After last year's video card releases that saw one of the largest performance leaps over the previous generation ever seen, we were in for an interesting year in the world of video cards and PC gaming. The year's PC games market was undoubtedly dominated by the releases of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, but they weren't the only games that were worth buying.
In fact, some would say that Doom 3 was a game that was not worth the financial outlay due to its linear game play – the atmosphere was something else though. In order to get the full Doom 3 experience, it should be played alone, in a dark room, late at night, preferably with headphones so that you can absorb the atmosphere and feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins.
Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 were not the only two first-person shooters that were worth buying last year, as there was also Far Cry, which introduced some new graphics features such as Geometry Instancing and High-Dynamic Range Rendering. The latter is a quickly becoming the lighting technique that game developers are implementing in to their latest 3D engines – HDR is a graphical buzz word at the moment, and it could be one of the big reasons why many believe that NVIDIA won the last round of the video card wars.
Many believe that Shader Model 3.0 is required for High-Dynamic Range Rendering to work properly, but Valve is set to prove that this is not the case with its upcoming expansion pack: The Lost Coast. We'll have a look at The Lost Coast's HDR implementation as and when it is released, as it will be interesting to see how they have implemented it so that it works on ATI's R400 series GPU's which, as you know, are based around an extended Shader Model 2.0 architecture, with support for Pixel Shader 2.0b.
Today, we see the announcement of the first of this year's new generation of video cards, NVIDIA's GeForce 7800 GTX – NVIDIA's second-generation Shader Model 3.0 architecture.
In a nutshell, there have been several improvements made to the pixel shader, related to the efficiency of how certain shader instructions are handled by each pixel pipeline, allowing for greater efficiency, and thus higher frame rates in games. This is before we take in to account that the GeForce 7800 GTX has more pixel pipelines and vertex shaders than the previous generation GeForce 6800 Ultra – the G70, as it has been known until today, has 24 pixel pipelines and 8 vertex shaders as opposed to the 16 pixel pipelines and 6 vertex shaders found in NV40.
In this article, we are going to go through the architecture in a bit more detail than might appeal to many, while our second article focuses on what the GeForce 7800 GTX can do for your gaming experience. We have split the articles in to two because not everyone wants to know all of the technical details and theoretical performances that a new GPU brings to the table, as they really just want to know how it performs in their favourite game. If you are one of those people, we suggest that you head straight to the second part of this series.