Beyond3D's 2006 "Bricks & Bouquets"

Welcome to Beyond3D's inaugural 2006 edition of Bricks & Bouquets! What is it, you ask? Well, it's equal parts Year in Review, therapy on the cheap, and love notes to the class cuties. In other words, we're going to get off our chests everything we liked and "not so much" about 2006 in the graphics world. AMD, NVIDIA, our colleagues in the techie press --no one is safe from our criticism or sloppy kisses. First staff from site and forums argued with each other, and now we're inviting you to pick up the cudgels and heart-shaped candy boxes and have a go in the commentary thread linked at the end. Just remember, Guido will be collecting all knives, chains, and BFGs at the door. . .and we'd appreciate if you'd recall the general guidelines for rotten fruits --"Not in the face!". So read on already, and then join the party.

1). Video Card of the Year

Geo: It has to be the GeForce 8800GTX, the most ZOMG-worthy piece of graphics kit since the sainted Radeon 9700 Pro in ancient days of yore (2002, that is). Way back in the spring my sig suggested that most folks were poor-mouthing what G80 would bring to the table. I suppose I could try to take credit for being right about that, but the fact is Nvidia surprised the heck out of me too. HQ AF and HDR+AA? Yeah, those were predictable. But 384-bit bus? Full unification, not just a down payment? CUDA? Not predictable in the least. We should just subtitle G80 "How Jen-Hsun got his groove back".

Uttar: NVIDIA GeForce 7600 Series. Perf/mm², perf/watt and perf/$. Great performance given the market segment for the GT, and passive cooling for the GS. Some pondered if it was possible for NVIDIA to do even better than the 6600 series in that area, and clearly, the proof is made that they could. On the other hand, the 7300 was a fair bit less impressive, which left a big gap in the market ATI capitalized on, but nothing dramatic either. And hey, it'll have generated more revenue (and profit!) than the 8800GTX and all of its upcoming refrehses in the next 2 years will, combined. How cool is that? (kinda)

Rys: How can it be anything other than 8800 GTX? Uttar's misguided 7600 series nomination is just a ruse, perf/watt/area is pretty staggering in G80 too, and its performance and IQ just takes a big dump on everything else that's ever come before it. [NVIDIA] LOL. [ATI] OHPOOP.

Ratchet: If there's a valid reason for pointing at anything other than the G80 based 8800 GTX here, I've not seen it. Blistering fast, next-gen features, and vast improvements to image quality. There is no other choice.

The Baron: It has to be the 8800GTX. Unified, a focus on higher IQ at usable speeds, and CUDA. I don't know what I can really hold against it, except its size. It can realistically be compared to R300, which is the first time we've been able to say that.

Pete: 8800GTX: scalar-sized shock and awe.

2). Disappointment of the Year

Rys: Not having a cheeky R600 to fiddle with over the holidays. The thought of sitting at my desk wearing nothing but a santa hat, plastered on mulled wine, writing shaders for R6.......bliss.

The Baron: Where's R600? November has been pushed to January has been pushed to February, which does not bode well. I really don't want to see another R520-style delay. I was upset enough when the market was reduced to two players (effectively); I don't want to see AMD/ATI get knocked out of the market because of overaggressive fab usage.

Ratchet: ATI's remarkable talent at missing reasonable release points and, then their apparent inability to get it out there once it is released. Not-so-hard launches with the X1950 Pro and X1650 XT. ATI AM2 motherboards that are few and far between (not to mentioned hard to find s939 ATI boards). RD600 boards? There's one in the wild, I think. Then there's the R600 which, every time you hear a rumor about it, gets pushed back another month.

Uttar: NVIDIA nForce 500 Series. Seriously, WTF? After the pleasant surprise the nForce4 was, I guess they just had to compensate by making complete shit for a change! The AMD high-end versions had laughable power consumption and heat dissipation, and hardly any innovation anyone with a normal workload would even care about. And the Intel versions were mostly renamed nForce4s, and they couldn't even get that right. As such, it's relatively fair to say the Xpress 3200 was superior in several ways for much of the year. 680i is a step in a very pleasant direction though, so hopefully we'll return to some more interesting things there next year.

Pete: Delay after delay, belatedly followed by delay. I'm lookin' at you, Vista and D3D10. I want the Halo 2 PC experience MS sez is only possible with SM4!

