Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX

Nvidia launched the GeForce 7800 GTX (PCI Express) video card today, and it's worth noting for several reasons.

First, this isn't a paper launch. Both Nvidia and ATI have "launched" products in the last year or so that took months to actually appear in the retail channel. It was nothing short of ridiculous, but I didn't expect anything to change. To Nvidia's tremendous credit, this card is in stock at several retailers RIGHT NOW--the same day as launch. That's outstanding, and it's going to put a huge amount of pressure on ATI to do the same thing when their new card launches next month (allegedly).

Second, these new video cards are getting freaking expensive. This card is generally priced at $599. That matters for several reasons, but most significantly because for that money you're only getting substantial performance improvement in certain situations. Here's an excerpt from an excellent Anandtech article about the card

It is important to remember that we tested at resolutions of 1600x1200 and higher because lower resolutions are CPU limited without AA and AF enabled. In many cases the GeForce 7800 GTX don't show much difference in performance with and without antialiasing at lower resolutions...We have truly reached another plateau in graphics performance with this part: pushing the card to the max is all but necessary in order to understand its performance characteristics.

Many games are CPU-limited, not GPU-limited, and these games aren't going to show improvement. At 1600x1200 and above with high image-quality settings in GPU-limited games, this card's a scorcher (50%+ increases and more are common), but below that, the last generation high-end cards all ran at extremely high framerates already.

It used to be that new cards gave a wide range of performance improvements. With so few current PC games pushing the graphics high-end, though, it seems like we're paying more and more for performance increases in fewer and fewer real-world situations.

Another item of note: this card actually consumes less power than its predecessor. That's very impressive and definitely counters the trend of high-end graphics cards consuming more and more massive amounts of power.

Nvidia has also introduced some additional sampling options for anti-aliasing, and the Anandtech article does an excellent job of demonstrating the differences (using screenshots from Half-Life 2). The best option, supersampling, offers a visual difference that can easily be seen. Again, it's an impressive (and logical) upgrade from the current generation cards.

Finally, even though a huge number of people still have AGP systems, it looks like we're being orphaned very quickly. I don't know if this new card will eventually appear in an AGP version, but the high-end looks like it's rapidly becoming PCI-E exclusive.

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