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Review: Mac Nvidia 6800 Ultra DDL Graphics Card
Published: 10/20/2004
(3D Apps page updated 11/26/2004 for Maya 6.0.1 problems)
(3D Apps page updated 11/21/2004 for LW Modeler Settings Tip)
(3D Apps & games page updated 10/20/2004)
Performance Tests vs OEM 9800 Pro 128MB in Dual 2GHz G5

Intro/Photos | 2D/Video Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance

    Pros: As of 2004, Most advanced AGP graphics card to date for the Mac. (However see Jan. 2005 ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition Review) Able to drive two 30in Cinema Displays at once.

    Cons: Expensive. Sometimes disappointing performance with initial driver release for 10.3.5 and current apps/games. (I suspect some code isn't using optimal paths.) Blocks adjacent PCI slot. Only works in PowerMac G5 Tower running 10.3.5 and later. No Control Panel. Some problems in 3D Apps (see 3D apps page) with first OS X 10.3.5 drivers. Kernel Panics if booted from pre-10.3.5 disks. (Also an issue with booting from pre-10.3.5 OS Discs/system restore DVDs. See the Mac Nvidia 6800 card feedback/tips page for info on utils to create bootable 10.3.5 discs.)

    Requirements: Apple PowerMac G5 Tower system running 10.3.5 or later. The 6800 Ultra DDL was purchased from the Apple Store for (list) US $599. (Included one DVI to VGA adapter, driver CD and installation guide.) (FYI - they later replaced the Ultra with the 6800GT model)


Introduction
(Update: For 6800 Ultra tests in OS X 10.3.7 vs the ATI Mac X800 XT card, see the Jan 2005 ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition Review.)

This first posting compares performance of the 6800 Ultra DDL (256MB) to the original OEM Radeon 9800 Pro (128MB) card that was a BTO option with the 2003 PowerMac G5. Test system is a Dual 2GHz G5 with 3.5GB RAM running 10.3.5 (More system details below.) The 6800 drivers used were the ones from the included CD (pkg v1.1).

Mac 6800 Ultra DDL topside

Unlike the PC version, note there's no Aux/Molex power connections on the card, as it uses the ADC connector on the logic board (28VDC, regulated down) to help power it since it has no ADC ports. Here's the back view of the card showing the supports for the long form factor and heatsink.

Mac 6800 Ultra DDL backside

Here's a photo of the card installed in the G5.

Mac 6800 Ultra DDL Installed

Since the above photo makes it look like 2 PCI slots are blocked (only 1 is), here's an better angle shot.

Mac 6800 Ultra DDL Installed

I mentioned in Monday's news page that the CD included in the box has a 'G5 Fan Control Update' for owners of 2003 G5 systems that updates the fan control firmware to 6.0.1f0. Here's clip from the installer/updater:

" Use this firmware update before you install the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL graphics card in your first generation Power Mac G5 computer. The firmware update is necessary to upgrade the fan control system in your Power Mac G5 to accomodate the increased power requirements of your new graphics card. "

The update process is easy and completed successfully on an early model G5. (The system boot rom version remains the same.)

Fan Noise:
I've noticed even with the 9800 OEM card when running repeated game tests I could hear the PCI zone fan often times (not extremely loud, but noticeable since the 9800's verax G03 fan is so quiet). Running dual displays (2 CRTs at 1920x1200) with Motion and the 6800 did speed up the PCI fan louder (maybe it's my year-old fan making more noise than normal) but I verified it was the case fan and not the 6800's fan making the sound. It wasn't really loud like the case's CPU fans when they're really ramped up, but it was noticeable.
(Update: For notes on PCI bay fan control, fan speed tests, hardware monitor results and more - see the Mac Nvidia 6800 card feedback/tips page.) The 6800's fan from what I've seen so far is not loud and I have not heard it really over the PCI area fan which again seems to spin up much more often after the firmware update regardless of card installed. I'm not really that sensitive to fan noise (within reason) but with the G5 sitting at ear level on a hard desk surface, I'm going to move it to the floor now.

