After talking about sub-€100 graphics, it's time to take a look at the bourgeois side of the market, the high-end and mid-range. The market has changed quite a bit in the past year, blurring the dividing lines among all market segments. Strong competition has driven prices into the ground. ATI's HD4870 X2, the fastest card on the market, currently sells for under €400, and you can get great graphics for half as much. Gone are the days of 700-800 euro Ultras, today's high-end cards sell for half as much.
This market segment has been Nvidia's turf for years, but in recent months the tables have turned and ATI is now the big bad wolf. Starting at the cheap side, Nvidia is offering its 9800GTX+ for €150. You can still find plain GTX cards but they're few and far between. Also, many 9800GT/9600GT cards also sell for well over €100, while some non-reference cards even retail close to €150. If you go for ATI, you can get an HD4850 for €125 or a dual headed HD3870 X2 for just over €150, enough said. ATI takes this round hands down.
In a week or two you can expect the first passive HD4850 cards to hit retail. We're expecting them to sell for 150-160 euro with 1GB of memory, and this is as fast as you'll get without an annoying fan on your card (unless you've got water cooling, of course).
At just over €200 you can get a reference GTX260. The cheapest ones come from Leadtek, Gainward and Gigabyte, with prices starting at €214. ATI's HD4870 is more than a match for it and the cheapest ones are currently available for as little as €197. Let's not forget Nvidia's sandwich 9800GX2 either. Apparently, there's very few of these cards left, but you can still find them. The cheapest available card comes from EVGA, it's overclocked and sells for €260. It was launched at €500 half a year ago, so this is a nice price, but there's some better cards out there.
The GTX280 dropped some €200 since its introduction in June and the cheapest cards now retail at €326. Not a bad price, if you're not Nvidia, that is. ATI has successfully countered it with its dual GPU R700, but although it chucks out more FPS, the R700 is still 60-70 euro, or 20 percent more expensive.
Things will surely get interesting in the next couple of months. Nvidia will try to fend of ATI with new 55nm versions of GTX200 series cards, which should allow it to squeeze a bit more speed out of these GPUs, while cutting production costs at the same time. It will help, but we're not sure it will be enough to keep up with ATI.
The red team also has an ace up its sleeve, the HD4850 X2. Equipped with cheaper DDR3 memory, this card should retail at around €270, maybe even less by the time it appears on the market. It should be faster than the current 65nm GTX260 and we're expecting it in late September. However, AIBs don't seem to be in a rush, as they're doing fine as it is. Basically, at the moment the only trouble for ATI is that it has nothing in between its €200 HD4870 and the €400 HD4870 X2. The HD4850 X2 should fill this gap perfectly.
So, if you're in the market for €300+ graphics it might not be a bad idea to hang onto your cash for a bit longer.
Sub-€100 graphics market overview