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An update on the meaty middle digit
ATI and NVIDIA vaporware
Last year, we extended a meaty middle digit towards ATI and NVIDIA for their respective paper launches and vaporware. Both companies improved in 2005, with NVIDIA notably having plenty of GeForce 7800 GT and GTX graphics cards available at launch. In fact, some of those cards were selling for less than their suggested retail prices. Bravo.

Unfortunately, our praise for NVIDIA's 2005 product launches was tempered with the release of the GeForce 7800 GTX 512. The ultra high-end card was launched in November with a suggested retail price of $649. It was supposed to be available at launch, too, but the cards are still nowhere to be found. Online retailers do list GeForce 7800 GTX 512 cards from several manufacturers, but none have stock, and prices have climbed to $750 or more—just when NVIDIA was doing so well. I guess old habits die hard.

Even with the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 blemishing NVIDIA's launch record, the company still spewed fewer vapors than ATI. The red team's CrossFire launch was a mess, with neither motherboards nor master cards available on the market when ATI suggested they would be. Even months after CrossFire made its debut, only a couple of boards are available in North America. Much of the Radeon X1000 series wasn't available at launch, either. To be fair, ATI made it clear that cards would be released on a staggered schedule after the launch, but they still didn't arrive on time.

ATI and NVIDIA still have work to do to ensure that new graphics products are widely available when they're launched. However, NVIDIA needs only to replicate its successful GeForce 7800 GT and GTX launches across the board.

Radeon X1800 CrossFire: Better late than never

Alphabet soup award
Last year's middle finger towards ATI and NVIDIA has morphed into muddled confusion. Both companies have expanded their graphics lines with a slew of GT, GS, GTX, PE, SE, XL, and XT versions of various products. Graphics card partners have added to the mess, as well, tagging on their own Turbo, Overclocked, Xtreme, Performance, and Golden Sample monikers. Each flavor can feature a different pipeline configuration, memory bus width, and core and memory clock speed, all of which impact overall performance. To add to the confusion, some configurations are OEM-only, while others are widely available in retail.

This tangled web of graphics products is enough to make even a seasoned enthusiast's head spin, and if we have a hard time keeping all the versions and derivatives straight, Joe Sixpack doesn't stand a chance. It would be much easier if GPU makers limited their product lines to a manageable number of derivatives or if manufacturers settled on a standard way to present each card's vital specs, but neither thing seems likely to happen. Prepare for even more confusion in 2006.