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Nvidia leapfrogs ATI--for now

Nvidia's GeForce 9600 GT is racking up accolades at ATI's expense

A fresh crop of mid-range graphics cards based on Nvidia's newest chip is threatening to make ATI an also-ran--at least until ATI returns the favor and puts Nvidia in its place.

PNY GeForce 9600 GT, Diamond HD 3850
PNY GeForce 9600 GT, Diamond HD 3850 PNY Technologies, Diamond Multimedia

It's not easy competing in the graphics processing unit (GPU) market. One minute you're the star garnering all the awards for crunching through games like Crysis, Company of Heroes, and Call of Duty 4, the next minute you're toast.

That's what may be happening to ATI in the mid-range graphics market. Cards based on Nvidia's just-released GeForce 9600 GT are streaming onto the market, quickly relegating ATI's HD 3850--the previous darling of the mid-range market--to the runner-up category.

"(The 9600 GT) stacks up against the 3850 very well, a little more expensive...and lot more powerful," said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research which covers the graphics chip market. "They leap-frog each other every quarter."

Based on reviews this time around it's Nvidia's turn to make the leap. CNET, which reviewed a card from Asus, said the 9600 GT has "faster performance than anything from ATI in this price range." And the 9600 GT may be putting pressure on the high end too. At least one review site compared the 9600 GT to ATI's higher-end sibling the 3870, a segment where the Nvidia chip has a distinct price advantage. AnandTech said: "It looks like the GeForce 9600 GT is the better buy. It's cheaper than the Radeon HD 3870 and offers...better overall performance."

Wait a few months, though. By then it will be ATI's turn to strut its stuff.