Before the RADEON 9700 was announced, rumors persisted that a graphics card manufacturer would be defecting from NVIDIA’s camp to producing cards powered by ATI. Early reports indicated that company would be ASUS, one of NVIDIA’s most trusted customers. Not only is ASUS one of NVIDIA’s Tier One graphics manufacturers (a pretty select group), they’ve been an NVIDIA launch partner on NVIDIA graphics cores dating all the way back to the RIVA 128, making them one of NVIDIA’s oldest partners.
It turns out, these rumors were wrong, while there was a defector among the NVIDIA faction, it wasn’t ASUS, instead it was motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte Technology. Like ASUS, Gigabyte is one of Taiwan’s largest motherboard manufacturers, shipping millions of motherboards each year. However, Gigabyte hasn’t been in the graphics game as long as ASUS, nor are they one of NVIDIA’s largest patrons. On paper, the loss of Gigabyte isn’t nearly as severe at first glance to NVIDIA, but if you look a little deeper, the long-term ramifications of this move could be pretty significant.
First off, Gigabyte isn’t just another unknown second or third tier video card manufacturer. They have access to considerable manufacturing capabilities and they have the brand name and marketing presence to promote any product they produce. Realizing this, last year ATI presented Gigabyte with an offer they couldn’t refuse: Tier One partner status.
Prior to Gigabyte coming onboard, this positioning had only been granted to one other graphics card manufacturer, Sapphire Technology. Sapphire has been producing ATI cards for years, and has been doing very well in the OEM business. In fact, (with the exception of Gigabyte’s cards), all early RADEON 9700 PRO production was handled by Sapphire, regardless if the board came from ATI, Sapphire, or one of the other RADEON 9700 PRO manufacturers.
In comparison, if you’ve shopped for an NVIDIA-based card lately, you’ve quickly noticed the overwhelming array of products out there. Not only are there dozens of manufacturers to choose from, each manufacturer frequently has multiple products based on the same graphics core. ATI on the other hand has only a handful of graphics partners. So by hooking up with ATI not only has Gigabyte become a close ally (and thus have early access to hardware, something they never received from NVIDIA), they’re also competing with considerably fewer competitors with similar products.
When you factor in NVIDIA’s recent fall from grace in the high end, and more recently in the mainstream segment (from a performance perspective in any case), the case becomes even more compelling.
Quite frankly, when you put all the puzzle pieces together, it isn’t hard to understand why Gigabyte made this move, it makes perfect business sense. ATI has the hot product right now, and Gigabyte was given a front row seat.
But of course, you came to read this review for more than just politics; you want to know more about the Gigabyte Maya GV-R9700, one of Gigabyte’s first products based on this new partnership. So lets proceed on with the review shall we?