Note: As I mentioned in the "Cons" above - booting from a disk (CD or HD) with an OS older than 10.3.5 results in a kernel panic. I'm going to call Apple to see if they will send a 10.3.5 OS based system restore DVD (and will have to clone/update my utility CDs also). My Techtool Pro "eDrive" is also now useless unless I can update it. See the Mac Nvidia 6800 card feedback/tips page for info on utils to create bootable 10.3.5 discs like slipy and bootCD.

6800 User Feedback Wanted:
Of course as a one man site (with limited time/resources), I welcome other 6800 owner reports on using it (in any application, game, etc.). Please include system/OS/software/addon software/hardware details in reports for adding to the Mac Nvidia 6800 card owner feedback page. Thanks.

6800 Card ID/Firmware Info: (from Apple system profiler)

Mac 6800 Ultra DDL ASP Info

Nvidia Extensions: Here's a clip from Apple system profiler on the updated extensions installed:

Nvidia extensions list

Features:
Rather than regurgitate the details on the features of the 6800 Ultra (which if you're a graphics card fan you've seen many times already), see Nvidia's Geforce 6800 product page for details but here's a quick overview (some of these features are not used on the Mac yet at least):

  • NVIDIA CineFX 3.0 Technology
  • NVIDIA UltraShadow II Technology
  • Superscalar 16-pipe GPU Architecture
  • 64-Bit Texture Filtering and Blending
  • 256-bit Graphics Core and Memory Interface
  • 35.2 GB/sec. Memory Bandwidth
  • 6.4 billion texels/sec. Fill Rate
  • 600 Million Vertices per Second
  • 1100 MHz Memory Data Rate (400MHz core clock)
  • Pixels per Clock (peak): 16
  • Textures per Pixel* 16
    (*Maximum in a single rendering pass)
  • RAMDACs 400 MHz

More info at Nvidia's Geforce6 tech specs page. (As I'm writing this their Mac products page has not been updated)
As a FYI - the OEM ATI 9800 Pro 128MB (G5 BTO option) has 8 pipes, and although the retail 9800 Pro has 380/680 (340MHz DDR) clocks, the OEM G5 9800 Pro model had slightly lower performance than the retail model (see my OEM 9800 vs Retail 9800 tests from last fall), so I believe the OEM 9800's clocks are 350/325. (I didn't run ATIccellerator II to check this - forgot about it until the last minute.)
Here's a summary from ATI's 9800 specs page:

  • 256-bit memory
  • 8 Rendering Pipelines
  • Pixel Fillrate (Gpixels/sec) 3.04

As you can see from the specs - the 6800 is another generation ahead of the 9800 Pro design, but there's no shipping Mac version of ATI's current flagship the X800 series although one was demoed recently and hopefully it will be available for testing soon. (If you don't have to drive two 30in Cinema's and can wait for a Mac X800 - I would.)

Review Index:
This article is divided into the following categories/pages:

  1. 2D Image Quality/Performance: 2D image quality, resolutions/refresh rates, DVD playback, Apple Motion RAM Preview, Appleworks 6.2.9 scrolling, XBench (graphics/UI), and Let1KWindowsbloom tests.

  2. 3D (non-Game) Performance: CineBench 2003 (G5 version), Marine Aquarium 2.0x and Lightwave 3D 7.5d.

  3. Game Performance: Splinter Cell (added 10/29/2004), Call of Duty, Halo, Unreal Tournament 2004, Jedi Knight II, Quake3 and Return to Castle Wolfenstein tests.


Test System Hardware Summary:

Details of the test systems used for this review are listed below.

  • Apple Dual G5 2GHz (2003 model):
  • 3.5GB RAM
  • Hitachi 7K250 160GB and Seagate 160GB Hard Drives
  • Pioneer DVR-107 OEM Superdrive
  • OS X 10.3.5 with all updates applied
  • Nvidia card tests used 1.1 driver pkg from the install CD
  • Monitor: Sony FW-900 (24" widescreen CRT)
  • Airport Active for all tests


You can follow my preferred path through the review by continuing to the next page,
or use the links below to jump to a specific page.

Index of Mac 6800 Ultra DDL Review

Intro/Photos | 2D/Video Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance

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