NVIDIA's partners are going to have boards available for sale today, if they haven't already shown up at your favorite e-tailer last night. This is good news as availability on GPUs is always a factor in our opinions. For our testing XFX supplied me with a pair of their GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB cards.
The exterior of the card is unlike any other graphics board I have tested and it does indeed feel very solid and strong. While these are aesthetic changes that some users won't really care about, others want to feel that they are getting something that is high quality for their $600 so the build quality of the unit won't let those readers down.
Looking at the back of the card you can clearly see that the 9800 GX2 is a completely enclosed product with only some vents for air input and output open and the lone PCI Express x16 connection stick out the bottom of the plastic.
Here we see a shot of the bottom of the board including the screws that allow access to the inside.
The SLI connector is hidden behind a compartment on the top of the card.
Removing the cover we see a single SLI connection on the 9800 GX2.
The two power connections for the 9800 GX2 are both located at the very back of the card. It is disappointing to me that such a simple oversight on the designer is so easily apparent to me: with the two power connectors installed removing one of them is very difficult as you cannot get your fingers in between them.
You'll also notice a small 2-pin connector next to the 6-pin PCI Express connector that is for passing the audio output from your sound card to the graphics card. This is what allows the 9800 GX2 to support HDMI video and audio.
The external connectors on the 9800 GX2 include two dual-link DVI connections up and a single HDMI output. Also you should note that the area for expelling air from the graphics card, below the two DVI ports, is small compared to any previous dual-slot cards. I was initially worried that not enough air would be cycling out of the system, but it all appears to have worked well in our testing.
There are also two small LEDs located at the top of the card that provide some useful information to the user when the card is installed
The two lights help indicate which graphics card is the primary card and if you have the proper power connections attached to it. In this picture the green light indicates that we have both the 8-pin and 6-pin connections attached up while the blue light tells us that this is the primary card that the display should be connected to.
The crazy green lights coming from inside the card and apparently have no functional purpose that I know of but just look cool.
The XFX retail carton ships with standard manual and driver as well as a copy of Company of Heroes. They make no qualms about indicating you will need both a six pin and eight pin power connector and definitely try to stress the need for correct power configurations.
XFX has included a couple of necessary accessories including a standard at 6-pin power adapter and two DVI to VGA adapters and an audio connection to transmit the audio from your sound card to the graphics card.