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The middle finger award

ManufacturersATI and NVIDIA
ModelsRadeon X800 XT Platinum Edition
Radeon X700 XT
Radeon X850 series
GeForce 6800 Ultra OC
Price (street)Inflated

ATI and NVIDIA's high-end vapors
It's only fitting that we end this Best of 2004 love-fest by singling out for distinction one of the year's worst developments: the scant availability of certain graphics cards, products that exist almost exclusively in the hands of reviewers like us. It's tough to say who started it, but both companies are guilty. Some of the problem was a simple issue of demand for these hot new cards outstripping supply, but as the year dragged on, it became clear that wasn't the whole story.

NVIDIA dropped an overclocked version of the GeForce 6800 Ultra on us to spoil the launch of the Radeon X800 series, but to our knowledge, no card manufacturer has yet introduced a version of the GeForce 6800 Ultra running at the 450MHz core clock speed that card did. There are now some 425MHz cards out there in the wild, but even those were hard to find for much of the year.

Of course, NVIDIA was trying preemptively to counter ATI's own overclocked wonder, the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition—or Phantom Edition, as it came to be known, as months passed and preorders from ATI's own website were never filled.

ATI liked this strategy so much that they repeated it not once, but twice, and perhaps three times. The Radeon X700 XT debuted to much fanfare amid assurances that they Really Meant It This Time, only to die a quiet, if merciful, death near the end of the year before the product shipped in any kind of volume. Then came the Radeon X850 XT series, including a new Platinum Edition. These cards were designed expressly to make manufacturing easier and to get supplies rolling, and ATI pledged that the product would be available to the world via online retailers at the time of its December 1 launch date. It's 2005, and we're still waiting. Will the snazzy new Radeon X800 XL suffer a similar fate?

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, we'd like to extend a meaty middle digit toward this, our least favorite trend of 2004: the rise of graphics reviewerware, the almost-fake product intended to capture the performance flag though it may never be widely available to the public. In this year of soaring highs and solid progress on so many fronts, this is one development we could have done without. 

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