I was very surprised at how large the 2600 XT card is, especially considering the aforementioned power saving from the new manufacturing process. At 230mm, It is as long as an nVidia 8800 GTS or an ATI X1950 Pro which are much more powerful cards. That said, this is a reference sample so I suspect the cards will shrink as second generation card designs start to appear.
The cooler is a single slot blower type design that sucks air in from the side of the card and blows it across a large heatsink and out the front and back of the card. The fan gives off quite a noticeable woosh during gaming but when not doing 3D tasks it is barely audible. The heatsink is also larger and heavier than you would expect as it covers not just the core but the memory and power regulation circuitry as well.
Speaking of power, the 2600 XT doesn't require an extra six-pin power connection, which makes things a lot neater and easier to manage inside your case. Moreover, the 2600 XT retains the same Crossfire system as the 2900 XT, which uses two internal connectors rather than the old cable based solution, which also helps to keep things tidy, should you go with two cards in tandem. The best thing about the new Crossfire system though, is that it doesn't require a special Master card so any two matching cards can be used in combination.
The 2600 XT will come with a compulsory configuration of two dual-link HDCP enabled DVI connectors and an analogue HDTV-out socket. The two DVI connectors can then be converted to either VGA or HDMI, with appropriate adapters, giving you a myriad of connection options.
There are actually two versions of the 2600 XT, one which will use GDDR4 and one that uses slower GDDR3 memory. The difference in performance between the two should be pretty minimal but the GDDR3 version will save you Â£10 or so. Today Iâ€™m looking at the GDDR4 version but Iâ€™m getting a GDDR3 version to look at soon so I can find out for sure what the difference is.