Geo: Delay in general, and delay around Vista in particular. Late last year we were expecting G80 in the summer; we got it in November. When 2006 started I don't know when the rest of you were expecting R600, but I personally would not have answered "2007". But then we were expecting Vista in Aug/Sep of 2006 back then, weren't we? And where are my G80 Vista drivers? And where are my bloody x64-compatible Vista drivers for everything under the sun? I wanted to be able to go x64 Vista right off the bat --now I'm thinking you'd have to be much braver than I am to take that path initially. Oh, Trillian --where's my Astra? Where's my Unreal Tournament 2007 (How DARE they put the right year in the name, contradicting settled geek industry precedent) and my Crysis? And if I hear "blue diode" one more time I may scream. Sure, shiznit happens, but it just seems to me there was more of that this year than usual.

3). Innovation of the Year

Uttar: Coverage Sampled Antialiasing. Despite a few drawbacks, 16xCSAA is an amazing compromise, and there's really not that much to say against it. I look forward to 32x CSAA based on 8 multisamples, too - pretty, please?

The Baron: Yeah, I have to go with CSAA again. Okay, so it's not stochastic antialiasing with 32 samples, but whatever. I'll take what I can get, and for the performance hit, it looks fantastic.

Pete: I need to get a better grip on G80's scalar ALUs and should really see CSAA in action before declaring a winner, but the short answer seems to be G80.

Ratchet: Again, the G80. There's just so much "new" that there's really no argument here. True 8x MSAA, CSAA, >256bit memory bus, DX10 support, angle-independent AF, CUDA... the list goes on.

Geo: There's nearly an embarrassment of riches here, too many for me to pick just one. CSAA looks interesting enough to give some love to, certainly. ATI and Stanford have to have props for getting Folding@Home crunching work units on a GPU, and much faster than my suddenly humble AMD X2 can do them. The 7950GX2 brought not-quite-SLI to non-SLI chipset mobos. Nvidia's NVIO also intriques me as to where it might be going (think G80 GX2). AMD got GDDR4 delivered on a high-end card (X1950XTX) when Nvidia wasn't able to deliver it on a high-end card released months later than AMD's.

Rys: I'm going to take a different tack to the guys here and go with software. I'm a programmer at heart so D3D10 is what's warming my cockles these days, and David Blythe and Sam Glassenberg and the gang finally getting 10.0 out of the door and shipping with Vista is my big innovation of the year by far. It's the biggest step the API has ever taken, and it won't take another like it for probably 3-5 years.

4). Most promising trend of the year

Rys: It's not honestly a trend until they repeat it, but NVIDIA's focus on better looking pixels with their latest generation is very welcome, and something we've all been asking for for years. ATI have led in this respect pretty consistently since R300, but they're dethroned for the time being and it's good for all concerned. Raising the bar as far as IQ goes will always be a good thing, and it should happen more frequently than it has done in recent years.

Uttar: Focus on Image Quality. Special thanks to ATI for daring to waste some transistors on the subject when NVIDIA were too afraid and/or lazy to do so! HQ AF and HDR+AA certainly led the industry, and it's sad they didn't get even more universal applause from the press, because they certainly deserved it.

Ratchet: The renewed focus on image quality. ATI's HQ AF last year and now NVIDIA's near angle-independent AF with the G80 mark the end of a dark era when both IHVs seemed to consider piss poor texture filtering an acceptable trade for a few extra frames per second.

Pete: IQ ascendant, be it 3D or video. OK, maybe not quite ascendant (speed always wins), but at least movin' on up at both ATI and NV.

Geo: G80 is so much better than G71 IQ-wise that it's even become hip for Nvidia fans to sing the praises of HQ AF, AA with your HDR, and a lack of shimmering. And 2006 goes down in my book as the year we moved up to 4X AA as the default, at least at the top. For my money, any year where I can't honestly answer "IQ improvements" to this catagory is a bad year, so I'm happy this wasn't that year. Here's hoping ATI throws down with some toppers in 2007.

The Baron: You guys have been going too hard at the eggnog again. Image Quality is important, but not nearly as paradigm-shifting as low-level access to GPU hardware via CTM and CUDA. I think that in the next year or two, this will have a transformative effect on the 3D industry, and I'm really looking forward to seeing just what can be done with it right now (before the chips that support FP64 come out).

5). Most discouraging trend of the year

Rys: I get the very real sense that driver development and improvements have taken a back seat in 2006. Shitty interfaces abound, silly bugs have crept in, only certain OSes are being supported for certain products (x64-based Windows, I look at you), the list is huge. It's the piece of the puzzle that defines how the hardware does, and so it's imperative that all IHVs make a serious investment into bumping up their driver quality again, since it's seriously lacking on certain fronts. Oh, and Geo's persistent inability to admit in public that, yes, he's the spitting image of The Big [K] Man, making me wonder if they're actually the same person. Which is probably THE MOST TERRIFYING THING IN THE UNIVERSE.

