Only a few days ago, everything seemed perfect in the best of all possible worlds for Nvidia. The card manufacturer had just launched its GeForce GTX 260 and 280, which – despite the six-month delay – pushed the unified architecture introduced with the GeForce 8 to the limits of what a 65-nm process and a gigantic number of transistors could offer. The performance gain compared to the former –and now older – generation wasn't overwhelming (59% on average over a 9800 GTX), but the arrival of CUDA applications was an interesting development, and Nvidia had no competition.
Meanwhile, AMD seemed to be ever deeper in the red with its graphics division, avowedly incapable of competing on the high-end market segment as it once did, with its existing high-end cards quickly aging performance-wise. Then came the hush-hush release of the Radeon HD 4850, even before anybody had time to test it, and at an astoundingly low price of $199.