We have mentioned this before but the specter of paper launches still hovers over ATI. No doubt the situation has improved since the early days of the Radeon X1000 series or CrossFire but as we sought the latest offerings from ATI's recent product refresh, like the Radeon X1650 PRO and the Radeon X1300 XT, we found our choices severely limited. Perhaps as a result of the tight supply, the listed retail price was also much higher than ATI's official price point, further compounding our disappointment. Considering that these two products are rehashes based on ATI's existing graphics processors, the lack of availability is unexpected.
In contrast, come launch day we often find NVIDIA and its partners impressively flooding the retail channels. More often than not, we have been able to find the latest NVIDIA product readily available from multiple vendors straightaway. Since at its heart, both ATI and NVIDIA are essentially chip design firms following the same foundry business model (where the chips are outsourced to foundries like TSMC and others), it is rather strange that NVIDIA appears to have largely avoided whatever problems plaguing its rival.
One of the main reasons for this discrepancy is probably related to ATI's Radeon X1000 architecture, which is as complex as it is ambitious. Other probable reasons include miscalculating the demand and the cost of inventory for stockpiling chips. As outsiders, we may never know the true reasons. With the merger between AMD and ATI, it has been speculated that AMD may elect to manufacture ATI's graphics processors at its own foundries in the future. This could help cushion the impact of supply/demand mismatches and ensure a more constant supply of ATI chips at the very least. However, AMD won't be having excess bandwidth anytime soon as they are currently highly focused on churning as many processors possible to satisfy all their partner, channel and retail demands and this is vital to ensure they can stay in the game competitively. As such, things will probably remain unchanged for ATI in the interim.
Meanwhile, those shopping for a graphics card will more often than not find the newest NVIDIA products staring from store shelves. And it's not just the reference models that are making their debuts right on time. Overclocked, custom variants are also commonly found, implying that the vendors had enough time to tinker with the product. XFX's latest overclocked and passively cooled GeForce 7950 GT is probably one of the more impressive examples of NVIDIA's 'punctuality'.