Nvidia has released its first 9000 series GPU. The GeForce 9600 GT (also known as the G94) is a mid-range GPU designed for 3D cards that cost about $170 to $200. That space was previously occupied by the GeForce 8600 GTS, but AMD's Radeon 3850 was delivering better performance at the same price, while the newer GeForce 8800 GT and Radeon 3870 were delivering a lot more at the next step up.
Despite the name, the GeForce 9600 GT is a 65nm GPU that is similar to the very popular GeForce 8800 GT (G92). It's also interesting that at the sub-$200 level Nvidia is now pushing--and nearly all of the first cards reviewed are using--512MB of graphics memory. Nvidia clearly believes the more demanding games now require that much memory. Most Radeon 3850s have 256MB, though you can get cards with 512MB.
The verdict: The GeForce 9600 GT not only leapfrogs right over its direct competitor, the Radeon 3850, but also offers performance similar to (and in a few cases better than) the higher-priced GeForce 8800 GT and Radeon 3870. Rich Brown at CNET Reviews, which gave the Asus EN9600 GT an Editors' Choice, notes that it is the only sub-$200 card out there that lets you play most games at 'medium or better quality settings.'
Newegg already lists more than a dozen 9600 GT cards--most of them with 512MB--ranging in price from $180 to $210. There have been several reports that AMD would lower prices on the Radeon 3850 and Radon 3870, but I've yet to see any major shifts here with prices on the 3850s ranging from $170 to $205, while most of the cards based on the 3870 are still north of $200. AMD will probably need to bring these prices down a bit to remain competitive until the release of the Radeon 4000 series, reportedly sometime around June.
GeForce 9600 GT reviews:
Asus EN9600 GT [CNET Reviews]
Ars Technica reviews the NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT [Ars Technica]
NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT Launch and 3-Way Shootout [HotHardware]