With Vista now on the market, nVidia's going to have to find a way to make DirectX 10 attainable for the masses. Right now, nVidia's two DirectX 10 cards, the 8800GTX and 8800GTS, retail for around $600 and $450, respectively. Ouch. As the proud owner of an 8800GTS, I can say that these cards are certainly worth the cost for those willing to shell out the dough. After overclocking the 8800GTS to 660/2000, I'm able to play all my games – including card-crunchers like FEAR and Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion – with high quality texture filtering, 16x anisotropic filtering, and a ludicrous 8xQ anti-aliasing with transparency multisampling. That's downright gratuitous power.
Reality however is that most people don't want to shell out $400 on a graphics card. There was a time when the high-end was a comparatively less shocking $300. Ah, the good old days. Nowadays, you can purchase an overclocked 8800GTX with pre-installed water cooling for – brace yourself – $900. Of course, you're not really hardcore unless you have two of those babies in SLI! Hardcore, or possessing way too much disposable income and/or free time.
Anyway, nVidia has finally leaked the specs of some new, sub-$200 DirectX 10 cards that will replace their current midrage 7900GT/GS and 7600 series cards. For Microsoft's sake, nVidia must get their midrange cards on store shelves pretty promptly. Game enhancements via DirectX 10 is a big selling point for Windows Vista that the bowl-cutted boss has hyped up a fair bit himself, but right now the hardware is too expensive to branch outside of the enthusiast niche. Not everyone cares about running their games at 8xQAA, but the significant performance improvements gained between the 8-series cards and DirectX 10 should be enough to get more thrifty consumers upgrading.
Meanwhile, AMD (formerly ATI) is getting ready to release their own graphical powerhouse, currently known only as the "R600" and tentatively slated for a March release. I say "tentatively" because the card was suppose to come out last fall, and keeps getting pushed back. At this rate, nVidia will have their foot securely in the door in both the high-end and midrange markets before ATI can sneeze out their new uber-chip, and superior performance, unless it's dramatically superior, may not be enough to steal nVidia's momentum. Without question though, hardware nerds everywhere (including yours truly) will be watching the race on the edges of their padded gamer chairs.
In other news, nVidia is still having trouble getting WHQL drivers released for Vista. Currently there are only some Beta drivers which have sufficed for me, but others are reporting problems. When nVidia will release their final drivers is unknown, but the pressure is certainly on. One peeved gang of geeks has even decided to explore the possibility of a class action lawsuit, alleging that nVidia claimed to be "Vista ready" only to drop the ball when it came to a timely release of WHQL drivers. The Beta drivers should do the trick (this past fall I actually prefered on of nVidia's Beta drivers over the subsequent WHQL drivers), but no doubt the Green needs to get on top of things, and fast.