Years ago, Proctor & Gamble, RJ Reynolds, and other consumer products giants discovered that the best way to increase their sales was to go into competition with themselves. Instead of making only one or two brands of laundry detergent or breakfast cereal or floor wax or cigarette, they started making dozens of brands, all similar, but each appealing to a different type of buyer. Just as important, the flood of brands meant the giants could stifle competitors by monopolizing scarce retail shelf space.
The two major video card makers, ATI and NVIDIA, have taken this scheme to ridiculous extremes. Each produces two dozen or more video chipsets, from old, slow models that are used in $20 video cards to models that are used in $700 gaming cards. Any particular chipset may be available in variants that run at different clock speeds, and any of these may be used to build video adapters with different amounts, types, and speeds of memory, and so on. Many different companies use ATI and/or NVIDIA video chipsets to build their own branded video cards, further increasing the number of choices and the level of confusion. (When we checked NewEgg.com while writing this paragraph, we found an incredible 569 different video cards for sale—238 PCIe, 283 AGP, and even 48 PCI models.)