The words “budget” and “performance” typically fit together about as well as “Dick Cheney” and “cuddlemuffin.” But thanks to nVidia’s sweet GeForce 6800 GS and a little overclocking work from the engineers at PNY Technologies, budget-minded upgraders can lay their hands on one powerfully cheap videocard.
If you can spring for two of these and run ‘em in SLI—either now or a little ways down the road—you’ll be the proud owner of a rig that can not only hang with boxes powered by the likes of a single GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB or an ATI X1900 XTX, but one that will also outrun them on some benchmarks. Really.
Although the 6800 GS has only 12 pipes, its high clock speeds, 256-bit memory bus, and increased transistor count enable it to deliver better performance than a 16-pipe 6800 GT, which is outfitted with just a 128-bit memory-interface. nVidia accomplished this trick by taking the GeForce 6800’s basic architecture and moving it from a 130nm fabrication process to a 110nm process. In fact, the benchmarks for PNY’s card come within spitting distance of the 6800 Ultra—not bad for a card that’s selling for just $220 at press time.
This card manages to get by with a single-slot cooler, despite its GPU being clocked at 470MHz (compared to 425MHz in nVidia’s reference design) and its 256MB of memory cranked up to 550MHz (compared to the stock 500MHz). The fan is fairly quiet, but we wouldn’t recommend installing it in a home-theater PC if you’re sensitive about noise.
It’s been some time since we’ve been this enthusiastic about a videocard priced under $300. In fact, our only criticism stems from PNY’s decision to include just one DVI output along with a TV-out; the remaining output is a lowly VGA. Aside from that minor shortcoming, this is one of the best videocards in this price range.