Chicago (IL) - UPDATE- Buying one of ATI's and Nvidia's recently announced high end graphic cards of the $500 range can be frustrating: X800 XT's as well as Geforce 6800 Ultra's are virtually impossible to get, and if they are in stock, expect to shell out extra dough for the privilege to own one of the fastest graphics chips.
Its nothing new for gamers. High-end cards are never available in large quantities, especially, if they just have been announced. The fact, that ATI's and Nvidia's top versions of desktop graphic cards therefore should not be a surprise. But the cards are virtually impossible to get in the US retail market, driving prices to new record levels.
If you eyes are set on ATI's X800 XT Platinum Edition, get ready to pay for your graphic card about the same as for a mid-level PC. Prices for the card at online stores, at least some which claim to have the card in stock, currently range from about $600 to more than $900. If you are lucky, you spot a store which temporarily has some cards for sale, as happened at PC Connection, eCost or Newgg.com, which carried price tags between $465 and $559, according to the firms' websites.
The situation appears to be even worse with Nvidia's Geforce 6800. Ultra Editions are simply out of stock and will catch prices between $600 to $850 even when on backorder, according to websites of retailers such as NCIX, PC97, or PC Mall. One retailer, eVGA.com, auctions off its available Ultra Extreme Editions - cards which were not aimed for mass production - for $550 once a week to registered customers.
Also a dead end is EBay, usually a reliable source for buying rather scarce products. The few items offered here are reaching impressive levels, with $650 for Gainward Geforce 6800 Ultra Extreme Editions located in Hong Kong, and X800 XT Platinum Editions reaching $785 with bidding going strong Tuesday afternoon.
Jon Peddie, principal analyst at Jon Peddie research, said that he was quite surprised about these cards being in short supply. While he was not aware of shortages of Nvidia cards at all, he said that ATI's cards faced a short delay in manufacturing, which, however, was not unusual for the industry. "There was a clocking problem. They simply could not get the clock speeds they wanted, so they had to do tweaking and go back to the fab," Peddie said.
Dean McCarron, analyst with Mercury Research, was also on the search for ATI and Nvidia cards for his test beds and found that these products do not come cheap. "Prices for high-end cards in the range of $500 to $600 are nothing unusual. But $800 is a new territory," he said. Due to the rules of supply and demand, surging prices were a normal effect. McCarron believes that a combination of the still young cards, lower production levels as well as somewhat higher than expected demand of the cards have triggered the current shortage. But this would not be "anything to be concerned about."
Several analysts compared the current supply and demand situation in graphic card market with the announcement of exotic sport scars. With the cards evolving to prestigious luxury items, market experts believe that price gouging could become a normal effect of limited availability of such products.
The manufacturers themselves are not worried about the current situation and say that supply and demand levels will get narrower in coming weeks. "ATI is shipping tens of thousands of X800s every month, in line with a typical high-end product launch," said Chris Evenden, PR Director at ATI. "What's different this time is the overwhelming demand from OEMs, the extra demand created by the transition to PCI Express, and the lack of available competing products at the ultra-high end. So demand is currently is greater than supply." Evenden said that ATI did not experience manufacturing problems with the new products.
There is no word on when X800 XT's in fact will become generally available. Evenden said that high-end models usually are not available in large quantities anyway, due to the traditionally limited demand of this segment. Larger retailers such as CompUSA however expect the cards to be available around August 15.
Nvidia also was careful with its statement about the current supply situation and said that the firm and manufacturers are cranking out chips and boards as fast as possible. "Demand for the Geforce 6800 Ultra has been very high. We are shipping GPUs in volume and our add-in-card partners are shipping boards as fast as they can build them," said Nvidia spokesman Brian Burke. He did not detail availability in single markets, other than mentioning that this "depends on the production ramp and retail commitments."
As far as the limited production Ultra Extreme is concerned, Nvidia declined to comment, since these cards would use the 6800 Ultra which simply runs at a higher clock speed, Burke said. "Ultra Extreme is a name that certain web sites have come up with. Availability for these higher clocked Ultras is based on our partners' commitments to their customers." As far as we remember, the Extreme model in fact was always described as a limited production model offered unofficially by card builders. However, Nvidia initially came up with the "Ultra Extreme", shortly after the announcement of ATI's X800 XT PE and might have created demand its partners were not prepared for.
Increasing retail prices are also no concern for the company. "Our add-in card partners set the prices for their products. The $499 is suggested retail only," Burke said.