2005 has been a pretty rough year for ATI, especially when it comes to delivering new products. The year started off with nearly a top-to-bottom makeover of new products. ATI launched five new graphics cards: the RADEON X800 and X800 XL, which were based on ATIís budget-oriented R430 VPU, and three high-end parts based on their enhanced R480 chip: the RADEON X850 PRO, RADEON X850 XT, and RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition. At launch ATI promised prices ranging from $200 all the way up to $500, with each card significantly upping the ante in performance for its price segment.
At the time it looked as if ATI had pulled off a major coup, as archrival NVIDIA had nothing to compete against ATIís onslaught of new products, opting instead to cut prices and pitching their SLI solution for enthusiasts.
Of course by now we all know how the story ultimately played out, ATIís new cards were late to market and when they did arrive street prices were well over MSRP. Ultimately the RADEON X800 XL proved wildly popular once prices dropped, but ATIís $200 RADEON X800 128MB SKU remained missing in action for most of the early half of 2005 while the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Editionís availability problems early on prevented the card from picking up many of the early adopters that are so critical when a new graphics card launches.
When NVIDIA shocked the world with immediate availability of their GeForce 7800 GTX and GeForce 7800 GT GPUs, ATI was forced to slash prices on all of their cards. This move killed the profit margins ATI had been enjoying on their high-end cards, but was necessary to keep moving cards. A perfect example of this is ATIís stealth launch from earlier this summer, the RADEON X800 GT, and the X800 GTO. In case you havenít heard of them, ATI announced two new mainstream SKUs in August, the RADEON X800 GT and X800 GTO. Both of these cards are merely re-badged R480 and R423 chips that went from going into $350+ RADEON X800/X850 boards into $150-$200 X800 GT/GTO cards. They both boast ATIís robust 256-bit memory interface, only theyíve had their pipelines disabled so they donít perform too closely to their more expensive cousins (the X800 GT features 8 pixel pipes, while the X800 GTO is paired with 12).
As you can imagine, moves like this have had a significant impact on ATIís balance sheet as of late. Just last month ATI had to lower their revenues downward for this quarter by roughly $100 million dollars due precisely to declining margins: ďATI's desktop product line missed both in units and average selling prices for the retail and add-in-board (or System Integrator) channels. "This has clearly been a challenging and disappointing quarter for ATI and we are committed to resolving our operational issues," said David Orton, President and Chief Executive Officer of ATI Technologies. "Despite our short term difficulties, we are optimistic about the future. We continue to gain traction in our integrated and consumer businesses. We are also confident that our upcoming desktop product launch will allow us to reclaim top-to-bottom technology leadership in discrete graphics."
The ďupcoming desktop product launchĒ that Orton is referring to in his statement above is finally ready enough for a formal introduction, as today ATIís introducing an entire family of new products ranging from the low to high-end. ATI hopes these new products will not only help them get their financials back on track, but also re-establish the leadership position they enjoyed when they first introduced the world to DX9 graphics three years ago.
The cards weíre taking a look at, the RADEON X1800 XL and X1800 XT, are ATIís first steps in that direction. But do they deliver enough to trounce the competition? Thatís what weíre here today to find out!