI RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition 256MB
US$399 NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT 256MB ATI RADEON X800 PRO 256MB
US$299 NVIDIA GeForce 6800 128MB Yet to be announced (Current retail contender:

At US$499 and US$399 price points, both ATI and NVIDIA strut their best in each segment and we'll be pitting the respective graphics cards in a comprehensive test suite to declare the victor in each segment at the end of this shootout. Moving a step lower to the US$299 price point, NVIDIA has the GeForce 6800 128MB model but surprisingly, ATI does not have any competing model based on their new RADEON X800 series even though it has been slightly more than a quarter since the official launch of these new chips. ATI may have plans to release an appropriate competitor based on the X800 or X700 series, but at the point of writing this article, no such information was made known. ATI does have an ATI RADEON X800 SE tailored for the OEM market, but since this isn’t available in retail, we cannot factor that in this article.

For now, the only other AGP model available a step below the RADEON X800 PRO is the RADEON 9800 XT 256MB from the previous generation, hence we will be pitting this against NVIDIA's GeForce 6800 128MB. Strangely, the RADEON 9800 XT 256MB is actually pricier than NVIDIA's new US$299 part and according to online sites (such as PriceWatch), it is actually retailing in the US$310 to US$360 price bracket. Comparing with the RADEON 9800 PRO 128MB (whose official SRP is US$249) is definitely out of the question since it is not in the similar price bracket, nor performance compatible to the GeForce 6800 128MB. Therefore for comparison purposes, the RADEON 9800 XT 256MB is more suitable in this shootout, but remember, it isn't a competitor.

Before we put forth the performance charts, we'll have a quick overview of the GeForce 6800 series and the RADEON X800 series for a better insight of their feature support.

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