One thing I probably underemphasized is the time element involved in this whole matter. When ATI told us that their X800 and XL cards would debut at $199 and $299, respectively, they also told us to expect the XL cards to become available in about two weeks from the December 15, 2004 review date. The X800s were to follow not long after that. Our evaluation of the Radeon X800 XL, which came during the Christmas buying season, was based on the expectation that the card would be available at or near the suggested retail price within that time frame. Instead, we're now three months into the life of a product whose life cycle would typically be six to nine months, and only recently have they become available at that price (and through some channels, they're still closer to $349 than to $299.) During that time, the price of the competition's cards has dropped. The X800 XL now competes more directly on price against the GeForce 6800 GT, not the GeForce 6800 as we'd expected. My intention was to point out that fact, because it changes how we'd evaluate the XL comparatively.
Virtually no one disputes that the Radeon X800 128MB at $199 simply didn't materialize as expected, by the way. The $199 price point is a much higher volume segment than $299, and you are missing the point if you fixate on the X800 XL drama at the expense of the story at $199.
Another concern that some of you have raised is that I seem to be beating a dead horse by addressing this issue repeatedly. I am sympathetic to that concern, but there's an important consideration you may be missing here. I pledged to get distribution pricing on these cards some time ago, when it started to become clear that there was a mismatch between ATI's stated prices and real-world pricing. The trouble was, I couldn't get pricing info through my sources until recently, because the cards weren't yet available in their systems. I revisited the issue again yesterday because I had new information. My hope is that this will be the end of this story, as far as we're concerned, and we can move on to more enlightening topics.
Finally, to be fair, I should clarify one more thing. The folks at ATI reminded us yesterday that the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition doesn't quite fall into the same class as the GeForce 6800 Ultra "Extreme" or "OC" card that showed up on reviewers' doorsteps on the eve of the original Radeon X800 series' debut. Those 6800 Ultra "OC" cards were running at 450MHz, and to my knowledge, almost no 6800 Ultra cards ever shipped at that speed. 425MHz was more commmon; some companies, like BFG Tech and Asus, shipped (and are shipping) cards at 425MHz. ATI, by contrast, says it shipped "tens of thousands" of Radeon X800 XT Platinum Editions. So both the "OC" and the Platinum Edition existed to "capture the flag" of best overall performance, but ATI contends that the PE was not a "stunt card," as I called it. Perhaps that's splitting hairs, but in all fairness, I thought it was worth a mention.