The Rat Race
At the weigh-in before his title fight, the words "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" would become engrained into the minds of millions. After beating Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay became Mohammad Ali, "The Greatest." Okay, this is only about graphics cards and not the lives of men in the ring, but the heavyweight battle for gaming hardware has never been more contentious.
At the end of last year, NVIDIA unleashed the 7800 GTX, which came out of its cage with claws and teeth ravaging everything in its path, including ATI's X850XT Platinum Edition. In October, ATI answered with the long awaited R520, in the form of the X1000 series. The X1800XT took a few good shots, just enough to retake the overall single card crown. Then in October, NVIDIA answered the challenge and released GeForce 7800 GTX 512, basically featuring more memory and higher clock speeds. NVIDIA took both the single and dual titles away from ATI. ATI returned with Crossfire X1800's on December 20th. Are you starting to see a pattern here? This back and forth competition is getting to the point of insanity.
For the consumer, the constant launch of new products makes it that much less expensive to obtain better hardware. When major launches still were six months apart, you had to wait a long time for the newest and greatest. For those in the mainstream, like most are, you would have a lot of time to save up for the previous generation to drop in price, but this is no longer the case. The wait between NVIDIA's GeForce 7800 GTX and Radeon X1800XT was the last time we saw this. Even that would have been shorter if ATI had not run into the circuitry issues they had with R520.
Since October, we have seen new cards hit the market each month. The problem that has been surfacing of late has been: Can the consumer actually get one or two of these high end monsters for dual graphics? NVIDIA has beaten ATI over the head with the 'all show and no go' argument; Crossfire X850 and X1800XT were prime examples of this. Many review sites did not want to showcase "phantom hardware" after it was promised to the consumer and not delivered until... who knows? After all, who likes to have a carrot dangled out in front of them if they can't take a bite?
While ATI had an open door on new hardware advances, it wasn't the best at delivering on the determined shipping date. On the other hand, NVIDIA took the 'we will not talk about it until it is ready to ship' approach, and this has made the story of "volume at launch" a reality. (I find it ironic that NVIDIA seemed to forget this strategy when it showed the world Quad-SLI in the limited edition Dell "Renegade" XPS 600. Would you like some vegetable dip for your carrots?)