The graphic card war is so intense these days that if an ATI or Nvidia engineer so much as sneezes in a suggestive manner dozens of hacks go rushing to their keyboards to report on it and speculate about what it means for the next chip. The release of ATI's R580 chip this week, better known as the X1900, has come faster than any major product launch in relation to its predecessor in current memory, excusing such notable cases as Nvidia's botched GeForce 5800.
So intense has been the speculation around the R580 that mere hours before the NDA lifted on reviews of the cards sent out, ATI was passing around threatening emails to journalists warning them against jumping the gun and telling those editors who had already done so that they would be "taking action" against them for publishing information whilst still under NDA.
The competition to be first is intense, and even publishing your review half an hour before the NDA officially lifts can bring in lots of hungry traffic to the "first look". In the run up to a product launch, any details at all can be precious to hungry editors and it would seem that in this case some cheated.
Usually it's the non-NDA signing publications and their hard-nosed reporters, like Fuad Abazovic on The Inquirer, who have to dig for every precious nugget of information. Publications abusing their NDA position to get the scoop are frowned upon by the PR types and journalists alike, but for the most part actual reviews (such as our one) didn't hit the internet until they were supposed to.
A hard launch this time, please?
The biggest problem that journalists face with these graphic card launches is that they tend to be a bit like the German army in April 1945 - strong on paper, big on maps but not coming to save Berlin anytime soon. In order to get one over on their rivals, the chip makers have been sending out impressive cards to reviewers, working up a storm and then failing to deliver any units into the hands of Joe Consumer.
Almost every review of the X1900 I've read has made a point of noting this. From our own review to TrustedReviews to Hexus to Anandtech, everybody has been fretting over online-shop shelves as much as the cards on their desks.
ATI has been very much aware of this. Their apprehension about a backlash from the media heightened by the fact that they know Nvidia has been quick to capitalise on the lack of actual Crossfire cards whilst their SLI cards have become almost commonplace.
This time, they have put units in the hands of retailers as well as journalists. So sceptical of "major product launches" we are that Newegg.com sent Darren a picture from inside their warehouse showing open boxes filled with X1900's.
This doesn't mean however that panic buying won't ensue and our news guru Wolfgang Gruener reported that cards have been fetching upwards of $700 - between $50 and $100 above what you'd otherwise expect to pay.
Nevertheless, the general consensus from the technology media is that ATI has pulled off a hard launch. It's perhaps shocking to those who do not follow the technology industry that we're devoting several paragraphs to seeing whether or not the product will be on shelves after launch, but welcome to the nut house.
Whether or not this is the end of the "paper launch" I'm not so sure, though I would say that both ATI and Nvidia will be careful not to pull any more stunts in the near future at least.