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GeForce 9800GTX+ 3D card splits midrange hairs

Nvidia's new GeForce 9800GTX+

The new GeForce 9800GTX+ hits stores in July. Nvidia

We've come to expect these cunningly timed product announcements from Nvidia every time AMD announces a new Radeon graphics card, and it looks like with the GeForce 9800GTX+, Nvidia is right in step in anticipation of next week's official Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 launches.

Unlike Nvidia's $650 GeForce GTX280, which debuted last week, AMD has been content going after the lucrative $200 to $450 price range with its Radeon graphics cards the past few years. Next week's Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 continue that pattern. Neither is going to compete as a standalone product at the very high end. But as Nvidia's wildly successful GeForce 8800 GT has demonstrated, succeeding in that midlevel price range can help you achieve mainstream recognition. They are, after all, the cards that most PC gamers will actually purchase.

The Radeon HD 4850 debuted at around $199, and you can buy it today. The GeForce 9800GTX+ will cost you $229 when it hits next month. The big deal with these cards is that they both use the 55 nanometer manufacturing process, which brings down thermals and lets each vendor ramp up the power. The 4850 is AMD's second-generation 55 nanometer part, while the 9800GTX+, essentially a speed boost over the GeForce 9800 GTX that debuted only this past April, is Nvidia's first.

Legit Reviews actually has a set of benchmarks for the two cards (our review will hit next week, along with the Radeon HD 4870), and it shows the two cards trading wins on common games, although the 9800GTX+ seems a bit faster overall.

You'll notice from the board shot that the GeForce 9800GTX+ is a double-wide card, though. The Radeon HD 4850 only requires a single expansion slot. That obviously makes it easier to physically install the 4850, although according to Legit Reviews, the two cards' power consumption ratings seem to be roughly the same.

Finally, Nvidia has attempted to sweeten the pot by adding PhysX hardware processing to the 9800GTX+ via a new driver. You also get the GPU computing capability Nvidia's been talking up lately, but as we said in our review of the GTX280, neither compelling games, nor mainstream applications are available yet to make either of those features meaningful. Also, the AMD card boasts similar capabilities, although no driver support, as yet.

We'd expect that if Nvidia moved to a brand new manufacturing process that it might make a bigger deal about it, but instead, the GeForce 9800GTX+ just came to light yesterday with little fanfare. We had no press briefing about it, nor do we have hardware on hand. None of that should really matter to you the consumer, but it makes us wonder just what kind of volume of the GeForce 9800GTX+ Nvidia plans to produce. That's great if it compares favorably with the Radeon HD 4850, but we're very interested to see how widely available it will be, and for how long, after it ships next month.