NVIDIA Kicks It: Launching the 7800 GTX

Over the years, WinTel buyers have been viewed as staid and uninterested, while Apple buyers reach a level of excitement seldom seen in any market.  But one exception, and it?s a big one, is in gaming.  Last night, NVIDIA launched their hot new 7800 graphics card with twice the performance of their previous high end offering (6800 GT.)   They did this to an auditorium filled with adoring fans, roaring applause, and incredible demos. 

The folks in the audience didn?t have to wait 18 months for the new stuff; it was available the night of the event for anyone to order online (but Apple?s defense, I expect we have a surprise coming in the next few months.)

Gamers are a breed apart in the PC market, and this event was tied to a massive LAN party and Case Mod contest, so the folks were fired up and ready to go when the mermaid hit the stage.  Yes, Mermaid, NVIDIA?s symbol for their previous offering, was a scantily-clad mermaid; they had rigged it so an off-camera team could manipulate her real-time on the screen; she was the opening keynote.  After this opening event, participants could talk to her off-screen as she continued to respond to questions and interact with the audience. 

The LAN party was made up of hundreds of gamers, each with their own custom rig.  I looked and, outside of a few laptops, couldn?t find a single major brand in the group (there were two heavily modified Alienware Rigs.)  I?d expected to see one or two Dell XPS desktops, given the popularity of that product, but it seems folks don?t use them for LAN parties.  As for monitors, most were CRTs; a large number were flat panels, and a surprising number were the new widescreen Dell 24? ultra sharp (most of the laptops were large Dells as well, but laptops were clearly the exception here.) 

The stars of the show were the game demonstrations; there were a number showcasing massive advances in strategy games (which have historically been ?graphically challenged?), to First Person Shooter Massive Multiplayer Games (a blend thought to revolutionize Gaming), to vastly improved Roll Playing Games.  The last, Battlefield 2, which makes use of this new card, is available today. 

In these demonstrations, the bar was moved substantially in terms of cinematic level realism.  We were able to see the complex capillary and skeletal structure of characters (extremely bright light was directed on them); it was a level of scene realism we simply have not seen outside of movies.  NVIDA shocked and awed the largely gaming audience with the potential for this new part. 

NVIDIA owns a whopping 70% of the gaming market.  They are also the dominant player in workstations, suggesting that when it comes to performance, NVIDIA rules.  ATI is expected to respond, but their part isn?t due until the late 3rd quarter; many are beginning to think they will miss the critical holiday buying season.  In addition, with the NVIDIA part out and NVIDIA?s dominant share, it is expected that game developers will continue to favor NVIDIA over ATI for performance tuning. 

The 7800 GTX isn?t inexpensive ($600); if you already have a 6800 GT card, you can buy a second for half this price and get similar performance, but you?ll need one of the dual slot SLI-enabled mother boards.  Those are relatively rare and cost about $175, and in the end, you won?t have the massive improvement in shaders (they make things look much more real and could save your life in a FPS) that you otherwise would enjoy.  Unless you already have the board installed, the extra $125 would probably be well spent on the new card. 

Of course, if you want to get crazy, you can buy the new board and two 7800 GTX cards and see what kind of performance NVIDIA will announce next year, but that path is likely open only to the most extreme gamers. 

Regardless of whether you buy a new card or not ($600 is a lot of money) if you get a chance to go to an event like this, take it; you?ll see some amazing things, not the least of which are a bunch of PC guys who love and get incredibly excited about their custom hardware. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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