What is going on in the heads of the people in the marketing departments at AMD (ATI) and Nvidia? I've been buying gaming graphics cards for the last 11 years, and I've never been as confused as I have been over the past 2-3.
I think it all started with Nvidia's great G92 revision of the venerable, and still very capable G80 GPU. First there was the 8800gt, which was the price/performance champion of it's day... and still running strong in many gamer's rigs today. The "GT" branding usually meant a product placed just below the "GTS" line, and well below those high-end monsters branded as "GTX." However, the 8800gt changed all that. In stock form it outperformed both variants of the G80-based 8800 GTS, and came damn close to matching the 8800GTX in many situations. So the precedent was set- Nvidia had released a product that was branded as a member of the 8800 series, while using a different GPU, and performing above it's price. Then came the 8800 GTS 512mb. When most consumers look at graphics cards, and see that there are 320mb, 512mb, and 640mb variants of a GPU branded with the same name (8800gts), they would naturally think that the 640mb version is the best. Once again, Nvidia fooled the common man, because the 8800 GTS 512 was not only faster than the 640mb version, it was quite a bit faster. In fact, due to it's full-fledged 128 stream processor G92 core, it matched or exceeded the 8800 GTX in many cases. Yes, that's right.. the 8800 GTS 512 is comparable to an 8800 GTX. 2 cards named as part of the same product line, but clearly not.
Why didn't Nvidia call the G92-based cards the 8900 series? The precedent had been set with ther prior generation of GPUs. The G70 core was revised, and the G71 was born. Hence the 7800 series being replaced by the 7900 series. It made sense.
Not confused enough yet?
Nvidia took their same G92 core (and it's less powerful G94, G96, etc.. bretheren), and produced the infamous "9-series." The 9800 GTX was nothing more than an overvolted, overclocked 8800 GTS 512. That's right. If you had an overclocked 8800 GTS 512, you had a GPU equivalent to the single-GPU king of the 9-series. They then took the 112 SP (stream processor) 8800gt and rebranded it as the "9800gt." Now, eventually the 9-series would be differentiated from the G92 8-series parts by a change to the 55nm fabrication process, resulting in numerous "low power" versions of the 9-series. Then the 9800GX2 was released, which was essentially 2 underclocked G92 cores sandwiched together on 2 PCB's. Nothing wrong there, that was an original product.
But the G92 wasn't done changing identities yet. Nvidia released it's "200 series," and the "GTS 250" was born. This was a midrange product, offered in 512mb and 1gb versions, but STILL based on that same 128SP G92 GPU.
So, in case you weren't keeping track, here it is-- An 8800 GTS 512 is essentially equal to a 9800 GTX, or 9800 GTX+, and the GTS 250. That's 3 generations of renaming what was essentially the same card.
Let's skip ahead to Nvidia's current "Fermi" line of products. There's no more G92-rebranding to be found here. However, there is still plenty of confusion to be had. The first 4 products from this line that Nvidia released were known as the "GTX 400 series." Seems simple enough, right? It might have been, had Nvidia not named the GTX 465 as they did. You see.. the GTX 465 is a cut-down version of the original GF100 Fermi GPU. Why did they not name this card "GTX 460?" They named the first 2 cards in the series "480" and "470," but for some strange reason decided to lower the number 5 instead of 10. Why is this a big deal, you may ask?
Because Nvidia did shortly thereafter release a card that they call the "GTX 460," and the 1GB variant of this card actually outperforms the "GTX 465" in most situations. The GTX 460 is based on a revised "fermi" GPU, which is smaller and less power-hungry than the original. Why on earth would you name the original, inferior Fermi variant the "465" just a couple of months before the release of a more refined part? It would make so much more sense to the consumer had Nvidia just named the original 3-string Fermi card GTX 460, and then named the GF104-derived part GTX 465. To me, Nvidia's current nomenclature indicates to me that the GTX 460 would be one of the original Fermi GPUs.. but it's not. Not even close.
I'm done bashing Nvidia's naming schemes for now.. Now onto AMD/ATI :P
I thought AMD "got it." I really did. The HD3870, HD 4870, 4890, 5850, and 5870 were all high-end parts. It was relatively simple to look at their product line and figure out which was better. Until now.
Here is a link to the GPU's that ATI/AMD have released-
If you go to the section regarding their new "Northern Islands" graphics cards and compare it to their 3800, 4800, and 5800 series cards, you might see what I mean.
No longer is the 6800 series the high-end. Apparently AMD has seen fit to demote the 6800 series to the midrange segment, completely confusing the relative strength of these cards in comparison to their 3 prior generations of GPU. Do you remember the 4770 and 5770? Great mid-range cards, right? Well, don't go looking for a 6770 any time soon. What you want is a 6850 or a 6870. The number of hours that I spend looking at PC hardware reviews and and comparisons is unhealthy, it really is. The sad part is that if I didn't spend a lot of time doing this, I wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of what AMD is doing with their new series. Apparently the "HD6950" and "6970" will be the high-end, single GPU parts from this series. That sucks, AMD! The 5970 was the dual-gpu powerhouse from the last generation! What does this mean for us consumers? It means that a 5970 is likely more powerful than a 6970. Does that make sense to you? Are not naming schemes supposed to be easy for the consumer, as opposed to confusing?
Do you see what I'm saying? Please, Nvidia and AMD.. if anybody from your camps happen to be reading this (and I know the odds are incredibly low), know that I am not alone in my complaints. Most gamers don't spend nearly the time and effort looking into these things, but I know I'm not the only one confused. There have been whole forum threads dedicated to the confusion caused by your product naming schemes. Why can't you just make it make sense? You've shown that you CAN do it, as demonstrated by prior successive generations of products. Help us out here guys.. and you'll probably help yourselves out too.