The Baron: Why is running a 64-bit OS still a complete crapshoot? We've had Athlon 64s for over three years, we're about to move to a new Microsoft OS, and we still can't get decent 64-bit driver support? Come on.

Uttar: Focus on SLI and Crossfire in the lower part of the high-end segment. While things are pretty good in terms of multi-GPU compatibility nowadays, it's still not far from perfect, which makes it moderately annoying NVIDIA focused so much on the 7950GX2 and, worse, Quad SLI; hopefully, if G90 and R700 adopt the same strategy, things will be even better by then.

Pete: Um, power draw? Permanent dual-slot enthusiast cards? Juicy leaks closer and closer to launch? I'm reaching, here.

Ratchet: The ever increasing demand on your power supply. With 600W PSUs barely cutting the mustard anymore, companies continue to produce hardware that sucks down juice at alarming levels. There has to be a tipping point, but I'll be damned if I can see it coming.

Geo: Power/heat/size issues continue to ramp alarmingly. About the only bright spot I can think of here where there was a noticeable improvement was AMD's new cooler for X1950XTX. Two years ago a 400W PSU wasn't a bad piece of kit. Fast forward, and Tagan has just announced an 1100W PSU. 8800 GTX, for all its many charms, is a monster in size and the first card to require two PCIe power connectors. I had to do some chassis surgery on my high-end enthusiast-class case to get it in, and I know I'm not the only one. There were gasps of disapproval in some quarters when the ATI Radeon X1800 All-in-Wonder showed up at 10". 8800 GTX is more like 10.6". And while (alas) it's not a 2006 part, today I don't know anyone who thinks that R600 is going to start this trend back in a more sane direction.

6). Dan Rather "Courage" Award

Rys: Dave Orton and his guys for hopping into bed with AMD. It's one of those "OH JESUS" things that makes you seriously sit down and take stock of what the hell it means, since the changes it'll ring in are so far beyond trivial and predictable that everyone's visions for the PC and computing in the next 5 years must surely go out the window to some degree. NVIDIA, Intel and co must be worried on some levels, since the combined cojones in AMD and ATI R&D are pretty melon-shaped and very very hairy. Makes me wonder where discrete graphics is going, which freaks me out.

Geo: A collective award to anyone who kept insisting that there was a "there" there re the AMD/ATI merger, when a lot of the wise guys (yours truly included) were confidently posting eleventy million reasons it wouldn't happen. The dang thing is, this one has given internet rumour-mongering a good name now. Rumour-mongers will be pulling this one out of their rears for years to come to justify their outrageous flights of fancy. "Rys is shacking with Julia Roberts, David Beckham, and Posh Spice in a group marriage?" "Hey, you guys said AMD buying ATI was BS -- so it could happen!!"

The Baron: Everyone who ignored David Kirk's comments and claimed that G80 was unified. I didn't see it coming.

Ratchet: Our very own Ryszard "Don't call me Rise" Sommefeldt for leaving a cushy gig at to take on Beyond3D full-time (there's what on my nose?).

Uttar: Brimstone, for sticking to his guns when it comes to a G80-based RSX. Now that he has proved us all wrong and humiliated us with his superior speculation capabilities, I say we burn nAo for lieing to us all along. Errr, wait a second...

7). Person/entity in the industry/community I most wanted to stick a sock in their mouth

The Baron: Our reigning champion, Mr. Kyle Bennett, stepped up to the challenge and threw down the gauntlet with this abomination. His mantra of "real-world tests are the only ones that matter" has gotten somewhat annoying, but this is a new low for any reviewer. It looks at the border between "hardware with real effects that you can test" and "snake oil" and takes a running leap over the line. I'm embarrassed by it.

Rys: I can't single out one person here, rather I'd love to pour concrete down the throats of those responsible for technology leaks originating from the Far East. As a writer and now a site owner and publisher, nothing irks me more than full-on leaks of information I'm relying on to help me make something of Beyond3D. And it's honestly not the fault of the people who do the leaking, rather it's the loose-lipped folks doing the enabling further up the food chain, wherever and whoever they may be.

Ratchet: This is a tough one, but I'd probably have to say Fudo of The Inquirer here for his extreme overuse of "marchitecture" and "DAAMIT" (which stopped being clever about 2 seconds after it was first coined).

