Radeon HD 4850 slips out, Nvidia responds

Good grief. The long knives are out in the battle over the meaty part of the video card market, as AMD and Nvidia engage in a mad rush to beat one another at getting out info about their new products. The shenanigans began, I suppose, when AMD scheduled a press event for the Radeon HD 4000 series for this past Monday, the day before Nvidia's planned launch of the GeForce GTX 200 series, siphoning away attention. Nvidia responded by moving its launch up a day to Monday, stepping just in front of AMD's press event.

That was only the start, though. Yesterday morning, the folks at Nvidia began floating plans to ship reviewers a higher-clocked version of the GeForce 9800 GTX, to be coupled with price cuts on all 9800 GTX cards—clearly a preemptive strike against the Radeon HD 4850.

Then, yesterday evening, we received a phone call informing us of AMD's decision to lift the press embargo on Radeon HD 4850 performance information, ostensibly because some retailers were already selling the cards. One doubts AMD was too upset about the fact that this situation might lead to the publication of Radeon HD 4850 benchmark scores before Nvidia's counter-punch could land.

A few hours after that phone call, however, Nvidia sent out a press release announcing the launch of a new GPU: the GeForce 9800 GTX+, with core and shader clocks of 738MHz and 1836MHz. One could almost hear the phone call in the background ordering thousands of "+" stickers, to be shipped directly to the Newegg warehouse, where "overclocked in the box" 9800 GTX cards were already waiting with no idea of their impending name change. In its press release, Nvidia also announced a general price cut on base-clocked 9800 GTX cards to $199, with the "GTX+" to sell for $229. That's right on top of the Radeon HD 4850's $199 suggested retail price.

As if the plot weren't thick enough, Nvidia has preliminary PhysX drivers for the GeForce 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+, and GT260/280 cards, which it says provides a nice boost in 3DMark Vantage scores—in part because, surely controversially, scores in one of 3DMark's so-called "CPU" tests will benefit from GPU PhysX acceleration.

What remains now is for us poor slobs in the press to get the products tested and to publish our findings as soon as we reasonably can. One wonders whether all of this fuss is worth it, especially on Nvidia's part. It really may not matter. The Radeon HD 4850 kicks more ass than a pair of donkeys in an MMA cage match.

At press time, the precise effects of these events on my health were unclear, but doctors expressed grave concern.

More soon. Stay tuned.

Update: Our Radeon HD 4850 preview is now online here.

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