Ok its a three way match now,
I have heard a lot people commenting about how the CCNP is a good preperation for the CCIE R&S, but it seems to me that the CCIE is basically the CCNP rehashed, with more detail in BGP/OSPF and added MPLS, along with a real tough, tough lab.
Seems to me that CCIP covers BGP and MPLS and CCIEesque topics in greater detail than the CCNP. All thats missing from the CCIP is the BCMSN, in terms of an exam acting as a guage for your level of preparedness for taking the CCIE. So is it better to take the CCIP if your final goal is a CCIE?
Then theres the CCDP, lets not forget. I would love to hear from some actual actual CCIE's about which one of the professional certs, CCNP/CCIP/CCDP, was more in line with the CCIE R&S, and was a better preperation guage and assist.
You're right, it is a bunch of work. But the CCIE is even more work!
I did just the CCNP before getting my CCIE. I wanted to get the CCIE done before my wife had our first child (which I did by 1 month). In hindsight, I would have gotten the CCIP before doing the CCIE. The CCIP covers 3 topics that are on the written and 2 that are on the lab. So the way I see it, you can spend a little less time on BGP, QoS, and MPLS when studying for the CCIE if you get the CCIP first.