Uttar: trumphsiao, for believing absolutely everything he heard! Sure, he sometimes might have got something right anyway, but a random guess would still have been more reliable. I guess putting a ban on someone's account really is the next best thing after sticking a sock in someone's mouth, though.

8). Sander Sassen Memorial Professional Suicide award

The staff of Beyond3D are delighted to give a "No award" in this catagory for 2006, and admonish 2007 to "Go thou, and do likewise."

9). Interview of the Year

Uttar: Dean Takahashi's interviews with Jen-Hsun Huang (1 & 2). They're an excellent mix of technology, industry, economic and personal information, while also generally being extremely honest answers. I'd love to have some interviews of the same quality with a few AMD/Intel executives, too!

Rys: It has to be Takahashi's interviews with Jen-Hsun Huang. Nothing else comes close this year.

Ratchet: Like the others, Dean Takahashi's interview with NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang. The questions asked and Jen-Hsun Huang's answers make it not only the best interview this year, but one of the few things you must read if you follow this industry even a little.

Geo: I dunno if its the Cult of Jen-Hsun or the Cult of Dean that's ruling above me here, but I respectfully disagree. The mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnall's back porch has produced a tie here. My first winner is the series of DX10 interviews that ExtremeTech's Jason Cross did with mucketys from Microsoft, ATI (at the time), Nvidia, and game devs. My co-awardee is Dean Takahashi's piece (Yes, okay, I'm a member of the Dean fan club too!) "Intel, Raytracing and Me" (yes, I know --I like my title better), in his blog for the San Jose Mercury News.

The Baron: While I like Takahashi's interviews with Jen-Hsun, I've been using Wavey's interview with Eric Dremers and Richard Huddy as one of my major indicators of where new architectures are headed. It's my favorite technical-oriented interview this year.

10). Article of the Year

Rys:Ratchet's review of G80. Review production like this -- highly engaging and technically accurate writing; amazing presentation and production values; multi-level audience targeting -- is what everyone should strive for, and Ratch pulls it off here better than anyone else in '06.

The Baron:Hannibal's overview of the Core architecture at Ars. It's not GPU-related, but the specificity and detail that he uses are two things that I would love to see more of in this industry.

Geo: "XBOX 360 Uncloaked: The Real Story Behind Microsoft's Next-Generation Video Game Console", Dean Takahashi, Spider Works, LLC. I think if we don't all want to grow up to be Dean Takahashi, we at least want to grow up to have his access to tech world people at all levels of the industry.

11). Specialty niche reporting

The Baron:This hit me like a truck. One of the most inventive articles I've seen in years. Huge kudos to the guy for taking an idea and running with it.

Pete: Yep, it doesn't get more niche than that!

Ratchet: I've had very little to do with it, so I can say without much concern for my objectivity that the efforts of the Beyond3D news reporting staff have made the Beyond3D front page much more than a convenient place to find a link to the forums.

Rys: I'm a big fan of the Tech Report, and Cyril has really kicked their front page into gear since he joined, and his consistently well-written and well-chosen news pieces are the perfect mid-work break fillers. It's maybe not quite uber niche reporting in the sense that something like this is, but it works for me.

Uttar: (aka's focus on latency and unusual image quality factors. The two big winners are "ATI and NVIDIA correct the twinkling effect of LCDs in movies" and "LCDs images delayed compared to CRTs? Yes!".

Geo:DailyTech for original techie news reporting. As a competitor to some degree, they sometimes drive me nuts with their ability to leverage their contacts to get inside info that is probably beyond the reach of the rest of us. But as a consumer of geeky info I love it. It's not by accident that they get the most number of cites on our own front page. And it seems to me that DT has improved significantly since its beginning, making fewer mistakes than it did originally (particularly in graphics, where I'm most likely to notice). At any rate, they impressed me in the last year, and here's your bouquet of begonias, fellas.

12. Other articles I just felt like giving some love to

Ratchet: Basically any video/multimedia article by Alan "/.effect" Dang at FiringSquad. The guy knows his stuff!

Pete:SPCR deserves some love for their PSU reviews. Heat and power are becoming more and more relevant, or maybe I'm just becoming less and less tolerant of noise. Ailuros' and now ChrisRay's work at 3DEclipse. Alan Dang on video quality. Tridam and Damage make for consistent must-reads. And Ratchet looks like he's set to give Damage a run for his Google Ads with his engaging G80 review.

Uttar: VR-Zone's leak of key G80 information in July 2005. While this might rather have been a candidate for last year's list, we'd most likely have included it in the "jokes of the year" category back then. Also AAA material is Wavey's interview with ATI on R580's architecture, early this year.

