If it weren't something even my colleagues would frown upon, I'd be inclined to say that the 8800 GT is a sexy card. The new cooler design is just very pleasing on the eye and, much as with the internal refinements of the G92, it just emanates the feeling of a matured design. It certainly looked the part on our nVidia branded test bed, anyway.
More important than the aesthetic aspects of the design, though, is the simple fact that nVidia has managed to squeeze all this power into a single slot card, which is not only a welcome change but really quite surprising. In fact, I dare say that having learned something of the specs of the 8800 GT, most people would've bet significant money on it requiring a dual slot cooler.
The reason why nVidia can get away with using such a slim design is the change in manufacturing process, which reduces the thermal envelope of the card to a level that a single slot cooler can cope with. In fact, it's so thermally accomplished that the relatively small fan doesn't even need to spin very fast to keep things cool, resulting in a card that remains near silent even during intense gaming. It does get quite hot to the touch and will require a decent amount of airflow within a case to prevent overheating, but in our open air test bed it didn't become hot enough to require the fan to spin excessively.
Also as a result of the smaller manufacturing process, the 8800 GT consumes only 105W, even under full load. Therefore, only a single six-pin power connector is required to get the beast going at full pelt. This is another nice change and it's a development we hope will turn into a trend not just a one off.
Output options are pretty standard fair with two dual-link HDCP enabled DVI-I sockets allowing for both analogue and digital connections to PC monitors and HDTVs, while a seven-pin analogue video port provides the usual composite and component options. The DVI connections can be used in conjunction with DVI-to-VGA and DVI-to-HDMI dongles so every connection option (bar the upcoming DisplayPort) is supported. However, nVidia is still choosing to make audio pass-through (for use with HDMI connections) an option for 3rd party vendors to implement rather than make it a requisite like ATI has. That's a shame, considering this slim, cool, and quiet card could be perfect for a gaming biased HTPC.
The 8800 GT is actually the first graphics card ever to be PCI Express 2.0 compliant, which means it can communicate with memory at a rate of 16GB/sec - twice the previous standard. Though this may be of use to workstation applications and GPGPU computing situations it is largely going to go unnoticed to the average gamer, though this may change in the future. Either way, the standard is completely forwards and backwards compatible with all the previous versions of PCI Express so it isn't something to worry about.
All the usual board partners will have stock available over the coming weeks. Most seem to be offering standard clocked and overclocked versions and there are also some bundled game offers around to sweeten the deal. We'll be sure to get some of these cards in for testing over the coming weeks. For now, though, let's take a look at how the reference board performs.