What’s the right way to launch a graphics card?

Nvidia’s GTX 680 sells out from online retailers in less than a day…

The GTX 680 is without a doubt a card that has been well received by many reviewers. It offers superior performance per to watt not only to the old GTX 580, but also to AMD’s recently released HD 7900 series. It has received multiple editor’s choice awards and is probably Nvidia’s strongest high-end offering since the great G80. This triumphant launch has even elicited praise for Nvidia’s achievements from CEO Jen-Hsun himself.

But self-congratulatory letters aside, there seems to be one problem with this otherwise well executed product launch. A quick check on Newegg or Amazon or even across the pond at OcUK will reveal that all, or almost all, of the GTX 680’s at their MSRP price of $499 are sold out. Amazon offered a single SKU from one of its partners, but that card alone was $650, and sold out before press time.  It’s been this way since the end of last Thursday, and it’s likely that this is the way things will stay for the foreseeable future.

This disconcerting phenomenon begs the question, which is better? An AMD style launch where you have product reviews two weeks before the cards hit retail shelves and then semi-robust availability; or a launch like this one, where you get reviews and cards on the same day, but then all of the retail stock sells out within a few hours and you don’t see any more stock for a few weeks. Both are less than ideal; only one is a paper launch in the most stringent meaning of the term, and the other is a paper launch in a more classical sense, like the first run of GTX 480’s. To AMD’s credit, at least they told everyone that it would be two weeks before “real” quantities would show up. At the same time, though, I’m sure Nvidia doesn’t really enjoy missing out on the hordes of people currently lined up to buy GTX 680’s.

As Fudzilla’s Slobodan Simic pointed out in his aptly titled article, “No sign of 7970 price wars” the launch of the GTX 680 has so far failed to put any significant pressure on HD 7970 prices, and that’s the real cost of this soft launch. It’s like AMD knows something about the supply of 28nm parts that we don’t. So what we’re left with is a flash of competition from Nvidia, a stoic response from AMD, and a bit of a wait for a real shift in the market place to occur. Here’s to Nvidia finally showing up to the fight; but let’s hope this tight supply situation improves sooner, rather than later.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.