The Baron: Tough. There were a lot of good articles this year, but not a lot is standing out in my mind... I'm going to take the "this isn't really an answer" route and give love to A Performance-Oriented Data Parallel Virtual Machine for GPUs" (PDF), also known as "that CTM paper." I'm also very fond of Uttar's G80 diagram and its soul-crushing complexity.

Geo: Wavey's interview of Sir Eric re R580, Rys interviewing the shadowy "Chuck" at Hexus, ChrisRay's investigation of G80 AA modes, and FiringSquad's two-part "Everything you wanted to know about Oblivion performancebut were afraid to ask". Also Hanners and the EB crew for transforming EliteBastards into a credible content site to be reckoned with.

Rys: Again, big love to Tridam's work at on graphics, and nobody really writes as consistently well as Field Marshall Wasson when it comes to everything that orbits the thing we call a PC.

13). Game of the Year --PC

Geo: It has to be The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, by Bethesda Softworks. After the most unprecedented amount of hype and drooling/slobbering that I can personally ever recall, absolutely guaranteeing that there was no way the game could be a pleasant surprise for anyone. . . I popped the DVD in and. . . it was a pleasant surprise. That's GotY material any year in my book. And while I'm here, give it up for l33t Haxor of the year, Chuck! Woot, woot.

The Baron: Can anyone really not pick Oblivion? Sure, parts of it were certainly vapid, but quest lines like the Dark Brotherhood made the whole thing worthwhile. Plus, wow, that is a remarkably pretty game. Runner-up is Warhammer 40,000: Dark Crusade. Space zombies! The whole thing is just great fun.

Uttar:Call of Juarez. Now, critics would argue it's also one of the ONLY PC Game I played and actually finished this year, but you know, that's also why I bought it, unlike a ton of other supposedly AAA games this year; because I knew I'd enjoy it. The western theme is quite original, given how rare it's used in modern computer games, and the gameplay can be irritating at times (godawful stealth implementation), but also absolutely awesome at others. It might have benefited from a few more months of development in terms of gameplay polish, since its quality is so unequal at times, but it's still very good overall. And the graphics are just stunning, of course - Oblivion feels like a 1999 game compared to it, and Crysis' shadows look amateurish at best. On a related note, I can't wait for NVIDIA to fix the 8800GTX's issues in this game so I can replay it at higher resolution and with more AA/AF. Needless to say, my G70 was shedding in tears at times, given just how GPU-hungry it can be.

Ratchet:Company of Heroes. The challenge, graphics, atmosphere, music, and overall gameplay experience are all so well put together that it's turned me from an RTS hater into an RTS lover.

Rys: Jeez, I've done so little gaming on the PC this year that I have no idea what ended up incredible and what didn't. Splinter Cell: Double Agent, maybe? Dark Messiah? HL2: EP1?

14). Game of the Year --Console

Rys:Gears of War. It's just incredible.

Ratchet: There was ever a game that makes me want to drop $500 on a console it'd probably be Gears of War!

The Baron:Final Fantasy XII. I always had a secret pining for Vagrant Story 2, and since this is the closest we'll ever come, well, I guess I'll take it. But it takes JRPG concepts and turns them on their ear, especially because of the Gambit system. Setting AI triggers for actions in combat is actually a fantastic idea.

Uttar: No idea. Super Mario 64, maybe?

Geo: Console? That's the thing next to the driver's seat in my truck, right?

15). Gaming related kit of the year that's not a video card

Pete: Is the Wiimote too obvious an answer?

Uttar: Definitely the Dell 2407FWP. Someone ought to remind me how I ever lived without this thing . . .

Rys: Dell's 2407FWP. I use mine (although it's the 2405) for PC and 360 gaming, in the absence of a 'proper' HDTV for the 360, and it does a brilliant job. I want another.

Geo: It's a tie! And the winners are, anything that's not PhysX! Come on up and get your daffodils, rest of the world. No? Too snarky? Okay, Okay. . . .then Conroe it is. Welcome back, Intel; what kept ya?

The Baron: Seagate's hard drives with perpendicular recording. Sure, it's not the most glamorous of devices, but quieter, more capacity, and cheaper? And it's got a five-year warranty? I think that qualifies!

Ratchet: Hardware accelerated physics in general. We haven't quite got it yet (unless you count Ageia), but if the efforts of AMD and NVIDIA are any indication it'll be here soon!

There you have it! 2006 has been a great ride, and we are confident that 2007 holds plenty more chills and spills for us all. We've stuck our collective necks out above on the highs and lows of 2006, so please join us in the commentary thread with your own thoughts.