Buzz about AMD/ATI's forthcoming, oft-delayed x2900xt has been simmering for months, with many gamers holding off on purchasing one of nVidia's high-end 8800 cards with the anticipation that ATI would release a monster card that would surpass the 8800GTX's performance.
Initial benchmarks were disappointing – ATI's official benchmark compared it to the 8800GTS, not the flagship GTX. Subsequent independent comparisons of the pre-release x2900xtx to the 8800GTX revealed why: nVidia still owns the performance crown, and by no small margin.
Recently, ATI 'fessed up – the fabled "R600" is no nVidia killer. It's intended to compete with the GTS, not nVidia's flagship 8800GTX. Kinda disappointing considering the wait.
I own the 8800GTS, and I consider it a fantastic buy because of its remarkable overclocking overhead. At stock speeds, the card is roughly 25% slower than the GTX. However, it easily acheives huge overclocks that allow it equal or even surpass the performance of the stock-speed GTX. Considering the $150 price difference, that's a pretty sweet bargain. So the question for ATI is not whether they can compete with the 8800GTS, but whether they can compete with the 8800GTS and its overclockability. Since many enthusiasts overclock and many factory cards come pre-overclocked, ATI may not even be able to provide much competition for the GTS.
This really makes one wonder why the R600 was delayed so long. Six months after the release of nVidia's G80 chip, ATI still cannot compete. It's also a major testimony to the marvel of engineering that the G80 is. These are truly remarkable cards, and the performance difference from the previous G71 series cards is one of the largest performance leaps ever seen.
So is ATI doomed? Not exactly. Most of the money comes from the low to midrange markets, not the high-end. Now that nVidia has released their low and midrange G80 cards, we'll have to see if ATI can provide a solid price-to-performance ratio to outpace nVidia. Unfortunately for ATI however, the bottom line is that nVidia has significantly better hardware to work with, and having six months with zero competition has only pushed ATI further out of the picture.