Video Processor 2 takes over from where its previous generation left off. A set of dedicated video processing engines is integrated right into the core of the card and they work to offload a variety of video processing overheads from your CPU as well as improving video quality through a number of post processing techniques. The two main additions in this latest version are hardware H.264 decoding and AES128 encryption.
H.264 is the codec used for both Blu-ray and HD-DVD video compression, as well as it being the preferred choice for all manner of other video sources. It is very taxing on the CPU to decode content compressed in H.264 and trying to playback content encoded with it will bring a typical single core PC to its knees. So, to have a graphics card that completely removes this overhead is very welcome.
AES128 is the encryption standard used for passing protected HD content across any User Accessible Bus (UAB), like PCI-Express. Having hardware that performs this encryption, again, relieves the CPU of some of the massive processing required to do such a seemingly innocuous task as watching a Blu-ray or HD-DVD.
Finally, with all this talk of HD content, the 8600 GTS offers compulsory HDCP compliance as well as support for HDMI. Indeed the 8600 GTS is the first graphics card to offer HDCP over a dual-link connection, meaning you can finally enjoy protected HD content on your 30in monitor. However, 8600 GT and 8500 GT will only feature HDCP support at the discretion of the manufacturer.
nVidia GeForce 8600 GTS
As you can see the 8600 GTS is a rather unassuming looking beasty and, to be quite frank, a little disappointing when compared to its bigger 8800 brothers. There is good reason for this though, as the massive drop in transistor count has meant that the G84 core doesn't draw the kind of power that requires a ginormous two-slot heatsink - only 71W to be exact. This theoretically means the 8600 GTS shouldn't need an extra six-pin power connector but nVidia have included one to provide a bit of headroom for overclocking.
As standard the core runs at 675MHz (with the internal shaders running at 1,450MHz) and comes with 256MB DDR3 memory running at 1,000MHz (effectively 2,000MHz).
Like the 8800 GTS, the 8600 GTS doesn't feature the double SLI connection that the 8800 GTX has. Evidently the 8600 GTS doesn't push the bandwidth limits of the single connector solution.
The cooler is like a mini version of the 8800 series cooler. A centrifugal fan sucks air in from beside the card and blows it across the ducted heatsink and out towards the back of the case. However, unlike the 8800 series cooler, there is no second slot to expel the air out of, so the hot air is re-circulated into the case. This wasn't a problem in our open air test bed but you'll definitely need additional ventilation inside a normal case. The noise from the fan was relatively high-pitched but was so quiet I had difficulty hearing it in our office without risking a grated ear - or tangled hair. What noise there was should be easily masked by some basic soundproofing.