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The GeForce 9800 GTX: What Was nVidia Thinking?

Today T-Break has a full review published of the unannounced but hotly anticipated GeForce 9800 GTX. We've known for quite a while that the 9800 GTX was nothing more than yet another G92 derivative. But now that I've actually seen a review, I have to confess that I'm completely confused and rather annoyed.

nVidia's card naming scheme has been relatively consistent over the past several years. New architectures get a x000 name change, and refreshes get 0x00. This was true for the GeForce 4 (Ti4600 -> Ti4800), the GeForce FX (FX5800 -> FX5900), GeForce 6 (GeForce 6800 -> no refresh), and GeForce 7 (7800 -> 7900). But with the 8800 series, nVidia decided that the refresh, for some bizarre reason, would get a name change usually reserved for major architectural changes. If nVidia were to be consistent, the 9800 GTX would be an 8900 GT. That's right, not even a GTX since it has less memory and a smaller memory bus!

The closest nVidia has come to this kind of naming confusion before was with the 7800 GTX which, arguably, was more like a 6900 Ultra. The architecture hadn't changed much at all, they just added 8 more pipelines to the 6800 Ultra and called it a 7800. This fact was pointed out by many but wasn't much cause for concern since the 7800 GTX brought tremendous performance improvements.

The 9800 GTX brings no such performance boost. In fact, it's slower than the 8800 Ultra in most benchmarks, and slower than the 8800 GTX whenever you crank up the resolution and eye-candy. So why would nVidia do such a thing?

I have a couple of theories, neither seems particularly sensible. Theory 1: nVidia is simply copying ATi's Radeon 2000 -> 3000 move from last year. Maybe they felt that letting ATi's model numbers get close to theirs was somehow bad for business. Theory 2: nVidia wants their next architecture to be the GeForce 10 (or GeForce X) to mark some large departure in architecture or nomenclature. To make the transition a little smoother they decided to throw away the GeForce 9 label on the GeForce 8 series' refresh.

Whatever the case may be, I don't see this as a positive move for nVidia. When the 9800 GTX officially launches they're going to have every major review site on the web talking about how they choked and the GeForce 9 series is a total disaster. The last thing nVidia needs is everyone calling the GeForce 9 their next NV30.

Update from Steve:

I agree with Theory 2 from Mike's second to last paragraph. I have heard from a video game developer friend of mine that Nvidia is making some really bold statements about their next generation. Of course companies often love "talking up" their own products that they have yet to release, but apparently this Nvidia person was very sincere and/or convincing. 

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