The normal course of events for the release of a new range of graphics cards runs something like this:
When the company involved has a new technology, it releases a flagship product based on it for some exorbitant price, then sits pretty on the profits for a while. After a few weeks, or months, the company will release cheaper, slower products to fill out the new range and thus phase out the entire older range. Then, after six months or so, a refresh range based on the same products, but with a few tweaks here and there, will be released to tie the company over for another few months until the completely new product range is ready. This whole cycle generally lasts about a year.
It's a tried and tested routine that is almost universally adhered to. Obviously things don't always go so smoothly and for one reason or another a company may find its products fall behind the competition so it has to spend the year either sandbagging until the release of its new products in a year's time, or it will push through the new products it's been working on quicker than usual. Alternatively, you get the complete opposite and one company is so far ahead it rests on its laurels waiting for the competition to catch up, blissfully soaking up money from their inflated prices along the way.
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, this is exactly what nVidia has been doing since the release of its 8800 GTX, way back in November 2006. When that card arrived it completely blew the competition out of the water and it has pretty much reigned supreme ever since. Ok, a few months later the 8800 Ultra actually stole the performance crown but this was essentially just a factory overclocked 8800 GTX anyway.
When nVidia did finally have a new (well, renewed at least) architecture, in the shape of the G92 chip that powers the 8800 GT and 8800 GT (512), they chose to brand these products as 8000-series rather than do the logical thing and move onto the 9000-series. The reason for this was because nVidia didn't want to hurt sales of its more expensive flagship products (the 8800 GTX and 8800 Ultra). This is why, when the 9000-series did finally arrive, it was in the shape of the mid-range 9600 GT, rather than a flagship product.
This preamble brings us to the recent launch of the 9800 GTX, the new flagship single card in nVidia's lineup and the long awaited replacement for the 8800 GTX. So without further ado, let's find out if it's the rightful heir to the 8800 GTX's throne or whether it's just another pretender.