Nvidia fires away with new Geforce 8800 GPU

Posted by Mark Raby and Wolfgang Gruener

Santa Clara (CA) - Nvidia today introduced its latest and greatest graphics chip, the Geforce 8800. Previously code-named G80, the new GPU offers more functionality and a significant rise in the sheer power of the GPU - including DirectX 10 support and a capable physics engine.

Nvidia's Geforce 8800 GTX and GTS in pictures ...

If you are an enthusiast gamer, then it's once again time to consider a graphics upgrade to keep up with the Jones' and your online competition. The new Geforce 8-series is a massive upgrade over the current 7-series, easily more substantial than the previous transition from the 6800 to the 7800 models. Compared to the GeForce 7900 with 278 million transistors, the new 8800 models are also manufactured in a 90 nm manufacturing process, but carry a whopping 681 million transistors.

Clock speed of the flagship 8800 GTX is slightly down from the 7900 GTX (650 to 575 MHz), while the memory clock has increased from 800 to 900 MHz and now provides a bandwidth of 86.4 GB/s (up from 51.2 GB/s). The number of pixel (""stream"") processors has increased from 24 to 128. The units are clocked at 1350 MHz and reach a texture fill rate of 36.8 GTexels/s. The 8800 GTX also received a memory upgrade from the 512 MB of the 7900 GTX: Using a 384 Mb interface, the card integrates a 768 MB.

Nvidia also offers a more affordable version, the 8800 GTS. The reference chip clocks in at 500 MHz, runs 96 pixel processors at a shader speed of 1200 MHz. 640 MB of GDDR3 memory is clocked at 800 MHz, with 640 MB of GDDR3 memory. As the GTX model, the GTS also offers two DL-DVI outputs and one HDTV ports. Suggested retail pricing of the GTX version is $600; the GTS is expected to etail for about $450.

One of the most touted features for the 8800 is its Direct X10 support. DirectX 10 is a new, enhanced application programming platform that has significant technological advances over the previous DirectX 9 interface.

Specifically, DX 10 allows programmers to create more lifelike character animations and 3D image rendering with geometry creation and efficient batch processing. This means that much more realistic and immersive 3D characters and environments are possible, according to Nvidia. With the improved technology, in-game characters can be expressed with literally hundreds of strands of individual hairs independent of each other. Or, in a game like Crysis, individual markings on a tree, or the number of different, individual leaves, can contain more information that is contained in an entire level of a previous generation PC game.

Also, DX 10 gives programmers the ability to improve overall graphical expressiveness, additional shader levels, and greater level of reliability on the GPU itself. In other words, unlike previous GPU products, enhanced levels of graphical and physics engines will not need to rely on CPU power. Specifically, Nvidia explained that character animations and skins, extruding silhouette edges, and saving the animated geometry to memory, all of which relied on CPU power in GeForce 7 products, are all controlled directly on the GPU for the 8800.

Support for ""heavy"" geometry and pixel workload allows users to experience more realistic images, with smooth, intricately detailed character animations, as well as environmental applications, according to the manufacturer.

The vast part of the 8800's feature set plays into an area that will aim to enable physics processing - a technology that is still in its infant stages and so far has been discussed to be enabled by various devices, including discrete processors (Ageia), CPUs (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700) and graphics chip (Nvidia SLI physics, ATI Crossfire physics).According to Nvidia, the 8800 has much more physics capability, especially in SLI configurations, and is able to realistically display smoke, fire and explosions through the firm's proprietary ""Quantum Effects"" technology.

Another touted feature is Nvidia's Luminex Engine, which enables 16x full-screen anti-aliasing technology and 128-bit floating point high-dynamic range (HDR) capability. Nvidia promises that this feature will offer an improved image quality and faster frame rates compared with previous products. Also worth mentioning is the new 680i chipset, which is also shipping today. As the letter code indicates, the 680i is integrated with Intel Core 2 Duo-based platforms.

Nvidia claims that the platform will offer substantial overclocking potential: For example, the company claims that users can overclock 1.86 GHz Core 2 Duo E6300 processors to 3.55 GHz without the need of water cooling features. According to Nvidia, the 680i SLI can provide 2.7x the overclocking of the 590 SLI chipset.