Nvidia 6800 Ultra head-to-head
Leadtek vs AOpen
It seems a long time ago since ATI proudly made its pact with Valve to give away Half Life 2 with each Radeon 9600 XT and 9800 XT card sold. While it seemed like a smart move at the time, the best gaming bundle ever soon turned a bit sour. What started as a bundled copy of Half Life 2, turned from a game to a voucher, and then simply into a very, very long wait. Of course, this was in no way ATI's fault, but the damage has been done.
In the mean time the behemoth that was Doom 3 finally lumbered into view and bulldozed even the excellent Far Cry out of the way to become the uber-game of the moment. Unfortunately for ATI, it runs fantastically well on Nvidia's 6800 series, even though specific features such as Pixel Shader 3.0 support and Ultra Shadow II aren't actually used by the Doom 3 engine.
The 6800 GT and 6800 Ultra cards can use their 16 pipelines to render 16 single-textured pixels in a single pass, a feature of which Doom 3 makes extensive use. Another bonus for Nvidia is that the game uses the OpenGL API rather than DirectX, an area where Nvidia has always been stronger than ATI.
All this means that, for now at least, Nvidia has regained the performance highground and established a lead over ATI, not only in benchmarks but in mindshare. Gamers are a fickle bunch, and with Half Life 2 around the corner (we hope), ATI is no doubt confident that things will turn around in the blink of a frame.
Of course you may be wondering why all this fuss is being made over two games, but we're not really talking about just two titles. Doom 3 and Half Life 2 will spawn a large number of other titles based on their engines, so the graphics card you buy now will have an impact on your future gaming experience.
The two cards we're looking at here are from AOpen and Leadtek, both familiar names in the graphics card market. As both are based on the GeForce 6800 Ultra they are identical in terms of 3D capabilities, with features such Ultra Shadow II and Shader Model 3.0 support. The differences lie in the design, the clock speeds and the game bundle so let's get down to it and look at the cards themselves.